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As we move into the 4th year of CW’s superhero dominance a bizarre question has begun to emerge: how do you solve a problem like Arrow? The Green Arrow show was the first of CW’s new crop of comic book adaptations, premiering in 2012 and setting the tone for 3 years of superhero television and impacting sister shows like Gotham and even Agents of SHIELD. However, the 2012 was a long time ago and the superhero television landscape has definitely shifted under Arrow’s feet, with the drab and stripped down aesthetic of the first 3 seasons left in the dust by the likes of The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow.
Arrow has just become a lot less relevant to CW’s expansive universe of shows and season 4’s increased focus on magic didn’t really help things. As such, season 5 has opted to double down on the one thing that worked for season 4: introducing new heroes, with a crop of new characters coming to the upcoming premiere. I’ve already covered Wild Dog, Vigilante, and Human Target, now meet Ragman, the Tatterdemalion of Justice, played by Joe Dinicol.
This is actually a bit of a neat treat for me as I rarely get to talk about a character I actually really like those Ragman marks the second favorite character of mine to come to Arrow season 5, the first being Wild Dog. Robert Kanigher the creator of Black Canary and Lady Cop, two Arrow characters I’ve already discussed in some depth, created the character of Ragman in 1976 as one of the last few comics DC put out before their implosion a couple years later. Of course, this version of Ragman was very different from the one to come but we’ll get back to that later on. The initial Ragman had the same name and visual design as his later version but a different origin and power set.
In this version, Rory Regan was an Irish Vietnam vet whose father and several family friends were electrocuted and killed by punks upon his return home. For reasons that only really make comic book sense, Rory “absorbed” the abilities of his dad and the other men from their electrocution.
Seeking vengeance for their deaths, Rory dawned a tattered suit of rags his father had bought before his death and became the Ragman. As Ragman, Rory had the agility of a world class acrobat, the strength of a circus strongman, and fighting ability of a prize fighter because his father kept an exceptionally eclectic circle of friends.
Even though the initial comic ended relatively quickly thanks to the DC implosion of 1978, Ragman stuck around at the margins of the comic world. In 1991, the character got a second limited series along with a brand new origin and back-story that’s come to be his established set-up. In the 1991 series it was introduced that Rory Regan was a ragman, which is apparently another term of handyman, prior to the death of his father.
Upon his father’s death, Rory inherited his suit of rags, which now became the source of his powers. It was introduced that the rag suit was actually alive and that each rag and patch on the suit was the soul of an evildoer who had been absorbed into its patchwork pattern. Now, the various souls of the Ragman suit had to give their strength to the Ragman in order to eventually earn a reprieve from their imprisonment.
This is where Ragman really took up his place in the DCU as the retcon made him a solid urban fantasy hero and the limited series brought him into contact with the Batman, securing his place as a tangential part of the Bat mythos.
Actually, people forget this now but Batman has a lot of mythos elements tied to the supernatural like Ragman, fellow spirit of vengeance the Spectre, and Looker, Batman’s vampiric fellow crimefighter and brief love interest.
Anyway, Ragman stuck around as a mystic hanger on of the DCU, playing a key role in the magic themed events Day of Judgment and Day of Vengeance, both of which focused on the Spectre, undead embodiment of God’s wrath, going rogue. Speaking of, the Spectre is actually technically part of the CWniverse as well as Ragman at this point thanks to Arrow.
See, in season 4 Arrow featured a crossover with the defunct Constantine show; that show had a running subplot setting up the Spectre’s emergence which is now folded into the CW so, if they wanted to pick it up and introduce him, that could happen.
In the wake of Day of Vengeance, Ragman finally got his big break when he joined several second string mystic heroes in trying to defeat the Spectre. Along with Detective Chimp, he is what he sounds like, Blue Devil, same as the Chimp, Enchantress, a witch, Nightshade, lord of the shadow realms, and Nightmaster, a mystic knight, in forming a new magical theme called Shadowpact.
The team lasted a good long while though after their comic Rory ended up kind of adrift in the DCU. Oh he popped up here and there in the background of major events like Battle for the Cowl or Blackest Night but he never returned to the limelight of his own comic or even a team book.
As far as the New 52 is concerned I don’t believe Ragman has been established in the new continuity, or at the very least he’s been passed over for the new premiere mystic super team Justice League Dark.
Given that ignoble career you might wonder why Ragman is one of my favorite characters, it’s because he’s one of the few openly Jewish characters for whom being Jewish is actually important. See there are around 12 or so Jewish characters in comics but most of them are only Jewish by accident, with it not really impacting their identity.
Folks like Songbird, Wiccan, Iceman, and Atom Smasher may technically be Jewish but it’s not as if it ever comes up or ties to their identity in any major way. There are really only 3 major characters for whom being Jewish is core to their role and they’re The Thing, Magneto, and Ragman.
This was part of the 1991 series but it was established that the Ragman suit is actually a Jewish mystical artifact, created in the wake of the Golem of Prague. The idea was that because the Golem had rampaged out of control the Rabbi created a new quasi-Golem out of the rags that would be bound to a human soul to keep it pure and noble. In fact, Ragman actually fought the Golem of Prague, which still roamed the Earth, in one of the better issues of the ’91 comic, though the whole mini-series is delightful.
It’s always been curious to me, both as a Jewish fan and a comic historian, how little representation we really have in comics. I mean, Jews basically built modern comics with folks like Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Paul Levitz, Bill Finger, and Julius Schwartz as Jewish titans of the industry, yet Jewish characters are among the more marginalized groups represented in comics. Here’s hoping Ragman keeps that part of his character upon adaptation to the small screen.
Arrow season 5 premieres October 5, 2016
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