Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Week 30: The Panopticon in the Empty Quarter

Over at the always-enlightening 52 Covers Blog at Wizard, J.G. Jones sets me straight on what's up with the covers and solicitations. (J.G., if you're reading this, thanks for the correction.) This week's cover might be my favorite one of the series so far, actually--I'm glad Jones went back and changed it from the bat-shadow sketch he shows to this fantastically resonant composition. As he notes, it's a riff on St. Michael spearing the devil. Besides the image in the Wizard blog, see this one--it's shown up on the back of coins, in stained-glass windows, you name it. And the eye in the sky is the "all-seeing eye" of God that's usually used in a similarly iconic way; Ichorskeeter over at the Newsarama Forums pointed out this example.

Speaking of the all-seeing eye, let's talk about the Panopticon for a minute. No, not the one that's the Crime Syndicate of America's headquarters here, although it's what that one is named for (and by the way I'm hoping you all read Superman/Batman Annual #1 a couple of weeks ago, since not only does it involve alternate worlds and the Crime Syndicate, it's also the best issue of Deadpool since this one).

The Panopticon, in its more classical sense, is a kind of prison invented by Jeremy Bentham, in which all the prisoners are being watched all the time--or, rather, in which all the prisoners know that they could be being observed all the time, and don't know when they actually are or aren't. Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish is partly about how the Panopticon is a useful metaphor for contemporary systems of social organization--pervasive observation and documentation as a way of keeping society in line.

Batman, of course, can think of nothing more suitable than a perfectly orderly, rule-based society: superheroes of all kinds generally fight menaces to the social order, but Batman in particular is much more interested in criminals as such--people who deliberately break formal, documented rules--than in other kinds of social, physical or spiritual disasters. (On reflection, a lot of his more interesting enemies are criminals whose own personal "codes" are very specific rules: Two-Face and his coin-flipping decisions between "good" and "evil," the Riddler and his compulsion to leave clues, the Mad Hatter and his advice column.) The "Crime Bible" plot of 52 mostly seems to tie into the Montoya/Question/Batman-in-absentia thread, which makes sense.

The line from this issue that jumped out at me was Tim's "I don't know why nobody's saying it"--as in Week 27, there are a few crucial names that everyone's dancing around saying this week. The first of them is the all-seeing eye that's closest to Bruce's recent history: OMAC.

The old JLA's "monitor duty," which I was talking about last week, is all about surveillance; the original OMAC's satellite advisor Brother Eye was occasionally rumored to be a reconfigured version of the '70s-era JLA's satellite. The pre-Infinite Crisis Batman has gone from being interested in information (I remember some old Robin story where Dick mentions that Batman trained him to automatically memorize every license plate number he sees; anybody want to identify it?) to obsessed with watching everybody else all the time, hence Brother I and the OMAC project, as well as his reliance (for a while) on Oracle. Which is another great thing about this issue's theme (and cover): now the all-seeing eye is watching him.

The idea of a Ten-Eyed Man isn't new to Batman--I'm betting Grant Morrison ran across him when he was researching the Man-Bat arc in Batman, since the original one only appeared here and then here and again here--in the second and final issue of Man-Bat's original series--and was killed off near the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is kind of funny since he'd already been killed off in his previous appearance.

But I suspect that Bruce's sequence in this issue is best understood as what's going on in his internal landscape, rather than a literal, physical conflict: the "empty quarter" really is empty, no matter what his all-seeing eyes may try to find there. The actual Empty Quarter, besides providing the title for a good book of experimental fiction by Sharon Mesmer, is a huge desert, the Rub' al Khali, covering a gigantic area in the Arabian Peninsula.

So why would Bruce go there for his personal psychodrama? Maybe because that's the region of the world he associates with his "evil self"--the other name that nobody utters this issue. Ra's Al Ghul really was Batman's dark mirror image in a way that even the Joker isn't--a man of reason who honored and respected Bruce's skill; a father-in-law who tried to replace Bruce's absent father (Morrison's been playing with this theme some in his Batman); a man who cheated death instead of avoiding it; a killer who thinks that the ordinary people Bruce wants to protect from "crime" should die for the greater good. Batman used to be uncomfortable with any kind of "greater good" scenario, but the whole OMAC disaster was him finally yielding to that idea. No wonder he wants to purge himself of it.

The question of fathers and sons also opens up the worm-can of whether Bruce thinks of Batman as a dynasty, or maybe even as an office--if he's training them to be heroes or training them to be him, and if Dick wants to "graduate" to being Batman in the first place, which he pretty clearly doesn't. Hence Dick's sotto voce "I can't believe he'd do this to me," and the startling suggestion that as a young Robin he thought of his relationship with Batman as little brother-big brother rather than the son-father relationship Tim has with Bruce.

Not much to annotate as such this week, but a few things to point out:

Pg. 2: I don't know if this was an actual story, but the enormous art supplies are a nifty nod to Bill Finger's fondness for giant props.

