Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Week 8: Be Whose Hero, Again?

Gotta keep it relatively short this week, I'm afraid.

It's interesting that J.G. Jones' 52 cover blog over at Wizard mentions that this week's cover is inspired by WPA posters--the design made me think "Russian Constructivist" right away. (The big hammer John Henry is holding added to that impression.) Once again, it's a lovely cover--the background in the right half suggests the Trylon and Perisphere--and once again, there's a continuity error with the interior of the comic: where's John Henry's facial hair?

The slogan for Luthor's program, catchy enough that it's on the cover too, is "Be Your Own Hero." It's a trickier line than it looks like--not "be a hero," but "be your own hero." The nine million or so Google hits for "be your own," other than the ones about Be Your Own Pet, are mostly about ways in which it's possible to serve oneself--and "heroism" requires service to somebody else. (Even if it's meant in the sense of "idol": you can't be the person you yourself look up to!)

Still, there's a subtext of self-reliance to "be your own" anything, and self-reliance is pretty clearly what John Henry's trying to inspire in Natasha, whether she likes it or not. (I've said this before, but the version of Natasha that Christopher Priest wrote in his run on Steel was one of my favorite comics characters ever. But I liked her a lot better when she was a too-clever-for-her-own-good teenage girl her uncle was trying to keep out of normal teenage-girl trouble, rather than an irritable wannabe superhero.)

The flip side of self-reliance, though, is claiming what doesn't belong to you--hence the "Thief" title--which a bunch of characters are doing. (Nat with her powers; the two characters in the deli dustup; Supernova, as far as Booster's concerned, with Booster's reputation as the new Superman; Luthor with the lives of his "slaves," including both John Henry and Natasha.)

And self-reliance, taken to extremes, can also mean not being able, or willing, to rely on anyone else. "What can one man do?" Green Arrow asks. As a few other people have already pointed out, that question was already asked--although not by him--in this classic issue, in which Ollie decided to run for mayor--a story that was Elliot S! Maggin's first comics story, written as a college term paper. (The Absorbascon covered that episode here, including Ollie asking Bruce Wayne about his experience being a Senator in this issue.) (Hey, Barbara Gordon was elected to the House of Representatives for a term, too! But that was later.)

Anyway, "What Can One Man Do?" That was the classic one. Not So Classic, pt. 1: this issue, in which Ollie decides that actually he doesn't want to run for mayor after all. Not So Classic, pt. 2: this issue, in which Ollie finds the answer to the initial question--title of Green Arrow story: "One Man Can Cry." Actually, he can write an opinion column in the local paper. And cry.

Speaking of Green Arrow, Neal Adams covers, World's Finest, and absent facial hair, Wizard's 52 Roundup made a good call this week bringing up this issue, which sure seems like it might have inspired the Supernova plot (and relates nicely to this week's normal-or-superpowered theme).

The one thing that rings false about all of this is the "unlock the metagene" plot. Of DC's major characters, which ones are humans who somehow became meta-types (rather than relying on training, armor, Miraclo pills, etc.) and still are? I count the Flash, Black Lightning, Plastic Man, Firestorm, the Ray, and not too many others. "Induce mutation" would work if this were Marvel, but it's not...

I like Grant Morrison's suggestion in Seven Soldiers that you become a superhero not by getting powers one way or another, but by leaping beyond your cultural context, which is what all the Soldiers do (and none of them, except arguably Zatanna and maaaybe Bulleteer, are "superheroes" in the traditional sense). I hope Morrison carries that idea over to 52 as well; to get back to the Marxism suggested by the constructivist cover, thinking of "powers" as the same thing as "being a superhero" is just a kind of false consciousness.

Oh, and then there's the backup, which I will continue to smack around as long as it fails to improve. I think my big problem with the History of the DCU, besides the fact that it's unreadable and tedious, is that it adheres to the Big Event theory of DCU history. This issue we get The Final Night, No Man's Land, Graduation Day, War Games... and the sense that every other story about these characters is just so much ignorable fluff, a way to keep the franchise going between crossovers. Which is exactly the attitude that makes them meaningless: most of the old comics that resonated enough for 52 to refer to them were able to be something special because their creators knew they didn't count for less than any other comic published that month.

More notes:

Pg. 2: WLII is, of course, Roman numerals for W52. Of course.

Pg. 3: Has Eddy Barrows spent much time around babies? That's not a 12-pack of diapers the guy's got there. If it were about a third bigger, it could even be a 52-pack.

