Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Week 105 or so: One Year Later (and then some)

In the unlikely event that anyone's still got this site in their RSS feeds: I should note that I'm writing about periodical comics and occasionally other stuff over at The Savage Critic(s), and recently did a one-year-after-52 post there.

Also, for those of you interested in DC mega-events, I've started a new blog for Final Crisis annotations. Come on over and say hi!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Week 52: Outside Time Without Extension

Or: Mr. Mind Eating Continuity is the New Superboy Punching the Universe.* Also in this week's post! An important message to you from the editor--about the NEW Pickup!

Before I get to 52.52 itself, though, as a few people have suggested, I'm going to take this last opportunity to hype my book a little. It's called Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean, it's being published by Da Capo Press at the beginning of July, I'm really happy with how it turned out, and I encourage you to pre-order a copy here. 52 is mentioned only in passing, but there's a 30-page chapter on Grant Morrison (and Seven Soldiers and The Invisibles in particular), as well as essays about Question creator Steve Ditko, Mogo co-creator Alan Moore, and Mystery In Space writer/artist Jim Starlin. It's also got chapters on David B., Chester Brown, Carla Speed McNeil, Dave Sim, Chris Ware, Alison Bechdel, Tomb of Dracula, superheroes, superreaders, bad comics, good comics, art comics, and much more. I suspect that people who've enjoyed 52 Pickup will get a charge out of it, or at least find stuff to argue with. You can also befriend it on MySpace--I'll probably be announcing tour dates and such there.

Okay, plug over; thanks for your patience. So: we've got the multiple earths back, and this time they're not infinite but as finite as a deck of cards. The point of Crisis on Infinite Earths was slate-clearing: getting rid of the profusion of alternate realities that was supposedly confusing superhero-comics readers, and clearing the way for one true continuity. In retrospect, that was a mistake, and not just because continuity glitches started piling up within months, especially with the Superman reboot--not only were parallel earths a great springboard for stories, but I don't know that eliminating them made the DCU all that much clearer or more interesting a fictional setting. Since there wasn't the "hard reboot" that Marv Wolfman originally suggested, every fix has led to more fixes, and now it's a history that's permanently in flux, the elves of Superboy's universe-punching and Mr. Mind's continuity-eating going back and rewriting the archives of the Daily Planet again and again. And 20 years after COIE, virtually the only people still reading DCU comics are the people who care about the parallel earths, and would've been happier if they'd stuck around. (Infinite Crisis's payoff was a big old tease for what actually happens this issue.)

I'm one of the people who's delighted to see the parallel-earths concept back, not just because it's tied to so many stories I love, but because there's something intrinsically beautiful about it that extends beyond the content of superhero comics to their form. It gets to the heart of cartooning--the way that an artist can draw a world that's like the one its readers experience, but altered through perception and interpretation. The idea is that "default reality" is not the way things have to be; that not only might everything have turned out differently, but somewhere they did; and that we can approach that place through the bright metaphors of superheroes and their continuity, and the subtler metaphors by which hand-drawn ink lines stand in for what our eyes perceive in the world.

We'd been promised that 52 was a story with an actual resolution, and so it is--up to a point, although it was also intended from the outset as an incubator for new projects starring its former C-list characters. I think it's built up a couple of them successfully, but I don't know how many 52 spinoffs I'd want to read. This, I figure, is a good moment to take a long view of 52's more-or-less-surviving main characters:

What Have We Learned?: He's awfully good at flying and shooting, even when he's blind. That's it; no other character development here.
Do I Want to Read More?: No. Like I've said before, the hook of the early Adam Strange stories was that they were basically romance stories--they were about what he had to do to overcome the distance between himself and his beloved--with some space opera thrown in for flavor. (Even that great Alan Moore two-parter in Swamp Thing was about the cultural distance between them.) Aside from the two-panel reunion with Alanna last week, this incarnation of Adam totally ignored that angle, and I have no evidence that any future Adam Strange stuff would be able to make the romance work.

What Have We Learned?: The universe does indeed like him; he's still the one significant DC character with access to the world beyond the fourth wall.
Do I Want to Read More?: No more than I want to read The Further Adventures of Odysseus after The Odyssey is over. He's got his happy ending, and he deserves it; can we just leave him with that?

What Have We Learned?: She kicks ass and kisses girls, and her family's got money and a menorah. That is, I believe, literally all we know about her.
Do I Want to Read More?: Now that I've spent a year wondering if there might be any more to her than ass-kicking and girl-kissing, I suspect there might not be anything that would make stories about her different from Generic Bat-Eared Action Hero stories.

