Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Week 23: Black Adam and Grey Theology

For a comic that, as a few of the writers' interviews have suggested, may not have room for the exploration of religion in the DC universe that they intended, 52 does seem to have a lot of religion in it. The Cain cult seems to take off from the cults in our world based on the idea of sin (e.g. Satanism), and on the long-running seductiveness of the idea that good and evil are artificial constructs, that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, etc. (Grant Morrison dealt with that a little bit in The Invisibles too, with the Marquis de Sade sequences and others--and actually I'm curious how many people who read this blog a. have read The Invisibles, b. haven't read it at all, or c. made it partway through and gave up. It's one of my favorite comics ever, although I'm always a little hesitant to recommend it to people.)

But here we have something else altogether: a cult based not just on "do what thou wilt" or even "evil" but crime, on the supposition that fidelity to the divine involves breaking secular laws whatever they may be. (Or maybe not, since it's named after Cain and one of its catchphrases is "the red rage and the rock"--Cain's murder of Abel, at a time when it's safe to assume there weren't any secular laws to speak of. The existence of the DCU Cain and Abel just makes that more complicated.) The cult's ritual is a straight-up parody of an Anglican church service, right down to the "here endeth the lesson." A crime cult is a very weird concept, but I kind of love it--especially since the DCU's heroic ideals have always brushed up against the distinction between "crimefighting" or criminal justice and actually doing right, and sometimes conflated them. (The "Justice League" or "Justice Society": what flavor of justice would those be? The Spectre does divine justice specifically in contrast to secular justice. Etc.)

The cult's HQ isn't just a temple, though--it's an "Intergang reeducation camp." Which makes it look like Intergang is trying to brainwash the orphans it's kidnapped into doing wrong for wrong's sake, rather than the goals that gangs generally have: mutual benefit, money, power, that sort of thing. Admittedly, Intergang's got ties to Apokolips, which is less concerned with normal gang-related activities than with doing whatever it takes to assemble and use the Anti-Life Equation. But it raises the question of what exactly Intergang's motive and intended goals are. I also have to wonder how effective Intergang's brainwashing techniques would be on the starving orphans chained to the speaker's platform in Yemen, given that the reading from "The Epic of Moriarty, Book of Crime" is in English, which I'd guess that very few of them speak--Amon doesn't, until he gains "the wisdom of Zehuti."

The title of this week's issue is a riff on this book by the amazing writer Rebecca West's boyfriend. (Although it does make me wonder if T.O. Morrow's actually got a doctorate, as the cover suggests; that'd make for a funnier title. "Professor"? He was obviously a teacher somewhere, since Doc Magnus was one of his students--was he just an adjunct or something?)

Interesting that "what you get when the world's maddest scientists are given an unlimited
budget and encouraged to let their imaginations run wild on the finest mind-expanding narcotics available to man" is so much like what we saw in the full flowering of the DC Universe's go-go checks era. Which leads to the broader point that the Silver Age is the source of so much of what we're seeing in 52--was there some kind of failure of imagination that happened as Silver gave way to Bronze? Or is there some other reason that the creations of the late '70s and '80s and '90s were fewer or more sedate or less interesting to revive as points of continuity?

More notes:

Nice cover "Pieta" homage, and once again, there's a discrepancy between what Amon is wearing on the cover and on the inside... I'm also not sure how I feel about Montoya being "the Answer" with a capital A--I like her too much as a non-superhero character--but I'm not sure if that's supposed to be a clue about where that storyline is going.

Pg. 1: Believe it or not, this is not a new robot. Its name is B.O.L.T.S., and it first appeared here, and again here. Which we'll be seeing more of in a moment. (Sorry about the weird links; doesn't seem to be working right now.) It also looks like Prof. Morrow has access to the Dr. Moreau-like creatures that signal Intergang involvement.

Pg. 2: Oolong Island isn't new either. In fact, it first appeared in Wonder Woman #157--as the secret island headquarters of the diabolical Egg Fu, the Very Most Racist Super-Villain of All Time. (We briefly saw him back in the second "Tuesdays with Morrow" sequence.) Do follow that link for Dial B for Blog's essay on his history with both Wonder Woman and the Metal Men.

