Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Week 45: The Poys and the Luggage

Gonna 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...)

More notes:

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.


At 7:30 PM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

p.7 Mannheim was referring to the fact that there is someone working AGAINST him on the island (namely, Magnus). In the previous panel he was telling the President they both have problems.

p.11 Whatever Earth we're on, it isn't Earth Prime.

p.12 And many of those villains are tight with the Society. I'd think the Society would take action against the Suicide Squad (is this dealt with in Checkmate?)

p. 20 Dude! Kingdom Come!

p. 22 I'm happy to see that Sivana's going to get to do something, though it seems unlikely it's gonna work out for him.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Tom Bondurant said...

I think the magic-lightning-as-weapon may go back to 1978's Superman vs. Shazam oversized Limited Collectors' Edition.

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Michael Nicolai said...

I was curious why Black Adam's and Death's speech is bracketed to denote characters speaking a foreign language and the Great Ten's are not. Are they supposed to be speaking English?

I also really enjoy the Great Ten. I hope Grant Morrisson comes back to them someday.

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Keith said...

p.12: I assumed Smasher was going to summon the JSA. I also saw the new rabble in the Suicide Squad as a Civil War reference, because c'mon it just doesn't make internal sense as you say.

p. 16: Are the Great Ten speaking English? No < >s like Black Adam's dialogue (oops, Mr. Nicolai beat me to it).

p. 20: Also referenced in a JLU episode.

I would totally have bought a 52 page ending issue for more money. I think DC is giving the cheapo fans too much sway. If they put out two versions of a 52 page issue: one at double the normal price and printed as before, or a cheap version like Countdown to Infinite Crisis, I'd bet that they'd sell more of the expensive ones.

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Douglas Wolk said...

Raphaeladidas: Of course you're right about Mannheim--now that scene makes much more sense. And both Raphaeladidas and Tom are right about the lightning-as-weapon. Like I said: flu.

At 8:42 PM, Blogger Blogenheimer said...

I'm not sure if he counts as a member of the Marvel Family, but I remember Miracleman using lightning as an offensive weapon during Alan Moore's run.

At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

5'll get you 10 that Adam is under the control of Mr. Mind. Remember from the early issues with his cocoon in Sylvana's basement? Hell, even he might not be himself, what with all the likely-Darkseid related stuff about. Think about it, D starts off a war on Earth, weakening it, then BOOM, here come the parademons. Superman's gone so who's going to stop him?

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Squashua said...

I saw page 20 and instantly thought about how [b]overused[/b] the lighting-strike weapon is (or at least seems to be). In fact, not that I'm a Captain Marvel historian by any stretch of the imagination (Elvis asked for CM3's haircut!) isn't that how Captain Marvel Jr. got his powers or something? Shouldn't Death be a Black Marvel now?

At 10:53 PM, Blogger samlight said...

For that matter, the Horsemen referred to themselves as a Monster Society, the Monster Society of Evil being the creation of Mr. Mind. Silvana, the Croc men, and Black Adam all being members of the original continuity MSOE. He's involved somehow.

At 5:54 AM, Blogger David C said...

"Our whole nation embraced your way of crime, your new world order!"

I think this actually makes a fair amount of sense.

A "new" World Order can have several meanings, but all of them involve overthrowing the *old* World Order somehow. And "crime" against the Old World Order could bring about the New.

It is an interesting dichotomy, though, especially since the Crime Bible seems to have its roots in Apokolips. Does Darkseid actually "believe" in this religion, or is it just a tool for him? I'd think the latter, but perhaps not....

At 6:29 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

As an aside, I equate the increasing use of the Shazam lightning to Voltron's forming of a "Blazing Sword" as a consistent finishing tactic for the "big bad".

Captain Marvel's abilities are those inherient in the word SHAZAM and they really shouldn't be embracing the "lightning attack" like they appear to be. Here's hoping Jeff Smith doesn't use it in his series.

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Jamie Ott said...


How you feel better buddy!

As for Biayla, well, even though it was intended as a comical reference in JLI it was still a pretty violent place. And I think this was an intentional effort on DC's part to ruffle the JLI/DiDio conspiracy theorists. They could have easily picked Qurac or any other fictional country. I guess we should just thank the stars it wasn't kooeykooeykooey....

As has been noted, the lightning attack has been used numerous times before.

As for the Suicide Squad, as raphael pointed out, many are Society members. Remember, Adam walked out on them and I'm sure many of them are looking to take him down for that.