What Have We Learned?: His sense of entitlement knows no bounds; he likes to dismember people even more than we thought he did.
Do I Want to Read More?: Oh Jesus no. Leaving Week 50 as the last appearance of Black Adam ever--undone by his pride, having shamed his country, wandering without his power, trying to recall a magic word that will never come back to him--would've been as good a ending to his story as I could've hoped for under the circumstances. But it's pretty clear that DC's decided to make him a major player for future projects too, and I can't think of any more one-dimensional character to deem "major."

What Have We Learned?: Even though he used to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, he can come through in the clutch; he's somehow key to the omni-multi time-travel megaverse setup we're going to be seeing a bunch more of.
Do I Want To Read More?: Well, I'm curious about the time-travel stuff, and Booster seems to be the character who's attached to that now. I also like the new angle Geoff Johns suggests here--that he's a hero who can never let on that he's doing the right thing. And the title of that first story arc is strangely appealing.

What Have We Learned?: He's a detective, people; he now knows the Ways of Magic, or at least the fictitious version that Faust fed him (since nobody's done much with the "new rules for the Tenth Age" that Michael Moorcock apparently drafted); he got his wish to be with Sue again, the hard way.
Do I Want to Read More?: I'd be perfectly happy to let his story stop here, and as much mileage as The Thin Man and Topper both have in them as premises for ongoing storytelling, I think they lose a lot when you combine them. I somehow imagine it being a bit more like "The Dead Detective."

What Have We Learned?: Her impulses--generally impulses to do good--keep leading her into damaging places; she doesn't understand herself, and is now making a career out of it.
Do I Want to Read More?: Yeah, actually; I think a superhero comic about introspection and self-discovery could be a mighty interesting thing if someone (Rucka!) could come up with a way to make it work. (The two closest approaches to that I can think of are Whisper and The Sentry, which are not exactly similar comics.)

What Have We Learned?: Nothing. Kory has been a device for moving the plot and basically nothing else in 52.
Do I Want to Read More?: Not until somebody thinks of something interesting to do with her.

What Have We Learned?: He's self-reliant. Really. He's all about self-reliance. That's his thing. Self-reliance. Yup. Admittedly, giving him powers that he neither chose nor earned could've led to an interesting angle on the character, but it didn't, and when they went away again, the effect was rather zero-sum.
Do I Want to Read More?: No. I still think the only writer who's written really good stories about Steel was Priest, and that was actually sort of sleight-of-hand--making his series about the relationship between him and Natasha.

As I feared, though, even though the character arcs are complete--and some of them in really satisfying ways!--there's a lot of the plot side of 52 that remains unresolved. Going back to that list of dangling plot threads I posted a couple of months ago, these are the big ones that still seem to be open:

1) Why was Intergang trying to do with their "invasion" of Gotham City/attempt to turn it into an Apokoliptic fire pit? Why did they need a beachhead in Kahndaq? Where are they getting their Kirbytech and beast-man tech?

2) What happened with Adam Strange and Alan Scott's eyes? (What's the one Alan has that's "not even his own"?)

3) What exactly did Adam, Buddy and Kory see in outer space (with the "giant hands" and all that--it seems to have been something other than the creation of parallel Earths, especially since they were nowhere near Earth), and how did they end up wherever they were thereafter?

4) What's the meaning of most of the stuff written all over Rip's lab--and why, for instance, did he write "52 is all his fault" a zillion times in a dirty corner if he's now cheerfully going on about how the existence of parallel whatevers is "the way things should be," and was caused by New Earth replicating itself "in a cosmic act of self-preservation"?

5) Why did Lady Styx want to capture and/or kill the space travelers, and if she sent the assassins that Starfire dispatched last week, shouldn't Buddy and his family be worried about future attacks?

6) What are the "two score and twelve walls of heaven" attached to the 52 realities, and what's beyond them?

7) How did Kate get to be Batwoman?

8) Where did Booster's future corpse come from?

9) Who gave Ralph "some help pulling himself together," and does it have anything to do with the unexpected intra-JLA hookup that the Wizard preview of 52 teased?

10) Did the Super-Chief business have any connection at all with the rest of the story? (It was supposed to tie in somewhere, right?)

11) Waverider appearing in Sivana's lab and saying "I know why": what was he doing there, and what did he mean by that?

12) Once again, most of the "between seconds" scene in Week 27 still needs some serious unpacking, although now we know what "the golden metal" is.

13) Why did the Chinese government commission the Four Horsemen?

14) What happened to the Plutonium Man that Dr. Magnus reconstructed?