Pg. 4: Very much in character for Ollie. I see Ralph has shaved again since last week, or maybe he donated some of his extra facial hair to John Henry.

Pg. 6: Ollie has, of course, come back from the dead at least once (Kevin Smith etc.) and maybe twice (he sure didn't seem to be in good shape right before Superboy punched the universe)--but, as Hal Jordan knew, if Ollie could bring anyone back from the dead, it'd probably be the sniper he accidentally killed in this issue. Also, it looks like the Conner cultists have the same kind of tube Tim Drake's been messing with in Teen Titans...

Pg. 8: Apparently I was right about how John Henry got infected, not that it was that hard to figure out.

Pg. 12: Okay, that's doing a little better on the lorem-ipsum front--at least we've got one sentence that's sort of relevant to the story, even if it's not quite in newspaper style. And repeated several times.

Pg. 13: Doesn't Kala Avasti have any kind of medical-ethics-type smarts? Doctors don't generally disclose test results to anyone other than the patient--wouldn't she just have said "could you tell him to call me as soon as he gets in?" Come to think of it, doesn't John Henry have a cell phone?

Pg. 14: And if Natasha's such a super-genius, wouldn't she be bright enough to wear protective gear as well as a mask to weld, and perhaps even pull her hair back?

Pg. 16: It seems Adam has finally gotten around to shaving sometime in the last week. It also seems he's regrown a left eye, if the fourth panel isn't some kind of horrible art/coloring/editing error. And if he is still blind (as appears to be the case from the fact that Buddy's carrying him), what's he doing wearing his jet-pack? That thing's got to be heavy.

Pg. 18: Luthor's aside to Mercy Graves seems a little out of character for him--as the entertaining Lex Luthor: Man of Steel miniseries pointed out, Lex thinks of himself as always being in the right. If there's anyone in this issue who's his own hero--in the sense of being a hero to himself--Lex is the one.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Week 7: All-Facial-Hair Special!

Hey, there's another blog about this series called "52 Pickup"! How'd that happen (rather NSFW link), as Dan Savage says?

Evidently the exhaustion affecting our lost-in-space "Lost"-in-space crew this issue is catching--the fancy opening credit sequence is gone now, replaced with little text boxes and last-names-only. (As Jog pointed out, last week the "of" didn't even bother to show up to the title the "History the DCU" feature.) And the title this week? "Going Down"? There's something a little smarmy about that for a story whose emotional center is Montoya and Kate's relationship--I know the idea is that it's also about every other character being on the decline, but it's obvious that that's the main referent. Plus American Virgin is already using the same title for their current storyline.

(A side note: it's interesting that I think of Montoya by her last name, and Kate by her first. Ralph, John Henry, Booster-even-though-that's-not-really-his-name, Black Adam, The Question--I can't call him Vic... Montoya. Maybe it's a cop thing.)

The thing that makes this issue work, though, is that it's basically the first time we've seen a payoff, rather than just a setup, in the whole series: the return of Manthrax (God what a terrible name), and Booster's takedown, has been coming for what feels like a good long while. It's also, I think, the first time we've seen any two of the nominal main characters interacting, other than Montoya and Monsieur Q.

But what's really going on in the Montoya-and-Kate scene, and to a lesser extent in the Booster-and-Ralph scenes, is the weird kind of pleasure that comes from seeing a familiar formula play itself out. DC's Mort Weisinger-era superhero comics tended to get over on mixing routines and clichés with WTF? moments, which is strangely like the way 52 seems to be working so far. If DC hadn't already shouted to the world that Kate Kane was Montoya's ex (or that she was going to be Batwoman), there might have been a little bit of buzz in discovering it after they'd interacted for a couple of pages. Instead, it's the Poor Girl Visits the Mansion routine, followed by the Difficult Confrontation Between Ex-Lovers from Opposite Sides of the Tracks routine: "You can show yourself out." "You know where to find me?" "Yes... I always have..." Cue a slightly wobbly-from-overuse tape of the theme from Love Story, you know?

Still, the last time we got to see Montoya--her scene with Maggie Sawyer in Week 5--was also a formula scene: The Hard-Bitten Cop and the P.I. (well, the wannabe P.I.). And the thing I loved about her to begin with was that she was such an unexpectedly human character so much of the time--that her interactions with other characters didn't often play out according to familiar formulae. I really want to see her surprise me again.