Where do the beach bunnies come from? Are they mad scientists too? Please tell me so.

Pg. 3: So wait, the "Cricketron" incinerates a bunch of people and everyone's still just hanging out under their "Penguin Umbrellas" on the beach?

Pg. 4: Anyone know who "Bugsy" might be? Dr. Rigoro Mortis seems to be somewhat the worse for wear since he first appeared in House of Mystery #165. What's up with Doc's appearance? We didn't see him get splashed with anything last issue--and chloroplatinic acid is not nearly as easy to make as just dumping aqua regia on platinum, although that's a step in the process.

Pg. 5: "Ira" is Ira Quimby, a.k.a. I.Q., who first appeared in Mystery in Space #87 (written up here). His origin, interestingly, has to do with a bit of stone from the planet Rann; maybe he has something to do with the Adam Strange plot? Also, he fought the Metal Men back in DC Comics Presents #4, which looks like it's getting reprinted in Superman: Back In Action next January. Anyone know the story behind the giant robot in the last panel? Or what the headless little-boy robot Sivana's chasing is?

Pg. 6: "Moriarty" would have to be another mad scientist--a math professor, actually: Prof. James Moriarty. He's appeared in at least one DC comic (outside of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen): this one. Any others? I can't find a source for the passage she's reading (about Moriarty torturing Holmes?!)--the "weak ye are revealed, and thus choice ain't for ye" bit is a mixture of high and low speech that reminded me a bit of what Mark Twain makes fun of in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." Love that forked-tongued bookmark, though.

Pg. 7: I still want to know where she holsters that thing, or if she's just been wandering around the streets of Yemen clutching her big Kirbytech gun.

Pg. 11: Sports bra! Drink! And why would Montoya and Charlie have gone ahead to Dangerous Place Central without Adam and Isis already present to back them up?

Pg. 13: Oh, look, it's another talking tiger with a member of the Marvel family...

Pg. 15: And apparently you have to be crippled if you want to be a Captain Marvel Jr. analogue.

Pg. 17: "I am Osiris... even though I am not sure what that yet means." For one thing, it means his theology's confused: Amon-Ra and Osiris were two different gods, at the toppermost of the poppermost of the Egyptian pantheon. For another, it means you're going to marry your sister, dude, and after that things are going to go downhill.

Pg. 18: "Seeing if it's contagious": awesome!

Pg. 20: I'm sorry, but a happy-looking Black Adam just freaks me out.

The Origin of Wildcat: Jerry Ordway was a perfect choice for this one. Ted's looking at the cover of All-American Comics #16, although I like the color scheme of the Earth-Prime version better. It was specifically Green Lantern that inspired Ted in the original story, though. But "the finest boxer who ever lived"? What about Superman's other sparring partner?


At 11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the Invisibles all the way through. And then I said "huh?" Because, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what the point had been.
I didn't like it.
I've liked lots of Morisson's work - just not The Invisibles. But at least I gave it a full effort.

At 11:14 PM, Blogger zack soto said...

I loved the Invisibles, up to about the first 1/4 of volume 3.. I haven't gone back and re-read them in years though...

I thought this was a pretty good issue, with Vic and Renee, Oolong Island, etc. I even thought it was kind of neat that Black Adam now has his own super-powered "family", complete with a crippled freddy freeman type.

I found it odd that the Wildcat origin made no mention of his having 9 lives thing, which is his only real super power, not to mention how the hell he's still alive and kicking ass at this point.

At 3:25 AM, Blogger Ragnell said...

(I'm another one who loved the Invisables, read it straight through in trades)

I'm glad I'm not the only one who wondered about the bikini girls. I'm worried, because so many of the men weren't even in casual wear. Suits and mad scientist coats. I might write in to ask about this one.

I liked this issue, though. Black Adam's family looks interesting. I'm not sure if Osiris is a good idea, or a bad idea, but I know I'd rather read this than Trials of Shazam.

