Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Week 25: The Sudden Return of the Unreliable Narrator

How about that Seven Soldiers #1, huh? I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't read it, but the final image suggests a rather strong tie-in to some plot and thematic points that are starting to get hit over and over in 52. (If you haven't been reading Seven Soldiers, you will find that #1 is very pretty and makes no sense whatsoever. If you have been reading Seven Soldiers, and I heartily endorse it, you will find that #1 is very pretty and that you'll have to spend weeks decoding it. But it's worth noting that "Dark Side" does indeed wear an omega tie-pin that looks, as a few people have noted, more than a bit like the 52 logo.) And we get at least three allusions to the project this week in 52...

So at last the "Four Horsemen" (who "will end her rain," according to Rip Hunter's chalkboard) have been mentioned elsewhere. The most obvious reference is a Biblical one: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. While you're looking at that page, make sure to check out the Albrecht Dürer image of the horsemen: George Pérez, eat your heart out!

DC doesn't have much in the way of "four horsemen," aside from one twenty-year-old licensed role-playing game, whose title is so apropos a pun that I can't believe 52 isn't going to use it: "Four Horsemen of Apokolips."

A good title this week, too: "liminal times" are the times when magic is strongest and worlds can come into contact with each other. (And I am far from the first person to think this, but I'm now fairly convinced that 52 is the number of parallel earths--I'm guessing that the "return of..." that Dan DiDio teased a few weeks ago isn't a person, but the coolest concept DC ever had.) Halloween is one of those times--the big one, in some traditions. The concept also suggests moments when one state of being is giving way to another, as with the Ninth Age of Magic making way for the Tenth Age (the Ralph/Fate plot), or the government being replaced by Intergang, or Checkmate moving from the U.S. to the U.N., or the first half of 52 turning into the second half, which I'm gathering will be significantly different from the setup.

All this behind probably my favorite cover of the series thus far: it took a minute to notice that the Booster kid is carrying Dr. Fate's helmet, and the Steel kid is making another Marvel reference. (Well, it could be an even more oblique reference to the guy on the lower left here, but the costume doesn't match up.) This is almost a New Yorker-type cover: a cute seasonal gag that references the series' (nominal) protagonists. At least one of them isn't dressed as Ralph and carrying a bag in the shape of All-Straw Sue's remains.

More notes:

Pg. 1: Bruno "Ugly" Mannheim is yet another Jack Kirby creation, introduced in an issue that also featured the official introduction to the DCU of another character with a long and distinguished history. In front of a cityscape so freaky and smoky I almost expected it to spell out "THE SPIRIT,"* we begin and end this issue with Biblical references, and with conflation of crime and sin--"crime is the moral standard"? Virtually every philosopher ever would have something to say about that... Again, we're seeing the phrase "new world order" invoked--does that ever signal anything good? And apparently there isn't only one copy of the Crime Bible, since the Question's now got another one.

*If anybody happens to have a link to a more appropriate Eisner page, like the splash page of "Showdown with the Octopus" or something, please let me know.

Pg. 2: The Mirage getting the kibosh here isn't the one who first appeared here, he's the one who first appeared here--and since he's a master of illusion, there's the possibility that what we're seeing is what he wants us to see. But probably not. Have we seen Laszlo before, or is he just a random assistant cannibal? Cannibalism is a taboo rather than a crime as such, right?

Pg. 3: I don't recognize any of the dead guys besides Kite-Man; somebody want to run the IDs? The "dark angel made of living granite," I don't think I even need to tell most of the people reading this site, is Darkseid (or "Dark Side" as he's referred to in Morrison's Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle): has his proper name been uttered in the series yet?

Pg. 4: Our second Seven Soldiers reference of the issue: Frankenstein! Neron is a Waid creation, and... maybe not the most exciting of Satan stand-ins (I believe by this point Lucifer had abdicated the throne of hell over in Sandman). But his early appearance had yet another tie-in with Ol' Stony Face.

Pg. 5: Yes, I do realize how nit-picky it is to complain about week/day numbers not matching up with our own, but while Day 3 of this week is when a lot of Halloween parties are being held, Halloween it is not. And Mary's not quite right about the "nature's toothbrush" thing.

Pg. 6: Of course, Halloween is just bad for teeth in general.

Pg. 8: The "Judeo-Christians" (great line) include a Chris Ware robot!

Pg. 9: Hey, it's some Jimenez and Lanning overspill! I'm not gonna complain about that! Nice gimmick to explain wandering away from this storyline from months on end: oh, oh, oh, it's magic. Count Marisius and Bous3dra don't seem to have any previous comics references--or any at all I know of. But this confirms that what we're seeing in this part of Ralph's arc is analogous to Dante's Inferno. Still, I don't think Dante specified a circle of hell for the vain; the fourth ditch of the eighth circle was where people (including Simon Magus) went for sorcery, not for "abusing magic." (Read a translation of the relevant canto here.)