(Plus is it just me, or is Kate Kane's head disproportionately large for her body, like Nancy Reagan's? She's heading toward MODOK territory! On the other hand, the two strands of hair that are always falling down into Montoya's face make me think her big secret might just be that she's going to become the new Ambush Bug. We have been told that the Bug's going to be showing up in 52, after all...)

As far as the History of the DCU goes, it's just totally embarrassing now--it makes no sense at all as a story on its own, as a getting-up-to-speed guide for new readers, or as setup for some potential future story. The caption this time that makes me throw my hands up in despair is "Battles raged as entropy ate away at both ends of the timestream, working toward your present. In less than three days, it would be gone." It reminds me a little of the bumper sticker that says "My Other Car Made the Kessel Run in Less Than Twelve Parsecs." I'm still really looking forward to the origin backups, although it looks from the new solicitations as if there aren't going to be 40 of them, since Week 21 is a "special full-length story."

And, left over from last issue: yes, I do think, as Jamie Ott suggests in the comments to last week's entry, that there are some clues pointing to Egg Fu--talk about cultural sensitivity--! EDITED TO ADD: It is Egg Fu!

More notes on this issue:

Pg. 1: Buddy's still shaving, but Adam isn't?

Pg. 2: Not enough that they're on Adon--Kory's trying to talk a man named Adam into eating a fruit that will change him? And "that mysterious power output we detected"--do we have any idea what that is?

Pg. 3: I see that Montoya's back on the sauce. Speaking of clichés, how long until the inevitable throwing-bottle-against-the-wall scene ILC keeps joking about? "Rangers From Tomorrow": seems to have been something invented for this reference, and looks like the sort of thing that was substituted at the last minute for, I don't know, Battlestar Galactica.

Pg. 4: "Catwoman 'Robs' Pharmacy"? There's a story in those quotation marks, I imagine. Too bad about the lorem-ipsum explanation underneath it.

Pg. 5: It's the introduction of the All-New, Grim, Bearded, Righteous Elongated Man! Wiith a vest under his jacket! Is this what's Ralph has become from the part of his personality that was built around Sue being stripped away? And if Booster's so into future-tech, what's he doing with a mobile phone that looks like something from 1987? Couldn't he get an endorsement deal from Sprint or something?

Pg. 6: Plus is the fact that we get 75 seconds, tops, worth of dialogue between Skeets' nine-minute and three-minute warnings another indication that something's amiss with time, or that the writers aren't sure how long it takes to read their words? The "just called"/"number not in service" thing suggests there's some sort of reality-slip happening...

Pg. 8: If Ralph has learned anything from hanging around Green Arrow, it's how to point his finger. That little "boom" in the background: is it the tanker from later in the story, or a boom tube?

Pg. 9: Story/art disconnect: Montoya "ironed [her] shirt" before going to see Kate? So why is she wearing her usual V-neck T-shirt, leather jacket and jeans? Did she burn the shirt while ironing it?

Pg. 10: Here's another case where a little more digging into DC history might've done some good. There actually was a Hamilton Rifle Company, although the idea of a whole lot of family money coming from a rifle company is probably an allusion to the Winchesters. As it turns out, the DC Universe already has a knockoff of the Winchesters: the Cambridge family, whose Winchester-Mystery-House-like mansion was seen in Swamp Thing #45...

Pg. 11: So Kate punches Montoya with her left hand? And do most people tend to respond to a single provocation from an ex by hitting them?

Pg. 15: Are little kids in 52 now required to be carrying teddy bears?

Pg. 18: I'm guessing that the woman talking to Ralph in panel 2 is Ami Soon, named on the previous page. And it sure looks like she's the woman hanging out with Ralph and Detective Chimp on the cover of Week 18. Could she, perhaps, be the new romantic interest for him that's been hinted at?

Pp. 19-20: Sort of a relief to see a wordless sequence, although this one seems a little long for its content, and the last panel looks very much like the cover of Week 9--is the situation going to remain static for the next week and a half?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Week 6: Sent Forth from the Power

It's pretty clear that the Johns/Morrison/Rucka/Waid team has a comprehensive grasp on DC history, and therefore probably understands that whatever they create here will be part of an evolving canon as long as there's a company that owns it all. I mean, they remember Casey the Cop, who appeared in one-page gag strips in such classics as Detective Comics #233, the first mainstream comic to star a lipstick lesbian (heels not visible on this cover). They even remember Silverblade, the Cary Bates/Gene Colan limited series that I'd mercifully blotted out of my memory, and Sonic Disruptors, the limited series that abruptly got even more limited. So why are they giving us the not-quite-fully-baked Great Ten, who are close to being a terrific idea but still short of the mark?