Pg. 3: Taking off from the previous page's take on the Robin-Goes-To-College issue and "A Death in the Family," these six panels survey "The Killing Joke," "Knightfall," "No Man's Land," "Hush," Tim's father's improbable death in "Identity Crisis," and what looks like Bruce drawing a bead on Alex Luthor near the end of "Infinite Crisis," except that somebody who looks a little like Eric Idle has been substituted for Alex.

Pg. 5: A quick question on the title: can anyone document any instance of Batman being called a "Dark Knight" before Frank Miller? I know in the '70s he was the "Darknight Detective" in plenty of captions, but I always read that as "Dark Night."

Pg. 7: Guess Charlie's now too sick to travel; I figured they were going back to Nanda Parbat, but it sure looks like that Gotham toe-tag in a couple of weeks belongs to him.

Pg. 9: He approves of her meditating, I see.

Pg. 10: I love how Kirbytech always looks like Kirbytech--it's the zigzag part near the lower right of that panel that really does it. And Cain is the "maker of martyrs"? Is Abel the patron martyr of the Cain-cult? The House of Secrets Abel?

Pg. 18: Dick does indeed have a thing for redheads, and I'm wondering when we're going to find out what happened in the six months between his engagement to Barbara and his attempting to hit on a woman who's in the middle of beating up Wonder Wart-Hog (with that "party with the models in Cannes" somewhere in there).

The Origin of the Metal Men: I really like how lively Rouleau's art is here; if I have one nitpick, it's that the "essential storylines" don't include the mid-'70s Steve Gerber "Doc goes mad" period that 52's been referencing right and left.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Week 29: Nihilist Spasm Superteam

Look, I'm all for old people doing cool things that they've been doing together for a really long time. But I don't understand why the JSA still exists, or why there should be a new JLA, and this issue underscores why.

The ostensible reason there was a Justice Society in the first place was, you know, networking--a way that members of the then-nascent super-community could keep in touch with each other and compare notes, and maybe call on each other for help with super-type problems that were too big for any of them. Then there was the All-Star Squadron, who were nominallly on a mission to do their stuff on the home front during World War II because the Spear of Destiny blah blah. And after WWII ended, the JSA was once again a superheroes-working-for-their-mutual-benefit organization--and failed completely. Paul Levitz, in fact, wrote this story--well, it's not even pictured on the cover, although a good Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez-drawn Deadman story is--in which the JSA effectively disbanded after HUAC demanded they unmask, in a rather Civil War-like gambit (and by the way um wow click on this, although it's kinda NSFW).

This means, effectively, that the JSA totally failed at its mission to be an information clearinghouse and mutual support organization for super-types. You'd think that they'd have reorganized into something entirely different and more proactive, and that's more or less what the Justice League was for most of its pre-Infinite Crisis existence. The crucial phrase here is "monitor duty": they actively kept an eye out for situations that required multiple-superhero-type intervention, and went out and fixed them. That was at least the concept, although a lot of JLA stories don't suggest much of what the group is actually supposed to do. And its spinoffs have sometimes done even worse on the raison d'ĂȘtre front.

Given the existence of the JLA, there's no mandate for a JSA: they're not competing organizations, it's just that without the League's participation, the Society doesn't really have a point except as a sort of Elks Club for aging superheroes and their extended families. (Which is what it looks like here. Alan and Jay and Ted don't seem to have offered any kind of outreach or mentorship to the new wave of super-kiddies, they're just sitting around moaning and whining about them.) The structure and purpose of the League ultimately failed even more spectacularly: everybody got blindsided by Infinite Crisis and its lead-ins, and Batman was semi-responsible for the OMAC calamity, etc. If you'll forgive the slightly obscure joke, it's as if Joseph Avenol had invaded Finland himself.

When the League of Nations failed to prevent exactly the kind of catastrophe it was meant to prevent, it realized that its name and structure was worthless; it disbanded, and the U.N. formed. Something similar would be more appropriate here that what we're getting, I suspect. It makes sense that the League ceased operations--having its HQ reduced to smithereens by Superboy-Prime was kind of a signal. It makes a weird DCU kind of sense that there should be some kind of new superhero organization to do... well, some kind of coordination between cape-and-cowl types. But it doesn't make sense that it should be called the Justice League, or that it should be organized the same way, because Infinite Crisis demonstrated that that totally doesn't work. And what we've seen of the new JLA series so far--four issues of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman sitting around a table trying to decide who the group is going to be limited to, and working from the premise that e.g. they definitely need an archer--suggests that they're just trying to refine their earlier mistakes, instead of ditching the old, ineffective form of the organization and, ideally, the name along with it.

