Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Week 39: Like Something That Seeks Its Level

I'd been looking forward to that Montoya-and-Richard-Dragon encounter, too! "Don't ask (the front cover about) the Question..."

This is not the first time we've seen the Luthor-becomes-Superman gambit, this issue's main story beat. As J.G. Jones notes, the idea was alluded to here, but it was also something of a Silver Age staple, appearing here ("What irony!") and here and here and, although it's not obvious from the cover, here. It's even turned up a bit more recently.

Something I really liked about the Azzarello/Bermejo Lex series, though, was that we got a sense that Lex is fully justified in his own mind--that he's not just jealous that the alien gets the powers and he doesn't, he genuinely believes that Superman is in the wrong and he's in the right, and that anything he does can be justified by his ends. That's more interesting to me, and scarier, than the Luthor motivated by a sense of egocentric unfairness and resentment. I love the stories where we get hints of sympathy for Luthor's perspective--they remind me of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, the best 1500-page-plus prose novel ever written in English, whose bad guy, Lovelace, is so seductively sympathetic that Richardson kept adding sections to it to make him come off as more evil.

The problem of justification, especially justification for violence, is as huge and tricky as problems get; a few years ago, I read an even longer (and even better) book all about it. It can make for great comics, too. My favorite manga series at the moment is Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's Death Note--anybody among the commenters reading it too? feel free to chime in even if you haven't commented before--which is all about a cat-and-mouse game between a serial killer and a detective, each of whom believes, more or less reasonably, that they're in the right and that the other one has to be stopped. (The serial killer is ostensibly the hero of the series, and he actually does have pretty strong justification--at least at first.)

But on the other side, we've got straight-up monsters like Everyman, who isn't just a cannibal for fun, he's got Jake's corpse on a checkered tablecloth with a goblet of wine--a kind of "ooh, look how bad I am" move. (The wine, by the way, seems to be for the 52 drinking game, which should've included dismemberments from the outset. For those of you just joining us, it also includes sports bras, bad lorem ipsum, teddy bears, and Watchmen allusions.) That makes him somehow much less interesting to me--which connects to my whole problem with the Crime Bible: it short-circuits the entire problem of moral justification. Another way of putting it: this song--sung by Catwoman, no less.

Lex's Everyman, incidentally, isn't DC's first; that would be Johnny Everyman, who appeared in a handful of early issues of World's Finest (beginning with this one) and Comic Cavalcade. The first Johnny Everyman story has a caption on its first page noting that it's "prepared in cooperation with the East and West Association, devoted to furthering understanding between peoples." (That page appears opposite the final page of a Boy Commandos story, on which Rip Carter--hey, wonder if there's a connection to Rip Hunter and/or Daniel Carter there?--is seen yelling into a microphone: "The Nazis are not supermen but super-beasts! Beasts with minds to conquer and weapons to kill!") Here's an interesting little history of the character--apparently, the East and West Association was a group headed by Pearl S. Buck, who was also on DC Comics' Editorial Advisory Board at the time!

Oh, and speaking of Rip Hunter: Eight weeks ago we learned that the next clue from Rip's blackboard to be addressed would be "he won't smell it"--have we actually gotten anything on that front?

A few days after I read last week's issue, I thought: hmm, there was something I liked about that, something unusual... Then it hit me, or rather didn't hit anyone: there were no fight scenes, no violence, no obligatory showdown between an ostrich, a chorus girl and a lampshade--the only physical struggle was Montoya dragging Charlie up the mountain. And it was thrilling anyway. Still, the presence of physical conflict in every issue is just one of many unspoken assumptions about how superhero comics are supposed to work in 2006. A couple of things other people have written in the last week or so have reminded me just how much I'd like to see those unwritten laws done away with--or at least made entirely optional--because I think they're at least as harmful as the old unwritten laws they were designed to counteract.

One of the people who's been posting in the last week's Supergirl blogosphere kerfuffle is Dean Trippe, who's also put up his own drawing of Supergirl, which gives me the kind of actual-teenage-girl vibe I've rarely seen in comics since Jenny from Scott McCloud's Zot!. Looking at it, my first reaction was that if there were a Supergirl comic that looked like that, I would totally buy it. In hardcover, even. I got the same kind of reaction to it that I got from the announcement of Morrison & Quitely's All-Star Superman, and there's a reason that's one of DC's best-selling titles, you know? It's committed to pure pleasure on every page, in a way that I don't get nearly enough from most superhero comics, and it doesn't look or read like anything else.

