August General In Iron is the archetype for a group of parallel world, doppelganger, or otherwise related characters. These characters include:
August General In Iron and his team, the Great Ten, first appeared in 52 #6 (Aug 2006) as part of the post-Infinite Crisis push by publisher Paul Levitz to diversify DC’s line of characters (it’s the same push that created characters like the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, Ryan Choi Atom, and the second Batwoman).
Grant Morrison had just finished a run on the New X-Men and had assembled a mass of reference material for the creation of a Chinese character called Xorn. After the first 52 story meeting Morrison dug into that reference and “hammered out a huge document complete with detailed origin stories and backgrounds for every member of the Great Ten, as well as some details of the Chinese Government’s ‘super-functionary’ program. ”
The designs for the new characters were done by 52 cover artists J.G. Jones who told Wizard that he had “more fun doing the character designs than I’ve had going comics in years.”
The Great Ten are the Chinese Ultimates – a military sponsored superhero with a unified back story. The leader and keystone of the Ultimates is Captain America and the WWII super solider program. The leader and keystone of the Great Ten is August General In Iron and the crashed Durlan spacecraft from which he derives his powers.
The General and the Great Ten appeared as background characters in 52 and in some DC Universe appearances that pitched China against America. He was involved heavily in Greg Rucka’s Checkmate which dealt with an international superhuman police agency and eventually incorporated the General as China’s representative. The characters were popular enough for DC to commission a Great Ten mini-series written by Tony Bedard.
Bedard told Newsarama’s Vaneta Rogers that:
August General in Iron is China’s ‘Captain America’ figure – the super-soldier who personally embodies the strength, resilience and pride of his country. [...] He’s a symbol of the self-sacrifice and desire for order that is a major theme in Chinese culture. But there’s a flesh-and-blood man within his rusty iron exterior, a good and decent man trying to make sense of a national crisis and do the right thing.
The August General has one of my favorite visual designs in the Great Ten. He’s like a living statue or one of those terra-cotta soldiers from the tomb of the first Emperor come to life. He has a palpable dignity, despite the fact that his exterior is all pitted and rusty. Or maybe it’s because he has that texture that he seems like a living monument.
The General has been revealed as a member of the up coming Justice League International relaunch.
The August General In Iron is China’s premier Super Functionary (superhero) and as such his history is intimately associated with that of the Super Functionary programme and his country’s association with superhumans. Thus much of the following relates to the wider Great Ten and not necessarily the General himself. Where possible we follow the Chinese convention. Thus the August General’s alter ego is called Fang Zhufi (family-name given-name) under the Chinese convention whereas it would be Zhufi Fang (given-name family-name) under the Western convention.
Pre-Great Ten Metahumans
China traces its origin to the formation of the first Qin State in 221 BC by Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor. Qin instituted the standardisation of the Chinese language and is famous for his elaborate tomb protected by its Terracotta Army. The construction of the tomb and the army was overseen by the genius Lao Yuqi who designed an additional force of 100 mechanical men to defend the Emperor in death (The Great Ten #8).
Although different dynasties waxed and waned the perpetual idea of China endured. Like any ruler the Emperors kept power by removing threats against themselves. In the 18th century Emperor Yongzheng feared the power of the warrior monks in the Shaolin Temple and ordered its destruction. One young soldier called Yang Kei-Ying was so amazed at what he saw during the assault on the Temple that he sought out Taoist immortals and pleaded to be trained by them. They recognised his hand in the Temple’s destruction and cursed him with knowledge of seven different fighting styles as the Seven Deadly Brothers (The Great Ten #7).
The time of the Emperors finally came to an end in 1912 when the democratic Republic of China was established. However, China suffered under the Japanese during World War II and an ensuing civil war. The mainland was conqueror by communist rebels led by Mao Zedong leaving the island of Taiwan as the only refuge of the pre-war regime. In the 1960s and 70s Chairman Mao instituted a communist Cultural Revolution which severely retarded China’s cultural, technological, and economic development.
Unsanctioned vigilantes were not tolerated by the Maoist regime and most of China’s significant meta-humans were either been executed or defected to the West (The Great Ten #2). One of the few heroes to be sanctioned by the state was the Socialist Red Guardsman (Gu Lao), a survivor of a radioactive accident he was hard-line Maoist who is increasingly disillusioned with the modern China (The Great Ten #9). It was only after Mao’s death that China slowly become more open and began the modernisation program which has now made the fastest growing economy in the world.