And it was great to see Drew Johnson again. I'd wondered what happened when he left Wonder Woman. He was always on time, he drew a great interpretation of her, and his wardrobe for Athean rocked! I'm disappointed he didn't get a chance to stick Hermes in a winged fedora (or panama hat?).

At 4:39 AM, Blogger Garrie Burr said...

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At 4:44 AM, Blogger Garrie Burr said...

B.O.L.T.S...? That's what I thought last week -- out of all the Metal Men's foes his appearance was most-like the shadowy figure seen at the end of the chapter. But this week, seen in the light of day, I don't think so. He didn't have a transparent head and the arms and legs are all wrong. Unless he's been upgraded by Tomorrow.

Too bad, as his original storyline would've given 52 a very strange curve. His creator back then was Dr. Yes, the robot twin of the infamous Egg Fu.

Other Metal "facts": last issue Magnus mentioned his breakdown occurred "after the Plutonium Man went rogue." In previous continuity, before Superboy-Prime punched things up, it was the Plutonium Man's rampage which set him on the road to recovery -away- from madness. Unless PM reappeared in the Carlin mini-series which 52 has thankfully made part of Magnus' delirium.

I have no idea about the headless boy-robot. My first thought was Billy Batson, but for the striped shirt and shoes.

And I'm wondering if "Bugsy" is a very-aged version of Ray Palmer's old foe, the Bug-Eyed Bandit.

Glad to see they remembered Ira Quimby's smart-tanning: after exposure to radiation from a Rannian rock he found that sunlight was his own personal smart drug. Don't think that's been brought up since his second appearance vs. the Hawks. The concept now seems quite Morrisonian, though it's straight from Fox.

I loved the Invisibles, too, but it will be a while before I re-read the series. The last time I was out sick I laid back and read the whole series in one fell swoop. Took some time to recuperate from that, but I plan on doing the same with 7 Soldiers once the finale rears its head.

Speaking of which: "For choice is the domain only of the strong, the way of true freedom..." from the "Epic of Moriarty" reminds me of one of the themes (I felt) Morrison was exploring in the Soldiers series. If you follow a decision based on the roll of a die you have six possible paths to take. There's a possible -seventh- path: If you make your own path without a roll, that journey would be one of 'choice.' Or maybe I still suffer from over-Invisible intake...

Though, back to last issue again, Magnus mentions his unique breakthrough with the Metal Men, that they could "think and plan and carry out independent actions." So maybe there -is- something to this choice thing, afterall.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

IIRC, the Bug-Eyed Bandit was one of the first to go in the original CoIE.

I have all of The Invisibles trades and am a fan of Lovecraftian concepts intermixed with super-heroic ideas. Fans of such items should research Morrison's 2000AD "Zenith" series, trades of which need to be re-published.

Vic's attempt to gain the power of Shazam was very amusing. It has become obvious to me that Osiris and Isis definately have an agenda and they might actually have been a couple (in the non-relative sense) before she was planted by Intergang to court Black Adam.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

Additional followup. So, it's possible that it isn't Egg Fu, but Dr. Yes that is behind The Great Ten? Wonderful. Thank you, Robby Reed.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Filby said...

Re: Bug-Eyed Bandit: Well, I was reading Morrison's Doom Patrol the other day, and he used Sunburst in one story, only a couple years after he died in the Crisis. It's not inconceivable that he'd do the same with the Bug-Eyed Bandit. That said, I've never actually seen the Bandit, so I dunno if "Bugsy" is him.

Anyone recognize the other mad scientists in the lab/hangar? I figure the one-eyed guy must be Doctor Cyclops, but who's the one with the cauldron giving off skull-shaped puffs of steam? Doctor Death?

I loathe Egg Fu. I've been hoping (fruitlessly, apparently) that they'd just keep Egg Fu buried in the past where he belongs. He's one of those rare characters who simply cannot be rehabilitated.

Where are these animal-men coming from? I remember one Rucka Batman storyline immediately after No Man's Land where Ra's al-Ghul used this elixir to turn a bunch of his servants into animal/human hybrids (this is where Whisper A'daire and Kyle Abbot were introduced); is this where all of Intergang's "moreaus" came from? Are the ani-men on Oolong Island necessarily connected to Intergangs? At least we know that they're both connected to Apokolips...