Ditto for Alice Hunt's idea for a Ralph-and-Sue comic set in the '60s with the Question as an occasional guest star. I mean, last night I watched The Thin Man--more or less the model for the historical Ralph/Sue relationship--and thought: I want superhero comics that are like this. It's too late for an actual Elongated Man comic along those lines, of course; I think 52's take on him is probably the best thing that could be done with a post-Identity Crisis Ralph. But I want a comic like that. If nothing else, there has to be some kind of playful and innocent comic series around now for someone else to despoil 40 years from now.

(Speaking of which, a small note on spoilers: anything that's already been published is obviously fair game here, but if you happen to know stuff that's coming up, don't spill the beans, please? Thanks.)

More notes:

Pg. 5: The Spectre literally stepped on Atlantis in Infinite Crisis. As for the "shackles of Arion," I'm not sure what they are, or what the beast they're containing is (although with that headdress it looks a little like an underwater Lockjaw), or what a "warded link" is--the only result for a Google search on that phrase is a triple-X site. There's such a thing as a "warded lock,", but that doesn't make sense in this context.

Pg. 6: And Ralph now has (or had) a wicker ring in place of the old ring he lost? He wasn't wearing it in Week 32. I hadn't realized before now that Ralph and the Fate helmet were playing "find the object," either. Apparently other people have gotten a link before, but then been eaten by the beast, which has subsequently been re-chained? This whole sequence has a weird kind of fabulistic dream-logic or non-logic to it...

Pg. 7: They are, of course, using a Boom Tube, as in Kirbytech--not this kind.

Pg. 8: It's actually spelled "High Chaparral,", and as far as I know it hasn't been revived. Good to see the return of Dr. Tyme's costume! The only microscopic naked Amazons I know of in DC continuity have most likely never heard of Tyme. We've dealt with Suspendium before, but I'm glad to see the Mister Mind thread being picked up again (after more than half a year).

Pg. 9: Veronica Cale is once again not wearing her black pearls--maybe Ralph and Fate picked them up as another of their "special objects."

Pg. 11: Somebody on the Newsarama forums (as noted by Squashua in last week's comments) pointed out that by an A=1, B=2... cipher, S+O+B+E+K = 19+15+2+5+11 = 52. Yow.

Pg. 12: For every BOOOOM there is an equal and opposite KRAAKOOOM. Here come the Horsemen!

Pg. 13: There are some serious chronology problems with this sequence. One: it's Day 5, immediately after a Day 6 sequence. Two: Natasha and Everyman are still wearing the same ripped clothes they had on in the first few pages. Three: the power-implanting process seems, earlier in the series, to take a very long time, and at the beginning of the scene Luthor insists that everything has to be ready to begin in 15 minutes... but three minutes of story time, tops, elapse before we see powered-up Luthor turn up.

Pg. 20: Luthor's shirt is burned away in the shape of Superman's insignia. Although something about it suggests Power Girl's lack-of-insignia. Poor Natasha: since she knows everything now, what are her odds of surviving to Week 40?

The Origin of Mr. Terrific: Appropriate to take a psychological approach to a character who's so much about his personal ideology that he literally wears it on his sleeve. I love that he's the "third-smartest man alive": can anyone tell me who the first two are? are either of them on Oolong Island?

Next week's 52 Pickup might be a day or two late (or might not). I know, I cry wolf about this stuff a lot. (And "late Wednesday evening" counts as "right on time," by my standards.) But I am going to be late one of these days. As opposed to the mighty 52 team: 3/4 of the way done and not a ship date missed yet. Good going.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Week 38: See Also Mary Hopkin

If somebody told you they were reading a really good comic involving a bunch of scientists on an island creating doomsday creatures, a "pale horse" reference, an unstable, slovenly fallen hero eating cold beans from a can, a touch of psychic nosebleed Zen, and a Ditkovian character ripping off his face-concealing mask as he prepares to die in a snowstorm, what comic would you guess they were reading? Shall we add Watchmen allusions to the 52 drinking game?

Terrific Montoya/Question scenes this issue, even though a couple of them are effectively the same scene (I'm trying to save his life because I need him/how do we get where we're going again?/I knew I should've taken that left turn at Albuquerque). The really ripe-for-discussion business, though, is the introduction of three of the four Horsemen of Apokolips, which of course leads us back to the non-crime Bible and Revelation 6. And before I get into it, I feel compelled to quote the mighty Half Man Half Biscuit:

If you're going to quote from the Book of Revelation
Don't keep calling it the Book of Revelations
There's no "S," it's the Book of Revelation
As revealed to St. John the Divine.

(Relatedly: "Those Were the Days," miscredited.)

