Thursday, July 06, 2006

Week 9: In Paradise, Everybody Speaks English

There's a pretty neat essay in Umberto Eco's book Serendipities: Language and Lunacy: "The Language of the Austral Land," about people's attempts to imagine an ideal or divine language, in which words would directly represent what they mean according to some logical system. (There is, of course, the problem that "heretical" ideas, or ideas outside the internal dictates of the system, would then be impossible to express in that language, but that's another issue.)

In comics, the ideal language seems to be English, which everybody speaks everywhere. Oh, there have been occasional attempts to explain it away with things like Rannian translators and the Thanagarian Absorbascon, but let's face it: the language DC Comics are written in is the lingua franca (oh, hey, another Eco reference) of the DC "U."

What's weird, though, is that Adam, Buddy and Kory don't seem taken aback at all that the gigantic being that's attacked them on Planet X (I am no longer sure that it's Adon, although I still suspect so) is talking English to them. Now, it's not news that Devilance speaks English, as all the residents of New Genesis and Apokolips seem to. He said things like "Taste the power of Devilance---and perish! HAHAHA!!" in his first appearance. Although here he's actually speaking archaic, idiomatic English--"the two score and twelve walls of heaven" is a 52 reference, but it's also something somebody with only basic English would never say.

Still, before I remembered that he's been an Anglophone all along, I imagined that it'd have been cool to see Kory translating what Devilance and her companions were saying to each other--I believe it was established in one of her first appearances that she can absorb languages through physical contact. (Here's how she learned English, for instance.) If the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is true for Tamaraneans, they have to have the broadest world-views of anybody anywhere.

The other notable development this issue is something that might tie the outer-space storyline together with the Montoya/Question plot: the "targeted by Intergang" bit on the last page. It's not like Gotham City doesn't have enough trouble with organized crime already--and it's curious that Metropolis's mafia would be trying to move into Gotham, or that they'd need Kirbytech to do it. On the other hand, it now makes sense that Renee's gun is indeed Kirbytech. Intergang first appeared here--in one of the first comics Kirby did for DC during his '70s stint there--and they were acting as Darkseid's agents, trying to dig up the Anti-Life Equation for him. That first appearance of Devilance that I linked above was, of course, in the final issue of Forever People, one of Kirby's other "Fourth World" series.

I've honestly never understood why the Fourth World stuff has become so much of the core of DC mythology (well, aside from the fact that Infinite Crisis avoided it beyond a one-panel cameo by Shilo Norman). I mean, it's lovely-looking stuff in Kirby's hands, but Kirby's particular command of spectacle let him get away with the fact that most of it either makes no sense at all or is blitheringly obvious, and almost everyone who's played with those concepts since then ends up either doing watered-down Kirby or missing the point entirely. If there's anyone who's qualified to mess around with Kirbyisms at DC right now, it's Morrison--the scene with Metron at the beginning of his Mister Miracle really did give the sense of encountering something too huge to understand--but this version of Devilance just makes him a great big dude with a spear, some ropes, and eyes that are more consistently the same color than Adam's.

The other curse of Kirby in mainstream comics is the thing that afflicts this issue: endless, tiresome fight scenes with great big panels. The four- and six-panel layouts in the John Henry/Natasha fight this week are a holdover from Kirby-style page design (in his Fantastic Four as well as the Fourth World comics; when Kirby did them, though, they were dynamic and exciting, which these really aren't (although I bet they look better when we get to see Giffen's layouts for them at And a ten-page fight scene? If there were some plot or character advancement here beyond an argument between uncle and niece that could've been dispatched in a page, or even if we'd been introduced to the other members of the Luthor League, I wouldn't be so annoyed. But in a series with this many plot threads that are struggling to find space, it's a bummer. With a little more recompression, we probably could've seen what Ralph, Booster, Adam, Rip Hunter, Casey the Cop, Air Wave and the Frogmen were up to.

As far as this week's title goes: "Dream of America" is a strange phrase--the only direct source I can find for it is a political dot-com I'm not going to link here whose home page quotes Pat Buchanan approvingly--although it made me think a little of Allen Ginsberg's poem "America." (Well, maybe the last line of it relates to the gay-bar scene this issue.) It'd have been more appropriate for the Fourth-of-July-week issue--but the Fourth was day 7 of week 8, yes? We've already established (via Montoya's "Sunday was Father's Day" speech a few days ago, and the day-by-day timeclock on the official 52 site) that we're following the same timeline as this year on, um, Earth-Prime...