So the big news that leaked on Monday was that DC's got another weekly comic, called Countdown, that will be starting the week after 52 ends. Paul Dini's writing it, which is very good news--I've been loving his Detective Comics scripts lately, and he's got lots of experience with both the DCU and weekly serials (he's worked on Lost). Also, it'll still have the "real-time" gimmick, which I hope he's got some really clever idea of how to use.

(Am I going to be doing something like 52 Pickup about Countdown? If somebody pays me to!)

But that brings something else to mind. There's been a lot of chatter about whether Marvel's going to do a weekly title too, now that Stephen Wacker's over there; what a lot of people don't seem to have mentioned is that there already is a weekly Marvel series, and its circulation is much higher than even 52's. It's called Spider-Man Collectible Series, it appears in several dozen Sunday newspapers, and it's ending in a couple of weeks. It's not new stories--it's reprints of early Steve Ditko stuff--but the principle is the same.

Imagine, though, if somebody did something that combined the bright ideas of 52 and Spider-Man Collectible Series: a weekly comic book, printed on cheap Parade-type stock and inserted into Sunday newspapers, with a suspenseful, tightly plotted serial as its lead feature (one that allowed jumping on at any point, and in which continuity with old and new direct-market comics was Easter eggs, rather than the central pillar of the plot), plus a little two-page "secret origin" backup feature... how great would that be? Has anyone even tried to do a weekly newspaper-insert comic book of new material in the U.S. since The Spirit?

In a lot of ways, this week's issue looks like it was reconfigured in a hurry: as a few people have noted, the solicitation involved the origin of the Joker by Waid and Bolland, and two pull-quotes, one of which had previously appeared in the solicitation for #25, and the other of which bears no relationship to anything we've seen in the series, and the issue's got a 22-page story that seems a little padded and no backup at all. And then there's the pearl problem, which I'll get to in a minute. Next issue looks fantastic, though, and I've got a lot to say about that cover...

More notes:

Pg. 3: The JLA and JSA have been in the habit of having Thanksgiving together--they've done it here and here. (There's also a reference to Thanksgiving near the end of Identity Crisis.) The image they're looking at in panel 3 is, of course, the cover of All Star Comics #3--that link, by the way, is not the original version, of course...

The Ultra-Humanite is a good one for Wildcat to be referencing here--he was pretty much the first super-villain in superhero comics, it says here, and fought the JSA and All-Star Squadron a few times. Of course, as Johns knows, he's dead too...

Extant's death may be one of the causes of time being broken--it happened here, as the result of Atom-Smasher sending Extant back in time to replace his mother in a Kobra-planned plane crash, thereby altering history, which I thought was one of those things you couldn't do. (Extant, the former Monarch and, before that, Hawk of Hawk and Dove, was yet another time traveler, and if I have to explain him any further I'll have to get into Zero Hour and Armageddon 2001 and nobody wants that. Let's just say he turned up as a zombie in an anachronistic costume early this year, in a Johns-written comic, and leave it at that.) But remember the Fifth Rule of Delicate Comics Foreshadowing: a quarter-page panel devoted to a four-word word balloon indicating that a character is dead is as sure a sign as you could ask for that that character is actually alive.

As for the time going out fighting rather than fading away, that was basically what they were doing as of the Last Days of the Justice Society special in 1986--permanently fighting Ragnarok. Anyone know if they even still remember that?

Pg. 5: Sylvester Pemberton, the original Star-Spangled Kid and originator of the team's name, was killed in the final issue of Infinity, Inc., which I'd link to here if were functional right now. Sorry. His parents adopted Merry Craemer (...Pemberton King), a.k.a. Merry, Girl of 1000 Gimmicks; Merry's daughter Jacqueline was the Gimmix who disappeared (killed by the Sheeda) in Seven Soldiers #0. But wouldn't Merry control the Pemberton estate, rather than her estranged daughter? Last we saw, she was alive and kicking and part of Old Justice. (In a story that involved the pre-Seven Soldiers version of Klarion, which Hypertime complexity I don't want to think about too much either. Practicing avoidance much this week, Douglas?)

Pg. 8: Yes, Obsidian is gay, but that "does not decrease DC Comics' ability to sell its products." The Milwaukee business happened in JSA #7.

Pg. 12: In the ongoing G.Mo Vs. A.Mo Slaying-The-Father-Stakes: I see Sivana's managed to add another pair of drumsticks to the turkey on the next-to-last page of Watchmen #1. In a scene prominently involving a watch and the Cold War, no less.

Pg. 13: I am totally stumped on Comrade Krabb; anybody have any idea where he's appeared before? Of course, his name might be something totally different, given that nobody in the production line caught "Khrushohev."

Pg. 14: Both "neat" (in the sense of "undiluted") and "washing up liquid" are Britishisms, and as far as I remember, Veronica Cale isn't British. But what's up with her not wearing her trademark black pearl necklace? That's her defining visual characteristic, and missing it is the kind of glitch that seems like it's either a significant story point or a significant screw-up... "I didn't realize they'd kidnapped Freud too": nice!