15) Do all the multiple earths exist at different vibrational whosywhatsises in the same surrounding universe, or was the thing that was replicated 52 times actually the entire universe?

*I just noticed that Paul I beat me to this joke in the comments on last week's post. Oh well.

More notes:

Pg. 4: I love the idea that people in the DCU are constantly having strange adventures. And Mr. Mind ate the logo right off Conner Kent's shirt!

Pg. 5: But wouldn't it have been more fun if the Mr. Mind butterfly were still wearing his specs? The "vibrational plane" routine, incidentally, dates back as far as the DCU "parallel earths" concept.

Pg. 8: So the 52 seconds (which 52 seconds?) that Dr. Tyme stole somehow ended up as a loop in the possession of Rip Hunter? Then what was with the countdown Rip started the last time we saw him? And does this connect to the prophecy that "a few seconds will make all the difference", which was apparently not realized in IC?

Pp. 9-10: There are actually two different Earth-17s in DC continuity. One of them is the one that first appeared in this Morrison-written issue; the other one, as Michael Nicolai pointed out a few weeks ago, was the home of the rather Earth-1-like universe where all pre-Crisis New Gods stories that weren't actually written and drawn by Jack Kirby took place (it was named by Mark Evanier in a text piece here). I'm guessing this is the latter--and, with the retroactive disappearance of the Justice League, Detective Chimp, and various events I can't place (which all appear as comics panels, printed on paper and bent by the wind!), the atomic war that led to the existence of the original Atomic Knights seems to have happened.

Pg. 11: It appears that Earth-3--the Crime Syndicate's earth, in classical continuity, rather than the one they belong to in JLA: Earth 2--is the one that Talon from Week 32 came from.

Pg. 12: Mr. Mind's doing a pretty good job of reconstructing pre-Crisis Earths. Earth-10 is of course the former Earth-X, where the Nazis won World War II and the Quality characters/Freedom Fighters have finally made their appearance; Earth-5 is typographically close to its evident source Earth-S, where the Fawcett characters won World War II (and look! there's Tawky Tawny and Uncle Dudley!). And Earth-50--Man! Grant Morrison working on a comic that the WildCats appear in? Lightning does strike twice!

Pg. 13: Earth-22 is the Kingdom Come world, where Alex Ross's paintbox won World War II. Earth-2 is the circa-1979 version--Huntress even looks a bit like she's drawn by Joe Staton!--that Paul Levitz wrote in Adventure Comics and elsewhere. (And that's the world in which the Gotham Gazette is about Superman Superman rather than Batman, and has editors who can't spell "innocence" on front-page headlines. Superman's missing because he ended up in the Crises; Power Girl, I'm guessing, is the one who ended up on New Earth.) Earth-4 is the Lillian Charlton Home for Problem Children, where the Vic Sage Question is still alive and still an Objectivist.

Pg. 14: So the "garden" is just a figure of speech; somehow it seemed to signify more when it was mentioned earlier.

Pg. 16: Not sure how Booster's going to have "glory years" given the premise of the forthcoming series, but it's a nice thought, anyhow. And what's the difference between a multiverse and a megaverse?

Pg. 17: Is it just me, or does it seem like there should be some piece of exposition somewhere about what Booster's doing here, or what exactly the power source is? Is the thing he's holding on the next page the scarab? In any case, this last Blue and Gold moment (with a final bwahaha!) feels like a little bit of dramatic closure for the whole business that started with Countdown to Infinite Crisis. Too bad we don't get a Week Negative-Whatever dateline, though, but it's understandable that nobody wants to get too specific about how much time elapsed between COIE and IC. And was COIE really the "first crisis," or would that have been one of the several earlier crises?

Pg. 18: Can someone who knows Blue Beetle's history better than I do explain the "right under my nose" bit?

Pg. 19: One awkward bit of storytelling: we don't actually see the suspendium in this scene!

Pg. 25: The "Pulitzer"/"Howitzer" gag is a pretty cute callback to Week 1. But if the big cannon is what Rip's got in mind to fire Skeets off with, what was Booster swiping Steel's device for during WWIII?

Pg. 26: It's the 52 clip show! (Although my favorite variation on this business is still the one in this Waid-written issue.)

