(Golden Age material)
Mr. Per Degaton is an evil time traveller, and a notable Justice Society of America enemy.
The first story about him was published in 1947. Though *technically* he was off-panel in a 1941 JSA time travel story.
While my brain has been insisting for decades that “per degaton” has to be a pun in Latin, this isn’t actually the case.
Here, we’ll only cover his two appearances that were actually published during the 1940s. This is a narrow scope, but :
- This is part of a series of writeups for enemies of the JSA during their Golden AgeSuper-hero comics from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. appearances.
- All these articles cover but a few stories. But those about the most enduring characters keep being unexpectedly long. There’s a lot of things to say about these guys.
- Being a time traveller, Per Degaton ends up in paradoxes and alternate timelines and the like. So there are multiple versions of him due to chronal divergences. But if these divergent versions are branches, then his 1940s debut is the trunk. So it’s better to discuss the trunk first.
This article is best read after the character profile for the Wizard (W.I. Zard), which explains the basics of the original Injustice Society of the World.
If you don’t know the basics about the Golden Age of comics and the Justice Society, it’s prolly best to start with the Justice Society of America team profiles.
- Real Name: Per Degaton.
- Known Relatives: None.
- Group Affiliation: Leader of his own paramilitaries, member of the first Injustice Society of the World.
- Base of Operations: Unrevealed.
- Height: 5’4″ (1.62 m). Weight: 135 lbs. (61 Kg.).
- Eyes: Blue. Hair: Red.
I love Joe Satriani but I never get to play any on as part of those writeups.
So let’s seize the occasion to have, of course, “Time Machine”.
Satriani does instrumental hard rock that strikes a balance between his acclaimed mastery of the guitar and engaging compositions.
Powers & Abilities
Per Degaton isn’t tall, but he’s broad-shouldered and clearly works out. He’s not as tough as a two-fisted mystery man, but he likely can take on most veteran brawlers or boxers.
However, personal combat isn’t part of his normal modus operandi. Degaton sees himself more as a general.
Still, he normally carries a pistol, plus a knife with a distinctive D-shaped handguard.
Man in charge
Mr. Degaton and his paramilitaries are trained to operate American small arms and military vehicles. One suspects that Degaton served with a frontline US military unit during World War Two.
He could even command an armour company. And he seemed to be the one commanding the bulk of the paramilitaries of the original Injustice Society of the World (ISW), which would be impressive.
As mentioned in the Wizard (William Zard) character profile, it seems likely that the ISW fielded several divisions. Possibly several *corps*.
Per Degaton has extensive underworld contacts. But early on these mostly came from his aide, Kale. Kale recruited “a hundred tough mugs” to form Degaton’s troops.
As long as they’re paid, the men seem to have proper discipline.
The man with the plan
Mr. Degaton has an unclear amount of scientific and technological skill. During the 1940s stories, he doesn’t clearly demonstrate anything greater than a familiarity with chronophysics and time machine maintenance.
So at this point he’s more of a militaristic conqueror who used time travel that one time to gain superiority. He’s not an evil Rip Hunter. His skills in chronophysics appear too limited to make time travel a constant part of his modus operandi.
Mr. Degaton seems to be a good planner and leader. However, he’s not *quite* as competent at those as he thinks he is. Like most people, I guess.
He has a manic, sinister intensity that tends to impress.
How Per Degaton procures his military gear and other supplies is unclear. Especially since he couldn’t pay his troops right away.
History (part 1)
Per Degaton spent much of his life working as a menial-ish lab assistant, for a succession of noted American scientists.
Though he insisted that he too was a genius, his employers weren’t impressed.
It seems likely that he served on the front line during World War Two. His apparent abilities as a commander can’t come out of nowhere, so perhaps he obtained a commission and lost it in troubled circumstances ?
But there’s no mention of any military background in the material.
By 1947, he was assisting one Dr. Malachi Zee, who had a working time travel technology. But Zee too treated Degaton like a gopher.
(It was later revealed that Dr. Zee was part of the same time travel research project as polymath Dr. Everson. Dr. Everson twice helped the JSA with his “time ray”. So making up a link between the two scientists is an obvious step.)
Dr. Zee had developed a method to evaluate the impact of tampering with history. In *this* story, time reacts as follows :
- It’s chaotic. That is, a small alteration will have rippling and unintuitive consequences, which Zee could model. This evokes the seminal time travel short story A sound of thunder, which was published 5 years later.
- It’s gradually subtractive. The ripple effect doesn’t create a new history, as far as we can discern. Rather, it gradually removes, in chronological order, elements that can no longer exist. Essentially, the post-divergence future gets… emptier.