The problem with the Great Ten isn't really that they're all about look-how-Chinese-we-are--that never stopped the Freedom Fighters or Captain America from being interesting, and I'm dying to see more of the Accomplished Perfect Physician, the Ghost Fox Killer, etc. (I also only count nine of the Ten, since the Shaolin Robots are the August General's enemies, per the description that's circulated.) The problem, I think, is that another solid four hours of research and thought could have knocked down the dopey Orientalism factor considerably. I'd have loved them to be Chinese rather than "Chinese," if you see what I'm saying. To quote a wonderful comment that Little Light left on a previous entry here:

"In re the Great Ten preview--augh on Mother of Champions, and not just because her concept is, if unique, a little horrifying. I hate to be the one who points this out, but their notes on the colors of her costume--'yellow for the life-giving waters of the Yangtze'--is utter bullshit. It puts the Western four-elements scheme and made-up colors into pseudo-Chinese language and projects it right on, when anyone who was willing to crack pretty much any book that mentions Chinese cosmology ever--as someone designing costumes for a sometimes-mythologically-linked Chinese superteam ought--ought to have noticed that not only do the Chinese have an entirely different system of basic elements, a list of five that does not include air, but that they a: function completely differently than the Western set do and b: have very specific colors assigned to each of them, colors which have remained canonically stable since, oh, before the Han Dynasty. The designer has not paid attention to this, and that makes me wonder if they've done any research about Chinese history or anything much at all. The guy who supposedly works for the PRC government wears a Tibetan religious symbol? Does the Shaolin Robot pray? Is it too much to ask DC to do their homework when writing about other cultures? To talk to the Chinese-American intern in Accounting, who could maybe call her grandpa and ask real quick?"

(A bit of additional explanation here: Wikipedia's got a breakdown on the Chinese five-elements schema and their colors-- fire is red, earth is yellow, metal is white, water is black, wood is green.)

Plus Thundermind, who works for the PRC, not only wears a Tibetan religious symbol, his whole M.O. is straight out of Tibetan Buddhism--about the last thing the Chinese government would want to associate itself with. The "om mani padme hum" mantra does indeed mean something like "hail the jewel in the lotus," and a Siddhi is indeed a kind of psychic power in the Tibetan tantric Buddhist tradition. Morrison is not unfamiliar with this stuff, as those who've read The Invisibles know. Still, it'd have been nice if he could stick to some of the major Siddhis: Parkaya Pravesh is essentially (the pre-reboot) Deadman's power, Vayu Gaman Siddhi is maybe how Thundermind flies, Madalasa Vidya is Henry Pym's power (minus the part about the ants), Sura Vigyan is kind of a combination of Element Lad and Sun Boy, and Kanakdhara Siddhi is pretty much Scrooge McDuck's power. Giving people bright purple headaches is not really one of the classical Siddhis. Not to mention that Thundermind's name seems to be derived from a Gnostic poem.

It also bugs me a bit that the Great Ten's dialogue, even in translation, is rather like old yellow-peril-type supervillains--"flamboyant fools"? The Mandarin could have said that!

Here, by the way, is J.G. Jones talking a little about designing the look of the Great Ten. They do look pretty awesome, I have to say.

Two double-page spreads in one 20-page story (plus four mid-fight-scene four-panel pages)--no wonder there's no room for John Henry or Ralph or Montoya or the Question. Wasn't this comic supposed to have at least six starring characters? At least now we know we'll be seeing Montoya and her Kirbytech gun next issue...

More notes:

Pg. 1: Wow--Booster's really on the decline. Exploiting knowledge of the future for profit is one thing; Astroturfing an enemy is another...

Pg. 2: Not about dollar figures, but about action figures! Nice to see that the Martian Manhunter figure still has a curved head, though. For an issue in which chemical numbers are important it's odd that the razor company would be named after promethium, element 61, which is nasty, radioactive stuff. Did Booster manage to write Bill's name right on the check? Who's the woman washing dishes?

Pg. 4: See, this is what I mean about not thinking things through: it's a nice touch that the Great Ten's command center is called the Great Wall, but does the Great Wall itself need to be in the shot? (I know from reading this comic that the Great Wall is the one man-made artifact that's visible from space... at least in the DC universe. Apparently, that's not so in ours.)