So. Revelation 6. The first horse (do the Horsemen other than Azraeuz have horses? what's Azraeuz's horse, anyway?) is white, and ridden by someone who has a bow and a crown, "and he went forth conquering, and to conquer" (in the King James translation). The horseman is traditionally named Pestilence, although he's not actually named in the Bible. This useful page indicates that he's occasionally been interpreted as the Antichrist, as Christ, or as a Parthian archer.

The second horse is red, "and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword." Its rider is traditionally War, and Roggra here rules the Age of War.

The third horse is black, and "he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand"; his rider, usually called Famine, is charging outlandish prices for staple food, although he's still making luxuries available too. "The Age of Fevers"? Doesn't quite fit the template. Yurrd's "Hunger" is more like famine--and the fact that we don't see Yurrd here (and that J.G. Jones notes that he's "already in place") makes me wonder if he's got some kind of connection to Hannibal.

The fourth horse is a color that's usually translated as "pale," as in Red D'eath's band--we see that again with Azraeuz's "pale steed"--but the actual Greek word is "chloros," meaning the pale yellow-green color associated with, say, zombies. "[H]is name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." The rider, Death, is the only one of the riders actually named. (And "the fourth part of the earth" resonates nicely with "Fourth World," for which see more below.) As for Azraeuz's "black dawn," that phrase has been been used for a couple of previous DC stories.

Various comics have dealt with the Four Horsemen before, like this one and this one and, uh, this one. (This version, which supposedly included some visual design by Simon Bisley, doesn't appear to have seen the light of day, at least in comics form; can anyone tell me more?) My favorite comics reference to them, though, fits the Revelation template even more loosely, and I alluded to it last week: the Four Dark Judges, Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis, who appear in some memorable Judge Dredd stories. That right there is some character design. Speaking of which, the design of Roggra vaguely reminds me of some character from ABC Warriors, maybe a minor one, but I can't for the life of me think of which.

In other news: For those who didn't see it, Mark Waid helpfully explained the "two keys" thing at Newsarama (the other one was the giant key to Superman's Fortress of Solitude--although can someone please point me to a post-Crisis issue where we've seen it before Week 37? Was that the Antarctic Fortress? I love the giant key). And Keith Giffen's "reporter's sketchbook" at the official 52 site hasn't been updated in a couple of weeks, although a few other things have (like changing "succeeds" to "secedes" in a headline); hope it comes back soon.

Can I just say again how much I'm enjoying all the comment discussions? You folks rule.

More notes:

Pg. 1: You'd think she'd have figured out the route to Nanda Parbat before she left. You'd also think that Kate, as rich as she is, could've sprung for a GPS, but that's another thing.

Pg. 3: Prof. Morrow's "war effort" line is a nice cue: Magnus is indeed stockpiling useful metals--although he may not have the ones he thinks he does. Thermometers, for instance, are generally no longer made with mercury--these days, they've got other liquids in them, or they're digital. (The days when kids were encouraged to play with something called SlikSilver are long gone.) And if he thinks eating all those beans is going to get him a significant amount of tin, he's wrong--although the lids might be tin-plated steel, the rest of the can is probably aluminum. The lead shielding, though: that might help. Ditto the gold watch he swiped back in week 29.

Pg. 4: The first Plutonium Man appeared in this issue, which is turning out to be a pretty important reference point...

Pg. 5: I know of no previous references to Yurrd the Unknown, Roggra, Zorrm or Azraeuz, although they all look like Blogger verification words or the names of pre-Fantastic Four Lee/Kirby monsters. "The Terror of Yurrd the Unknown!"

Pg. 6: This may be--and please correct me if it's not--the first time the Kirby-at-DC-associated term "Fourth World" has appeared within a story. (It initially appeared on the covers of the fourth issues of three of his series--and his... seventh issue of Jimmy Olsen. And remember, kids: "alienation turns a happy place into hell.")

Pg. 7: Since when does Dr. Cyclops have two eyes?

Pp. 8-9: "Shoot you in the head... dump your body...": basically what happened to Charlie at the end of the first issue of his 1987 series; the "butterflies" bit, here and later, is (as others have noted) a reference to the second issue, whose title is "Butterfly," and in which Richard Dragon tells the recuperating Charles Victor Szasz the original Chuang Tzu's story of the man who "didn't know if he was a man who had been dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man." That issue also includes a little op-ed by Julia Sabbagh on the inside front cover, which notes that "the titles produced for girls can be counted on one hand" and that "if we want comics to be read by girls we must present girls with the proper visual and imaginative energy they need to grow on." It's followed by a disclaimer: "The views and opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views, opinions or position of DC Comics Inc." And just over 20 years later, we've got... this week's DC Nation column. Oh dear.

