As Busiek and Ross did with their seminal Marvel series, the stories quite often focus on superhero characters from the civilian sidelines, teasing out problems and solutions to real-world considerations of genre elements, and comments on aspects of comic book superheroes—and heroic fiction in general. It does so, in large part, by first building a world that is much like the one that likely existed in the creators' imaginations when they were children and young men, a sort of amalgated universe where DC, Marvel, Charlton and Hollywood heroes all share the same space.
Since they don't own the rights to any of these characters, however, they fill Astro City with analogs, some much more direct than others: The Samaritan is Superman, The Confessor and Altar Boy are Batman and Robin, The Gentleman is Captain Marvel, The First Family is The Fantastic Four and so on (Often with key, imaginative differences, sure, but, for the point of this post, I just want to focus on the fact that Astro City is populated with analog versions of some the most popular superhero characters of all time).
The latest iteration of Astro City is being published under DC's Vertigo imprint, and its latest collection was Astro City: Winged Victory, starring the Wonder Woman analog named in the sub-title. It also features a new villain in a minor role: Maneater!
In the back of the book, we're shown a sketch of Maneater:
Maneater is a black woman with a shark-like fin, gray shark-type skin and pointy teeth; she wears something that looks like a surfer's wetsuit, patterned like an orca.Like an orca, huh...? Aha! Now I know why Maneater looked so familiar!
If you missed that story arc, or her subsequent cameos, here's the deal with Orca: Dr. Grace Balin (Balin! Like baleen! Get it?!) was a marine biologist and social activist whose spine was paralyzed in an accident that cost her the use of her legs. Just as Dr. Kirk Langstrom looked to bats in his development a serum to combat deafness and Dr. Kurt Connors looked to lizards in his development of a serum to help people re-grow lost limbs, Balin develops a serum that can restore her spine, but with the expected side effect of turning her into a half-human, half-animal monster.
I always kinda liked the character, for a couple of reasons. First, she did not have the typical build and figure of, let's see, every single female supervillain ever. Second, like Killer Croc and Man-Bat (and sometimes Solomon Grundy or Clayface), she fit into the "big, tough, monster" category of Batman villain, of the sort that could give a more powerful superhero someone to fight when they team up with Batman. Third, I kinda like underwater villains, especially in the DC Universe, as poor Aquaman, a long-time favorite character of mine, never seemed to have enough cool villains of his own to fight. Fourth, she was a minor, slightly silly, oft-ridiculed Batman villain, of the sort Batman history is lousy with, and whom attain a sort of underdog status I always enjoy rooting for. Fifth, I just like typing the phrase "Orca, The Whale Woman."
Which, oddly enough, when I Google, I only find used on comics blogs making fun of Orca, like this 20008 one with the inspired title from Mr. Chris Sims (from which I stole one of those scans), or this older-still post on The Absorbascon.
Well, say what you will about Orca, and you will say more about Orca, at the very least, she now has an Astro City analog character based on her, and that's something you can't say about every Batman villain.
Incidentally, unless I missed some appearances—I don't remember her appearing as a Black Lantern during Blackest Night, which, if true, is kinda weird, as they were pretty desperate for dead Batman villains to put into the tie-ins—then Orca analog Maneater has already had one-third as many appearances as her inspiration.
Assuming she was inspired by Orca, and it wasn't just a pure coincidence that Busiek and company produced a villain that looked so much like one who appeared in like five comics. As an Orca advocate, I'm going to continue assuming that Maneater was created in knowing, loving tribute to Orca.