Pg. 10: Felix Faust first fought the JLA in this fingertastic issue, and appeared in 2001 in the rather forgettable JLA: Black Baptism miniseries (in which he was finally separated from the influence of Hermes Trismegistus) and again briefly in Day of Vengeance. His "addict's cycle" has never really been mentioned before. My first exposure to him was in this 1980 story, in which he'd gone straight and become a librarian. And Ralph had the backup that issue! This is a good sign that Fate's helmet may be what's known in the biz as an unreliable narrator... note also that the helmet is considerably higher off the ground than head-level here.

Pg. 11: Etrigan's not in the soul-buying business, is he? Klarion (Seven Soldiers ref. #3) is really not in the soul-buying business, is he? And who are the other two buyers in the panels below Klarion? PLUS: Would that be a teddy bear the defenseless little girl is holding? Remember: teddy bears are an excellent sign of innocence!

I think we need to add "teddy bears" to "sports bras" in the 52 drinking game.

Pg. 13: Yup: unreliable narrator.

Pg. 14: Thought I could be the first to catch this, but Wizard's 52 Roundup beat me to it: the bank's named after Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson! And look to the right of that top panel: our first glimpse of Hawkman post-IC. Well, not really. Also, the Icicle/Tigress, um, "'ship" was revealed here.

Pg. 15: Iron Heights is near Keystone City; for crimes committed in Metropolis, wouldn't they be more likely to go to Stryker's Island?

Pg. 16: Not the John Byrne Matrix, I'm guessing. But somebody's wearing a Supernova outfit...

Pg. 19: The first version of Plutonium (before the one I mentioned a few weeks ago) appeared in the story that Chris at the ISB describes memorably here. And here we have, I think, the first suggestion that Intergang actually has designs on "the government."

Pg. 20: It appears that the Egg Fu here is less likely to be Egg Fu as such than to be Dr. Yes (here again is that Dial B for Blog link)... but "Chang Tzu" is an interesting name for him, since it's an alternate transliteration of the name of the pacifist Taoist philospher whose most famous quote is "Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man." He was also an anarchist, but that's very different from wanting to replace the government with a philosophical devotion to crime.

The Origin of Nightwing: Wait! I was just kidding! Please don't eat your heart out! Not much to say here, except that it's great to see a preview of the Brave and the Bold team, and that I appreciate the two out of three classic trophies that show up in the Batcave panel (Scipio over at The Absorbascon recently posted the definitive rundown on them). And I only resent the incursion of the Monitor/"you're supposed to be dead dammit" business a little.


At 5:09 PM, Blogger Jeff R. said...

The fourth soul dealer is Chronozon, a minor demon who showed up in Sandman a few times. Not sure if Gaiman created him or borrowed him from elsewhere. But he definately is in the demonic bargans racket.

At 9:27 PM, Blogger Eric said...

Here's the one you asked for:
Showdown with the Octopus

I'll post again later with a better example.

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Matthew Perpetua said...

I think it's clever and funny that they took the "they were originally going to kill off Nightwing in IC but then they decided not to" and wrote it into continuity!

At 10:13 PM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

"Happy Halloween, Judeo-Christians" is not only the best line of the comic so far but the best line in any comic I've read this year.

I enjoyed this issue very much, mostly because we not only got a plot but it moved forward.

Guess I haven't been around the web enough to hear the parallel earths theory but I suppose it fits. I think it's a bad idea to bring them back, however. Don't get me wrong, I grew up with parallel earths and the JLA/JSA team-ups were always my favorite comics of the year, but that horse has been put back in the barn and I don't see a good reason to bring him back out.

If they are bringing back parallel earths, why 52? Or I should say why ONLY 52? Just because of the series title? And what's on them? All the characters that used to be on different earths are on the same earth now, so what would the "hook" for the other 51 be?

At 1:08 AM, Blogger Ragnell said...

They did that "You should be DEAD" business with Kyle Rayner over in Ion too. and Donna's gotten it earlier in 52.

Betcha it's Kara's turn next.

And, on Page 3: Okay, I've been thinking about this since one of the lviejournallers posted about how all of the nonwhtie characters in Gotham were disappearing, but I just skimmed because she'd made the mistake of thinking Crispus Allen was still dead (I think she dropped the book and was getting secondhand info), but this page gave me a weird feeling about it.

Cassandra Cain -- Villain now.
Atkins -- Dead.
Montoya -- C-opted by the Question and 52
Allen -- Promoted to Spectre, no longer in Gotham.