I wonder, though, if Luthor's quasi-patriotic rhetoric about "every man becomes a super man" being the new "a chicken in every pot" might suggest that the operative concept of his Justice League of America is that they're somehow American--hence, perhaps, the word being spelled out in the forthcoming series' title. I actually sort of like the idea of Luthor's group being the American answer to the Great Ten, and I wish we knew who any of them were besides Natasha and Herakles. Plus isn't Herakles, you know, Greek?

More notes:

Pg. 2: Did John Henry shave off his facial hair between last issue and this issue?

Pg. 3: It looks like several bystanders have gotten hit by the ricochets off John Henry's skin, and he's not looking at all concerned about it. Not like him.

Pg. 4: As you can see here (hey, Terra-Man!), here (scary!), and here, the new JLA is wearing Luthor's favorite color scheme. And I see why Natasha went for Luthor's plan--he gave her a costume with a pocket! Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a superhero costume in a women's size with a pocket?

Pg. 6: I'm willing to accept the possibility that Luthor's machines made Natasha age, or her body change its general appearance, but the character in the lower right-hand panel is simply not the teenage girl we've come to know. Dept. of Wishful Thinking: the fact that Natasha's chest doesn't have the metal burns she got last issue could mean that this isn't really her. (Unlikely, I know.)

Pg. 14: Adam has no eyes right now, yet he seems to know the exact moment to trigger his jet-pack. Or, to be more linguistically specific, his glispach. (And here I thought I was the only person who'd been fool enough to translate that whole storyline into English.)

Pg. 17: "Dixieland" is such a perfect name for a gay bar, I'm amazed it hasn't been used already somewhere. Or has it? And wait: less than a week ago, Green Arrow was vehemently denying that he had any intention of running for mayor, and now Oliver Queen's leading the seventh-inning stretch as a candidate?

Pg. 18: I don't know that any friend of Vic Sage's calls him "Charlie," although his real name is Charles Victor Szasz. But maybe we haven't seen him in much of a friendship-type situation before. Anyone more up on the Question want to correct me? Also, Montoya sure seems to be giving the reader the stinkeye in that last panel... Plus: the return of the "Vic asking Montoya who she is" meme, repeated on the next page. WE GET IT.

Pg. 20: Once again, the Batwoman costume would've been a lot more surprising if it hadn't been spoilered from here to, um, Adon. Although it looks like next week we get Clark taking a dive, the Great Dismemberer putting the moves on someone I'm guessing is the young woman from Week 3, and--oh, man, who'd have thought of this? Booster angry about something!

As for the backup story: Donna Troy Weeps Again! Two more weeks of this left to go. That's bearable, right? (Right...?)


At 10:43 PM, Blogger nicholas danger said...

Wait, the Question's last name is "Szasz"? Wasn't that the name of some weird "I'm crazy so I cut myself" Batman villain? And has there been any connection established between them, or is it all a huge (unlikely) coincidence?

And how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Charms Tootsie Pop?

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

The Batman villain is named Zsasz. It is an unfortunate coincidence.

But I just wanted to say, Doug, that I love this blog. I look forward to it every week and nearly always come out knowing or understanding something new. You should be proud.

Now publish your book, dammit!

At 12:06 AM, Blogger spirit of louis st. said...

But maybe we haven't seen him in much of a friendship-type situation before. Anyone more up on the Question want to correct me?

During the O'Neil run of The Question he had Vic move in with the scientist that invented the disguise (I think Tot was his name).
He always called Vic 'Charlie' because he knew him before the name change and old habits die hard. They were friends, maybe Vic saw Tot as a father figure a little bit, and both were equally eccentric.

At 4:18 AM, Blogger David C said...

The ad on the inside of the cover had an interestingly serendipitous relationship with the story. It's an ad for the Sci-Fi Channel's reality/gameshow thingy "Who Wants To Be a Superhero?" And it might as well be a LexCorp-sponsored advertisement for his own superhero program!

"Heroes are born. Superheroes are made" indeed!

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Jamie Ott said...

Antoher great post Doug, I really look forward to coming here each week and seeing what you thought.

I think that more than the Kirbytech/invasion set-up is connected to Darkseid.

We already know that Luthor has partnered with Apokolips in the past and now he suddenly has the means to create heroes? Just like known Apokoliptian agent Egg Fu does in China. That's awfully convenient.

Luthor also had control of Intergang once before. Maybe he never reliquished it and is orchestrating events in Metropolis and Gotham?