Captain Fang of Xeno-Team Lanzhou
The invasion of the Earth by an alien Alliance served as a wake up call for many national governments (Invasion #1-3). It prompted a round of defence and security development in national governments and at the United Nations. The United States Government had begun preparatory work for the Human Defence Corps and the UN established a European branch of the Justice League International, while the Russian Government already had a successful metahuman soldier programme in the Rocket Red Brigade. China, however, still lagged behind in the mobilisation of their own meta-humans.
The first step that the modern Chinese regime took to defend themselves against extra-normal threats was to create a series of elite units (Xeno-Teams) within the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). One of these groups, Xeno-Team Lanzhou, was led by Captain Fang Zhifu a Chinese nationalist and a career soldier who was fond of reciting the teachings of the ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu. He had an unshakable, almost iron like conception of his own identity and instinctively distrusted (to the point of hatred) anyone who did not have a similar conception of themselves. He was nevertheless extremely professionally and would work with whoever his superiors deemed necessary.
The defining moment in Fang’s life was the “Qinghai Incident”. He and his men had been ordered to Qinghai Province where they were to recover a crashed Durlan spacecraft and capture its crew. The malleable, shape-shifting Durlans disgusted Fang, but they put up stiff resistance to the experimental weaponry used by the Xeno-Team. The Durlans last defence was to turn themselves into bioweapons which began to break down the human soldier’s cellular make-up. Only Captain Fang’s intense sense of self allowed him to survive the Durlan’s assault and the battery of medical treatments afterwards.
Fang had survived and had been left stronger than before, but his skin had been transmuted into a form of living iron. The iron plates gave him incredible resilience and reflected his inner self, but they also isolated him from outside sensation. The change so horrified Fang’s fiancée that she called off their wedding. The plates have rusted on contact with the air and make him seem like one of the Terracotta Army (the guardians of the First Emperor’s tomb) come to life (The Great Ten #5).
August Captain in Iron
Minister Jiang Eng from the national government had originally sent Captain Fang to the Qinghai Incident and now recognised the opportunity presented by his transformation. He conceived of a new class of public servants called Super Functionaries, meta-humans and similar people who served the Chinese state and not their own individualistic, vigilante whims as the American superheroes did. These Super Functionaries were brought under the control of Jiang’s Standing Committee on Metahuman Affairs.
The first two Super Functionaries presented to the Committee were Captain Fang (now styled the August Captain In Iron) and the Maoist era Socialist Red Guardsman (who had been given a new lease of life by a new containment suit constructed from Durlan technology) (The Great Ten #5). Their first test came when archeologists unearthed the First Emperor’s mechanical army. They marched on the Forbidden City and were only stopped by a confrontation in Tiananmen Square. Director Jiang believed that the older Guardsman would keep the less experienced Captain in line, but it proved to be the other way around with the Guardsman carelessly killing a still classified number of PLA troops and bystanders whilst destroying the mechanical army (The Great Ten #8). The implication is that this event in the DCU replaces the brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square that occurred on Earth-Prime.
A hundredth Qin era android survived in the First Emperor’s tomb as its programming had been altered by Lao Yuqi. Its altered peaceful I Ching programme was discovered by the Committee who had it upgraded using Durlan technology to become the Super Functionary called the Shaolin Robot (The Great Ten #8). They were eventually joined by a fourth Super Functionary derived from the Qinghai Incident. Despite being called the Immortal Man-in-Darkness he was actually a succession of short-lived PLAAF volunteers who sacrificed their lives to pilot the Dragonwing, a craft built from the remains of the Durlan’s craft (The Great Ten #4).
Part of the August Captain’s duties was to hunt meta-humans who were not yet under the Committee’s control. Those whom he was not forced to kill in self-defence were offered the opportunity to join the programme or be relocated to a work camp in the Gobi Desert. Of those metahumans he encountered the Accomplished Perfect Physician was perhaps most problematic for him and the Ghost Fox Killer his greatest ally.
The Physician was a PLA deserter called Corporal Yao who had been transformed into the seventeenth reincarnation of the Perfect Physician as punishment for killing a Tibetan monk. He had become something of a “Robin Hood” like figure in Tibet and repeatedly fought the Captain. He represented everything that the dutiful, loyal Fang detested. The Physician nevertheless agreed to work as a Super Functionary (much to Fang’s constant annoyance) (The Great Ten #1).