Pp. 28-30: I've read this sequence over and over, and I totally fail to understand what's happening. As far as I understand, Butterfly-Mind is attracted to the suspendium, and then physically trapped inside of Skeets' dying robot husk, which is reinforced with more suspendium. (Maybe we could just start calling it Plotdeviceum?) Then Booster hands off Skeets to Supernova, who throws the robot-with-butterfly-inside; it lands in an explosion I don't think we've seen before in Week 1, Day 1, where Sivana just happens to stumble upon Mr. Mind, who is now in caterpillar form again, and puts him in his lab in a jar, where he's exposed to more Plotdeviceum, and somehow ends up in Dr. Magnus's lab at the beginning of week 2 (because all mad scientists actually share the same lab), where he crawls into Skeets, and proceeds to repeat the entire sequence in an infinite loop, getting older each time. That cannot be right. Can someone explain what I'm missing?

Pg. 34: Who's that reaching for the amulet? It'll be interesting to see why we haven't heard of this task force in the OYL continuity...

Pg. 35: I wonder if this is just a generic fire-pit or a smaller version of the Gotham City/Apokolips fire-pits.

Pg. 36: One last use of a teddy bear as a symbol of innocence! Drink!

Pg. 37: From the pill bottles in the wastebasket in panel 4, it looks like Magnus is back on his meds in a big way. Is he in Haven, or some other gated subdivision? And both he andRip Hunter backed up Skeets? Clever of them--especially clever of Magnus to figure out how to convert Skeets's 25th-century consciousness to a DVD-R.

Pg. 38: Closure again--a callback to my favorite scene in the first issue. But, actually, it occurs to me now that Rucka also wrote the pre-OYL story in which the Bat-Signal is removed from the roof of Gotham Central and accidentally smashed in the process. Oh well. Chalk it up to Mr. Mind, as I'm sure we'll be doing so often in the near future.


Oh, that special message about the new Pickup? There isn't going to be one, I'm afraid--with the book coming out in two months, I can't really consecrate one workday a week to an unpaid gig any more. When I started doing 52 Pickup, it was meant as an act of fannish devotion, inspired by how excited everybody involved with 52 seemed to be, and I think after a year I've discharged the duty I had in mind. I'm still going to be doing a lot of comics reviews all over the place, though--there's one (on Free Comic Book Day) running in the next day or two at Salon, some stuff coming up in various print magazines and newspapers, and of course reviews and articles in PW Comics Week, which I encourage all of you to subscribe to--especially since it's free. I'm hoping to turn up in some form on as many comics blogs as possible the week the book comes out (want me to do something with your blog? drop me a line: blogtour [at-sign] douglaswolk [period] com). And I'll probably be doing semi-regular, very casual reviews of various periodical comics at my relatively-dormant-lately personal blog Lacunae.

There will, most likely, eventually be one or two more posts here as various 52-related things turn up. Meanwhile, Andrew Hickey's excellent new blog seems to have taken on the challenge of doing lengthy, discursive, analytical posts about Countdown; I'll be reading it.

Thanks so much to all the readers and commenters, both regulars and one-time-only chimer-inners, who made this blog such a joy to do, week after week--I've loved hearing what everybody has to say, and your observations and perspectives have made reading 52 a lot more fun for me. Special thanks to Ragnell for her fill-in in Week 17, and to the people who FedExed a copy of that week's issue to my camp at Burning Man, despite having an address not much clearer than "so there's this tent in the middle of the desert?"

And thanks most of all to Messrs. Giffen, Johns, Jones, Morrison, Rucka and Waid for the amazing ride, and to everyone else who helped make it possible. You've given me a year I won't forget.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Week 51: Ithaca

Since everything's going "back to where it all started" this week--the calendar, the reprise of the "everyone gathering around the big golden statues" scene from the first issue, the return of the Bennett/Jadson art team, the preview of next issue's cover--and since I imagine next week's final post will have a lot of stuff from the issue at hand to chew on, this might be a good time to recapitulate a few points I've covered before, in convenient list format.

That list would be Stuff I Want, As a Reader, From Future Weekly/Event Comics, and How It Relates to 52:

1) 52 has singlehandedly used up the novelty of "the weekly comic." From here on out, if they're going to capture my interest, "event" projects need to be about something--both in terms of their plot and in terms of their theme. Pop quiz: in a sentence, what's 52 about? What's the elevator pitch? "A year without Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman" doesn't actually tell us anything much that's relevant to the story. Is it about the return of the parallel earths? Well, the ending seems to be--but most of the story isn't about that, or even building up to that. Is it about the reintroduction of 30-to-35-year-old Jack Kirby material into the main narrative current of the DCU? That's an effect, not a premise, and a setup for future stories, not a story itself. Civil War was a hair-tearing-out affair in a lot of ways, but it had a specific plot and some larger ideas behind that plot. 52? Not so much, as entertaining as its high points have been.