Pg. 12: Is Gabe actually a bot programmed to say nothing but variations on "you have to stop him"? And Brian looks remarkably well-preserved for somebody who got crushed by a beam more than three weeks ago.

Pg. 13: We knew that Natasha was pretty good with tech--she was working on that armor earlier in the series--but building a tiny flying communicator device is awfully impressive. If that is indeed still Natasha and not Everyman.

Pg. 16: You'd think she'd have gotten them both some face protection earlier...

Pg. 17: Scariest image of the whole series so far.

Pg. 20: Now that's a dramatic death scene. But who is that in the background? I mean, I suppose it's the Accomplished Perfect Physician, but it sure looks like the Living Tribunal to me.

The Origin of the Red Tornado: Well, there's an alternate version of this story here, but it's curious that Ulthoon (who first appeared here) is now referred to as being "from a distant star"--it was specifically from Rann! [ETA: No, I'm totally wrong. See comments.] Maybe that suggests a closer tie to the Adam Strange storyline then he's supposed to have for the purposes of 52, though. And Prof. Morrow, by the way, first appeared here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Week 37: As Though to Protect What It Advertises

Beautiful portrait-in-a-convex-mirror cover this week. (The poem in the second link came to mind as soon as I saw the finished piece...) I especially love Jones' detail of the additional reflections in Skeets' "legs," which Squashua tweaked so brilliantly last week.

The physical specificity of the cover, though, brings a question to mind, and the correct question is not, as it was posed earlier, "when is Rip Hunter?"--it's "where." The answer is Kandor. But where's Kandor? In the Fortress of Solitude. And where is the "leveled and abandoned" Fortress of Solitude? Um... from page 8, it sure seems to be somewhere icy, with a giant key nearby. (Speaking of icy places: sorry this is so late--Portland is currently totally snowed out, and none of this week's comics have made it here yet. I had to rely on air-mail service from Nanda Parbat to get my copy of this issue.)

A little Fortress of Solitude history (and I'm shaky on this stuff, so if you can correct me, please do--I've changed the commenting system so you don't need a Blogger login to comment): Back in the pre-Crisis day, everybody knew where Superman's Fortress was; it was up near the North Pole, with a huge key disguised as an airline flight-path marker, so heavy that nobody but Superman could lift it. (Grant Morrison riffed on that idea here.) Post-Crisis, John Byrne suggested that Clark Kent was actually Superman's lower-case "fortress of solitude." Then the Eradicator built a Fortress in the Antarctic here; it was pretty badly damaged hereabouts, then rebuilt, then destroyed altogether here.

The next Fortress, constructed with the help of one John Henry Irons, was built in a tesseract, as revealed here, and hidden in an ice field in the Andes. It was destroyed--it self-destructed, actually--in the (baffling) course of the "For Tomorrow" storyline, after Wonder Woman shrugged off its defenses off-panel. At the end of that story, Superman built a new and very public fortress in the Amazon jungle, loosely based on his "mountain retreat" from the very early days. Then Infinite Crisis happened; early on in the IC series proper, Kal-L, Power Girl, Superboy-Prime and Alex Luthor met at a fortress constructed by Alex at some icy spot that was located, Kal-L says, "where my fort was on Earth-Two." And post-52, as of this Johns-written issue, Superman's fortress is back in the Arctic, and its history is just like the one in the Richard Donner movies. Ditto for the Phantom Zone criminals we see inside Skeets' visor.

So where exactly is Kandor stored? I've only read part of this partly Rucka-written arc, but it seems to dodge the question. You wouldn't think that Superman would leave an entire city in a bottle in a self-destructed fortress when there was a perfectly good Amazon-jungle fortress he could move it to, would you? And you especially wouldn't think he'd leave it in the smashed-up Antarctic fortress for years on end, right? That's not exactly good stewardship.

I also have to say that Booster delivering a five-page-long tell-all piece of exposition to the murderous entity he's fighting for his life against, while they're fighting, including a "that's right, buddy" boast that he and Rip have been secretly operating out of the place where the fight is happening, is the sort of thing that routinely got made fun of in the Silver Age. (As I recall, Stan Lee used to defend it on the grounds that Shakespeare's characters flapped their jaws during swordfights, too.) In the context of a showdown in a secret headquarters someplace cold and in "the most remote location on Earth," though, that speech comes off a little "I did it twenty-five minutes ago," doesn't it?