Zee and his colleagues had already developed a defence. It seems that a specific metal, irradiated in a specific way, somehow blocked the effect.
It was *presumably* as part of this effort that a huge time capsule, made of this metal, was prepared. This way, the key resources within the capsule would remain available even after hostile historical tampering.
The capsule is buried in the “Colossal Caves”. Presumably meaning those karstic caves systems near Tucson, AZ.
They called me mad ! Mad !
After discussing Zee’s theories with the good professor, Degaton had a fit of temper. He claimed that he would use Zee’s theories to conquer the world.
When the professor protested, Degaton shot him.
The ex-assistant then went on to :
- Prepare a paramilitary force for his take over of the world.
- Stockpile an arsenal (including tanks and field artillery) in a special warehouse within the Colossal Caves. There, they would be protected from chronal tampering.
- Launch an expedition into the past to alter history.
The tipping point that was selected was the battle of Arbela, in 331 BC. To simplify, it was the final turning point in the war between the Macedonians (Alexander the Great) and the Persians (Darius).
In this story, Alexander is presented as a champion of democracy, which, well…
(Camera dollies toward the assembled representatives of the League of Corinth, laughing heartily and slapping their thighs in Ancient Greek.)
Having the Achaemenid Empire win against the Macedonians apparently slowed down technological progress by five centuries or so. Which is an odd take, to be polite.
This technological slow down manifested in a most extraordinary manner in the present – that is, the 1940s.
Recent technology morphedImpossibly shifting into another form. into ever-older predecessors of the same device, until it disappeared altogether. Books vanished in the same way.
Over days, the US was mostly back to a state of tech development approximating the late 1700s. The world eventually settled to a state said to approximate the Middle Ages.
There was little apparent unrest, as people just meekly tried to adapt. And when Per Degaton and his forces came in with Sherman tanks , Jeeps , 2½ tons trucks , M1 submachineguns, Garands, 105mm howitzers , several monoprop fighters, etc. there was little that could be done to oppose them.
Despite the Justice Society’s opposition, the US rapidly devolved into a bunch of… satrapies, I guess.
It was under the control of Per Degaton, but there was rampant abuse by local lords. So much that the JSA, the only resistance left, was mired in whack-a-mole mode for ten years.
Knowing is half the battle
However, in the earliest days of the Per Degaton takeover, the Justice Society had managed some key actions.
- The Flash (Jay Garrick) rushed to the Colossal Caves time capsule, to find the last doses of penicillin on Earth. This allowed physicians to save Professor Zee’s life, even after Per Degaton shot him a second time.
- The Atom (Al Pratt) determined that Per Degaton had triggered “the Change” by intervening during an historical battle.
- Professor Zee determined that it was the Battle of Arbela (now more commonly called the Battle of Gaugamela ).
- Green Lantern (Alan Scott) beelined for Zee’s time machine, now held by Per Degaton. However, Degaton tricked him into rushing into the machine. The soon-to-be dictator then sent it careening 10,000 years into the future, where it would explode.
Howbeit, Green Lantern :
- Accidentally set the machine’s destination to 10 years in the future, not 10,000.
- Ran into the Justice Society of the year 1957, futilely struggling to make the Degaton-dominated USA a better place.
- Could concentrate hard enough to have his ring send him and his colleagues to the year 331 BCE.
The Justice Society intervened at Gaugamela. They prevented Per Degaton and his men from gunning down the Macedonian military, and the battle was won in an historically correct manner. Well, more or less.
This retroactively erased all of the revised history.
Oddly, it even went back a little further. In the restored history, Per Degaton never worked himself up to a point where he shot Professor Zee.
All alone in the moonliiiiight
Mr. Degaton had some memories of the now-erased events. But he thought that it had just been a particularly weird dream.
The Justice Society forgot about the events. However, an Ancient Macedonian inscribed shield was then found.
Wonder Woman was puzzled to see that the text was a dedication to the Justice Society by Alexander the Great. She used Amazonian technology to investigate.
Which is how the Justice Society learned about this epic adventure of theirs, which had now never taken place.
History (part 2)
Mere months later, Per Degaton was one of the leaders of the Injustice Society of the World (ISW). As explained in the Wizard’s profile, they nearly conquered the entire USA.
There is a sense that Degaton was the one handling much of the logistical and paramilitary aspects of this huge operation. But it’s not stated.
It’s more a process of elimination, as none of his colleagues has quite the right profile. And we’ve previously seen Degaton leading company-level, combined-arms forces.