(Incidentally, I'd like to note for the record that I called the return of the parallel earths half a year ago... although, as I noted, I wasn't the first. And between this week's cover, DiDio's spoiler a while back, and the dialogue in this week's Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes--Booster Gold stealing a "tachyon disrupter rifle" because he's got "fifty-two worlds to save"--it's now obvious that's what's going on. I mean, I might yet eat crow next week. But I don't think I will.)

2) Here's a way 52 has set both a good and a bad example: artistic consistency. J.G. Jones' covers? Amazing, week after week. The trade dress--the cover design, and the ticker on the cover? Also a very nice touch. Giffen's layouts? They served as a unifying and clarifying element. The rest of the interior art? Joltingly inconsistent. There's been no real look and feel for 52, no way in which its appearance and style are its own. If the whole thing had looked like, say, Joe Bennett's issues, that'd have given it more of a flow; if the whole thing had looked more like Giffen's drawings, it could have been a lot more fun to look at.

3) Future weeklies/events need to be much more tightly plotted, start to finish, before the first issue starts rolling. 52, from what I gather, seems to have drifted off in some unexpected directions and then not gotten around to some potentially cool stuff it was going to include (and nine major characters was way too many). The pacing of its second act, in particular, was pretty slack. (Admittedly, the "one week per issue" gimmick kneecapped its capacity for cliffhangers.) Paul Dini has supposedly written a 100-page-plus "bible" for how Countdown and the DCU around it will operate for the next year; that's a good sign.

4) An event comic is effectively one more damn thing to buy, so if it's going to lead continuity, it has to feel like a flagship--which also means it has to be easier to jump onto, at least at the beginning, than any ordinary superhero comic. That's something that Waid's The Brave and the Bold is doing really well right now (the new one made me more interested in the current Blue Beetle than any of the handful of issues of Blue Beetle itself I've read), and that 52 was shaky about at best. It's not something I could hand to friends who read Ultimate Spider-Man or Bone or DMZ or All-Star Superman and say "here, this will all make sense to you by about ten pages in." If you don't know who Mister Mind is, for instance, the big reveal at the end of the penultimate issue of the series makes absolutely no sense.

This seems to be a recurring issue at DC. This week, I read Amazons Attack #1, which I couldn't make head or tail of despite having an M.A. in DC continuity (I hear I should've read Wonder Woman #8 first, but I'm not going back to the store to fill in the blanks of an issue numbered #1)--and whose title (at least), I remembered, was originally going to be one of the pre-Infinite Crisis minis. Memo to the Powers That Be: Just because you've got a piece of intellectual property lying around doesn't mean you have to use it.

5) Similarly, a thing 52 did really well at first, and a related thing it could've done better: the "old vs. new" problem. There are almost 70 years' worth of DC continuity to play with, and one of the most fun things about at least the first half of 52 was its sense of navigating through a huge and wonderful world full of characters and places that have rich, exciting stories behind them. But there's also a tragedy and farce involved in making history repeat itself over and over--recycling and updating franchises until they've worn to transparency. I don't want to see another '80s series revived, even the ones I liked. No Arak, Son of Thunder, no Vigilante, no Nathaniel Dusk, no Cinder and Ashe, no... oh, jeez, virtually every other example I was thinking of has actually already been given its own new series in the last couple of years. I mean, I'd be happy for any of them to appear in passing, but I'd also love event comics to introduce useful characters and concepts to the canon. Toys 52 has introduced (rather than reconfigured) that are still around for other people to use as of One Year Later: Lady Styx (was she a 52 invention or a Starlin invention?), Everyman, Oolong Island, and... can that really be it?

6) Bonuses. I really liked the two-page origin stories--they were a great little lagniappe for the issues they appeared in--and it's useful to have something to get curious readers up to speed on the tricky continuity of stuff like 52. (Actually, as much as I've enjoyed annotating the obscuro references in this series, I've thought a couple of times that it'd have been great to have issues end with a one- or two-page explanatory text feature, pointing toward particular issues or collections referenced by the story, in lieu of the old Silver Age "editor's notes"...)

7) It has to come out on time, because the point for readers is enjoyment rather than frustration. Full points and an extra high five to 52 for this one.