Captain Fang first encountered the beautiful Ghost Fox Killer whilst following-up rumours about murdered gangsters in Hong Kong. She was an otherworldly spirit who harvested the souls of evil men to power her home dimension’s attachment to the Earth. Her touch usually meant instant death, but the August Captain’s iron skin somehow made him immune. He was fascinated to find somebody who was actually willing to be close to him and she found somebody who she could actually be close to. The Ghost Fox cared little for Fang’s superiors, but became a Super Functionary out of personal loyalty to him (The Great Ten #5).
August General In Iron and the Great Ten
The Standing Committee’s Super Functionary programme came to fruition when its most able operatives were unveiled to the world at the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics (or whatever international sporting event replaces it in the sliding timeline). Fang was promoted to the rank of General and became the August General In Iron, the leader of the new Great Ten (The Great Ten #1). As his government’s premier Super Functionary the August General serves as an ambassador and representative when political necessity requires the presence of a Chinese metahuman on the world stage.
The Great Ten is evenly split between the PLA/Government sponsored, science-based Super Functionaries (the August General, the Socialist Red Guardsman, Immortal Man in Darkness, the upgraded Shaolin Robot, and the Mother of Champions) and the more independent heroes drawn from China’s long and varied mystical legacy (Accomplished Perfect Physician, Ghost Fox Killer, Celestial Archer, Seven Deadly Brothers, and Thundermind).
Of the independents it is Thundermind’s inclusion that is most significant. He is a humble history teacher who transform himself into an elevated Buddhist “Awakened One” using the phrase “All hail the jewel in the lotus.” He has telekinetic/telepathic powers and has been described as “China’s Superman” for his righteousness and selfless defence of Beijing. Thundermind is genuinely beloved by the people he protects and although considered one of the Great Ten’s more dependable members he isn’t under the same amount of direct control as PLA sponsored members like the August General (The Great Ten #3).
The Great Ten are overseen by Vice Premier Jiang Eng from the Great Wall Complex which is situated about 20 miles outside of Beijing. The actual team remains mobile within China’s vast expanse thanks to a flying headquarters that doubles as a PLAAF helicopter carrier. Events during The Great Ten mini-series demonstrated that not all members of the Great Ten are as closely controlled as the PLA sponsored Super Functionaries. Some of them, like Thundermind who is the closest thing to a Western superhero they have, maintain a secret identity that even Jiang isn’t aware of. In this way the Great Ten is far more like the Justice League than they are a group like the Rocket Reds (The Great Ten #1-9).
The Great Ten eventually met foreign superheroes, although with varying degrees of welcome. They helped Japan’s Super Young Team prevent Brimstone from destroying Tokyo, but were forced into a stand-off when a pair of Green Lanterns (Hal Jordan and John Stewart) followed Evil Starr into Chinese air space. The Rocket Red Brigade backed the Lanterns, but Black Adam (ruler of Kahndaq) sided with the Chinese (52 #6). Shortly afterwards Black Adam convinced both Russia and China to back his coalition aimed at curtailing the international activities of US metahumans. Both the August General In Iron and Rocket Red #1 attended a reception in Kahndaq to discuss the coalition (52 #10).
Chang Tzu and Oolong Island
One of the less desirable elements of the Super Functionary programme was its association with a weapon-smith called Doctor Chang Tzu. The giant egg-shaped Tzu may be of Apokoliptian origin (Wonder Woman vol. 2 #128), but it was certainly involved with Apokolips sponsored “The Crime Bible” cult behind the reinvention of Intergang. From its base of operations on the Chinese protectorate of Oolong Island it kidnapped a slew of super villains to supervise and build a series of super-weapons for Intergang called the Four Horsemen.
Intergang chose to use the Four Horsemen against Kahndaq after Black Adam rejected an alliance with them. He then married the goddess Isis and renounced his international coalition (52 #24). Isis’s murder and the decimation of Kahndaq pushed the insane Black Adam into an all out war on his former allies. He knew that Oolong was a Chinese Protectorate and held them responsible for Chang Tzu’s monsters. Tzu’s Science Squad managed to captured Black Adam and that attracted the attention his former associates in the Justice Society.
The Great Ten’s Thundermind disliked their association with Tzu and telepathically revealed to the JSA’s Alan Scott that Tzu was a secret eleventh member of the Great Ten. Beijing had ordered Tzu to use Intergang money and resources to assassinate Black Adam and his family. However, Black Adam escaped and headed straight for Beijing. The Great Ten could barely hold him and the Great Wall Complex refused to allow them to call help from foreign super-humans. The August General took matters into his own hands and unilaterally invited the foreigners in when a communications failure cut them off from their superiors (52 #49-50).
