Thursday, April 05, 2007

Week 48: Unspoiled Monsters

I guess this issue's cover is the closest we're going to get to Anarky after all (and by proxy as close as we're going to get to the Haunted Tank). Too bad. But this really is one of the best covers of the series, maybe the best--although, when the solicitation came out, I imagined the Question starting some kind of grand cultural movement, or maybe even becoming a widespread meme.

What's actually happening here seems to be exactly the reverse: Montoya running up against the crime cult's menagerie, and putting on the Question mask for reasons that make thematic sense rather than plot-type sense. (I'm also wondering how Mannheim's obsession with prophecy ties in with his declaration that "the questions have not yet been answered" back in Week 28: do we understand the questions in question?) (And speaking of the lower-case q's, for some reason the title "Asked and Answered" initially made me think of Truman Capote's "literary sasquatch" Answered Prayers--maybe it was the cathedral setting and Kate's high-society background that pointed me in that direction.)

Mannheim was previously (apparently) killed in this issue back in 1992, and seems to be not terribly dead in this One Year Later issue--so perhaps the cult of Cain is the true cult of resurrection. Still, his all-consuming obsession with the Law That Is No Law, and the fact that it leads to his destruction, mirrors something I've been noticing about 52 in general: it's moved from being suffused with the minutiae of old DC continuity to sweeping away those details and references as we approach the end of the series. That might have to do with deadline pressure, but it might also say something about readers' endlessly troublesome relationship to the DC Universe canon.

Time (and perhaps Hypertime) doesn't just determine the comics stories of lasting artistic value--it determines which ones are true (in the sense of their truth value within the fictional universe) and important, which ones are of no consequence, and which are actively apocryphal (Max Lord the cyborg). There are so many damn stories about Darkseid alone--and even glancing at that list I know it omits a couple of significant ones--that it's no longer clear what he wants or how he might accomplish it or what exactly is up with the Anti-Life Equation, and I imagine that stuff is going to have to be made very clear very soon. (Speaking of stories about prophecies going unfulfilled, The Hunger Dogs is a persistent problem, since Kirby's work is by definition in continuity for Fourth World stuff, but...) I fearfully imagine, at an extreme, some kind of continuity synod, going through the old volumes and deciding which ones stay in the canon and which go; that's exactly the kind of thing Hypertime was meant to get around, and the same function is served in a different way by the very soft reboot of Superboy punching the universe (and its Marvel equivalent, the double reboot in House of M).

Also, as much as I enjoy dissecting the intricacies of continuity... well, speaking of Jewish holidays, this week is Passover, and a story about Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg puts it nicely. Somebody asked him: "Is not the liturgical poet who first writes that clay vessels in which leaven was cooked must be broken before Passover, and then states that they may be stored away in wooden sheds, guilty of a contradiction?" And he replied: "It is poetic liberty to state together two contradictory propositions."

Giffen Layout Watch: still stuck at Week 39.

More notes:

Pg. 3: Is hell really where sins are "indulged with abandon"? I thought just the opposite. And have we seen the "infernal device" in the last panel before? The Charlie Brown zig-zag on the back is rather Apokoliptic, but the screw on the front reminds me of the Mole Machine, and even more of the spelunking gizmo Klarion is driving in the final panel of his Seven Soldiers miniseries.

Pg. 5: The return of Suicide Squid! I guess the first panel is supposed to quell the "of course the prophecy's about Cassandra Cain" speculation that various people (including me) have indulged in, although I have to wonder how Batwoman would know the background on the prophecy.

Pg. 8: Is the color on this page (and pp. 16-17) weird in other people's copies too? "The shiv, the gat and the red rock"--the rock is Cain's rock, but "shiv" and "gat" are peculiarly 1920s-ish slang. ("Gat" in particular is derived from "Gatling gun," and those didn't exist until the 1860s; is the Crime Bible supposed to be older than that? I suppose if it namedrops John Wayne Gacy, as we saw last week, it's of fairly recent vintage.)

Pg. 10: Fire pits are a prominent feature of Apokolips, of course. "Baby powder and cardamom": a very good detail.

Pg. 12: Ridge-Ferrick again. Those guys get around. Reminds me a little of how, for a few years, most of the construction projects I saw had signs crediting a company called "Da Costa Demolition." And Montoya is a lapsed Catholic, of course.

Pg. 14: "Anointing the frail with his claret" is the most notable bit of portmanteau diction I've seen in a while. "Claret" meaning blood dates back at least a couple of centuries; while looking it up, I stumbled upon this wildly entertaining 1736 dictionary of "thieving slang." "Frail," meaning woman, appears to have been recorded in 1908. (And while we're at it, "wet work" seems to date from the Cold War.) Would anyone care to add some vowels to "Hrfk! Mngmnklly!" (or the later "Mrrhnn")? The comma after "escape" in the final panel is the only thing I've found in this issue that eluded Rucka's proofread...

Pg. 15: "The vile book" as opposed to the "Good" one!