In fact, the whole Booster-as-Supernova revelation opens up more questions than it answers, I suspect. For instance, let's take that scene with Supernova and Ralph in Week 31. Superman being out of the picture was the key to Booster having access to the Phantom Zone projector, but "one of two keys"--is there a joke I'm missing, or does it just have to do with the two buttons on the back of the projector? More to the point, how would Ralph have known how to get in touch with Supernova, if Skeets had nothing more substantial to go on than "a tachyon here, a chronal footprint there"? For that matter, why did Cassie think Supernova was Conner, and get a "respect my personal space" reaction from him?

The real tease of future events this time, I suspect, is Adam Strange's crucial fragment of memory: "giant hands and... something else... I can't remember." Now, the most obvious referent there is the giant Alex Luthor gloves that smashed worlds together in Infinite Crisis, the Story So Big It Didn't Have Room for Most of Its Own Plot. The double-page disaster-in-space flashback in Week 5 has something that looks kind of like a pair of hands vaguely visible near the explosion, too.

But the giant-hand-in-space image from DC's history that made the deepest impression on me is from Green Lantern #40, "The Secret Origin of the Guardians," conveniently reprinted in the hardcover Green Lantern Archives, vol. 6, which just came out this week, and guest-starring the guy who apparently ended up with one of Adam Strange's eyes, Alan Scott. Krona, one of the Oans of ten billion years ago, wants to "probe the beginning of all things" with a device that looks like a sort of gigantic microfiche reader. Eventually he finds an image of "a shadow like a giant hand... with something... a cluster of stars in it--! I must go back further--further--!" All of a sudden, his machine is wrecked by a "cosmic lightning bolt," "but from that moment on, evil was loosed on the universe!" Anyway, Krona's turned into energy and the other Oans become the Guardians of the Universe, but he eventually gets loose and builds another microfiche reader that doesn't look a day more modern. Again, we see "the formless hand-like cloud... the starry nebula..." This time, the Guardians smash the device, and all's well.

There've been a lot of stories that have built on that one over the past few decades; that hand-with-a-nebula image seems to have stuck with a lot of other people, too. (Perhaps the hand even belongs to one of the Seven Unknown Men...) In any case, GL #40 makes the short-list of stories at the core of the DC canon--it's one of the closest things the DCU has to a creation story, and that's within a canon so thoroughly concerned with the importance of secret origins that there have been 13 different series or one-shots with variations on that title.

Which brings me to a question for readers of this site, as a little fantasy-baseball game: if there were going to be a "Roots of 52" volume of Showcase Presents, what would y'all want to see in it? On the strength of this issue, I'd nominate Green Lantern #40 and (for reasons detailed below) Strange Adventures #184, and obviously the backups from the last three issues of All-Star Western would be shoe-ins, but what else?

A good 52-related link, incidentally: Polite Dissent on the medical side of Metropolis's New Year's Eve Catastrophe.

More notes:

Pg. 3: The "clik clik" and atom effect are both, of course, from Ray Palmer's size-changing belt.

Pg. 6: So Skeets is not "really himself," as I suspected when he was going on about Clock Queen in Week 27. And it appears Rip already had a Supernova outfit prepared...

Pg. 7: What were the Atom's belt and gloves doing in "JLA storage"? Last we saw of them was Ray disappearing at the end of Identity Crisis.

Pg. 8: We saw Supernova finding the Kryptonite gauntlet at the beginning of Week 20, although how would Booster know where it was, or how to get into the Batcave to get it? That implies that Booster knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman; had we established that previously? (Or was it a matter of historical record in the 25th century?) For that matter, how'd he get his hands on Hawkgirl's Nth Metal?

Pg. 9: "Unearthly lights and applied teleportation"? First of all: is there a kind of teleportation that isn't "applied"? Second: what about flight? Third: what about the super-strength it takes to catch a falling 200-pound man like Clark Kent? Most importantly: is teleportation really what the Phantom Zone projector does? As far as I can tell, it moves people and things from our dimension to the Zone--it can't transport, say, a crowd of people from point A to point B. (The projector first appeared here, I believe.)

Pg. 12: If Skeets can eat the Phantom Zone, why is he trying to deal with Booster via something as low-tech as firing blasters? What's the current population of the Zone, and why are so many of the people we see in Skeets' visor wearing glasses?