8) Above all this, "event" comics need to not just fulfill their continuity function but be totally fun and exciting in their own right--every time I get burned, it makes me less interested in picking up the next big crossover. One thing I neglected to mention in so many words last week about the World War III specials was that they were so crummy and joyless they actively annoyed me. What I'm getting, and what I think other people are getting too, isn't "event fatigue" so much as a longing for the hype to pay off in pleasure rather than in tiresome metaplot machinations, and a feeling of being bait-and-switched too often. The thing that drew me to 52 in the first place (and made me even contemplate the insane idea of doing this blog) was the writers' enthusiasm for the energy of their collaboration, and as inconsistent as it's been, there have been parts where they're obviously really getting into it. That pleasure in creation and play is infectious, it's what I liked best about the series, and it's what I want from the projects it's paved the way for.

Giffen Layout Watch: It's like there's a little 3/4-size edition of the Red Tornado, going "39! 39! 39!"

More notes:

Pg. 3: A much milder version of the return of Odysseus--he doesn't have to slaughter the suitors, just comment on Roger's toupée.

Pg. 5: The young boy, of course, isn't going to get named here. And wouldn't be great if Donna didn't immediately assume Diana's hairstyle and body type once she put on the costume?

Pg. 7: John Stewart sighting #1.

Pg. 9: The S******y statue in panel 2 sure looks like it was flown in from a few pages earlier--pixelated, even. But that's a great explanation of Tim's new costume.

Pg. 10: John Stewart sighting #2. The guy moves fast. (Can somebody tell me where Hal Jordan's been through all of this?) So did Mogo actually fly Alan home, as panel 4 suggests? Doesn't he have a gravitational field? (Isn't that exactly the problem Rann was dealing with in The Rann-Thanagar War?) Also: was Adam's blindness for the rest of this storyline something that was supposed to have greater resonance than it did?

Pg. 11: I don't recognize the flame creatures--although they sure seem like the kind of thing that would have menaced Rann back in the Mystery in Space days, and other flame creatures appeared in Diana's series in 1964, and again in the unnameable series in 1968. But the most notable flame creatures in DC history appear briefly in this issue's backup: the fire giants of Appellax, who first appeared in the original origin of the Justice League. (Barry Allen uses the technique Adam suggests to deal with his giant.) And can anybody ID the other Green Lantern?

Pg. 14: I was wrong: two pages was exactly the amount of space it took to wrap this plot thread up satisfactorily.

Pg. 15: Those aliens look like a cross between this guy and this guy, with a little Apokoliptic squiggle on their shirts, to boot. Might as well have just been wearing T-shirts that said "Kirby Is Coming!"

Pg. 19: Some kind of atavistic comics-reader species-memory makes me think that this X-Treem '90s version of Mr. Mind must be a visual riff on the revelation of the big bad Mr. Mind as the bespectacled worm in the original "Monster Society of Evil" serial back in the '40s. (And, like Sobek, he's hungry--the return of the devouring meme I mentioned a while ago.) But I have no idea--that stuff hasn't been in print in sixty years. Kind of a problem for a source of allusions, when you think about it.

Pg. 20: Interesting that Rip says "lose" rather than "die"--there's some larger cause they're working for.

The Origin of the Justice League of America: Those are some big, toothy smiles. Retconned to be part of the origin: Black Canary, which is only fair, since she was removed from the redrawn cover of JLA #21 a few weeks ago. Re-retconned to be part of the origin again: Wonder Woman!

If there's something you'd like to see me talk about here next week, get your requests in now, and I'll see what I can do--!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Week 50: As Safe as Safe Can Be

Everybody's talking 'bout World War III, I see. But really: doesn't this look more exciting? Or this? Or this?

On reflection, it doesn't even make sense why Black Adam is doing what he's doing for the better part of this issue. Having destroyed Bialya while the rest of the world twiddled their thumbs, he finds out that the Horsemen were built on Oolong Island under orders from the Chinese government. (This leaves open the question of why the Chinese government would want to piss him off.) So, of course... he smashes up Sydney, Pisa, Paris and Cairo before he gets around to heading toward China. This from the guy who lectures Father Time about having not violated the borders of the U.S. (immediately before ripping his face off). Then the Chinese government not only refuses aid from the international superhero community, but threatens to launch nukes at the home countries of anyone who provides assistance. Not even Pyongyang is that crazy.

Finally, the heroes come in over the Great Wall, and as nice as it is to see three of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers--the Manhattan Guardian? For that matter, Green Arrow and Arsenal? Not that they're not good in a fight, but... not this kind of fight. Back at the Rock of Eternity, we find out that the Egyptian gods are dicks, and that Zatara, despite having had a statue dropped on him on day 5 and requiring "urgent medical attention," is hanging out with other magic types, looking just fine.