Pg. 5: Why is the Celestial Archer's bow-string on the wrong side of his arm?

Pg. 6: Cheongsam orientation problem solved by not including that part of Ghost Fox Killer's costume on panel! Nicely done... but there has to be a better way of phrasing "waiting for the green light to flash," given the situation... and the Super Young Team! And monsters destroying Tokyo--but what was the Socialist Red Guardsman doing interceding in a situation involving Tokyo?

Pg. 7: "Green Lantern Point One"? Since when does the internal GL Corps 2814.1 classification get generally applied?

Pg. 10: You can't make a hard-boiled egg without splitting the atom. No, wait. I do like the idea that we're going to be seeing a monthly meeting between Morrow and Magnus, though.

Pg. 15: Celestial Archer really likes that underside-of-arm bowstring placement, doesn't he? Would there be any archers in the audience who can confirm that that would really hurt? Also, the Great Wall of China really isn't very close to the Sino-Russian border.

Pg. 17: Hmm: maybe he is waiting for World War III, given the next page. As it turns out, in classical DC continuity (yes, I did just write that), World War III happened October 9-28, 1986--that's where the Atomic Knights stories in Strange Adventures set it, until this rather wonderful comic concluded that plot. We may also be getting a reference to the Morrison Justice League storyline of the same name. Also: Skeets speaking to his ancestor is hilarious, but wouldn't Rip Hunter have thought of that, being a time traveler and all? And what's with "I hate time travelers"? Not only is Booster one, but Rip Hunter made the tech that took him to our time!

Pp. 18-19: Ah, here we go. These pages have already been extensively annotated elsewhere, so I'm not going to say too much about them. The one thing I can add is that the woman with the little hat and the glasses--I'd thought it was a boy with a yarmulke, but no--is not Ethel Rosenberg, as has been suggested in the otherwise very helpful Absorbascon, but Rosa Parks (see the photo it's based on here. The other pictures are of a Civil War re-enactment society, some Spanish ships or other, an Elvis impersonator, a tea party and the opening of Jurassic Park.

A few other things of note in this spread:

*Five-minutes-to-midnight clock imagery: wow, I've never seen that in a comic book before!
*How did the Time Sphere get broken? I vaguely remember some story in which that happened, but I bet somebody reading this knows better.
*The phrase "sonic disruptors" is scribbled out halfway through--a sly reference to the fact that the original Sonic Disruptors miniseries was supposed to run 12 issues and got cancelled with #7.
*If we're going to see all these characters owned by DC that have never specifically been tied into the DC Universe roped in here, can we please see the Seven Seconds from Thriller? Please please please please pleeeeease?
*I love the idea of The Question being an "it."
*Te, as several people have pointed out, is tellurium, element 52. (Au+Pb) is Gold and Lead. Might this have something to do with "dead by lead"--a reference to the weakness of Daxamites?
*Why are all the entries on the right-hand chalboard prefaced with sigma signs?
*I think we saw the "Curry heir"--Aquababy--in the splintered-crystal effect at the beginning of Week One.
*The last "El" would be the final descendent of the Last Son of Krypton, right? Do we know of any beyond Laurel Kent? Not counting All-Star Superman #2, of course.
*The real surprise here is that sword we see printed on something in the lower left-hand corner: who'd have thought that Snakes on a Plane would be part of DC continuity?
*As far as time itself being broken in the DC Universe (or, as the backup story has never bothered to spell out, the DCU): well, yes, yes it is.

Pg. 20: Is it me, or is there a serious lack of visual continuity from the previous page to this one? Where's the graffiti/puddle section of the messy but basically well-maintained lab we've just seen? And is all this Booster's fault because he did whatever-it-was-he-did during Infinite Crisis?

"History of the DCU: Part Interminable": The swipes of Maguire/Austin, Aparo, Bolland, et al. are at least competently executed. So why does Donna look nothing like herself on the second page? Is it that Jurgens can't draw her right if she's not crying?

(Incidentally, I've been enjoying everybody's comments immensely--thanks so much for reading this! Keep commenting!)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Week 5: All Harnessed in Gold

There's a line from the Book of Judges, "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," but I'm betting the way the title of this issue is meant to be understood comes from Rudyard Kipling's "An Astrologer's Song":

To the Heavens above us
O look and behold
The Planets that love us
All harnessed in gold!
What chariots, what horses
Against us shall bide
While the Stars in their courses
Do fight on our side?

