Week 14: A Way Out of the Blood and SandNow that's more like it. This was one of my favorite issues of the series so far: actual stuff happening, actual character development, plot threads coming together, and plenty of Montoya-and-Charlie action. (By "action," I mean interaction, not shooting stuff.)
The Question, in fact, gets what I suspect is the key line of this issue: "There's no such thing as crazy... just behavior that society has deemed unacceptable." That's a pretty good one-sentence summary of the best-known views of Charlie's namesake Thomas Szasz. (The best comic I've seen about Szasz--okay, the only comic I've seen about him--is Chester Brown's "My Mom Was a Schizophrenic," which you can view here.)
Given the last couple of issues, I'm tempted to make another joke about inappropriate grins, but it's worth thinking about how the crazy/unacceptable divide applies all around here--not just to the Question's general danger-courting behavior, but to the madness of the missing mad scientists, as well as to Will Magnus's former breakdown, the "crazy" behavior of the freeze-ray guy who tries to escape Haven, and maybe even John Henry's obsessive work on Natasha's new armor. The specific kind of "craziness" that Szasz mostly wrote about was schizophrenia, and once again, given the range of unusual experience people routinely have in the DCU, they have to think about it a little differently. You know, if you talk to the dead, maybe you're friends with Boston Brand (whoops, not any more). If you hear God's voice in your head, maybe you're actually the Spectre.
It's also worth thinking about what constitutes "behavior that society deems unacceptable," and how that fits into the Kahndaq situation. Black Adam's been insisting that he's not Kahndaq's king (this issue is the first indication that he "rules... as Kahndaq's god," although that may be Montoya misunderstanding)--I imagine it's just that he prefers to be recognized as ruler because of his actions rather than because of his lineage. But he's also taken a "l'état, c'est moi" sort of position: he is society. He determines what's socially acceptable or not, and unilaterally enforces it every Wednesday. Cross Black Adam? You'd have to be crazy!
Good title this week, especially since "sand and rust," as the coloring of the title emphasizes, are the muted versions of the colors of Superman's logo, and the Steel plot, at least, touches on the idea of who's fit to wear the "S" we see on the front cover. Oh, right, that front cover. A very nice composition, even if it looks like John Henry's pants (tan on the outside, blue on the inside) are about to fall off him. Too bad the helmet he's holding is totally different from the one on the armor he's built inside the comic. Also, "Are you ready for the wedding of the Century!!"--yikes--that's like a trifecta of infelicities: capitalization, punctuation, and the fact that the Adam/Isis wedding isn't even mentioned inside...
(And "The Origin of Metamorpho with Eric Powell"? Curious, first of all, that the Jon Bogdanove Steel origin that was solicited for this issue & would've been formally appropriate got swapped with the Metamorpho origin solicited for next issue, which seems sort of apropos-of-nothing. Also, is it me or is the form of the cover credit a little odd? I see why it would be weird to have Waid as the only cover-credited writer, and "by [artist]" wouldn't quite work either, but something's amiss with this too.)
Pg. 1: Vic has fallen asleep on Montoya's shoulder; so sweet! Is the writing on the magazine actual Arabic, or just quasi-Arabic? Should Montoya still be wearing an arm-brace? And is anybody going to remember her birthday in a month?
Pg. 2: Interesting that Shiruta seems to be so prosperous all of a sudden--was it always this well-off, has Black Adam radically improved the local economy inside of the first quarter, or is this a San Lorenzo sort of situation where everyone knows they'll be plucked like a cluster of grapes next Wednesday if they don't put on a happy face or if they leave flower petals in the street after sundown?
Pg. 4: "Luthor's trademarked heroes": nice.
Pg. 6: I do like what little we know of Dr. Avasti, and John Henry definitely needs a new girlfriend--preferably one who's not in bed with his enemies this time (cf. the Christopher Priest run of Steel, which I'm going to keep referencing until all of you go out and buy up the available supply of it from the quarter bins--you ever wanted to see a hospital administrator wearing a Hugo Boss battle suit? this is the comic for you!).
Pg. 8: Nice visual of the dripping back of Mercury! The responsometer seems to have assumed a slightly new shape: this Metal Men page has a couple of images of the old-style ones. (Military types looking for new generations of smart weapons seem to be a Morrison theme, too.)
Pg. 10: Who's the guy with the freezing ray? He doesn't look like Captain Cold or Mr. Freeze, and he's got a certain Golden Age-ish look about him.
Pg. 11: And... wait... ice cream truck... wolf-like creature... eagle... what? Should I recognize these characters? I mean, I probably should. What I mean by "should I" is "do you?"
Pg. 12: "the sort of case [Ralph] specializes in": Exactly! Hope he can stop muttering "try again" long enough to get to the bottom of it.
Pg. 13: The return of "Tot" Rodor! Note that his backstory involves 1) third world nations, and 2) government agents trying to get ahold of fancy tech, both of which we're seeing elsewhere in this issue. But it seems weird that there'd be a hotel in Shiruta with a name as specifically Anglo as "Coldridge"--is that just a Warcraft reference? Timeline's a little wonky, too: twenty-plus hours later and we still seem to be on day 6.
New drinking game, by the way: every time we see a sports bra in 52, drink.
Pg. 14: What's a "comdex container"? Nice detail with Montoya checking out the girls who are trying on Isis-gear; anyone recognize the guy following them in panel 6? (He doesn't really look like Abbot.) I love Charlie talking about "keeping our relationship a secret" right before he returns to the "who are you?" routine--guaranteed to drive her up a wall.
Pg. 15: "I swear before this is over I'm gonna hold his dead body in my hands." Foreshadowing! Good literary device! Will be used more later!
Pg. 18: Montoya doesn't seem to have her Kirbytech gun on her--she's got so little in the way of pockets that she's stashing her cigs in her rolled-up sleeve. Just as well; she'd have had a bear of a time getting that thing past airport security and customs. Again, can anybody say with certainty if that's Arabic, or what it says?
Pg. 19: What day is it, anyway?
Pg. 20: "The only metal that is liquid at room temperature": Of course, that's what Mercury always used to mention in the '60s Metal Men comics. Guess Morrow's code worked.