Wednesday, May 24, 2006

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.

More notes:

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.

15 Comments:

At 11:16 PM, Blogger sean witzke said...

"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..."

My money's on one of them being Adam Strange.

 
At 7:08 AM, Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Have we seen Detective Jiang before?

When I first saw him, I thought it was Crispus Allen. I don't recall Jiang ever appearing in Gotham Central, and I wouldn't be surprised if the similarity was another editorial coordination gaffe.

 
At 8:34 AM, Blogger alex said...

a few comments:

actaeon was the grandson of cadmus, founder of thebes. he was also transformed into a stag by athena. project cadmus has been missing in the dcu since around the time luthor was elected president, i think (though i could be wrong about this - i was still in college and couldn't afford many titles if i were to continue my foray into alchoholism).

the pacing issues, i agree, will become problematic unless they start making this book considerably longer. otherwise we're just going to start getting paragraph long summaries of what happened between wonder girl and dibney after we were left with a cliffhanger (poor storytelling alert).

as for luthor-blue's neccesary reconstruction, there is the issue of all the mad scientists getting kidnapped all over the place - and there are medical/biological scientists unaccounted for in the DCU who potentially could perform such a feat beyond the detection capabilities to detect of an engineer like irons (paging dr. mid-nite). that being said, i agree with you that it's an oversight, and it would take a team of continuity surgeons to clean up after some of johns' literal and figurative dismemberments.

 
At 1:05 PM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

I'm not that up on my John Henry Irons trivia, but I always got the impression he was an engineer. Why would he be called in for an autopsy (which doesn't appear to have been performed)?
Aside from plot-necessity, of course. So, um, never mind.

 
At 1:47 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

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...


that's where I'm leaning, too.

i think it's sort of astonishing that this whole 52/OYL business has been marked by what are either major continuity gaffes or way-too-cunning "clues." we've been encouraged all along to PAY close attention, especially w/r/t 52, but at the same time, the attention just reveals major and minor fuck-ups like this, or nightwing at the heroes' memorial in issue #1.

(and yes, I know 52 editor Stephen Wacker supposedly claimed on Newsarama that we were SUPPOSED to notice nightwing. i'll bet dollars to donuts there's no big reveal planned to justify that gaffe, although if there has been all along, i will be happy to eat my words.)

i don't mean to sound melodramatic but there's something pretty audacious about a publisher miring itself so deeply in the ongoing creation, exploration, and reinvention of "continuity," and yet dropping the ball on so many small details that it becomes annoying to even bother paying attention.

i guess it could all just be "New Earth," just like I'm sure they hope all past errors get chalked up to the retcon punch.

 
At 1:48 PM, Blogger Jeff R. said...

I think they called Irons to identify the body.

And I think that those could be Gyro meat strips, not hot dogs, and pitas, not hamburgers. Still not sure who would put mustard and ketchup on a Gyro, but that's Metropolis pushcart fusion cusine for you.

 
At 5:05 PM, Blogger Vic said...

At one point, Irons was managing director of a hospital. He read up on large amounts of medicine in a semi-official capacity there. Presumably somebody decided that the day-to-day running of a busy hospital could be delegated while Irons did fun super-engineer stuff, but still, he does know some things about human bodies.

 
At 12:19 AM, Blogger Jim said...

I like that Booster is tracking down Rip Hunter because the time anomalies are affecting... his bank account!

Hey, do you suppose this is some kind of Lost/52 crossover? Probably not, but several of the Lost writers are comics guys...

 
At 4:00 PM, Blogger T Campbell said...

It's this simple: written correctly, these characters have immense charm, and at the end of the day, charm counts more than logic in a superhero yarn.

I like this book much better than IC, so inconsistencies between the two series must be all IC's fault. So nyah.

I gotta go against you on the death of Terra-Man. This public execution was a political act, a statement for the cameras-- Adam knew full well it would own CNN. It was crucial to the story that we saw it. That said, we probably could have done without a similar scene two issues earlier.

Terra-Man's a space cowboy-- he's used to robbing motorized transports (what do you MEAN it's a PASSENGER flight?).

On the other hand, I think you're spot-on about the never-to-be-consummated tension between Power Girl and Black Adam.

Page 12: Aw, but Booster was doing it first!

Luthor knows John Henry doesn't have enough evidence to turn the crowd back against Luthor, and he revels in his power because that's what he DOES.

I share your worries about "Authority plots" but the scenes we've had so far make it easy to have faith.

On the other hand, I agree completely about the History of the DC Universe, and here are some more problems. First, it's preachy and narcissistic. Isn't it a bit biased for a "history" to say "Superman was the greatest of all heroes?" I like Jesus, personally, and I believe Thor, Hercules and Mohammed have their supporters too.

The grammar is strained when it's not totally illogical. "Precious few would be spared. No life would go untouched." So were some people spared, or not?

I don't understand why so many comics creators are still fascinated with Donna Troy, but as portrayed here, she's spectacularly dull. Don't sell us on this "unique connection to a thousand departed universes," sell us on what makes her a person!

 
At 6:24 AM, Blogger Steven said...

Really, so far all we have are mysteries (which 6% into the story, isn't a bad thing).

Who left the symbol on Sue Dibny's grave, and why?

Who's kidnapping mad scientists?

Is Skeets malfunctioning or is history changing?

What does the Question want from Montoya?

And the second Luthor's body seems to be Steel's mystery.

Black Adam, of all our leads, is the only one not dealing with a mystery. Both the problem he's dealing with (I like that he knows the exact casualty count of IC) and his solution are brutally clear.