Something else I'm starting to suspect is that no one has been able to 'activate' folks latent metagene. Instead, I'm thinking that Darkseid (and this REALLY reeks of Desaad's mechinations) are using captured heroes and New Gods to create these "heroes". Is it really that much of a coincedence that Natasha has very similar looking powers to Supernova? And Lightray had light based powers, correct?

Also, going back to Week Four. I reread this issue last week and noticed that the art for Red Tornado's explosion is a bluish circle and not necessarily an explosion per se. It looks a LOT like a Boom Tube. It bet something like that would REALLY screw with another transporter device like a Zeta Beam. And in looking back at Devilance's words this week, it sure seems to build a strong case for this happening.

It sure sounds like this is Vic Sage, so the whole Ted Kord thing could be laid to rest for a while.


At 7:51 AM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

Yeah, in the Denny O'Neil/Denys Cowan Question series, the Question's confidant was Prof. Aristotle "Tot" Rodor, who had been a relatively minor player in the Ditko stories (and was the inventor of the mask and gas the Question uses--tangent: a lot of characters have become superheroes because they've invented/discovered a costume that gives them powers and abilities, but is the Question the only one who's got a costume whose only power/ability/function is that it's a costume?).
After the Question's death/rebirth/Zen breakthrough, he decided that Vic Sage, Crusading TV Reporter, was yet another false face, and in the company of Tot, preferred to be called "Charlie".

I wonder how much of the whole Charles Victor Szasz/Victor Zsazs really is a coincidence? Wasn't Zsasz introduced in the Batman comics just prior to KnightFall, under the editorial watch of one Dennis O'Neil?

At 8:38 AM, Blogger Walaka said...

Thomas S. Szasz is (was?) a controversial psychologist who wrote The Myth of Mental Illness. I seem to recall reading a text piece by O'Neil that said he was playing on this for his Question character. I wouldn't be surprised if that connection came into play with the Batman villain, too.

This issue almost lost me, for all the flaws Doug mentioned. I'll stick around another week, I guess.

At 3:13 PM, Blogger acespot said...

p.1 Is Lex talking about Pete Ross or himself? In the new reality is Lex Luthor from Smallville?
When the "Meta plague" happened during Lex's tenure in office, didn't he lead the charge to quarantine and confine them?
p.2 So Steel can throw drops of molten metaL from his fingertips?
p.3 "Don't fight me" she says, as she punches him out of a window!
Did the powers Lex gave Nat include Power Girl breasts?
p.11 Obviously Steel's transformation includes some degree of invulnerability.
p.13,15 Devilance calls himself the god of the Pursuit, but Buddy translates that to "God of the Hunt".
p.16 How can Adam see to jump, and how does he see the lance?
p.17 That was quick - only one week, and already Ollie has thrown his hat in the ring.
p.20 And theeere's the Batwoman. Funny we've NEVER SEEN HER BEFORE!!! She must be following Renee for SOME reason, but what it's probably stupid.

Dan Didio ALWAYS says it's "a great time to be a fan of comics, and an even better time to be a fan of DC Comics" regardless of whether or not anything special is happening, even if comics suck, and especially DC comics, he ALWAYS says this. What a moron.

OMG it's identity crisis week, and they start by telling the major plot points, and by plot points I mean major spots of nastiness IN ORDER!!! They could have put the rape much earlier, the mindwipes, then the murder, the identity of the killer, then everything else, but instead they treat it like it's STILL A MYSTERY!!! Assholes. Seriously, since we all know the ending, why even include the "attempted hanging" of Jean Loring?

p.21 "probably the nicest, most genuine people I ever met" bleeeaaagh.
p.24 we go back in time to the brainwashing of batman...why not do this earlier????
"The league continued on" - funny, all the leaguers pictured here were NOT PRESENT AT THE TIME OF THE MINDWIPE!!!!
Batman didn't "remember", he SUSPECTED/DEDUCED - at least so we were led to believe.
Oh look! Donna's face is leaking!

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Steven said...

Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle created Zsazs, and yes, he is also named after Thomas Szasz, but more for his theory that people instinctively associate a place with the horrible thing they experienced there, specifically, Arkham in his first story arc in Shadow of the Bat.

God I loved that title.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

Week 10: My goodness that's an interesting refugee that intergang dropped off for Black Adam.

At 1:48 PM, Blogger Chance said...

And wait: less than a week ago, Green Arrow was vehemently denying that he had any intention of running for mayor, and now Oliver Queen's leading the seventh-inning stretch as a candidate?

So... it's totally like politicians in our world?


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