That's an awfully confident thing to say, and its confidence is a little like the 52 puppet-masters' confidence: if the DC Comics promotional machine insists that 52 is the most important mainstream comic right now, then ipso facto it is. The problem is that that atittude removes the obligation to make 52 awesome in practice as well as important in theory, and although I'm totally engaged in the story--well, you may have noticed that I haven't talked much about the series' artwork so far. That's because it was unobtrusive in its first four weeks; this is the first issue where it's a real problem.

The verbal tone of 52 has gotten established pretty well by now--I can still identify the four writers' parts most of the time, but they've worked out a consistent kind of pacing. Having Jones draw all the covers was a great idea, even though the three out of five that are supposed to show scenes from the story rather than symbolic abstractions have had inconsistencies with the interior art. And having Giffen do layouts for the whole series is a very smart idea too, just in terms of keeping the story-flow consistent. It's interesting to compare his layouts at to the finished comics, too. The layout for week 3, for instance, shows Black Adam beheading Rough House, and also indicates that the blindfolded woman in that scene is named Andrea--also, it looks like Detective Jiang on page 1 of that issue was originally Detective Driver from Gotham Central, and Akteon-Holt was originally Glassonix (whose logo Booster's wearing on the cover of week 2).

But the style Giffen is using to draw his layouts has real flair, and a specific aesthetic. The finished artwork doesn't--it's just boilerplate superhero-comics cartooning, and that's a major opportunity lost.

Every memorable superhero comic I can think of has a particular, focused, unmistakable visual aesthetic. That tradition starts with C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel stories, goes up through the obvious Kirby and Ditko work in the '60s, and continues through recent stuff: Alex Maleev's Daredevil had a look all its own, and so did Michael Lark's Gotham Central (continued by the artists who came after him) and Darwyn Cooke's Catwoman (ditto), and so does Barry Kitson's Legion, and Mark Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man, and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman (which even looks significantly different from Quitely's other work), and everybody's version of The Authority. And nobody's done that for 52.

Grant Morrison has worked on some projects that had lots of different artists who each had their own distinctive visual style, but those were comics where that was part of the point: The Invisibles is about multiplicity of perspective, and Seven Soldiers is eight miniseries with dramatically different tones about characters who experience the world very differently. (Even the musical-chairs game on Mister Miracle's artwork was formally appropriate for that storyline.)

Here, though, the rotating artists are working toward an absence of style rather than toward a specific style, which means that the drawing is bland at best, and often worse than "best"--especially this issue. Jimmy Palmiotti is one of those inkers who puts a pretty significant stamp on anything he works on--not quite as much as, say, Alfredo Alcala used to, but as much as Vince Colletta. Like Colletta, though, he's known as a guy who works really quickly, and sometimes it shows: his chunky lines here don't do the storytelling many favors. There's also a lot of dodgy anatomy and unconvincing facial expressions here, which might be Batista's problem and might be Palmiotti's, but it's somebody's. (See, for instance, Ellen on page 1, panel 2, looking like her eyes are pointing in two different directions, or Maggie's Dick Tracy-ish facial expression on page 14, panel 4.)

As far as this issue's story goes: It's amazing how much I enjoyed it, considering that a) it's mostly devoted to wrapping up leftover gobbets of plot from the Rann/Thanagar Mess, and b) although the Red Tornado's utterance seems to be foreshadowing whatever the main plot of the series will be, the character arcs we've already been following don't seem to be getting advanced at all. Booster? Hanging out on a rooftop, being irritable. Ralph? Eating a sub. Steel? Still acting funny. Montoya? Still has the Kirbytech gun. Black Adam? Natasha? The Question? Who? And I suspect the mad-scientists plot isn't even going to get resolved in 52, since a line in a recent issue of Geoff Johns' Teen Titans suggests lots of scientists are still missing.

The good stuff, really, is pretty much all character play this time: Ellen holding out hope for Buddy, Alan trying to be strong enough to carry everyone else's weight and not realizing how messed up he is, Pieter talking about "metahuman care," Buddy meditating on the picture of his family while Kory's enjoying herself.

"History of the DCU": Donna Troy weeps again. I can't wait for this to be over.

More notes:

Pg. 4: Do we recognize anybody in panels 3 or 5? That's ringless Ralph in panel 6, yes?