I think it's a cloned body, not Alex Luthor, and Luthor specifically asked about the contacts because the contacts are the "proof" that the clone was impersonating him. And since that's at least half true (there was a Luthor with blue eyes pretending to be "our" Lex) John can't prove it wasn't alternate Lex who put on the power suit and fought Superman on live television.

 
At 11:30 AM, Blogger Rick Jones, really said...

I'm not that up on my John Henry Irons trivia, but I always got the impression he was an engineer. Why would he be called in for an autopsy (which doesn't appear to have been performed)?

The simplest explanation is that this is comic books and, in comic books, anyone who is an expert in one scientific field is, of course, an expert in them all. See also: Peter Parker, Dr. Otto Octavius, etc. etc.

 
At 4:19 PM, Blogger Bully said...

With the careful analysis fans and blogs like yours are giving 52, DC either is really spinning a careful web of red herrings and misdirection that'll pay off later, or we're looking at some after-the-fact storyline retcon justification that's gonna make Monarch look like Little Lulu.

It's a fun ride so far. But if they don't have it planned out to within an inch of its life, it's gonna unravel before Week 26 is here and they'll spend the next six months frantically trying to shove the exposed guts back in the sausage skin.

Okay, enough metaphors. A great analysis and overview as usual!

 
At 1:28 PM, Blogger Jer said...

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.

Except, of course, that Alexander Luthor shouldn't have Lex Luthor's DNA - after all, Alex was the SON of the Earth-3 Lex Luthor - who was the analogue to the mainstream Luthor.

If its supposed to be Alex, it doesn't work because the two of them don't even look alike (Alex had to use some kind of hologram to look like Lex to the Society), but Lex needs a duplicate who looks EXACTLY like himself to ensure that the blame for the things he's done for the last few years gets shifted off of him. Even shaving the kid's head, giving him reconstructive surgery to clear up the acid burns and fitting him with contacts won't make him the same age as Lex.

 
At 10:50 PM, Blogger acespot said...

I'm nearly positive that the body in question is NOT that of Alex Luthor. He looked so completely different from Lex in...well always! Also, it IS three weeks since the end of IC. This must be some sort of belated ploy, ie: Lex realizes..."hmmm, maybe I shouldn't have let the Joker BURN ALEX's FACE OFF WITH ACID?!?!?! Now who am I going to blame?" So, he constructs an imperfect duplicate, perfect in all aspects but the eye color, and claims that THIS was the imposter who had been masquerading as Lex Luthor the whole time. Hell, he can even blame his disastrous tenure as president on this guy...who'd be the wiser?

Nightwing WAS supposed to be at the memorial. As I noted in my earlier comment, I'm sure that this is meant to be Jason Todd, masquerading as NW for the first time, to see if anybody will be on to him. Guess what? Superheroing obviously doesn't require much recall of faces, personalities, or the like...since NOBODY NOTICES!!!

How does Black Adam have an EXACT figure for the number of people who died in the crisis? Does that include people who were wiped out of the continuity or merged together? Does it also include people who died in the ORIGINAL crisis, which, theoretically, everybody should remember now?
Also, interestingly enough, the figure begins with a 5 and ends with a 2. Coincidence? I think not!

How would Terra-Man have known about Power Girl's being from Earth 2? I thought that only Alex and Psycho Pirate knew that, apart from the heroes who were made aware. And when was Terra-Man even IN Infinite Crisis? And what's he doing with Wonder Girl's lasso?
And what in the world (definitely Morrison, though) is the point of "Telescopic Vision's got Butch Cassidy"?
Since when is Terra-Man a thief? He's always been an eco-terrorist like Ra's Al Ghul or Woodrue or even Ivy (as she should be). And what's with the rocket bike?

Who is Doctor Avasti? Have we seen him before?

52 reference: NX-520

John Irons' expression when on the phone he has been told that he is required to identify a body makes no sense. Why is he shocked? He should be puzzled! And why is he needed in the first place? Shouldn't everyone know what Luthor looks like? Why does Steel have to be there? Couldn't anybody else figure out about the contacts? And what's the point of the contacts anyways? Who REALLY would know that Lex has Blue or Green eyes?! Do you know what color eyes George W. Bush has? How about Bill Clinton? What about your worst enemy? I mean, come on!

Note that Khandaq has now been given an actual geographical location other than "North Africa": it connect Africa to the Missle East - thus, it must be in the Southwestern portion of the Sinai desert, between Egypt and Israel. Unless DC has written Israel out of continuity, and I wouldn't put it past them. We all know that history is not sacrosanct in the DC Universe.

Is there actually a pitcher named Zachary Edward on the Cardinals?

Has Shockwave appeared ANYWHERE since Action Comics #818 in 2004? If so, what has he been doing with himself, and why chose now to come out of retirement? And since when is he a thief? He's more of a contract killer! And what's with the new suit?

Is Rip Hunter missing?

When was Lex trapped in Alex's world?

What's in that cocoon?

We should start keeping a Black Adam body count.

It's true, if they tell us to pay extra special close attention to detail in 52, then THEY SHOULD AS WELL!!! Is that too much to ask? I mean, seriously, with a comic written by comittee, one would thing that such glaring continuity errors would/should be caught...and if they aren't, well then, the experiment doesn't work.

Does anybody have a roll call for the two versions of the Legionnaires pictured in the History of the DCU section?
And why does this feature suck so hard?

 
At 12:02 AM, Blogger acespot said...

Let's just put all of the continuity errors down to Superboy punching something...oh wait..we can't do that anymore? Damn.

 

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