Week 4: Lightning That Can't StrikeWell, 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..."
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.]