And we established way back in Week 6 (IIRC) that China is involved in this somehow, remember the shadow of Egg Fu? That and China's sudden increase of government created superhumans. I'm sure we can connect this to Luthor's Everyman project. It's too coincidental that this happens nearly simultaneously.

And I don't know about you guys but I had a hard time following some of the sequences this week. Batista's art seems to suffer while working on 52 (likely due to the time constraints).

I have to say, I like Adam as the Anti-Hero, tough love kind of guy but I have to say I'm sure that phase of his character is over now.

Oh, and the last page of the Dr. 13 backup in Tales is of interest to everyone here. Many of us have said it before but if your a fan of 52, you should be reading this backup.


At 8:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I think killing Isis and Osiris was not necessary to advance the plot, Osiris death alone should have been enough to make Adam go after Intergang and the Four Horsemen. Having BA kill a whole country full of people kinda makes it not possible to see BA as even an Anti-Hero (and for the life of me, I don’t know why Captain Marvel hasn’t intervened).

I don’t know how you allow a guy who kills the majority of the population of a country to run around or come out as just being “misunderstood”.

Obviously someone wants Adam on a rampage, the question is who? My bet, Darkseid.

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

I think the bracketed/unbracketed speech balloons inconsistencies reveals that different scripters were working on different passages (do comics have passages? or just pages?).
To me, it's kinda pointless to point out that characters are speaking in a foreign tongue when they obviously are, and their speaking of it doesn't exclude a non-foreign-tongue-speaker from the conversation. Brackets are useful, however in situations like, oh, say the Justice League International has just set up their Parisian embassy and Catherine Colbert is making French asides while fending off Booster Gold's advances.
In this week's Civil War: The Confession, Bendis makes frequent use of brackets to denote whispering or possibly just asides (and also seems to have evolved into a new level of self-parody).

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Paul I said...

On the "comedy relief being tortured and killed" front, didn't Giffen and DeMatteis do a fair amount of this themselves? Kooey kooey and Mitch Wacky both got kiboshed in the (pretty dreadful) "Breakdowns," and more memorably, the Mister Miracle robot died in JLA 40 (one of the best issues of that series, imo).

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Paul I said...

Oh, and I thought this was one of the better fite-fest issues of 52, as it goes. Does Black Adam's genocide really need to be explained in any greater detail than, "he gets really mad?" I also still hold out on the possibility that Isis was some kind of double-agent herself, so her sudden change-of-heart-kthnxbye! in the last issue may yet make some kind of sense.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Paul I said...

Oh, and any comments on the Rucka interview? It does heavily suggest some sort of bust-up between the 52 writers and DC management.

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, I'm not sure Biayla was strict comic relief when introduced. I recall that whole initial storyline with the Champions of Angor (or the Justifiers or whatever they were called at that point) being pretty dark and distinctly non-comedic.

While the name itself is certainly humorous, I don't think the country itself is automatically comic relief.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Jamie Ott said...

Not to digress on 20 years ago but that was the beauty of the early JLI. Sure, we had our funny BWAHAHAHA moments but at any time Demattis and co. would through in an especially violent or poignant moment that was all the more effective because it took you aback when it happened.

And my money is still on Darkseid attempting to weaken the Earth in the absence of the Big 3. Too many of the elements in this story have direct ties back to him. Intergang, Luthor, Egg Fu, are all story elements that link directly to him at one time or another. Heck, the Osiris/Isis/Godfrey/Grace is still valid as I believe Grace and Godfrey have died before, IIRC. If not, how many times has DeSaad dies?

Most likely in preparation of an invasion...or is he trying to build a stronghold safe from Lady Styx?

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Will Staples said...

Oh, and the last page of the Dr. 13 backup in Tales is of interest to everyone here. Many of us have said it before but if your a fan of 52, you should be reading this backup.

Especially since the villains of the piece -- the Architects -- are four very familiar faces...

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd put dollars to donuts that Adam's rampage has something to do with that cracked statue we saw in the Rock of Eternity a while ago.

At 9:25 PM, Blogger Tony Beeman said...

I assume that they're thinking big picture with Black Adam. They want a really good villian, and the best villians have motivations that are well understood.

Black Adam's old story of his wife and kids from centuries ago was kind of "far away". Now we have a really fresh wound to explain his anger, rage, and disconnect with the world around him.

I can imagine him becoming a great DC villian over the next few years: at once understandable and completely unpredictable.