And on that page, the only black character is dead (Yet Magpie lives! -- How pathetic are the dead guys?)

As the DCU in general gets more diverse, it seems like the Batbooks themselves are shifting to a monochromatic demographic lately.

At 1:09 AM, Blogger Ragnell said...

(Pardon the small Typographic error settlement above)

At 5:17 AM, Blogger troy c. said...

The "nature's toothbrush" line isn't from Mary, but from Isis (see the boots). Isis saves the kids from Sabbac while Mary and Freddy bicker. The apple line is echoed by one of the kids to note that they're now hero-worshipping the Black Marvel family.

At 5:57 AM, Blogger Garrie Burr said...

Magpie didn't survive long past 52 (and neither did the Ventriloquist) as they were both killed off during James Robinson's One Year Later storyline in Detective.

Speaking of the Octopus -- I believe the baddie to the left of the Dummy is The Squid. He was a Batman foe during the Conway/Newton "era" when the stories read like Conway had just finished going through back issues of The Spirit.

I don't know if 52 is the -number- of parallel earths we'll have by the end. It would seem rather lackluster to go from infinite to a limited-number.

Someone on another blog mentioned that perhaps this will lead to the return of Earth-Prime, our world, to the DC Universe.

What I'm wondering, along similar lines: if the original multiverse story discovered a parallel Earth where the JSA had -already- been in business, could they be setting-up a new alternative -- an Earth where the superfolks had -yet- to happen. This could be the new Earth, where the next big Crisis 20 years down the road could start things all over with a new fresh Superman, Batman, etc., and the Earth-One we've known will be the new Earth-Two...

Last week I mentioned the similarity between Morrison's Wildstorm revamp of Halo Corp (and their super-powered product) with Luthor's 52-driven metagene project. Maybe we can ponder over the fact that in his new Authority he's got -that- team visiting a new Earth without heroes. Could there be some clues there?

Has anyone yet made a list of the major players, other than the New Gods, who have yet to make an appearance in 52? I'm thinking of Brainiac, 5th Dimensional Imps, and the Weaponers of Qward.

When Superboy-Prime punched that wall, how did that affect the other dimensions like Qward?

And, if they're incorporating Kanigher-continuity into the universe, at last, what other things ignored in the past would be ripe for reawakening?

A baddie from Robby Reed was already mentioned, but what about the League of Challenger-Haters, or the villains from Mark Merlin/Prince Ra-Man? Who else is out there, waiting...?

At 7:36 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

Somehow I'm not surprised you referenced a DC Heroes RPG module. It had to happen eventually. Next time you hit up Ambush Bug, you can go after this. Four Horsemen is not an all-encapsulated RPG, it's an adventure suppliment. In other news, hey got a database; nice.

By the way, if you don't like to give out apples or candy for fear of rotting their teeth, you can always give out comics for Halloween.

At 7:57 AM, Blogger Douglas Wolk said...

Nonwhite characters still operating in Gotham: um, what's Lucius Fox up to...? And I assume we'll see Montoya back there at some point.

Remember: comics are nature's toothbrush!

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Michael Nicolai said...

The third day of the week is Tuesday. That's Holloween, at least on my calander. I took it as confirmation that 52 does take place in 2006.

As far as parallel Earths, 52 is a creatively limiting number. But in the spirit of 52 pictograms: E is the fifth letter of the alphabet, and when you talk about parallel Earths at DC, you're really talking about Earth-2. Could 52 mean "E2"?

At 8:30 AM, Blogger R.Nav said...

It's not plot related, but I really really liked the panel where Sabbac first appeared. In the bottom right corner you have people running in terror and it's just PERFECT. You have a mother trying to carry her kids to safety, and if you look closely at the face of the ghost, you can see the screaming child beneath.

It's just beautiful and not the sort of art details I'd expect to see on a book with such a strict deadline.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

I kinda like the idea of "52" being "E2": I can live with one parallel earth.

I'm not entirely convinced "52" refers to parallel earths though. How would parallel earths tie in with the 52 reference in LSH, when the Dominator says "Existence is a loop. Time is a circle. And hate is eternal. Remember the fiffffdee-tu"?

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Eric said...

Whether or not the third day is a Saturday (if you start from Wednesday, the date of publication) or Tuesday (if you start from Sunday, the beginning of the week), 'round here the kids go trick or treatin' on whatever Saturday is closest by. No candy on a school night.

Anyone going door to door or to a costume party as a DC character this year? Here's an almost-guide to a swell Q? costume that a fellow at GPW let me host on the site.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Dr. Flem said...

Choronzon wasn't created by Gaiman. He shows up in John Dee's writings as well as Crowley's (as the ego-destroying guardian of the Abyss)

Also worth noting that a variant of the Chang Tzu quote cited here was used in Morrison's last issue of Doom Patrol.