Pg. 15: What Cale is quoting here sounds like a quote from the Crime Bible to me. (EDITED TO ADD: Duh: it's from the actual Bible. See the comments.) Cf. the blurb-line from the Week 31 solicit: "Superman being out of the picture was the key. One of two keys, if you want to be cute about it." "A star from the sky which had fallen to the earth" sounds like some variety of Kryptonite (or the Starheart that Alan's lantern is made from), and also recalls Supernova's costume and the scene with him in Wayne Manor.

Pg. 16: Back in Week 25, he was Chang Tzu; now he's Chung Zhu; on the next page he's Chung Tzu. Curious. And slightly irritating that this issue seems to have it in for both vegetarians and macrobiotic types, given that I'm getting ready to put the Tofurky in the oven.

Pg. 17: A number that doesn't even have a 52 in it!

Pg. 21: And here I was, hoping that Kala was going to arrive by hovercraft this time. Would Gabe (or anybody outside the superhero community) know that Dr. Cross was Dr. Mid-Nite? At least we're getting one sympathetic cameo by a vegetarian this issue...

Pg. 22: Interesting that the cliffhanger this time is something we already know to be false, since we've seen Luthor turn off powers with the press of a button.

In the Dept. of Unfinished Business: reader "Reverend" Jack Zall sends along a link to an image of Dragon's Fists, the novel in which Richard Dragon first appeared: it's here. Thank you, Jack!

Next week's issue, I'm told, will actually be out Wednesday, but next week's 52 Pickup (and the following week's) are likely to go up very late in the evening or sometime Thursday, thanks to my travel schedule.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Week 28: A Set of Ragged Claws

Before we get to this week's issue, I'm happy to announce that I've just turned in the manuscript of Reading Comics (see the "About Me" box to the right). You know what that means, don't you? That's right: more time to do unpaid writing about weekly comic books! After this week, anyway. Not that there's a lot to cover in this mildly disappointing issue anyway--after a few weeks where the overall plot was racing along, it's mostly spinning its wheels this time, and there aren't a lot of fun Easter eggs either.

So let's look a bit at what might be coming up. In the latest "5.2 About 52", we see a preview of week 29, with its JSA cover (and no cover blurb for whatever origin is in that issue, oh dear). Notable thing on the bottom-of-cover crawl: "39 Days till the Rain." That would put us in week 35, with the super-bodies falling from the sky past Luthor's office.

The 52 cover image for DC's February solicits--that great shot of John Henry watching as the insignia falls off Luthor's building--appears to be the cover of week 40. "One of the main players in 52 having everything--and everyone--taken away from him": that goes almost too neatly with the "you'll cry for Black Adam" and "a DCU country gets wiped off the map" predictions. Especially since the next sentence mentions Ralph, who'd be my next guess for who it's about.

Also, the cover of week 32 does indeed show Ralph (or the similar-looking Richard Dragon) and the Fate helmet in what we can assume is Nanda Parbat, along with the Accomplished Perfect Physician, who (as I mentioned in last week's comments) "uses sound to promote healing and cure cancer." And speaking of Fate's helmet: never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain, as the saying goes.

One possible red herring: I'd suspected that all the Kirby Konnections popping up in 52 might have been a signal that Apokolips would be the big reveal at the 3/4 mark, since we haven't seen any of the big-name New Gods characters in a while, aside from the climactic riffs of Seven Soldiers. But DC's February solicitations include this issue of Firestorm, featuring Orion, Darkseid and what looks to be the Shilo Norman Mister Miracle on the cover. Hmm.

We get an extra page this issue, which sorta makes up for the one we lost a couple of months ago!

The title of "Beyond the Black Stump" comes from Australian slang meaning "way out in the middle of nowhere," and is also the title of a novel by Nevil Shute. (There's also a comic strip with the same title.) And it turns out there actually is a Black Stump!

More notes:

Pg. 1: This scene would be a lot more effective, but for two earlier scenes I've read. One of them was the bit in "Face the Face" where they turn on the Bat-Signal, which Gotham hasn't seen for a year, and everybody cheers. The other one was in Hitman, somewhere in this storyline, when Tommy Monaghan needs to contact Catwoman, and constructs a "cat-signal" out of... well, I'll just let you read it for yourself. Also, doesn't Kate have e-mail?

Pg. 3: The return of Ridge-Ferrick. You'd think they'd use a different name to leave less of a paper trail.

Pg. 4: Is anybody else enjoying The Irredeemable Ant Fella as much as I am? Also kind of great to see that the Red Tornado runs on PlayStation 2 technology.

Pg. 8: In which Johnny Warrawa, barely introduced, gets hustled off stage. "Mebbe our time here's up. The tornado man's gone walkabout" is a rewritten line from the solicitation, which then read "Maybe our time here is over. Red Tornado's gone walkabout." Was he ever actually identified as the Red Tornado by any of the characters in the Australian scenes? Also, I keep looking at this week's cover and thinking I'm seeing this guy's head.

