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'ĂȘtre 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.]


At 5:56 PM, Blogger Steven said...

Pretty sure that's soon to be seen Supernova in Booster's bloody glasses on the cover of #15. Unless Supernova is Jemm, which would be cool.

The part of the Space Rangers that weren't caught in Alex Luthor's explodey fingers (specifically, HawkMAN, Kyle, Donna, and Kilowog) can be seen safely making it back to Earth in IC #7. So whatever it was that made HawkGIRL okay and Hawkman disappear OYL has yet to be revealed.

God, I loved the Question. I loved "elf needs food badly". I loved the little doodle Montoya drew of him, and his reaction. I loved that he slowed down a rampaging monster by asking it how it really felt. Besides his spiritual half-brother Spider-Man, can you imagine any other hero doing that?

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Yeah, I think a little of the Justice League Unlimited version of the Question has rubbed off here.

At 5:19 AM, Blogger Michael Dietsch said...

I assumed that the unidentifiable blob was Firestorm and Firehawk, thus beginning to explain why they can't be more than a mile apart in the Firestorm OYL book.

Admittedly, I don't remember whether Firehawk came back from space at the end of IC 7, and I know that the Firehawk explanation still leaves Cyborg out of the picture.

Who are the other rescuers in the spacecraft with Halo?

At 4:27 PM, Blogger matty said...

"Yeah, I think a little of the Justice League Unlimited version of the Question has rubbed off here. "

um, yeah. i'm in the middle of the o'neil/cowan question run right now, and he seems relatively humorless. definitely none of those jokes in the (also out of character) rick veitch mini from a year or two ago.

i haven't seen JLU, but this is pretty not the DCU question. funny jokes, yes, but the question i know doesn't make them.

At 3:10 AM, Blogger zack soto said...

"Yeah, I think a little of the Justice League Unlimited version of the Question has rubbed off here. "

Thank god.

Good post, Doug!

At 10:04 AM, Blogger alex said...

i like the '88 question, and i like the JLU question. i also don't think they are entirely incompatible. i never read the veitch one. was it really that bad?

At 10:56 PM, Blogger little light said...

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?

Other than that, thanks for this blog. It's a lot of fun, and it's kept me teetering on the edge of looking into 52 with actual money and reading of issues, you know? Renee Montoya as a centerpiece is damned tempting, but I've hidden from the Crisis like nobody's business until it settles.

At 12:30 AM, Blogger acespot said...

Questions and Comments:
Cover: the monster here isn't the same one as inside the book! A little continuity please?

p.1 Kane St.

p.2-3 What does "Lightning that can't strike" mean according to Halo? Why does she talk like delirium (I like it though)? Where has she been for the longest time?

p.3 Yeah, who WAS Horne that he became president?

p.4-5 Why is Booster being such a dick? First off, he should know that everybody's alive, so why doesn't he play the big hero and help? Secondly, it's not like Bea's telling him to leave immediately - he could just join everyone else after his business meeting!

p.6 How did Question get into Montoya's car?

p.7 Notice Question's smoke in the shape of ?

p.8-9 When are these Steel flashbacks supposed to be from?

p.10 Who poisoned Steel?

p.12 How does Cassie know so much about Kryptonian lore? Where could she have possibly learned it? Heck, even Superman doesn't seem to know as much about Kryptonian religion as she apparently does. Did anyone notice how incongruous her portrayal here is with that in Graduation Day? When did Cassie become such a psycho hose beast? And Conner wasn't even really Kryptonian!

p.13 Why did Cassie and crew mug Ralph and steal his wedding band, and how did they disappear so quickly?

p.16 What IS that monster?

p.19 How could the astronauts speak to the Raanians WITHOUT using a Zeta beam? Zeta beams aren't made of light, so how could halo affect this one?

p.20 As far as we were told, there should have been no reason for the zeta beam tech to malfunction - and it shouldn't be able to trap anyone, let alone fuse them together. Either it transports them, or it doesn't. Wasn't the war over? Why do the heroes look like they just escaped with their lives? Where's Carter, Tigorr, Captain Comet, and Adam Strange? Why is everyone's proportions so wrong? Since when is Kendra a giant? And if it's this easy to get them home, why did Bea need Booster - in fact, why did they even need Bea?

p.21 Who are the other Flashes pictured (aside from Barry and Jay)?

p.22 How will they explain Grant Morrisson's recent "Earth 2", and all the subsequent crossovers by the Crime Syndicate into our reality in the pages of JLA?
Roll call: Psycho Pirate, ?, Looker?, Hawkwoman?, GeoForce, Beetle, John Stewart, Earth 2 Superman, Obsidian, some monkey?, Polaris, Firestorm, some chick hanging on to Firestorm's arm?, Cyborg, some dude with purple hair?
Who are the ones I couldn't i.d.?
And from which Universe did each of the pictured characters originate?

p.22 What possible connection would Donna have had with Earth 3?

p.23 Roll call: Legionnaires: Brainiac, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Sun Boy?, Chameleon, and two others I can't i.d. Who are they?
Black Lightning, Batman, Mercury, Supergirl, ?, ?, Metamorpho, Dr. Fate, ?, Batwoman?, Alexander Luthor, Starfire, Warlord, Nightwing, Elastic Man, E2 Superman, Martian Manhunter, Robin (which one?), Lead?, giant guy?, Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Spectre?
Who are the ones I couldn't i.d.?

p.23 Who is the bystander for Harbinger's apparent killing of the Monitor? Who is in the next panel? Then who are GeoForce, Firestorm, and Polaris fighting?

p.24 Was Donna even PRESENT for the Crisis?

Since these past few weeks of HotDCU have ostensibly been the history of the Crisis, yet nobody who wasn't around for the Crisis in the first place can't understand what the fuck is going on in these segments, I'd say that this piece pretty much sucks. Give us 24 pages of 52, and not 4 pages of this crap. Do you think that the folks at DC will even bother listening to how much we HATE this feature and pull it early? If not, does that just show how much contempt they truly have for us?

Until next week...

At 12:36 AM, Blogger acespot said...

Retconning a character to make into Batwoman is a very very bad idea.

I like the Question's portrayal in this book. It's probably the best thing so far. It's a perfect mix of Ditko and JLU. Who else wants to see a Question continuing series? Or at least give him a 12 issue maxi-if they can do it for Kyle, why not for Vic?

At 12:39 AM, Blogger acespot said...

The Yangtzee is so polluted and gross, that it GIVES life to nobody. A friend of my family was on a trip in China and fell overboard into the river, and it TOOK his life. It took them TWO WEEKS to find his body. Life giving waters my ASS.


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