The devastation unleashed by Black Adam’s rampage prompted the UN to establish an international metahuman watchdog agency called Checkmate (created out of the ashes of the rogue US spy agency of the same name). The new agency, led a White King (briefly Alan Scott) and a Black King (Talib Ben Khalid of Israel), almost immediately bumped heads with the Chinese Government when the Great Wall Complex tried to cover up a break-in by the Kobra terrorist cult at their Hebei research facility. The August General clashed with Checkmate operatives including Beatriz DaCosta (Fire, Black King’s Knight) when they tried to investigate Hebei and the situation was only diffused then Alan Scott exposed the Kobra informant (Checkmate #1-4).
The August General was ordered by his superiors to supervise Chang Tzu during its study of a pair of captured American metahumans (the Outsiders Captain Boomerang II and Checkmate’s Black Queen Sasha Bordeaux). The operation was not officially sanctioned by Beijing was was actually taking place on North Korean soil. A joint squad from Checkmate and Outsiders freed the prisoners, but Chang Tzu and the General had already left. The General had removed himself before their torture and kept his own opinions to himself (“Checkout”, Checkmate #13-15, Outsiders #47-49).
Black King’s Bishop
The irony was that even after twice clashing with Checkmate the August General was still the logical candidate to join them then their Chinese representative took a leave of absence. The General was seconded as the Black King’s Bishop (operation’s side intelligence expert) reporting to the Black King. Bordeaux punched the General to the ground when she saw him, but he claimed he had just been following orders and did not retaliate (Checkmate #16). The General was frank in admitting to the Black King that his orders included espionage for the Chinese Government, but he stressed that “this does not mean I cannot serve you, as well.” (Checkmate #18).
Khalid could not fire the General so he had to accept his presence and ordered him to find the White Queen’s Bishop (King Faraday). Under his orders Ghost Killer Fox discovered that the White Queen (Amanda Waller) was involved in exiling US super villains to an alien world. It was part of a body of evidence that allowed Checkmate to eject Waller and repair their impartiality. Waller was replaced by Valentina Vostok as White Queen and King Faraday was replaced by Maks Chazov (Rocket Red One) (Checkmate #18-20).
Despite his ties to China the August General was good to his word and served the Black King in Checkmate’s dealings with Kobra. The Black King was also careful to shield the General from affairs that impinged on China to protect him from outside accusations about his impartiality. This even led to the Black King refusing the General’s request to return to China to fight the Qi-Yu monster – despite it attacking the General’s own village. However, the General returned to China anyway and fought the creature at an industrial complex near Tungchow Pass. The General was killed in that battle and was resurrected by a Checkmate soldier (Checkmate #28-31).
The plot line with the General’s death/resurrection wasn’t followed up before Checkmate was cancelled. It is not known whether the General still held his Checkmate position at the time that Maxwell Lord engineered the revocation of Checkmate’s UN Charter (Justice League: Generation Lost).
Elements of the Great Ten had been dispatched to Tibet to quell a riot when a new group appeared claiming to be the ancient gods of China returned. The young Great Ten member the Celestial Archer was conflicted by their appearance as he had been granted his powers by the true gods who still remained in exile. He sided with the pretenders for a time until it was exposed by Thundermind and the Accomplished Perfect Physician that they were normal people who had been given advanced powers using alien technology and then brainwashed into thinking that they were actually gods.
The “gods” had been created by rebel elements within the Republic of Taiwan as a distraction to hide the real assault – an army of androids built a secret factory in the Gobi Desert. They were based on those the August General and Socialist Red Guardsman had fought earlier in their careers. When the deception was revealed the surviving “gods” joined the Great Ten and the Mother of Champion’s off-spring to defeat the android army (The Great Ten #1-9).
Powers and Abilities
The August General In Iron’s transformation has left him “stronger than a battalion of men” and covered with “rusty plates of iron” which are “grown, not worn”. The exact limits of the invulnerability that his skin provides isn’t known, but he is impervious to Ghost Fox Killer’s deadly touch (The Great Ten #5), but not to the mystical arrows of the Celestial Archer (The Great Ten #2). The General has been shown flying and is equipped with a staff that can fire bolts of energy.