Week 45: The Poys and the LuggageGonna have to be a short one this week, since I'm currently laid up with some kind of bizarre flu.
It occurs to me that readers outside of New York City may not know what a bialy is, or why the name of Bialya was obviously a joke when Giffen et al. were establishing the country in Justice League International 20 years ago--part of the longstanding tradition of fictional postage-stamp countries with unusual laws.
In other words, Bialya is comedy relief, and one of the bedrock rules of entertainment is that you don't have the comedy relief tortured and killed. (Chubby da Choona is the only violation of this I can recall working.) Abruptly introducing bleakness and brutality to something created to be jaunty fun isn't just a sign of "naturalism"--it's a rejection of the idea that it's possible to rely on light entertainment to not suddenly turn on you. This is why, for instance, Jeff Smith's Monster Society of Evil is such a wonderful project, and The Trials of Shazam is so dismal: the engine that the Marvel Family runs on, as I've noted before, is understanding the adult world from a child's playful perspective. I do like the "Seduction of the Innocent" routine with Mary Marvel teased on the inside front cover this time, since what it suggests is the point at which that innocent understanding begins to become a little darker; on the "So Begins the End" image, Phil Jimenez drew her with the expression and body language of a kid who's screwed up and is wondering what's going to come of it.
The cover this week does have a regal grandness to it--a sense of gravity that's all but absent from the story inside. Applying a little bit of logic to this issue, in fact, makes its plot completely fall apart. First off, we're told that Death "fled to Bialya and was given aid and comfort by the government." How would Adam know that? And how does one go about giving aid and comfort to Death, anyway?
Then there's the discussion between the president of Bialya and Mannheim: "Our whole nation embraced your way of crime, your new world order!" We've been over the phrase "new world order" before, but it generally applies to an international balance of power, rather than a philosophy of government. But a nation embracing a "way of crime"? Even the most casual reading of anything having to do with the social contract reveals that just doesn't work. What's a crime? Something that contravenes the rules of the state. A national "way of crime" means a state whose law is to break its law. That's not anarchy (or even Anarky, although I hope we'll be seeing him before too long), it's just incoherent--formally incoherent, even. (Now, Bialya has been established as a "holiday spot for crooks" before, but that's not quite the same thing.)
Then Black Adam bursts in--through the video screen, which should've been a cool visual but doesn't really come through. Inside the room are a) Death, one of the entities that killed Adam's wife and brother-in-law, and b) an unnamed president who seems to know what's up with where the Horsemen came from. So Adam kills the latter while the former is cutting a couple of unidentified dudes in half; then Adam heads out to throw some tanks around, apparently without bothering to deal with Death, who seems to wander out at his leisure while Adam's busy slaughtering everybody in the country.
Now, why would Adam perpetrate the Bialyan genocide? His actions don't obey what just-war theorists refer to as "proportionality and discrimination." Actually, they don't make any sense; even given that he accepted Isis's last-minute change of heart ("save the orphans!" --> "actually I was just kidding, go slaughter everyone, kthxbye!"), once he's crushed, spindled and mutilated the Bialyan faction responsible for harboring Death, what does killing the rest of Bialya's population, most of whom can't even have known about the Horsemen, have to do with getting revenge? And what advantage could it possibly gain him?
By day 5, Adam's rampage has been going on for a full day. Why on earth would other major DCU power players not have caught up with him by this point? Like, at the very least, the rest of the Marvel Family, with whom he was hanging out a couple of days earlier? Some Green Lantern or other? J'onn J'onzz?
Finally, he tracks down Death (and wasn't he scarier when he was still silent, back in the days of... uh... last week?), and presents him with a sort of "death, thou shalt die" scenario. Again, Adam's being terribly inefficient; any interrogation expert can tell you that "you're going to give me the information I'm seeking, and then I will slowly torture you to death" is not a particularly reliable way of getting accurate information. Obviously, the story point that had to be hit this time was Adam Goes Berserk, but one of the big points of 52 so far has been that everything in it is predicated on the peculiar internal rules of the DC universe, and the Adam storyline is throwing those rules (and basic internal logic) out the window for the sake of BIG SMASHING.
In the behind-the-scenes department, two things 52 appears to have given up on (or at least spaced on) that I miss and hope return soon: the backup origins and Keith Giffen's layouts at the 52 site. Also, y'all have read this interview with Greg Rucka, right? Very interesting stuff. (And from a purely selfish perspective as a reader, it's a pity that the final issue will not in fact be 52 pages...)
Pg. 2: The title of this week's issue comes from something the Romans used to inscribe on sundials: "vulnerant omnes, ultima necat."
Pg. 5: Peculiar that the lettering in the bottom two panels is smaller than in the rest--was this page reconfigured somehow? And how is Adam holding Montoya up? He doesn't look like he's actually holding her face.
Pg. 7: Why would Mannheim need a double agent at the Oolong complex--that is, what's going on there that's opposed to Intergang's interests, since it appears that Mannheim commissioned the construction of the Horsemen? And who might that agent be? The malapropistic "El Presidento" is a nice touch, though.
Pg. 11: Ayios Nikolaus is better known as Agios Nikolaos. I briefly wondered if ECHELON was some kind of previously established DCU thing, but no, we've got it here on Earth-Prime too. Steve Trevor was the Deputy Secretary of Defense in Rucka's Wonder Woman run; apparently now he's the Secretary proper.
Pg. 12: A curious scene. How can Atom Smasher contact Alan Scott and Checkmate if he's an inmate? And is Amanda Waller putting together the anti-Black Adam Suicide Squad for humanitarian reasons, or what? From the 19 people visible on the board, she seems to be assembling lots of villainous types who are a pretty terrible idea to have on the loose--I mean, Dr. Psycho? Not only do you not want to have that guy on the other side, you don't want him on your side.
Pg. 16: Man, I love these Great Ten sequences--I don't know if I'd want to read a Great Ten series or anything, but they're fabulous supporting characters. I particulary like Thundermind's "inner senses"; the NPC he refers to is the National People's Congress. So the Four Horsemen were built by Beijing, and the idea was to kill Adam, rather than to drive him mad? Does Beijing have ties to Apokolips now? [ETA: Egg Fu, of course! See comments.]
Pg. 20: Using the magic lightning as an offensive weapon, which I assume is what's going on here (the art's unclear), is a peculiar trick--has Adam (or have any of the Marvel Family) used it this way before? [ETA: Many, many, many times. See comments. I don't know what I was thinking.]
Pg. 22: As usual, the Oolong Island scene is pretty badass itself. But you'd think the mad scientists would have imagined when they were building the Horsemen that, you know, somebody might try to get back at them over it, yes? And yet again the word "terrorism" gets lightly deployed for something that's nothing of the kind--for, in fact, the ruler of a sovereign state directly (and personally!) attacking another sovereign state, with no particular political or ideological end that it's intended to coerce anybody into.