Pg. 10: And Buddy is explaining this why?

Pg. 11: Man, that lizard-dude's fingernails are a mess.

Pg. 13: Mannheim's fingernails don't look so hot either. Manicures all around! "The red rock and the rage" was "the red rage and the rock" when it appeared before. Maybe "red rock" is a reference to Ayer's Rock--unfortunately we don't actually see Ayer's Rock anywhere in this issue (unless that thing in the background of Pg. 3 counts), or any scene like the cover--which I suspect from that link was the image that led to the rather misbegotten "Red Tornado in Australia with a voicebox that keeps saying 52 despite the fact that his voicebox was earlier seen embedded in Mal Duncan's throat" storyline.

Obviously, Mannheim is really into culinary metaphors. (So are both Montoya and Lobo, both of whom use "bite me" this issue.) But why is he emphasizing the first word of "the Questions"? The only person who can get away with that kind of emphasis on the definite article is John Hollander.

Pg. 15: Dead astronaut (look at the background), enormous space creature's bare skeleton, metal debris in the background--I don't know that it's an "asteroid," as Adam calls it, and I don't think there's a "confined space," as Buddy calls it, but I feel like I should recognize this scene. Are there any old DC science fiction comics that would've resulted in this scenario? Could it be the skeleton of one of these?

Pg. 18: You know, when we saw him last a while back, Ekron was all "I WILL KILL YOU IN 52 WAYS!" and now he seems all peaceable-like and Green Lantern-y. And he also doesn't seem to be weaponless without his other eye.

Pg. 19: Vengar is the home planet of the 30th-century Emerald Empress.

Pg. 20: "One more @$%?!$*& twist!" It's just as I hoped: while we're out in space we're going to encounter the Silver Twist. (Or maybe not. But it always struck me as a useful way to go for a last-minute fill-in issue, along the lines of the Prisoner episode "Living in Harmony.")

The Origin of Catman: Not entirely sure why he's being covered here rather than somebody who could use a bit of explanation for a DC neophyte reading 52 (like Starfire, say), but a nice enough origin. Detective Comics #311 was his first appearance; I liked Gene Colan's version of him too.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Week 27: Midnight in the Garden of Forking Paths

We're starting to see the time-travel element of 52 paying off more--this issue is the first time we've actually seen something out of the real-time chronology that's not framed as a flashback. I love time travel stories a whole lot, and Rip Hunter's chalkboard is maybe my favorite plot hook of the series so far, but I'm sort of ambivalent about time travel becoming a major focus of this story anyway. I know I've linked to Jorge Luis Borges' stuff here before, but as this story (PDF) points out, in a riddle whose answer is chess, there's one prohibited word; the absent answer to the question 52 poses might be "Darkseid," but in another sense it seems like it might be not a word but, since this is a story whose defining parameter is time, the actual depiction of time travel. (Hence the awkwardness of the date-stamp on Sue's murder when we revisit it this issue.)

52 is an exploration of the spatial aspect of DC Earth (and to some extent other worlds in the DCU); there's that wonderful "Google Earth" metaphor Greg Rucka talked about before the series began. The timescape of the DCU, though, "from the dawn of time to the Great Disaster"--was that how the phrase went? I think I've got it wrong--that's not quite the same. It seems like it'd be an appropriate subject for a different 1000-page weekly epic than 52 as we know it, although that sort of story could very easily intersect with this one. Just think of all the juicy non-present-day settings and characters in DC's history that could show up in a story that wasn't tied to a specific year's worth of timeline... the Aurakles/New Gods stuff Grant Morrison set up in Seven Soldiers alone is enough to set up a pretty amazing story that wouldn't even get us up to the time of Anthro.

And speaking of riddles whose answer isn't mentioned in the way they're phrased, the one major time-related villain who hasn't been directly alluded to in 52 is one Waid's written before--the scariest one of all.

The title of this week's issue is a riff on a familiar phrase whose origins, I believe, are in this speech by occasional DC supporting character Abraham Lincoln. Its implication is of a desperate last-minute save, which brings us to the problem of five inkers this issue--was that the result of extensive late-in-the-day rewriting (I think this is the first issue on which Michael Siglain gets an editorial credit), or a way to distinguish the look of the various sequences? I hope we're not heading for the same kind of everybody-take-a-page pile-on that mucked up the end of Infinite Crisis mk. 1.

More notes:

Pg. 1: The rolled-up-above-the-knee look really doesn't work very well for Ralph. But how did he get the ability to control where he and Fate are going? And what does Ralph have in that backpack of his? His textbooks and homework? This page starts the teacher/student/exposition theme of this issue, anyway.

Pg. 2: The Spectre, and later the Ralph-Spectre, has little death's-heads in his eyes; has he been represented this way before?