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Filby said...

Also: Re: Egg Fu and the Great Ten: Well, aside from them both being Chinese, I don't think there's a definite connection between them yet. I'm reasonably sure that the Great Ten are supposed to be "good guys" (albeit clumsily-handled "other" good guys). Not that that precludes them being manipulated by Apokolips, but there's still not enough evidence.

That said... Meltzer's JLA #1, they mention that the scientists on Oolong were "breeding supervillains." In Checkmate, we learned that some (though not all) of the Great Ten were artificially given powers as well. This of course ties into Luthor's Everyman Project. That's the only connection I can think of.

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Filby said...

Btw, anyone else see parallels between Egg Fu's facility on Oolong and Ozymandias's kidnapped artists in Watchmen, or is this just a really common trope in speculative fiction?

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Jamie Ott said...


In the issue that the Ten made their appearance battling the Lanterns, there's a sequence where they are being monitored by what appears to be Egg Fu (later confirmed by Giffen's layouts for that issue). Having said that, it was assumed that he was working in China based on his history and the fact he seemed to be giving the Ten orders.

I'm going to have to relook at that issue again.

A Philistine for never having read the Invisibles.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Cole Moore Odell said...

I adored The Invisibles, even towards the very end when some of the artists were clearly having trouble drawing what was in Morrison's head. It's the best super-hero comic ever, among other things. Invisibles is pretty much the key to everything else Morrison has written; all his formal tricks, interests, and preoccupations collected and distilled. It stands up to multiple readings like few other comics. Also, the book should be of great historical interest someday to anyone trying to understand the 1990s.

By the way, didn't Ted Grant knock out Superman's other sparring partner in Cooke's New Frontier?

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Scott said...

I've read Invisibles a number of times and often pick one of the collections to go back over 3 or 4 issues. The time travel stuff from the second volume still blows me away everytime I try to figure out what Morrison was doing there.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

I love The Invisibles and anyone who does or who didn't get it the first time really needs this book.

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Tom Bondurant said...

Wasn't Moriarty behind-the-scenes a fair amount in Detective Comics #572, the "50th Anniversary Of Detective Comics" issue that guest-starred Holmes, Slam Bradley, and the Elongated Man?

That was during the brief Mike Barr/Alan Davis period, which no one talks about anymore....

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Filby said...

Re: Jamie: I just looked the issue over, and Egg Fu was monitoring Morrow and Magnus, not the Great Ten. Although both plot points being introduced in the same issue might be conspicuous.

At 7:45 PM, Blogger lonesome said...

Just a quick comment on the use of Oolong to name the island... Tea leaves are of course (traditionally) dried in the sun, and Oolong is the partially oxidized version of the regular tea leaf. Not yet black, no longer green, it's... half-baked.

At 11:26 PM, Blogger nicholas danger said...

I have read The Invisibles, and it is my favorite series. Transmet comes close, but Invisibles just launched me into a whole new area of things to read and research, and opened up a lot of doors that I'd never realized I'd closed.

That said, it is difficult for some people. I've recommended it to all my friends, and I'd say only about half have managed to get past the first trade.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Scott said...

"I found it odd that the Wildcat origin made no mention of his having 9 lives thing, which is his only real super power, not to mention how the hell he's still alive and kicking ass at this point."

IIRC, Wildcat lost his extra lives in JSA: Classified #8-9.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Eric said...

Note that in the new preview cover of 52 #25, the kids in Steel and Booster costumes could be younger analogues of John Henry Irons and Michael Carter. But the Question seems to be a mix of Vic (red hair) and Montoya (female). Could be a major clue, could be that they felt obliged to include a girl, or it could just be a...wait for hairing.

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Marionette said...

IIRC, Wildcat lost his extra lives in JSA: Classified #8-9.

Was that before or after Crimson Avenger went through four or five of them In one issue of JSA?

Re: Beach bunnies. Perhaps they are from the same quantum physics fashion model class as Phantom Lady. Or they are all fembots. We didn't get a close enough look at them to see if they have Stormy Knight's shiny plastic skin.