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Will Staples said...

Re: Alternate Earths: I'd love to see some alternate Earths brought back into play.

I think that the first Crisis was necessary, since DC's published characters were spread out over five different universes, and there was no clear consensus where the histories of Earths Two and One cut off. And as has been pointed out, it made it far, far easier to have characters interact without having to explain how they got from one Earth to the other every single time they team up.

That said... why did Earth-3 have to go? Or Earth-Prime? Or any of the other Earths whose heroes weren't appearing every single month? By destroying every one of their alternate Earths, not just the ones that were but any that might have been, and relegating all of their alt-Earth stories to out-of-continity Elseworlds, DC put a severe handicap on their creative potential.

So if the Multiverse is coming back, I say bring it on!

Re: Chang Tzu: Well, he no longer has the Boris-Karloff-in-yellowface moustache or the faux-Asian accent, but he's still a yellow egghead from China, and that makes me uncomfortable.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Jamie Ott said...

I'm not sold on the multiverse concept just yet. I'd love to see it's return, it's just that I think they have really written themselves into a corner with not going that route after IC.

Having said that, I don't think that Earth Prime EVER went away after CoIE. Remember Morrisson's run on Animal Man? Buddy had to have gone somewhere.

As for Nightwing, et al. I think what we're seeing here is the setup for the next big event. Or at the very least, a new team featuring the second generation heroes, Dick, Donna, Kara, etc. Which would be friggin' cool, IMO.

Loved the Supernova costume this week....

And Eric? All three of my kids are going as DC heroes this year. The youngest is the Flash (Wally). The middle is Batgirl and the oldest will be Nightwing.

I want that Booster costume for next year, though. :)


At 7:04 AM, Blogger Rich said...

Interesting how a girl is dressed as The Question on that cover, huh?

Back when they were doing the History of the DCU backup in 52 I was thinking that in this new spirit of making everything in continuity that the multiple earths would be something that existed in the DCU's past but was no longer. So the JSA would have that whole Earth-2, long running WWII thing in their past but would currently be inhabiting the same New Earth with the JLA. Basically everyone would remember the first Crisis and everything before that. Something that would make both pre- and post- Crisis fans happy and allow DC to tell both kinds of stories (multiple earths being used in flashbacks or history stories).

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

With the concept of YOU being Supernova in the costume, it (and Maggin, Superboy Prime, Ambush Bug, etc.) makes me wonder about Supernova being from Earth Prime.

Of course, I still think he's Booster Gold.

At 12:16 AM, Blogger Ian said...

Weren't we promised Ambush Bug all over this issue? What happened? I mean I liked this issue and all but wouldn't Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. be much more impressed if it was AB who saved the day?

I hope 52 does end with the reintroduction of Earth-Prime. It could be lke the end of Samm Ham's screenplay for Watchmen. The Question, Steel and Montoya end up in this strange world with no superheroes. They wonder what's going on, get surrounded by cops and get ready for adventure! (Yes, that's really how the screenplay ends)

Or it could end with Ambush Bug popping into a meeting between Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Greg Rucka, Kieth Giffen and Dan DiDio. You know, like those old issues of Fantastic Four with Impossible Man.

At 2:41 AM, Blogger jonni said...

On the topic of universes without syuperheroes, I'm surprised no-one's mentioned the infant (or even adult) universe of Qwewq - where Jack O'Lantern disappeared to.

And speaking of pumpkin related costumes - my first thought was of this

At 2:43 AM, Blogger jonni said...

Sorry, couldn't get the html right in that - I actually meant this

At 1:57 AM, Blogger Marc Mielke said...

Jonni, I think the baby universe of Qwewq grew up to be Neh-Buh-Loh and was killed in Seven Soldiers.

By Frankenstein, if I recall correctly.

At 6:49 AM, Blogger creativename said...

Don't know if 52 refers to the *number* of earths so much, it could just refer to the existence of such earths...

Seems like everyone is ignoring the most obvious meaning of 52... the time it takes the earth to revolve round the sun... to return essentially in its starting point in space. Perhaps, "52" is a reference to earths that occupy the same space, if not exactly the same time. Which fits the earlier reference Dominator quotation:

"Existence is a loop. **Time is a circle.** And hate is eternal. Remember the fiffffdee-tu"?

At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Comics as nature's toothbrush, see the last page of Superman/Batman Annual #1!!

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Squashua said...

That's not Skeets... it's PARALLEL UNIVERSE SKEETS!!!!! :-D

At 1:57 PM, Blogger Squashua said...

Dude. This week. Mr. Tawky Crawky!

At 6:14 PM, Blogger Leee said...

The cover reminded me a lot of a Clowes Madman pinup.


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