Pg. 15: The "team raison d'être" problem again: what is it exactly that the Birds of Prey do, and why couldn't they simply take some time off instead of bringing in Gypsy? (Note that Gypsy is yet another character who's died and come back to life--in her case, through the intervention of Martian Manhunter's god H'ronmeer.) I suspect the point of this scene is to point out that some of the people Ralph has been interacting with--Cassie and the Shadowpact types--have for some reason not let the more "mainstream" superhero community know they've seen him since Week 13, or haven't been able to. (Although it's not all Ralph's delusion, since Booster mentions Supernova's conversation with him this week.) Also, the old "bouncing off the flagpole" trick--is Dinah actually holding on to anything, or is she about to fall to the cement below? Great kicker to this scene from Ollie, though. The Wizard blog reads it as Ollie not understanding how someone could love someone else "too much to ever, ever let her go." I read it as Ollie watching Dinah bounce away from him and wondering how he could have saved their relationship.

Pg. 17: Last time Lobo mentioned the "golden planets," back in Week 19, there were three of them, not seven. Is Fishy making up the Triple Fish God religion as he goes along? And to refine the question I asked last week: what did the three space travelers see, and when did they see it? By almost all internal evidence, 52 begins a week after the end of Infinite Crisis, which itself occupied just under two weeks, according to this reasonable timeline. (The one piece of 52 evidence that contradicts that is Montoya mentioning early on that three months had gone by since Crispus Allen was killed in Gotham Central #38. Not likely.) The space disaster Alan Scott describes in Week 5 involves a Zeta Beam problem, so it has to have happened before Halo notices the zeta frequency at the beginning of Week 4--probably during Infinite Crisis itself, since Steel asks Alan what happened between his being "there a month ago and here last week." And as I mentioned before, Devilance, under orders from Lady Styx, is already (back) on Adon by the end of Week 5, so word has to have spread pretty quickly about who saw what and where they ended up.

Pg. 20: These are the aliens who gave Buddy his abilities, first seen in this entertaining Gil Kane-drawn story, "The Return of the Man with Animal Powers," in 1966, hence their extremely mod outfits. (It's not in print in any form, but it was reprinted in Adventure Comics #414, cough cough ay eye bee cue cough cough.) Morrison brought them back and revealed their backstory here, and they subsequently turned up all over his Animal Man run. And he doesn't even look all zombified and "believe in her," which is a relief.

The Origin of Firestorm: Just in time for this week's announcement of Firestorm's cancellation, and a good argument for why it got cancelled--there's nothing here that makes the character seem interesting.

And, of course, the DC Nation column: as various people have pointed out, the "secret"--and what a poorly kept secret it's been!--is revealed by looking at the first letter of every third word, starting with the first word. I was briefly going to call this week's posting "Th' Whole Rang-Dang-Doo Multeyeverse," a line from the best parody I've ever seen of massive and extremely important universe-changing crossovers that feature enormous blocks of expository dialogue and still don't manage to explain what's going on.

Can't tell exactly what's on the next cover, but like other commentators, I'm guessing it has to do with the Four Horsemen: Poison, Radiation, Recycling and Molecular Diagrams.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Week 36: In All Their Grandeur and Monstrosity

Now that's my kind of issue: more Montoya, all the plots we touch on see significant forward motion (aside from Osiris/Tawky Crawky, but hey, that's one page), and we finally see where Rip is and what he's up to. Still, Buddy dies and he doesn't even get the cover (on which we find out that Jones channeling Frazetta looks a whole lot like Simon Bisley)? I'm scratching my chin here.

I'm also wondering about this week's title: anybody have any idea what "How to Win a War In Space" might refer to? It could be that Buddy, Adam and Kory--and maybe even Lobo--might have a secret strategy involving Buddy's apparent death. Buddy does seem to have a plan on page 3: what's supposed to "work"? Consider this, too: how could Buddy's powers save him, since Adam tells him to use his powers on page 11? Well, he can duplicate the abilities of anything nearby. Lobo is nearby. And, as we've seen, Lobo can regenerate his entire body from any fragment of it. There does seem to be quite a lot of Buddy's blood around, too.

Of course, we get one last great tearjerking moment of fourth-wall-breaking from Buddy. That was his greatest value as a character within the confines of DC: not that he was a nice guy and a family man, or even that he was the man with animal powers, but that his awareness of all living things extended beyond the page and into our own world. Grant Morrison already directly extended compassion to him once, and although his "they know how much I love them" seems to refer to his family, it could also mean us: as with the DCU's gods, comic book characters need people to believe in them in order to exist. To paraphrase Alan Moore, the one place superheroes inarguably exist is in our minds.

In other business: Thanks to the folks, we've now gotten a look at J.G. Jones' cover for the 52 novelization. Yes. Novelization. And, of course, it has now been made clear that Jade II and Sierra are two entirely different people. My mistake.

More notes:

Pg. 3: They really do look like clubgoers!