March of Injustice
Degaton is seen commanding an assault on Washington, D.C. (or “Capitol City” in the story).
It relies on a smoke machine blanketing multiple blocks in darkness (perhaps the same tech as the Night-Owl’s). Plus airborne grenadiers wearing special smoke-defeating goggles.
These men have uniforms and training evoking the paramilitaries in Degaton’s previous appearance. They are mostly light infantry, though – the exception being horsemen (!).
Doctor Mid-Nite (Charles McNider) intervenes and begins turning the tide. But Degaton takes him out from behind.
The ISW briefly assumed control of the country, but the JSA soon took them out. Like most ISW leaders, Degaton was knocked out by Wonder Woman.
In his first few panels with Prof. Zee, Per Degaton seems to be a tall dude. But later on he looks almost as short as the Atom (Al Pratt). So it’s presumably Professor Zee who is tiny.
His black uniform evokes the Nazi SS uniform, especially in a 1947 context. The red contrasting with the black also is a Nazi visual signature. But beyond these colours, there’s little that resembles those uniforms.
His men’s uniform didn’t look flashy, or even that militaristic. Black boots, featureless black jodhpurs, tight featureless turtleneck black sweaters. Do you like their tight sweaters ?. They looked more like burglars than soldiers.
The “D” initial/symbol was prominently displayed on every single vehicle. But, curiously, not on the infantry’s uniforms.
Per Degaton occasionally smokes cigarettes.
His thick black eyebrows and somewhat sunken eyes give him a sinister look, with lots of shadows about his peepers.
Per Degaton’s primary character trait is a burning desire to prove that he’s a genius of historical proportion.
Something of a conquering Alexander the Great figure, which may explain his choice about which historical event to sabotage.
This is also the source of his defeats :
- He will only reluctantly listen to the suggestions of “inferior” minds, which would be nearly everybody. That was suspended, however, by the Wizard’s superb leadership of the Injustice Society.
- If he captures an opponent he intends to eliminate, he will insist upon placing them in a death trap. Preferably a convoluted one full of moving parts, and a Gothic horror villain vibe with burning ropes, falling objects, beakers of acid, etc.. This is to prove that he has the superior mind, see ?
His strategies will often rely on taking out the enemy officials. Which was a bit old-school by the 1940s, but is effective in the story.
Per Degaton has little sense of honour. He has zero problem reneging on his word, attacking from behind and being a low down, dirty deceiver.
“You see how your petty mind works, Kale ? If you were running this show, you’d use the methods of a mere thug. I am Degaton — and I prefer to do things my way !”
“It’s of the utmost importance to my plans that the city be left leaderless ! That way we’ll break down law and order — city by city –“.
DC Heroes RPG
Tell me more about the game stats
|Dex: 05||Str: 04||Bod: 04|
|Int: 06||Wil: 06||Min: 04|
|Inf: 06||Aur: 06||Spi: 05|
|Init: 017||HP: 045|
Charisma: 07, Military science (Field command): 06, Thief (Stealth): 04, Vehicles (Land): 04, Weaponry*: 05
Familiarity (Chronophysics, Lab equipment maintenance).
SIA toward putting major opponents into death traps.
- Early on he uses a snub-nosed revolver, presumably in .38 [BODY 02, Projectile weapons: 03, Ammo: 06, Miniaturisation: 01, R#03].
- Later on it was semi-auto with John-Browning-like lines. It seemed a bit light to be a Colt M1911A1, but since all the hardware he commands seems to be US Army standard, I guess it’s one [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 08, R#03].
- The knife is never used in the material, so let’s go with stock trench knife stats [BODY 04, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 05), Descriptor: Blunt, Piercing, Slashing, Bonus: +1CS OV/RV to resist Disarm attempts].
The Wealth is kept at a default level since I have no idea how he procured the tanks, planes, trucks, etc.. during his first appearance. Prolly not on his lab assistant pay.
(Well, I suspect that it was USArmy gear that had just been delivered to the Colossal Caves as part of another “time capsule”. But that rests on successive, not-clearly-in-the-material hypotheses).
The SIA is more a matter of storytelling genre than an attribute of this specific character. So it’s there more as a reminder that he keeps doing that.
I tried to keep a bit of Mayfair-ness to these stats, but little actually survived our usual “what he’s actually seen doing in the primary sources” heuristics.
Source of Character: 1940s All-Star Comics.
Helper(s): Darci, and my unwavering conviction that I am a man of destiny and you’ll rue the day when you denied my staggering genius.
Writeup completed on the 19th of August, 2022.