Week 31: Plain Aryan WormsThe Captain Comet sequences of this issue, creepy and effective as they are, indulge in one of my least favorite science-fiction comics tropes: "alien cultures" that are in no way alien. If you're going to do the story where the commander tells the young soldier in Prussian military finery to save himself, but he doesn't, and then his bereaved fiancée mourns him, and then the soldier comes back as a zombie and turns his fiancée into a zombie too, that's totally okay--but don't make them residents of the planet Vardu and call the soldier Jodd and his fiancée Luribel and their god O-Dell, because transplanting genre-fiction archetypes of any other kind to outer space and changing them not a whit besides giving all the characters weird phoneme combinations for names and non-human skin colors is just about as lazy as SF construction gets. There are ways to make genre-fiction clichés of any kind fresh if you're willing to transplant them into a genuinely different cultural setting and see what happens to them--anybody remember Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard-Boiled Shaman? go pick it up from the cheapie bins at your local back-issue store if you don't, because it's ridiculously fun--but the "alien names" thing isn't one of them. At least Xax has a pleasingly weird perspective and dialogue.
Really, though, the Captain Comet plot is transparently meant to do two things: set up Mystery In Space and the larger-scale Jim Starlin cosmic-DC project, and establish Lady Styx as exceptionally bad news. (And no, I never get tired of doing that.) It does fine with both of those, even if the church-plus-annihilation thing makes her come off as a cross between Darkseid and the Magus (from Starlin's mid-'70s Warlock stories). I have mixed feelings about the Big Scary White Cubes, but they do have a certain chilling blankness--speaking of Prisoner allusions, as I was a few weeks ago, they're somewhat Rover-ish. (Love the name "glorifiers," though.) And the idea of them being from "beyond the [52?] gates of spacetime itself" makes them come off as greater-than-three-dimensional incursions into three-dimensional space. (Morrison has played with this idea a lot before; if Barbelith from The Invisibles is its benevolent form and the business with the cubes/dice that turned up in various Seven Soldiers books, especially Zatanna, is its value-neutral form, this sure seems like its malign form.)
There seems to be a bit of a "devouring" theme going on in 52 lately, especially this issue: there was the cannibalistic Crime Bible ritual in Gotham and the turkey-and-chainsaw business on Oolong Island, and now we get the cubes "chewing" their way toward the Vega system, the turkey massacre reprised with Jodd's fate, Hannibal the Cannibal digesting what human relics he can, Ralph gulping his tipple (you know, he used to be satisfied by gingold...), and finally Lady Styx enjoying a crunchy power-ring nosh with her grasshopper pie. Implicit in a lot of these is the very old idea that you can get something's power and knowledge by eating it--the "planarian worms in the maze" theory whose most famous comics application was Alan Moore's early Swamp Thing stories. It's pretty firmly discredited science at this point, but that never stopped anything from being a seductive metaphor.
It's worth noting that the new Geoff Johns-written Justice Society of America #1 seems to have a lot of 52-related teasers: the first page is an image from World War III, as teased by Rip Hunter's blackboard in Week 6 (although not Morrison's earlier World War III or, I suspect, World War III as in the Atomic Knights stories), which happens before the main story proper; anybody want to bet this is where 52 is going for its climax, what with the international tension and promised destruction of a country and all? Can't imagine where else it might fit--unless, perhaps, it was an earlier 52-second-long world war nobody knew about.
JSofA also features references to a fight between Damage and a Reverse-Flash that I don't think we've seen, as well as teasers for the forthcoming year involving a "doctor... with no face," someone with a Legion flight-ring whose fringe implies that she's Dawnstar, and Kal-L emerging from the grave. And there's a bit with the not-so-coherent new Starman saying "There's a star on Thanagar. I dreamt about it. Ha! 52!" Plus, of course, a "Wacker Going Out of Business 52% Off" sign... Incidentally, confidential to Mr. G.J.: Harvard University does not have sororities (or fraternities), and virtually all undergrads live on campus.
Pg. 4: There's something about Thormon Tox that looks very Gil Kane-drawing-y, but I don't think we've seen him before. Xax, on the other hand, first appeared here; he was killed off here. A different Xax appeared as a Darkstar here. At least he seemed to be a different Xax.
Pg. 7: The "Stygian passover" implies that there's some place that Lady Styx et al. didn't do this.
Pg. 8: Oh good: John Henry's discovered text-messaging at last. But Jade was Nicki Jones two weeks ago--why is she "Sierra" now?
Pg. 10: "Coles 87" would be the New York Jets' Laveranues Coles.
Pg. 12: Either Ralph's drinking ectoplasmic booze (that leaves a red stain on the hand, or whatever that oddly drawn body part in the final panel is), or something even weirder is happening, since liquid should be coming out of the flask in the first panel and it's not. He's already been to Nanda Parbat and come back, the chronology suggests, although it looks like he's going back there for next issue. Also, as far as I know, there's no DC precedent for the name "Derek Mathers"; anyone know differently?
Pg. 13: Okay, we get that Marseilles is important. But why? Could it have something to do with... Mlle. Marie? Incidentally, a postmark from Marseilles wouldn't say "Marseilles," it'd say "Marseille." Perhaps that's just a screw-up. Perhaps it's a clue.
Pp. 14-15: Here we have a very strong piece of evidence suggesting who Supernova is, along with a small contradiction. Ralph's dialogue suggests that Supernova is the JLA's early non-super pal Snapper Carr--I don't have the time to go into his long and not-entirely-comfortable relationship with the League, but he's basically the DCU equivalent of Rick Jones. Or vice versa. In any case, Snapper was briefly a (gizmo-powered, if I recall correctly) bad guy called the Star-Tsar here and here thanks to the machinations of the Key. One of two Keys. If you want to be cute about it. Later, Snapper had teleportation powers for a little while--activated by his Silver Age character tic of snapping his fingers--until in a typically nasty Tin Age plot twist, he got his hands cut off (and then replaced). And we know he's interested in odd colors of Kryptonite nested in devices having to do with hands (see Week 20). The contradiction here is that he makes a point of not being familiar with Cassie, with whom he is very familiar through his time with Young Justice; he's also very worried about being heard. Any theories about that?
Pg. 18: Curious that the only place Adam seems to have any skin left is his face--otherwise his costume appears to be clinging to his flayed body.
Pg. 19: She's wearing Xax's dismembered corpse as an earring as she eats the ring. Scary!
The Origin of Robin: That's a whole lot of iterations of the Robin costume there... not much else to say about this one, I fear.
Since I'm eager to stir up commenting again, here's a question that I'd like to open up to, particularly, people who haven't commented here before: is there anything you wish I were doing more of in 52 Pickup? I'm not promising anything, just curious.