At 12:50 AM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

Finally, a villain who can punch people's heads off!

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After Sivana's little spiel at the end, I had a thought: did his wife wittingly or unwittingly setup the Black Adam family's Downfall? She sure pretended to be pretty ignorant of where her husband was and what he might have had in store for them, but since the talking crocodile bit was part of Sivana's plan, it seems like it must have had some pre-planning to it (especially since she just happened to be giving all that money to Black Adam's charity).

At 12:26 PM, Blogger acespot said...

Seriously, DC promised us that this would be the best series of the year, and so far they haven't managed to get this book any higher than EH. They promised that this book would have immense ramifications for the rest of the DCU, and so far, there haven't been any. In fact, almost all the plotlines in this series have been entirely self contained. And it's obvious they haven't listened to the fans reaction regarding this series, because if they had, they'd have realized that Ralph Dibny is one of the most popular characters since the introduction of Batman! And then they go offing him for no apparent reason? WTF? Not only that, but killing Vic Sage? They should know by now that he's the reason people even cared about Montoya's storyline anyways. (And what's up with that? Black Adam asks Renee, "where's Vic", but throughout the entire series he's gone by 'Charlie'! And Black Adam can slap Montoya and she just gets up and shrugs it off? Every bone in her face should be broken!) The only thing that's kept me reading this travesty of a series is the momentum, and at this point, they've really begun to lose it - especially sad, considering the fact that this is the point when it should be picking up steam. It almost seems as if DC has given up on 52, and are instead focusing all their efforts on Countdown, if the last few weeks' DC Nation page are any indication. Are they trying to drive up the aftermarket value on these pins? I don't get it. And at this point, I don't much care. EH.

And the Mad Doctor's name is SIVANA, not Sylvana or Silvana...he's not a light bulb, folks (Sylvania).

I agree almost entirely with Doug's assessment of this issue.

See other thoughts at Spot's World.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Squashua said...

Adam didn't slap Montoya. He grabbed her by the face, then tossed her.

At 4:34 AM, Blogger creativename said...

I think Mr. Mind evolved into... Isis.

I know, the timing might have been off, but think about it. WHY is Adam doing all of this again? WHO gave him the go ahead?

At 9:16 PM, Blogger acespot said...

You're right squasha, her skull should be crushed - not merely a broken jaw or so....but nothing!

At 9:18 PM, Blogger acespot said...

And in perusing the issue again, he didn't call Sage "Vic", merely "Sage"...but still, Montoya should be DEAD!!!

At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

In modern conspiracy theory parlance "new world order" refers to a global totalitarian government. I think Mannheim's statement makes more sense if you use that definition for the term.

At 5:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On recent re-reading of the Bialya issues of JLI, I'd take issue with your criticism of the comic relief to brutal violence shift. The Batman as James Bond storyline you reference ends with the dictator (sorry, comics not to hand) brutally murdered by a hideously deformed Wandjina. Given that the dictator's bumbling was the source of most of the comic relief, this does create a precidence.

And talk about an anti JLI conspiracy! Wiping out a whole country because they first appeared in that fateful series. Unbeleivable.

And Black Adam's justification? This makes it the only attack on a sovereign nation less plausible than the current war in Iraq.

Great Ten worked well. Count me in on the series.

At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In case Mark Waid's still reading this blog: quite a lot of the internet rather likes your LOSH, as it happens.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Squashua said...

He's right, Mark. I can't wait for The Authority to travel into the future on the current Earth they're visiting to have a run-in with your Legion. ;-D

At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isn't technically related to this week's issue, but I gotta question:

What the hell ever happened to Northwind and his band of Feitherans? They haven't been seen at all in 52 (as Northwind's Wikipedia page notes). I mean, where are they? Wouldn't they have helped Adam and Isis vs. the Monster Society? It's just... weird, like they've been totally forgotten after Johns made Northwind and his crew such an integral part of the JSA Invades Khandaq storyline back in JSA and Hawkman a few years ago.


At 6:19 PM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

deus ex feitheria, my friend

At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I hadn't made the Bialya connection with all the other Giffen/DeMatteis JL characters that have been killed off over the last couple of has to wonder just how much Didio didn't like that version of the League...or if Giffen and/or DeMatteis have looked back and said, "we don't like that version of the League"....

Makes me wonder if Oolong Island was originally called "Kooey Kooey" before a certain crime syndicate bought it, or simply took it over....

Any other G/D JL elements we've seen in 52?


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