Week 41: Look to the Goblet, RalphFrom the Helmet of Fate stuff, as well as the Mark Waid interview over at IGN, I think it's fair to assume that the entity that's been hanging out with Ralph is not the actual Dr. Fate helmet. So what might it be? With the understanding that I might well be proven wrong next week, and that other people online have suggested the same theory, I suspect it's Felix Faust.
The key to this particular mystery is the Silver Wheel of Nyorlath, which first appeared here, in the same issue as Faust's first appearance. The Wheel, the Green Bell of Ulthool and the Red Jar of Calythos, are the three objects Faust collects to free the Demons Three: Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast. (In turn, they require some more objects of him: "The wing of a bat, the hide of a cat, a shell from the great sea shore! A mallet and a tusk and a white death's-head! Pomegranate! Goose feather! The skin of a sheep!") That story continues in the next issue of JLA, "One Hour to Doomsday!"--hey, it's a countdown!--which involves the Lord of Time and the years 3786 and 2062.
But back to Faust. The journey the helmet has taken Ralph on might not be a Virgil-and-Dante situation; I'm starting to suspect it's more like Mephisto's dealings with the original Faust (not this Faust, who's considerably more admirable, or this Faust, which is pretty great too), which increasingly corrupt him the way Ralph has been corrupted. They go to see the Seven Deadly Sins (as in the Rock of Eternity); they go to mess with the Pope; they go to see Helen of Troy... and then it's time for Dr. Faustus to go to hell, and he refuses the possibility of salvation. (Hence Ralph's disappearance this issue, and the Anselmo gun in the next-issue box.) If you like experimental film, start here for Jan Svankmajer's version; if you prefer things in easily-digested comic-strip form, see R. Sikoryak's "Mephistofield" in Hotwire Comix & Capers, which reduces Marlowe's version to three pages of "Garfield" dailies.
Next week's cover preview, with tentacle-thingies bursting out of the Fate helmet, echoes the snakes where Count Marisius's head should've been in Ralph's scene in Week 25--the scene in which the helmet shows Ralph a version of Felix Faust's fate that had previously been unknown to us. What Ralph says he's gotten out of the lesson is that "this is what happens to suckers who think they can beat the devil"; Faust's mistake had been to "misrepresent" his side of the deal to Neron, and the suggestion of the story is that if you're going to do magic you'd better stick to the precise letter and spirit of your deal. Curiously, the suggestion of the first Faust story in JLA is that magic is rather loosey-goosey, and that a symbolic gesture is precisely as useful as the real thing. How magic works in the current Age isn't entirely clear yet, but I'm guessing that the same principle applies: Ralph's trade of the wicker ring for the shackle, for instance, is an example of the "more or less the same thing" principle of magic.
Looking at Mogo's first appearance reminded me that those tentacles under Fate's helmet also recall the sort of flower one gets for the man who has everything (another Moore/Gibbons story that recently got refried over in Green Lantern). I don't think they're that, but the idea of experiencing one's heart's desire as a vicious illusion suggested that what Faust (or whoever) may be doing is preying on Ralph's vanity as a detective. He doesn't just want his wife back; he wants to do it himself, to bring his wife back, through his mastery of information and logic.
Great cover this issue--it manages to incorporate five different boxes within a box, as well as the fine bit of business of Montoya's question-mark ponytail, and it still looks simple and eye-catching. That Adam-and-Kory pose, by the way, reminds me of some old Frazetta or Alex Raymond image, but I can't quite tell what. (Here, by the way, is the scene from The Lady from Shanghai that J.G. Jones mentions in his piece about this week's cover.)
"Miracles & Wonders," aside from the nod to Diana's appearance probably isn't a reference to this or this or (despite its references to "a personal journey with cancer") this, and it's definitely not this. But this site is a little closer--the miraculously surviving Isis-rose could fit right next to the name of Allah in an eggplant. Note also that one place references to wonders and miracles turn up is in Revelation 13:13-14, in which the Beast creates deceptive miracles. Then, of course, there's the singular form, as in this song.
As the clock is ticking down, it's worth running down the characters we were told a year ago would appear in 52 who haven't shown up yet. The ones the writing team gave a positive response to: Snapper Carr, Captain Atom, Gentleman Ghost, Anarky (who I'm guessing shows up in or around Week 48 from the @ symbol on the solicited cover's wall), the Haunted Tank, and Vigilante/Linda Danvers. (And let's not forget Most Excellent Super-Bat!) Not that I'm going to feel ripped off if we don't get a Gentleman Ghost appearance or anything; this might be a useful list for thinking about what might be coming up, though.
Pg. 1: "Pet-thing": nice! I don't think Molek the Hunter has appeared anywhere before; perhaps he's friends with Devilance the Pursuer. Or the recently-resurfaced Bolphunga the Unrelenting, considering Mogo's presence this time.
Pg. 2: For a blind guy, Adam is remarkably adept at hand-to-hand combat.
Pg. 5: "Cantos of Crippen": anyone have any idea what these would be?
Pg. 6: What Montoya's wearing isn't quite a traditional gi--or, speaking of Dave Gibbons co-creations, a G.I.
Pg. 8: In panel 4, Ralph's nose is twitching; it also looks longer than usual. Maybe there is some gingold in his flask. If he's elastic enough, might he be able to survive a bullet--? And would Mr. Dewhurst really know what teleportation microcircuitry looks like?
Pg. 9: Prof. Milo hasn't appeared all that much before--although his notable appearances include his debut (in which he gave Batman a temporary phobia of bats), this identity-crisis special, this Neal Adams-drawn story (in which he got his terrible bowl haircut), a two-part story that concluded behind this excellent Joe Kubert cover, and a cameo in the Morrison-written Arkham Asylum graphic novel. As far as I can tell, his deal is less dabbling in magic than playing mind games with people; please fill me in on appearances I haven't taken into account. He doesn't appear to have been called a "technomancer" before, either. But that fits in with Ralph being sort of delusional, too.
Pg. 10: If the house-arrest scanners are looking for "stray nanites," they'd have found the teleportation microcircuitry, wouldn't they?
Pg. 12: Nice pickup line, Renee. Who's Diana's friend? Might he be Batman, who's also been hanging out in Nanda Parbat as of the solicitation for #665?
Pg. 14: This has been building since the beginning of the series, and I assume it's going to keep building for another month or two, but what could Montoya's revelation about her identity possibly be? "I'm a superhero. I've always been a superhero..."?
Pg. 16: A "K-type sun" is also known as a "K star."
Pg. 17: It's six days since she got shot and she's still "leaking vital life essence"? Oh dear. "Four light years" is about how far Alpha Centauri, around which Rann used to orbit, is from our solar system. (It now orbits Polaris, which is 431 light years away.) I am not as up on my Adam Strange as I might be, as those of you who saw me getting sonned a few weeks ago know, but I think the first time Alanna came back to Earth with Adam was this issue--"not long after we met" would have to refer to Adam meeting Kory (when was that?), since it's a good long distance into Adam's history. And what's happening to Kory's injured shoulder in the final panel?
Pg. 19: The second time this issue somebody says "strange" to mean "odd" in Adam Strange's presence.
Pg. 20: Have we seen Opto3o9v before? Anyone know? Mogo first appeared in this issue, in a story that... oh, how convenient! somebody's posted the whole thing! It's worth reading if you don't know it already.
The Origin of Starfire: Excellent compression--the facts of Kory's background, along with some neat psychological angles (very sharp observation about her partnership with Dick). I'm glad to see she can still officially absorb languages through touch, as ridiculous as that power is. And that third panel on the second page is, of course, a variation on this image.