Pg. 3: Nice "exposition" gag. 40 million miles from the sun would put Jeanclipso between the orbits of Mercury and Venus; I assume that means her orbit might eventually be eclipsed by Mercury's orbit, although that could take a really, really, really long time. I always have a rough time remembering Eclipso's backstory (Wikipedia has a solid rundown, and notes that the Spectre's got it in for Eclipso in particular), but will never forget the most unrackable cover gimmick ever.

Pg. 4: The "fitting punishment" was the Spectre's stock-in-trade for ages and ages. But why is Jean talking like Jules Feiffer's Hostileman (or, if you prefer, the Moon Roach--or his soundalike in Birds of Prey)? (Hilariously dead-on association, and image, via Lady, That's My Skull.)

Pg. 6: A time-stamp, but not a place... have we seen the clock store It's About Time before? (There's a real one in Minneapolis. Too bad the DCU doesn't have a "Mipple City." I don't know if these are the missing 52 seconds, as the cover suggests, since they were stolen the previous year, right? I'd suspected they might have had something to do with Sue's murder, but in fact we learn later in the issue that it was more than a year and a half from Sue's death to the end of Infinite Crisis. (I'd have guessed it was far less--events zoom along between then and the death of Ted Kord, and after that it doesn't seem like more than a couple of months to the Crisis.)

Pg. 7: The important word on this page (teased by Geoff Johns in Action Comics), which we'd been told we'd never see again: Hypertime! YAY! (Better explanation at Wikipedia. And if you didn't click on this link (PDF) and read it above, I'm encouraging you to do so again; it's an even better explanation.) I am not quite as happy about that as I am about, say, the Democrats taking the house, but in my geeky DC-fan way, I'm close.

Otherwise: I don't think we've heard "time stealers" used before at DC, although stuff like this is close when I'm on deadline. (That reminds me: you know what I'd love? A $17 black-and-white Showcase Presents: The Silver-Age Roots of 52, or something along those lines.) The Time Commander first appeared here; Buddy and Ralph encountered him in this Morrison-written story. Waid used him here and here. And, notably, this issue includes him in a Zero Hour crossover that also involves the Calendar Man, Clock King, the Lord of Time and Chronos.

That's the first Chronos, by the way, who I think we can assume is the one he's talking about, not the second one. Given the next page, though, I'm not entirely sure about that.

Pg. 8: "By Wells"? I guess Rebecca West's onetime boyfriend really is the godfather of superhero comics. (Yes, I know I've made that joke before. I will continue to make it until more people read Rebecca West.) "Clock Queen" isn't somebody we've heard of before, I think. Clock King, on the other hand, first appeared here, fighting Green Arrow--a story that prominently involves a clock store and a giant hourglass. (It was later established that he did have a sister, who was mentally impaired and died in an institution.) He was killed off here. But that's a good sign that perhaps Skeets is actually working with information from a different timeline--maybe one where Clock King's role was reversed with his sister's.

Oh, yes. And speaking of giant hourglasses, "Degaton" is Per Degaton... who first appeared here. In a story called "The Day That Dropped Out of Time"!

As for the Lord of Time, who's from the year 3786, well, he first appeared here. Yes, the same issue we saw a few weeks ago--the one that introduced Felix Faust. He also turned up here, sporting the dippiest costume/facial hair/facial expression combination ever seen on a supervillain, and again in this issue, which revealed that the Kamandi/Great Disaster timeline was different from the then-standard pre-Crisis DCU timeline. Later, he changed his name to Epoch, and apparently died in this Morrison-written issue, of which I have no memory at all, possibly due to a time disturbance. Of course, now that the whole Captain Atom thing has established the Wildstorm universe and the DCU as attached in continuity, anything goes.

Pg. 9: So I guess we've gotten a pretty strong indication that somebody we know is going to end up being Rip Hunter, yes? By the way, here's that Rip Hunter site that I think I've mentioned before, if anyone wants to bone up.

Pg. 10: Richard Dragon teaches Montoya how to punch the universe! (What's with all those spooky Montoya-eye reflections?) Back here, Stephen Wacker teased that this miniseries was reference material for 52, and here we are in Nanda Parbat again. Oh, look, it's a countdown! (Incidentally, it appears there may be a real Nanda Parbat--a mountain range, not a city.)

Pp. 12-13: Yes, it sure looks like Charlie's on his way out--and that he's decided that Montoya's his successor--and now we know why he knows so much about Big Tobacco, and why he's been so careless about danger. (As someone once put it, "if you intend to die, you can do anything.") But have we even seen him coughing before? In any case, I'm so much happier to be seeing the pack-of-cigs-falling-on-the-floor panel than the bottle-smashed-against-the-wall panel. Note also the glowing rose by Tot's lectern--the one that Isis gave Montoya.

