Week 27: Midnight in the Garden of Forking PathsWe'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.
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.