At least you can sort of hear the "1812 Overture" in the background of this issue--there's a dramatic arc to it. The WWIII specials, on the other hand, feel thoroughly superfluous, and obviously tacked onto 52 after the fact--as far as I can tell, the Aquaman plot in particular makes no pretense of being attached to the Black Adam storyline at all, it just kind of happens over the course of a few pages, and the J'onn J'onzz material (he sits around and angsts; then his head changes shape) totally fails to proceed from his appearance in Week 24.

For those who didn't read the WWIII specials, here's the stuff with bearing on 52: Firestorm and Cyborg got un-merged because Prof. Stein used a JLA transporter to separate them; the Spectre's sitting this one out; and Amanda Waller's plan to send a lot of Very Bad People to fight Adam seems to have gone by the wayside as she's recruiting the likes of the Bronze Tiger, who of course killed the previous Batwoman and AH CRAP MY HEAD HURTS AGAIN. Casualties of the war include Terra and Young Frankenstein. That's it. Plus a lot of unnamed bystanders, of course. The fourth issue ends as I suspect a lot of DC stories that don't have a dramatically satisfying ending are going to for the next year or so: with the Monitors standing around looking very serious.

The fundamental problem with the specials is that WWIII, outside of 52, isn't really a story. It ties into part of the climactic action of 52, but it doesn't even resolve very much that has to do with the mother series: add four more issues of Adam dismembering people and smashing famous architecture between pages 1 and 22, or delete everything from the Bialya massacre until Billy uses the wisdom of Solomon to come up with his "admin password override" routine, and it would have exactly the same effect. (The big fight doesn't seem to relate at all to the other threads of 52, the Booster/Steel/Natasha cameo aside.) The WWIII specials are palpably desperate to get their One Year Later exposition out of the way. And I believe it's already been strongly hinted that nobody but the heroes even remembers the war, which kind of lessens its dramatic impact as a setup for future stories.

In the IC-to-OYL timeline department: this week's Nightwing Annual, besides having more dick jokes than that infamous Joker-boner story, implies that there's at least a month, and I'd guess significantly more, between the final fight in Infinite Crisis and the scene where Bruce, Dick and Tim head off on their ocean trip. And neither that issue nor the WWIII specials make it clear whether the Nightwing we've seen in 52 is Dick or Jason; perhaps the next Batman will clear things up a little.

Giffen Layout Watch: Holding steady at Week 39.

More notes:

Pg. 1: Well, good riddance to the Great Pyramid--I hear Vandal Savage ordered that thing to be built anyway.

Pg. 3: You can tell Adam's not in his right mind, because he's got no eyeballs.

Pg. 4: The Leaning Tower of Pisa gave Superman trouble here and again here, it's also prominent in the aforementioned Joker-boner story, and there must be half a dozen Mort Weisinger-era covers that feature it, but I can't call any to mind.

Pg. 5: I appreciate Thundermind paraphrasing the Shadow, but to paraphrase Kevitch, karma isn't fruit-bearing, is it?

Pg. 8: The Shaolin Robot's talking in hexagrams, as in the I Ching, which is a nice touch; the lines are usually horizontal, though. Reading right-to-left as top-to-bottom, I get, respectively, hexagram 38, "Opposition/Mirroring"; hexagram 6, "Conflict"; and hexagram 23, "Splitting Apart," all of which are formally appropriate here. And apparently the Great Ten are behind the yeti medallion shenanigans we saw back in Week 32, although if a powerless Ralph can take the yeti down, it's hard to imagine what good August General, Director of G.R.E.A.T.T.E.N., thinks it's going to do against Adam.

Pg. 9: Viz.

Pg. 14: Hooray for expository dialogue!

Pg. 20: And he's been caught by the hand of... somebody with giant hands. Again with the giant hands!

Pg. 22: Best scene this issue... and it'd be a lot more powerful if the same idea hadn't already been done here and a couple of months ago here.

Pg. 23: I see Prof. Morrow was able to take delivery on his auction purchase in spite of everything.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Week 49: Of Course You Realize

Ah, if only this issue were as good as its cover. "Eve of Destruction" has the right hint of not-there-yet-folks anticipation--although "Dawn of Correction" might be more like it. Despite the goofy Magnus action, this is really a week of moving pieces into place: Adam in a general snit, the Plutonium Man in play, the remaining members (I hadn't thought there were any, but there you go) of Infinity Inc. II cheerfully lining up for their inevitable slaughter next week.

Adam's out for revenge on the people who "orchestrated the murder" of his wife and brother-in-law; that might be the Chinese government, or it might just be Chang Tzu, or, if you go up a level or two, it might be Intergang (whose boss already took one in the back last week) or Darkseid et al. So why he's going after whoever it is he's going after is unclear. Or, rather, it's perfectly clear: there has to be a big fight with everybody against Adam, after he's had six days or so to regroup. But has it occurred to anyone to consider why "they" might want a war?