At 8:30 PM, Blogger Ragnell said...

Mari -- They didn't look shiny enough to be plastic. I dropped DC a letter, I'll share the answer.

Unfortunately, it's snail mail from Oklahoma to New York, so it'll be a while.

At 8:31 PM, Blogger Ragnell said...

Oh, and losting his extra lives was after Crimson Avenger killed him a bit.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Filby said...

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At 9:26 PM, Blogger Filby said...

According to the weekly Newsarama interview, the Cricketron fellow is one Baron Bug. Both he and Rigoro Mortis went up against Robby "Dial H For Hero" Reed.

At 12:28 AM, Blogger Dave Menendez said...

Re: the headless, little-boy robot.

The red/black striped shirt, blue pants, and red shoes looks a whole lot like Calvin. See, for example, the cover of The Essential Calvin and Hobbes.

At 1:14 AM, Blogger Marionette said...

It's just occured to me. Re: the beach bunnies. Maybe Ira Quimby's been sharing around the suntan oil.

Does make you think, if a writer came up with that schtik for a female character there would be so much female eye rolling that half the planet would go out of focus.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Also, I noticed Dr. Cyclops in the Oolong lab panel, right behind the Headless Calvin-Bot.

And I love The Invisibles.

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Ian said...

I once read every issue of The Invisibles in one day. By the time I was done I thought I could see through time. I told Mr. Morrison this at an appearance he made at Meltdown Comics he nonchalantly told me that this was the experience the comics were meant to create. I like to think I see the world from a greater perspective since finishing the whole series. I haven't read them since then (it's about two or so years now). I should probably get back to them but sparse out my time with them a bit.

I was talking to a group of avid superhero fans on Thursday and they theorized that The Question is making a play to be the head of Intergang. Interesting idea.

At 9:59 AM, Blogger creativename said...


The connection between 52 and "Watchmen" with regards to kidnapping scientists and artists and bringing them to an island for something greater is that they're both a riff on Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged".

Which leads to the obvious question: "Who is Egg Fu?"

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Michael Nicolai said...

I read that passage from the book of crime as Moriarity being tortured while in custody. A parable of how the law is no different than the lawless. I have read large chunks of the Invisibles and liked it, but I think Morrisson is on to something similar with Seven Soldiers, and it comes off as more polished, more refined. (which isn't to say it's better necccesarilly)

If I were a super-genius and looked like Sivana, my first order of business would either be an artificial hot-chick, or a hot-chick hypnotizer; or maybe some kind of beam that turns regular scientist ladies into Hot Scientist Ladies. Or all of the above.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Squashua said...

If I was Sivana, I'd go by my middle name... Bodog.

At 6:48 AM, Blogger jgd3 said...

Count me as another reader of the complete Invisibles saga. I'm a HUGE Grant Morrison fan, and I do love The Invisibles for the failed experiment that it was.

I'm still waiting for Grant to get his own DC Direct action figure – after all, he did appear as himself (albeit with hair) in Animal Man. Maybe we can hope for a bald variant as well.

While I'm here, I have to say that 52 has been the most enjoyable comics reading experience I've had in many years, and I'm enjoying your weekly explorations of it nearly as much as the book itself. Carry on!

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Matthew E said...

The connection between 52 and "Watchmen" with regards to kidnapping scientists and artists and bringing them to an island for something greater is that they're both a riff on Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged".

Except that they weren't kidnapped in Atlas Shrugged. The first thing I thought of was that early issue of All-Star Squadron where Dr. Hastor puts a bunch of scientists into a big floating eye. But I can't recall offhand--were they kidnapped, or were they originally volunteers?

At 3:22 PM, Blogger creativename said...

Don't know about the All Star Squadron, but all we know about 52 is that the scientists all over the world were disappearing.

Even Magnus' catch could be interpreted as a rescue followed by an invitation.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger Randi said...

Unrelated, and more an FYI:
Reading Comics: Time Out NY review.

(Met you briefly at Swift during MoCCA -- enjoyed listening)


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