Pg. 5: So apparently John Henry's face doesn't have the liquid-metal effect we saw last issue, and he's cleaned up the Steelworks, and either Natasha didn't find out about the explosion last issue or it's not a big deal. And Hawkgirl has switched from the ridiculous high-heeled boots she's wearing on the cover to more sensible shoes with treads. Why are they still wheeling her into the hospital, by the way, if Alan's had time to get himself cleaned up, get an eye-patch and notify Ellen Baker that Buddy's missing? Or is it just that she won't fit through the door?

Also, St. Camillus of Lellis is the patron saint of hospitals and hospital workers--a fitting name for a medical center, although it might have been funnier to figure out who the patron saint of superheroes would be. (On the other hand, St. Camillus was supposedly large and powerfully built, so maybe he is.)

Pg. 6, panel 5: That's definitely Ali-Ka-Zoom in the hat, and I'd like to think that the character he's talking to is Ystin! Of course, we're not going to find out for sure until Seven Soldiers #1 comes out, which now looks like it's going to be considerably beyond Week 7.

Pg. 8, panel 3: Wait--when did John Henry lose his hand? I don't remember that part. Issue number, please? And how convenient is it that the Red Tornado's voicebox was neatly implanted in Mal's chest (along with the robot-ish parts embedded in his face)?

Pg. 9: Pieter and John getting on with business while Alan keeps nattering away. Although I'm sure that his line about "the one I do have isn't even my own"--so the score for this issue is four eyes down, one eye up. And what exactly is his new eye? It looks rather green. Might it have something to do with the Emerald Eye of Ekron?

Pg. 16: I can't wait to see what Polite Dissent makes of this--something seems sort of dodgy about the treatment Hawkgirl's getting, in particular.

Pg. 17: Apparently the Red Tornado's last words were plugging the hot new series from DC Comics.

Pp. 18-20: The "heaven" where Adam, Kory and Buddy have been dumped appears to be the planet Adon, from Jack Kirby's Forever People #11, and even more conveniently they appear to have ended up with a spaceship--considering that they were apparently zeta-beamed there, does that count as a crash landing? I'm guessing that those eyes watching them belong to Devilance the Destroyer, given that the tag for Week 9 is "who dies before Devilance?" and it looks like him on the cover. But what is Devilance doing on Adon? They both appeared in the same comic originally, but Devilance spent the entire issue on Earth, and didn't seem to have any way of getting to the way-way-way-far-away planet where the Forever People ended up...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Week 4: Lightning That Can't Strike

Well, something has to be called that--it's such a great line, and so much better than "Dances With Monsters."

The star of this issue, as far as I'm concerned, isn't Montoya (nice that what she's wearing on the cover is the same thing she's wearing on Day 5; too bad the monster stalking her is entirely different), or Booster (even though he almost steals the show with his two-page scene), or even Halo (I don't care that she's gotten her namesake's haircut, changed her powers, and stolen Delirium's word balloons: she's back! Go Halo!). It's the zeta beam, one of the greatest deus ex machina devices ever invented at DC.

The whole Rann/Thanagar War/Infinite Crisis mess has dropped the ball on what makes Adam Strange stories tick (and, for the most part, so did that "Planet Heist" miniseries). It's not the blasters and the ray-guns: it's the zeta beam, people. The fun part of all those early Mystery in Space stories was seeing Adam race to some remote location to try to catch the zeta beam, and attempt to solve the problem of the month before it wore off, while dealing with his girlfriend's dad. Adam Strange isn't really a science fiction series: it's a romance series, about the difficulty of long-distance relationships and the ridiculous things people are willing to do for love, and the sci-fi stuff is just gravy. That's why the Alan Moore Swamp Thing sequence about Adam and Rann worked so well: the idea that he was being used for his fertility was a dark riff on the romance part of the series, not on the sci-fi part.

The more I think about how zeta beams work and whether this issue is consistent with that, the more I realize that they were never meant to stand up to that kind of examination in the first place, so I'm not going to bother. In any case, this issue isn't about romance at all (we don't even see Black Adam and his bride-to-be), even in Ralph's scene: it's about deferred identity-formation, another kind of lightning that needs to strike but can't. We are, very obviously, in the middle of Montoya's identity arc--just to underscore the question the Question's asked her twice, "who are you?," we see her tossed across a room and thinking "for a moment I don't know who I am."

(At least it appears from the most blog-gnashed Times piece in recent memory that she's not going to be Batwoman; that would, of course, be Kathy "Kate" Kane, "a wealthy, buxom lipstick lesbian who has a history" with Montoya. I think I must have missed that history. And I do have an automatic touch of nervousness when one of the first ten words describing a new character is "franchise", but on the other hand, those boots are kind of awesome, and will be awesomer when she figures out that snapping off the heels is a good idea.)