Pg. 5: "The information she needs": so Buddy and Kory actually do know something, which is why there's a bounty on their heads. What do they know that's provoked Lady Styx's "by hook or by crook we will" routine? I have no idea, but maybe we can take a guess based on the corollary to that question: when did they know it? It can't have been after Infinite Crisis, since by the time they ended up on Adon there was already a Styx-commissioned bounty on their heads... and, in fact, Devilance seems to have already been there when they got there. Was the Big Explosion in Space That Did Weird Stuff part of a setup to get them to Adon and Devilance?

Also, where do the shackles go, and for that matter, what's the thing they're putting on Kory's head in panel 5 that makes her say "gzz," and what does it do? She's not wearing it the next time we see her.

Pg. 6: This is where Buddy gets shot, it looks like--and note that a little of his blood has been shot away. Also, either Lady Styx or Fishy is trying to provoke Lobo into action here. Does Fishy speak Styx-ese? And is Lady S. pulling some kind of brier-patch scenario here?

Pg. 7: Lobo did indeed kill Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Even though by then so few people were reading either Lobo or The Authority that the Grand Comic Book Database has no record of it.

Pg. 8: How does Buddy know they're all saying "believe in her," besides the everybody-speaks-English-in-space principle? Maybe from Captain Comet's telepathic transmission; who picked that up, anyway, and how?

Pg. 9: No, not these sun eaters. Or these, although they do look tasty, spider on front page aside. The DCU Sun-Eaters were introduced here, in a story that also involved the Emerald Eye of Ekron and a beloved minor character's death (well, in the next issue). Sun-Eaters also turned up here and in Zero Hour and The Final Night, and in The Return of Donna Troy, a plot point involved a "Sun-Eater factory." (Do things made in a factory migrate...?) And, of course, a small Sun-Eater currently contains this guy's prison, which it doesn't seem to have digested. Do Sun-Eaters eat anything but suns, or are they just solaterians?

Pg. 10: So, as I understand this, Lobo kicks Lady Styx into Ekron's head/ship so hard that they fly into a Sun-Eater? And then the remaining Stygian zombies just kind of hang around and don't pose a problem any more? I'm not sure if this is unclear storytelling or just nonsensical storytelling.

Pg. 13: Charlie's still got a solid command of classic jazz: if "Take Five" is the Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond piece, "Freddie Freeloader" is probably the Miles Davis piece inspired, I believe, by this Red Skelton routine, and on Kind of Blue along with "Blue in Green." As far as I know, Miles didn't record "How High the Moon," although he used some of its chord changes for "Solar." And the "tell me, butterfly" bit is from The Last Unicorn. Can anybody more versed in the Question than I am tell me if these are references to earlier Question stories too? And while we're at it, what's Charlie doing in a hospital--didn't Renee and Kate decide on hospice care for him a few weeks ago?

Renee, incidentally, is reading an issue of Congo Bill World Travel, which does seem to have a rather National Geographic-like cover design.

Pg. 14: Kate is "Catherine" and lives on a street called Grand Oak, but Gotham City doesn't have a state... and Nanda Parbat may not have any flights or roads going there, but they do seem to have reliable enough mail service that Tot "keeps sending" flowers. And hey--what about that glowing flower that Isis gave Montoya?


Pg. 17: Looks like Kahndaq's got a free press--but English, you say? Why would Osiris be reading the English-language edition of the paper? And when did public opinion start reflecting "the truth about what Wonder Woman did" (as Sobek says in a word balloon that looks like it should belong to Osiris)? After she disappeared?

Incidentally, the 52 drinking game now includes bad lorem ipsum, since we haven't seen a sports bra or a teddy bear in a few weeks, and now that we're in the home stretch it's time to start drinking more.

Pg. 18: Ah--here we go. I believe this is the first time we've actually seen Rip Hunter in real-time on panel, and now we know when he is: the present. Rip (and his Chronosphere, also Booster's preferred vehicle for time travel) first appeared here, although the following issue is a little more appropriate to display here, what with its animal/man theme. I love the device of Rip getting distracted and sdrawkcab gniklat, too.

We've dealt with Luthor's Kryptonite gauntlet before. As far as the staffs of the Starmen... well, DC's got a lot of Starmen. There's Ted Knight and his gravity rod/cosmic rod, which first appeared here; there's the staffless Batman-as-Starman from this issue, later retconned; there's the also-staffless Mikaal Tomas, introduced beneath this only slightly less splendid Joe Kubert cover, immediately before the return of the New Gods; there's the Levitz-and-Ditko-created Prince Gavyn, introduced here, although I don't recall whether he rocked a staff much until this swell Starlin-drawn issue; there's Will Payton, who was also staff-free, and apparently died fighting the pre-Jean Eclipso in this issue, guest-starring this week's origin-subject; there are the several younger Knights, w/ staffs, from the '90s series; and then there's the one in this week's issue of Justice Society of America, who was talking about "a star on Thanagar" and "52" in #1. That's not even getting into Stargirl, or the future Starpersons. Wizard has a good overview of the whole dynasty here.

