Week 3: The Not-So-Amazing Story of Luthor-Green and Luthor-Blue!This week it's time to talk about bad guys--three of them, to be precise: one who's in this story, one who's involved only by implication, and one who doesn't seem to be showing up yet at all. The three in question are the ones who correspond to our big three missing heroes: Lex Luthor, the Joker, and Dr. Psycho.
Returning to that "perfectibility" argument I was making a couple of weeks ago, Luthor believes he's earned the right to occupy Superman's cultural role--his idea of perfection is defined in terms of power and prestige, and you don't get much more of that than being the U.S. President--and he also thinks that Superman cheated in attaining that role, by not being human. We can reasonably suspect that the Joker is going to show up eventually from the "Joker card" business on the first two pages of #1, and from his alliance with Luthor at the end of Infinite Crisis (he was, after all, the person who actually killed Luthor-Blue). If Batman's madness is a fantasy of perfection in the Law, the Joker's is a fantasy of perfection in violation of every kind of law: André Breton's ideal Surrealist act of "dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd." So who, then, would be Wonder Woman's opposite number? Greg Rucka's run on her series suggests that it's Dr. Psycho, and I'd agree with that; I don't know whether Dr. P considers himself perfect (in practice) because his desires define everyone else's actions, or whether it's the other way around, but either way it's a neat opposition to Diana's raison d'être.
To put it a different way: Wonder Woman is the one who believes that there is a better way for everyone to live, and wants to persuade you of it. Black Adam is the one who believes that there is a better way for the world to be, and intends to force you to agree with him. Dr. Psycho is the one who believes that the world is rightfully his plaything, and takes away your free will. (See also the way the Purple Man was used in the last few issues of Alias.) But doesn't Wonder Woman's lasso take away free will, too? No: it just takes away the capacity for lying. Still, the parallel is there, and I'm wondering if Dr. P is going to play a significant role later in the series.
This issue is a Superman story from which Superman is absent--every scene except the Akteon-Holt takedown (and is Mr. Akteon's name supposed to recall Actaeon or Mr. Action?) includes at least one character directly associated with him, even Maggie Sawyer and Shockwave. The plot is built around the dead bodies of three or four of Superman's enemies: Luthor's the most important one, of course, and Rough House, Noose and Terra-Man are about as minor as they come. (When we last saw Terra-Man, he was an ecology-minded terrorist--not quite the stagecoach-robber type he is here--but whatever. And we don't know that Rough House is dead, although I can't imagine him surviving his encounter with Black Adam.) It could have made a lot from that, and it doesn't. It also feels rushed and awkward in a way that the first two issues didn't, beginning with the first page and its severe disconnect with the condition we saw the blue-eyed Lex Luthor's body in three weeks ago.
One reading is that there's some kind of lazy continuity error--that a little editorial coordination would have insured that the condition Luthor-Blue was in at the end of Infinite Crisis would have matched the condition he was in here. (Or, even better, at the beginning of 52 #1; this scene would have been a nice mystery to set up there.) The other is that Luthor-Green not only stuck contact lenses on Luthor-Blue's eyes, he reconstructed his acid-melted face, shaved his head, changed his clothes, and apparently stuck him in some kind of cold storage to prevent his body from appreciably decomposing in the two weeks-plus between IC #7 and this issue--all cunningly enough that S.T.A.R. and John Henry don't notice any of it other than the contacts.
I am, sadly, leaning toward the "lazy" side of things, given some of the awkward storytelling going on here--the worst example being the Geoff Johns Dismemberment Special on the last page. (One of the things I saw before I wrote that Salon piece was an early draft of the script of this issue, which noted that Black Adam tears Terra-Man in half. I don't think that was supposed to mean "neatly, at the waist." And wouldn't it have been scarier and more evocative just to give us the sound effect and a little bit of blood/viscera descending on the crowd, instead of actually showing the bipartite T-M?) There are some other annoying glitches, like Señor Gyro's cart being full of hot dogs, and dull banalities, like the story's title. The other frustrating thing about this issue is that it's looking like this series is too small to hold all its threads in any one episode--there's no Montoya or Ralph this week, no follow-up to last week's business about Wonder Girl's Krypton-worship, two panels on the mad-scientists plot.
And despite all of that, I found myself enjoying the story, mostly on the strength of the character interactions: the half-sexual charge of Power Girl and Black Adam's argument, John Henry and Natasha talking at cross-purposes, Booster realizing that getting mad at Skeets won't do him any good but tracking down Rip Hunter (!) might, John Henry and Luthor looking daggers at each other. It's just hard to explain to someone who isn't reading it why I'm enjoying it--at least last week I could quote that "mad scientists" line.
Pg. 1: Have we seen Detective Jiang before? Nice to see a Sundoller Coffee cup in Maggie Sawyer's hand--a tie-in with the web site. And even better to see Josie Mac, one of my favorite Gotham Central supporting characters, again.
Pg. 4: What, not Flight 52? Is it really feasible to rob an airplane in flight, and what would you get from it? And is Ferris Air an actual airline? I thought it was just an aerospace manufacturing company, like Boeing.
Pg. 7, panel 6 includes something I dearly love and have missed: an actual expository footnote-type caption! Maybe it's just a joking allusion to the way S.T.A.R. used to be spelled out in a caption every time it appeared, but 52 could use a lot more of this.
A conjecture: in this scene, John Henry tells Natasha that she's going to have to spend Weeks 4 through 9 in a summer-school program; he has earlier told science-prodigy Natasha that she needs to build her own armor. She likes wearing the Superman insignia; she wants to be part of the action. Curiously, it's in week 10 that Supernova appears to show up.
I'm also suspecting that Supernova, Batwoman and Isis are going to be the three characters who fill those bottom three slots in the nine-space diagram at 52thecomic. Speaking of which...
Pg. 8: ...I'm betting that the nameless, blindfolded young woman is going to turn out to be Isis, since she's two visits to a hairdresser (one for a dye job, one for a weave) away from matching the Isis we see on two later covers.
Pg. 12, panel 2: This would be funnier if Civil War hadn't used the exact same gag three weeks ago...
Pg. 15, panel 2: Note that, if this is indeed Alexander Luthor's body, not just the lens but the entire eye has been faked.
Pg. 16: "I trust you found and removed the contacts?" Why would Lex tell John this, since all John has to do is repeat that for the cameras to wreck Luthor-Green's credibility? Probably just to mess with him--as a way of keeping him off balance. But still.
Pg. 20: "Heroes who don't just patrol the world, they change it": I really hope this is headed somewhere other than Bog-Standard Authority/Squadron Supreme Plot #7.
Mister Mind is now in a cocoon, which smacks of Morrison--virtually all of his major comics projects in the last ten years have been about the idea of evolution and change (I believe there's some specific larva/cocoon imagery in The Invisibles), and the mystery here is what his adult form is going to be, if the larval form is the worm we know.
I'm still not feeling Dan Jurgens' "History of the DCU" at all, but I'd like to note that if you're going to restage this famous image, you might as well copy the entire composition, instead of having the guy in the middle looking down with a wrist-to-forehead pose like he's just realized he forgot his anniversary. And having a character saying "What you just said--it's impossible to comprehend" just underscores the problem if you've written something impossible to comprehend.
It's not clear to me if next week's comics will be delayed by Memorial Day. In any case, don't expect next week's post until after the issue comes out.