Ralph's having his own identity problems: he's spent so long defining himself first as Sue's partner and then as Sue's widower that his quasi-Kryptonian baptism has left him stripped of what looks like the last vestige of his identity. If he is actually out of gingold, too, then there's really not much left of him but a twitchy nose. And, as Bea points out, Booster's identity hasn't re-formed the way it was supposed to after Ted's death, either. "It is about me," he says--but who's that? (His signature on the Akteon-Holt contract last week was "Booster Gold," not "Michael Carter.") Plus there's John Henry Irons sweating over the question of whether Steel is a piece of equipment at his command or an essential part of himself (and having it answered for him the hard way).

As far as this week's other big 52 news: honestly, I suspect I'd rather read stories about the Great Ten than Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters. Love those costume designs, too--I just hope they get the cheongsam-orientation issue straightened out before Week Six hits.

The "History of the DCU" backup continues to make me long for the "Secret Origins" backups to start. Crucial word this time: "seemingly," as in "Harbinger, possessed by the Anti-Monitor, seemingly killed the Monitor." Oh, dear. With the Brave New World publicity all but announcing that the Monitor is back, it is perhaps worth recalling that the Monitor never actually had a personality of any kind, or any raison d'être other than to act as a McGuffin for Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that he was so ill-defined that there was no better description or even name for his nemesis than the Anti-Monitor, whose power really should have been inattentiveness. I can't think about any of this stuff without remembering the merciless parody of its overheated rhetoric in Cerebus: "th' entire balance o' th' whole rang-dang-doo multeyeverse'll be throwed outta wack..."

More notes:

Pg. 1: I love that Sundoller is getting such extensive product placement. Too bad Montoya can't keep time straight: "I've been doing a poor job of it for a week now" is two panels away from "two weeks down, one to go." Not to mention her "four more days and I'm done" later on--she started on week 2, day 4, yes? I know, I know--52 seconds went missing last year, plus Superboy punched the universe, so anything that looks like an error is intentional.

Pg. 3: Jonathan Horne took over the Presidency after Pete Ross stepped down. Was he Ross's veep, or the Speaker of the House, or what? Anyone know?

Pg. 5: Jeffrey Smith and Bonnie Baxter were Rip Hunter's sidekicks back in the Rip Hunter, Time Master days. No word on the other one, Corky Baxter. And if Skeets is the master of information he claims to be, surely he can do better than "unlisted."

Pg. 10: Hmm: who do we think poisoned John Henry? Could it be that bald guy who slapped him on the shoulder last issue?

Pg. 12: "Devem" has to be Dev-Em, and the "the price is that which you value most" routine seems like a familiar folkloric trope, although I can't think of any examples. But where is this scene happening, anyway? And where did a bunch of Earth-based cultists come up with a pool full of "the striped waters of the river Memon"? Wouldn't that have turned into, I don't know, striped Kryptonite?

Pg. 16: The Question sure seems able to see the funny side of everything (I had to look up "elf needs food badly"). And now we know that the creature in the basement of 52 Kane Street isn't the same as the rather more articulate creature who nabbed Sivana back in #1 (and looks a whole lot like Ultra, the Multi-Alien).

Pg. 18: Sweet. Is that an actual piece of Kirbytech, or just a generic Kirby weapon?

Pg. 19: What is up with Geo-Force appearing all over the place? He's even on pg. 3 of this issue's back-up!

Pg. 20: So that would be Hawkgirl, Alan Scott/Green Lantern, Unidentifable Blob that I'm guessing is Firestorm and Cyborg from the "next in 52" bar (plus they've both got experience with merged identities, speaking of identity-formation), Mal Duncan and Bumblebee. Still MIA: Animal Man, Starfire and Adam Strange, although it sure looks like them on the cover of Week 9, plus Hawkman, about whom I think we know nada. Am I missing anyone? There was one of the Darkstars on the MIA chart in IC #7, right? Is he dead? Do we care?

While I'm making some cover notes: I don't think anybody has yet pointed out that reflected in Booster's bloody goggles on the cover of Week 15 is Jemm, Son of Saturn. It's amazing what characters people have sentimental attachments to. You know: for some people it's Jemm, for some people it's Halo. [EDIT: The reason it hasn't been pointed out is that it's totally not Jemm. I am not sure how I came to that conclusion, but apologize to my readers anyway.]