Also: Glad to see the prophecy of "dead by Lead" fulfilled, but that's one dangling plot thread down and... quite a few to go. 82 pages left to wrap it all up! (As others have noted, the cover of Checkmate #15 suggests that he's been de-Humpty Dumptified, too.) Really, even beyond all the little danglers, there are some elements of this series that desperately require dramatic closure--the Booster/Rip Hunter/Daniel Carter plot, the Adam/Kory plot and the Buddy/yellow aliens plot, most notably, each of which seems to demand a solid issue worth of exploration--and given that next week is Kaboom Unlimited, it's starting to feel like any kind of wrap-up those stories get is going to be compressed into two or three pages of exposition, tops. I'd also like to see some kind of extended coda for the Ralph plot and another one for the Montoya/Question plot, but at this point I'm suspecting that a Darick Robertson issue apiece was all we're going to get.

Not much else to say this week, and I'm sure there'll be a lot to talk about next week, so I'll keep it short. Also, I've got Death Note vol. 11 sitting here waiting for me to finish this post, and I know I've talked about it before, but the OMIGOD I NEED TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT factor of that series is off the charts. Light Yagami's got a little in common with Black Adam, come to think of it: he's scary as hell, very few people oppose him and live, and he believes himself to be not only inarguably in the right but personally in charge of creating a better world. He's a lot smarter than Adam, though.

Giffen Layout Watch: will we ever move past Week 39?

More notes:

The caption on the cover: "Mini-Metal Men Missiles" is a reference to this issue, cleverly enough. And, in fact, DC's first (and, I believe, only) James Bond comic was this one--published one month earlier! "But you haven't another moment"--you just don't see diction like that on comic book covers any more.

Pg. 1: I'm not sure we've seen "hypno-goggles" before at DC, other than in ads in the '60s. They seem like more a Marvel thing. (Q. Why not X-ray specs? A. It's Power Girl; what's left to the imagination?) (Q. for real: do we know who this guy is?)

Pg. 4: I hate to say it, but Chang Tzu is right: it is easy to see why Magnus's colleagues thought his ideas were atrocious. You know, if you have lead present in your body, it's not going to represent a "stubborn refusal to quit." What he's describing here is actually fairly close to the "pathetic fallacy" (not the one in here).

Pg. 5: And the monitors would certainly have shown e.g. the little Metal Men who've been hanging around the lab.

Pg. 7: Nice touch of science, but it'd have to be a pretty high room temperature for cesium, francium, gallium and rubidium to melt--the lowest melting point among them is francium's 300 degrees Kelvin, which is 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, Oolong Island is pretty tropical.

Pg. 9: I thought there was something funky about the numbering of the Ten. Let's see. Accomplished Perfect Physician, August General in Iron, Celestial Archer, Ghost Fox Killer, Immortal Bald-Man-in-Armor Man in Darkness, Mother of Champions, Raekwon the Chef, Seven Deadly Brothers, Socialist Red Guardsman, Thundermind. And the Shaolin Robots seem to be their enemies, although it was clever to include a sketch of them with the original Nine.

Pg. 10: A "particle wave pistol" isn't something that generally exists outside of a few games, but it's a cute concept, playing on the old wave/particle duality routine in physics--especially the "I have no idea what it might do to you" bit a few pages later. Also: Omnibot. The only other reference to something of that name at DC I can find was actually a few months ago in this issue, which involved Booster Gold and an unusual metal...

Pg. 12: Thoughtful of Sivana to put Adam's boot back on after doing his work with the "thunder pliers."

Pg. 13: Alan's eyes shining green through the eyepatch?

Pg. 20: I guess World's Finest really struck it rich with those "artistic nudes,", since they now seem to be a hardcover periodical--not many of those around other than Acme Novelty Library these days.

The Origin of the Justice Society of America: Just as promised, Don Kramer gets to wow us in 52! Technically. Interesting that this seems to tease what happens next issue--although we already knew that from the new JSA #1. But Wildcat grabbing Adam's arm? Has he gotten bored of his limbs? The big image on page 1 is, of course, homaging this cover, with Jay taking the place of the perpetually continuity-indeterminate Black Canary. I'm amused that, in the final image, Alan Scott and Jay Garrick seem to be going by "Alan Scott" and "Jay Garrick," though.

And one detail that makes me very happy from the thumbnail of next week's cover: could that be Ystin?