The population of our world is about 6.7 billion people; it's been theorized that the DCU's Earth is larger and more populous (hence all those extra cities). On the other hand, back in 1980, giving superpowers to everybody resulted in "The Four Billion Supermen of Earth," and I can't believe I remembered the title of that story (thank you, aforementioned time disturbance).

Pp. 14-15: We're entering the Dense Text Zone. "The eighteenth beyond the calling of all saints"? The phrase "the calling of all saints to the work of service" is a commonplace in Christian theology, and is usually paired with a reference to the end of 1 Corinthians 15, which is relevant vis-a-vis Charlie right now, as well as Revelation 22:12, which comes right before the juicy Alpha/Omega bit.

The "land where dwells the lambs of the wise and the foolish" routine is a reference to the origins of the "Gotham" nickname of the real-world New York City! A comics writer (sort of) was responsible for that one too.

The "Cain"/"Kane" business is fantastic--another example of a clue I missed when it was staring me in the face. But, of course, we know another twice-named daughter of Cain who's been acting like her heart's been devoured lately. Still, Kate Kane is... whose daughter? "Katherine the elder"? Would that be the Kathy Kane Batwoman, somehow?

Pg. 16: The most brutal scene of the series so far. Ralph and Jean may have "ghosted out," but she still manages to knock over the flowers... and how do we get a "Day Minus Two"?

Pg. 20: I'm assuming the thing the Spectre told Ralph was that he could give him Sue back. And this is going to bring Ralph's storyline together with the Montoya/Spectre storyline? Cool! Plus the helmet is playing chauffeur now. Truly, Dr. Fate is America's most unusual adventure character!

The Origin of Black Canary: A nice boiling-down of her history--although no mention of Green Arrow? And as much as I love a lot of comics Chaykin's drawn (still waiting on that American Flagg! reprint, folks), I like his stuff a lot better when it doesn't look like he's drawing with a crapped-out felt-tip pen and a Photoshop pattern sponge.

Didn't I promise to keep it short this week? Maybe I'll actually succeed in keeping it short next week. Anyway, I'd love to hear everybody's theories about the time stuff and interpretations of the Crime Bible's prophecies.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Week 26: Achilles and the Tortoise

We're at the halfway mark, as this week's otherwise not quite relevant title implies, which means Zeno's paradox applies. I know how the tortoise feels: I'm afraid I'm going to have to keep it brief this week and the next two, since I'm finishing a gigantic project of my own. (Of course, I'm already over the 1500-word mark this week, so "brief" is relative.)

Hope everybody caught the word over at J.G. Jones' cover blog that the alligator guy is named Sobek. It's a name with a very interesting history--including a form as a group of four (!) crocodiles who attack the dead in the underworld. If he is indeed going to be a power player later in 52, I bet he fits into Ralph's arc too...

There's also the "26 about 52" interview with Jones and Giffen over there. Most interesting factoid as far as I'm concerned: the reason we're only seeing one cover in each of DC's monthly solicitations may be that that's the only one that's finished--Jones is "finishing up" the cover to #30, and he's got the covers to 33 and 40 half done. (And we've already seen the cover to #32, with Fate's helmet in the snow near a bearded person who might be Ralph and might be Richard Dragon, and #35, the bodies falling past Luthor's office window--Jones is also doing a variant cover for that issue.)

So. On to the notes:

Pg. 1: Every time I see Montoya on panel, my interest perks up... Congo Bill first appeared in 1940, here--with Dr. Fate on the cover, no less!--and eventually got his own short-lived series. In 1948, there was a movie serial version--I'm a little surprised to see that the poster credits Whitney Ellsworth with creating him. In any case, as of the January 1959 issue of Action Comics, "Congo Bill" became "Congorilla"; over the last 15 years, there have been miniseries reviving both incarnations. He's never really been proposed as a Martha Stewart-type figurehead for a National Geographic-type magazine before the thing on the 52 site a few weeks ago, as far as I know, but I love the idea.

Vlatava is an actual river (it flows through Prague), but in the DCU, it's the country Count Vertigo was from. The Spectre destroyed the entire country in this issue. (Those fictional countries: they don't have a lot of luck, do they?) Bhutran is a sort of Tibet-analogue in the DCU's central Asia, whose spiritual leader is the Rhana Bhutra.

This may be the first time in recent continuity that we've seen a reference to Gotham City being very far away from Metropolis--odd, considering that in Seven Soldiers New York is the "Cinderella City," overshadowed by its (presumably nearby) neighbors Metropolis and Gotham. In pre-Crisis continuity, they were so close together that there was a bridge between them--the plot of this issue concerned that, and the bridge itself can be seen on this cover.

Pg. 2: Nanda Parbat is the quasi-Tibetan/quasi-Shangri-Lavian locale associated with Deadman; it first appeared in this issue, which featured Neal Adams' infamous "Jim Steranko effect" joke (that image was lifted from this page at Dial B for Blog).