Pg. 19: I'm not sure if I've got the choreography straight here, but it looks like Kate has killed (or "killed") Mannheim by throwing the knife into his back so hard it's penetrated all the way up to the hilt. Dot iss badass, as the mad scientists say, and I realize that Identity Crisis also asked us to believe that a grossly out-of-shape man who'd just been shot in the chest could hurl a boomerang hard enough to pierce someone else's heart, so it's not totally unprecedented in the DCU, as opposed to the world of familiar biology and physics. But at least that was a boomerang--something with balance that's meant to be thrown. I can't tell how far Batwoman is from Mannheim in this scene, but I'm guessing it's less than ten feet, and she's doing a straight throw. Even so, that ceremonial sacrificial knife looks like it's really not balanced for throwing--it'd probably rotate some--not to mention that she's just pulled it out of her own heart, which would probably affect the force she could get on the throw. (I'd probably object less if the scene were staged such that she just stabbed Mannheim directly, continuing to put force into the knife after it met resistance from his coat and body.) Looking forward to seeing what Polite Dissent has to say about this one.

Pg. 20: And the bat flies up into the smoke. Well, maybe that Batwoman story in the Infinite Hanukkah special happened during the 52 year...

Pg. 21: We get a page 21 this week! (And we get pages 21-40 in Week 52!) Perhaps Sivana got his dental ideas about Adam from looking at Egg Fu's own teeth. Yikes.

The Origin of the Birds of Prey: A solid condensation of about a zillion comics. Maybe it's a retcon that "the Birds of Prey" was the name of Barbara's organization from the get-go (and maybe not), but I was always fond of the idea that "Birds of Prey" was the name of the series, not the name of the team.

Next week: a special late edition of 52 Pickup, most likely! Don't be surprised, anyway.

31 Comments:

At 2:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i felt much the same way about the question becoming a street legend too. or in light of ww3, being the one to whip up the "ground troops" and common populace for the war. sadly she does not seem even that important now.

also, the ar was SO BAD this issue, i almost could not finish it. a 52 first. someone needs to get a new artist on montoya because so far her getup and design in general isnt working for me (j.g. seems to do it really well with his cover sketches this issue, same outfit, very exciting). in fact, there were some moments i thought would have been in-your-face awesome here, but the crap art totally destroyed them.

finally, "batwoman is a new lesbian heroine" blah blah blah... now we have TWO lesbian heroes (who are romantically entangled at that). that is more important to me than the initial line of crap about Kate being gay, moreso because they arent just humping because they are on the same team like most heroes.

too bad batlady looks like a goner. homo characters in comics seem cursed to always be neutered and non-threatening
like this.

 
At 6:37 AM, Blogger Keith said...

I thought the art was great. I checked the credits to see if it was Jimenez. You have to like the big Question splash reveal right?

Speaking of the art, I was reading through the entire series and noticed that the art for the first dozen or so issues was fantastic, followed by a slow decline in quality to the awful 33 where Luthor gives cars away like Oprah.

---
Sure, Renee was fighting a giant cobra, but she brutally killed the heck out of Whisper. Ouch.

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger Paul I said...

Not bad art, just didn't really suit the story.

Not a particularly memorable ish, but it didn't seem as hurried as the other story endings so far.

 
At 7:21 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

Not much happened this issue except that we find out that before the crash, Kate hung out for a bit with that chick Sawyer scammed a year earlier.

Oh wait, that was last night's Lost.

Yeah, not much happened.

 
At 7:55 AM, Blogger Lefty said...

I can't help but wonder if we'll be seeing the return of Lazurus Pits (and a last minute save of Batwoman) in Gotham because of these infernal devices.

 
At 8:17 AM, Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

To Lefty:

Good thought. I do recall a Lazarus pit mention on Rip Hunter's chalkboards...

 
At 12:13 PM, Anonymous longshot7 said...

so is there a consensus - is Batwoman dead? How would Montoya or Kane know of the Lazarus Pits? (as convenient as they've been in the last year or so.)

 
At 12:42 PM, Blogger Rob S. said...

It could be that the Vile Book is of recent vintage... but if it were supernaturally inspired, it could have been written thousands of years ago with prescience. It *is* prophecy, remember...

 
At 1:24 PM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

If the book is indeed of Darkseided origins, don't Apokolips and New Genesis exist in a separate dimension where time doubtlessly passes differently than it does in the central DCU dimension.

I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but the whole "prophecy is fulfilled" had double-meaning this issue, since Montoya losing her face has been SO heavily foreshadowed.

 
At 1:48 PM, Blogger Filby said...

is the Crime Bible supposed to be older than that? I suppose if it namedrops John Wayne Gacy, as we saw last week, it's of fairly recent vintage.)

I see three possible answers. A) It was written recently, B) it's prophecy, as Rob suggests, or C) it's been added to over the years.

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger Garret said...

Re: The Crime Bible

I always kind of saw it as a less powerful "Book of Destiny," which got written as it went along. Being Apokoliptian, it's possible in many of the comic pseudo sciences that allow us to believe in a Mother Box.

 
At 2:30 PM, Blogger Don said...

Mannheim was previously (apparently) killed in this issue back in 1992

methinks you've got the wrong link there....

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger Don said...

Actually, ALL of the comics.org links seem to be linking to a cover of POPBOT, as far as I can see.