Pg. 3: The return of "who is Renee" meme--he's even got Isis saying it now. And that flower sure is glowing brightly for a flower.

Pg. 4: Tot Rodor, who's got one of those great palindromic names (do check out that link), first appeared in this issue, whose cover asked Charlie's question about Charlie himself. Richard Dragon first appeared in a 1974 novel called Dragon's Fists--and if anybody can link to an image of its cover, I'd love to see it--co-written by Denny O'Neil and Jim Berry, as "Jim Dennis." It was later adapted into this series, and O'Neil spent the next few years expanding the kung fu mythology he'd set up, including the story where the mind-controlled Bronze Tiger kills the Kathy Kane incarnation of Batwoman. (Eventually, he ended up in The Question too. And while I'm thinking of it, wouldn't a two-volume b/w Question Archives rule?) Incidentally, going up is easy for drops of water if they're in vapor form, like the steam coming out of everybody's mouth...

Pg. 5: And speaking of Ditko creations... Apparently Booster's posthumous stock is now high enough that there are action figures of him, although perhaps the off-panel Black Adam action figure has ripped his arms off. What are the mysterious scribbles on the pillars behind Lex on the TV screen, and do they have anything to do with the phallocrypt on the cover of Week 35?

Pg. 6: It's only Nov. 2 or so: why are there already Christmas trees on set? And is Steel actually making the Civil War/Iron Man argument--especially since we saw him acting as a citizens' fire brigade to deal with a building on fire a few weeks ago? Apparently the DCU version of Mozotto is something different. Is the 26 here supposed to be the channel?

Pg. 7: Hob's Bay is the Metropolis neighborhood better known as Suicide Slum, and you'd think that Steel would take an immediate interest in trouble there. (Do we know what the trouble is?) And have elections already been held in the DCU? Even if the 52 week starts on Sunday, that would only make the date of this scene Nov. 6...

Pg. 8: In lieu of actually explaining who all the members of the Sivana family are, I'll just point you to this page at Walt Grogan's excellent Marvel Family fan site.

Pg. 9: Suspendium is another Denny O'Neil invention: the Blatant Plot Device Element (TM) introduced here to explain where the Marvel Family had been for the last 19 years. And the guy who appears before them is Waverider, a chronocop who first appeared here. He's saying "I know why"--emphasis on the "I" and the "why." Compare to Skeets, a few weeks ago, saying "He knows"...

Pg. 11: Robot bursting into flames: why?

Pg. 12: Human casualties on Oolong Island do seem to be written off pretty easily, don't they? Love that "I knew a girl once" bit, though.

Pg. 13: Dr. Veronica Cale was one of Wonder Woman's adversaries in Rucka's excellent run on Wonder Woman--here's a cover on which she appears--a sort of Lex Luthor type incensed over WW having gotten famous by being born into it, who always wears a string of black pearls her mother gave her. She's not quite the "mad scientist" type, though... (This, by the way, is an excuse to point you all--a little late--to the "Wonder Woman Day" charitable auction that happened this past weekend--scroll down for some excellent artwork; although I'm sad to say I didn't win the Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Michael Allred or Howard Cruse pieces, at least I can console myself that I was able to drive up their prices a bit...) The cyclopean mad scientist shoving his girlie pin-ups in the trash is, natch, Dr. Cyclops, who first appeared here.

Pg. 14: Looks like there's already been some serious robot carnage, and is about to be some more. No wonder Venus doesn't trust the 'bots to set the table.

Pg. 15: Unclear storytelling here: from later evidence, it looks like Isis and Adam fly out following Osiris, then Venus makes her nasty comment, then Isis and Adam fly back when they hear Sobek attacking, but you wouldn't guess they'd left from the artwork.

Pg. 16: There's a bit of a tradition of crocodile men in Captain Marvel's comics--most notably the ones from the planetoid Punkus who first appeared hereabouts, as members of the Monster Society of Evil under Mr. Mind's aegis. But--connecting two other threads going on in this issue--there were also some evil crocodile men in Hawkman #7, in an issue that also saw the "amazing return of the I.Q. Gang"!

Pg. 19: Not sure if Sobek's story adds up, as much as he's being set up as a Tawky Tawny type: what is he doing wearing shreds of human-style clothing if he's indeed a former crocodile? And his timeline leaves something to be desired too. One week less than six months ago, Sivana got kidnapped, so the "one day he left" would be very shortly after he acquired Sobek (from the Nile!). And how would he have built up the strength to leave if he hadn't eaten in months?

The Origin of Hawkman and Hawkgirl: Well, somebody had to boil down the origins of the Hawks, and Waid's the guy if anyone is. But can anybody who didn't give up on Hawk-continuity a while ago (the way I did) explain what their connection to Thanagar currently is? Like, how they got the wings and harnesses, and the hawk iconography?