Er?

 
At 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, two points.. really apropos of nothing....

My favorite obscure Darkseid appearance (not on that silly list) is from Sandman, when he is at the Wake. Very cool little moment..

and frail for woman goes back a bit further... Hamlet, by that Shakespeare guy, has the line "Frailty, thy name is woman"

Michael B.

 
At 3:10 PM, Blogger Jeremy said...

Parallel?

Skeets' wonky predictions

and

Crime Bible's wonky prophecies?

"Future time is broken?"

Just saying . . . maybe there's finally a link between a few of these seemingly more separated stories . . .

 
At 4:22 PM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

Nice catch, Jeremy!

 
At 9:22 PM, Anonymous Patrick said...

Which reminds me that man it's been a long time since we've seen Skeets.

It's weird to think there's only four issues yet, because 52 doesn't feel nearly as hurried as it should right now. I feel like it should really feel totally mile-a-minute, like it's in total overdrive, but that's not the impression I get.

At any rate, very much enjoyed this issue, even if I feel making Montoya the Question is a long-term mistake -- if only because where once you had two strong characters, now you just have one, and from a storytelling perspective I question (ha!) the wisdom of that. Still, it's internally consistent, which counts for a lot, even if Question-as-meme would have been far, far more interesting.

 
At 9:37 PM, Blogger Douglas Wolk said...

I just had a vision--imagine something like this (one of my all-time favorite covers), except everybody's got a blank face...

The comics.org links seem to be working again. Whew.

Lazarus Pits/fire pits: good call!

Another piece of evidence that the Nightwing we're seeing here is actually Jason rather than Dick: he doesn't blink when Montoya's blowing away lizard folks left and right, as opposed to Dick's "oh no I didn't stop Tarantula from killing Blockbuster how can I ever face Bruce again" attitude.

 
At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Scott said...

Ask and I shall deliver: Medical Review of 52 #48.

 
At 7:45 AM, Anonymous oz said...

With all 52 and all the mainline titles going on, it's gotten so confusing that I'm almost to the point where I want to just not buy anything for the next month so I can finally have an answer. JLA has Black Lightning on the team, but in Outsiders he's still in jail, with his life in jepardy (also in JLA is the trophy room which has a skeets). Batwoman is nearly dead here, but appears in the holiday special, which allegedly is later.

Titles that rely on one another can be annoying, but since it seemed like they were all together for a while and now are all over the place, it's just plain confusing. Hopefully the end won't be rushed (since it's lost ~11 pages, I hear), and will have a solid solution that explains all the build up. If it simply is a bridge to countdown, I think I'm done. One year long event is enough.

 
At 9:16 AM, Blogger Keith said...

Here is a similar Question cover.

 
At 6:38 AM, Blogger Eric said...

We discussed the possibility of widespread Q? followers on the Q? forum, but several objections were raised, including that Question-as-collective runs contrary to the character's individualist, Objectivist roots (not that having a legacy replacement doesn't do that as well), and the fact that it would seem too similar to this.

 
At 6:49 AM, Blogger Eric said...

Two other things to note:

Next week's cover may be the best yet. Of all the characters in 52, despite my love for the Question, Will Magnus and the zany Oolong Island scientists have been my favorites.

And is Abbot the Martin Luther of the crime religion, if it gets split in twain?

 
At 9:52 AM, Anonymous randy said...

JLA 190!!That's one of MY all-time faves too!!

 
At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Outsider's story is told during the missing year. The whole point is that he's free by One Year Later.

It's obvious if you read the solicitations, or the story. For instance, the final act is the annual: http://www.dccomics.com/comics/?cm=7171

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger David C said...

Another possibility (well, it wouldn't explain the John Wayne Gacy bit, except as prophecy) is that much of the "thieves' slang" that has developed over the years is actually derived from the ancient Crime Bible! (What language is it in, anyhow?)

My suspicion, though, is that it might actually be of recent vintage, and concocted to be part of Darkseid's Plan, whatever it is.

Whatever you say about Darkseid, I've never seen him as self-identifying with the concept of "crime." If anything, he'd be nearly the opposite, a "law and order" (*his* law, *his* order, natch) fanatic.

 
At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Randy Meyer said...

Will you be posting about the World War III books as well? Or are you strictly just the 52 series?

Just wondering.

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger Douglas Wolk said...

Randy: In the words of Dr. T.B. Sivana: "What am I bid?"

More seriously: Not sure yet. I'll have to wait until I see them--I don't think I'll be doing page-by-page annotations, but I'll probably mention them in the context of #50. But it may depend on what my schedule looks like that day...

Eric: excellent V link, and good point.

 
At 4:04 PM, Anonymous raphaeladidas said...

Douglas, you intimated at one point that you might be doing an official Countdown column for someone. Anything you can tell us about that?

 
At 5:55 PM, Blogger Douglas Wolk said...

raphaeladidas: Magic 8-ball says ASK AGAIN LATER.

 
At 8:19 PM, Blogger barefootliam said...

Thanks for linking to the dictionary of thieving/canting slang. I'm glad you found it wildly entertaining - it was a lot of fun transcribing it, too!

Liam

 

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