Shadow Thief and his Dimensiometer first appeared beneath this splendid Joe Kubert cover; it is perhaps worth summarizing the completely insane plot of Gardner Fox's story here. After the requisite splash page, we see a two-dimensional shadow robbing a bank and sticking money in its "shadow-bag," then disappearing into a building. Carter and Shiera have heard through their spaceship's "receiviset" that Thanagar's calling them home, but then the police commissioner of Midway City sends them a message via pigeon, and they take off armed with a crossbow and a camera. The Shadow Thief is robbing "the only complete collection of American coins"; Hawkman tries to stop him with tear gas, flames and smoke, but nothing works. Then we see the Shadow Thief return to his trailer, turn off his Dimensiometer, and helpfully recap his origin: a former burglar nabbed when a policeman saw his shadow, Carl Sands became an expert on "shadow facts and legends," then invented a shadow-based color-disc device while in prison--and then one day he was contacted via the color-disc thingie by a creature from "a dimension adjacent to ours" who needed iron filings to power his raygun to free his vessel from a rock, and rewarded his savior with a Dimensiometer (which could shift his body to another dimension) and a pair of gloves that could reach back to his own world. But then the alien told him that "every time you turn on the Dimensiometer, you affect the magnetic lines of Earth! If you use it a few more times, you will cause--another Ice Age!" So Sands smashed the color-disc thingie, since nothing was going to stop him from using the Dimensiometer to steal coins and stuff; back in the present, he announces that "this gimmick and me are going places." But Hawkman and Hawkgirl look at the footage Hawkgirl shot of the Shadow Thief, and identify Carl Sands' profile with the aid of a "mug book." With the aid of the birds they can talk to, the Hawks track him down and haul Sands' trailer into the sky, so he can't escape. He surrenders, figuring he'll get away in shadow form when they set down the trailer, but when he jumps through the door as a shadow, he finds himself falling off a cliff where they've set the trailer; to save himself, he yanks the Dimensiometer off his wrist, breaking it in the process, as Hawkgirl later discovers. "That was close," the other-dimensional creature sighs; if Hawkgirl had turned it on one more time, "she'd have brought on the Ice Age that would have ended all life on earth!"

This, people, was a twelve-page story. You want to know why early-Silver-Age comics are more ripe for reference/callbacks than recent stuff? Very simple: more and weirder plot.

Pg. 20: Now that's a cliffhanger. But I can't believe that the bottle city of Kandor has both a) a miniature red sun and b) a cork. (Kandor, by the way, first appeared here.) Did Rip and Supernova teleport in? Does that mean that they also have access to shrinking technology? Maybe there's something to that Atom theory after all.

The Origin of Power Girl: And speaking of Kandor, Power Girl was born there--or rather the Earth-2 "there." Memo to Adam Hughes: that is not what an infant girl's head looks like. It's probably even more disturbing, though, to see the DC Universe referred to by that name in a story caption. I don't know why. But it is.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Week 35: That Most Dangerous of Animals

See, here I was, thinking that this was the issue where everything was going to become radically different and the payoff was going to start happening. Instead, we get the "kerplunk" scene we knew we were getting from the end of last issue, Luthor revealing that he's actually kind of a bastard after all, members of Infinity II declaring twice in two pages that it sure is a good thing they still have their powers, and a lost-in-space scene that once again fails to advance that plot. At least Skeets looks to be showing up next issue.

While I'm at it: Does anybody know if the alternate cover for this issue actually exists, and can you point me toward an image? I'm hoping the reporter's sketchbook for week 33 puts in an appearance soon, too.

There's not a lot of thematic forward motion in this issue--but I've been more in James Brown territory than in 52 territory this week as it is. So let's review for a moment what sort of character development we've seen in our nine leads over the course of the first 35 weeks:

Black Adam:
WEEK 1: Very emo; prone to dismemberment.
WEEK 35: Ditto, but also enjoys holding hands, long walks.

Booster Gold:
WEEK 1: Perky, arrogant, avaricious, entirely unlike his Infinite Crisis-era self.
WEEK 35: Crispy, carbonized, offstage.

Ralph Dibny:
WEEK 1: Brittle is the opposite of ductile, isn't it?
WEEK 35: Still stuck at the bargaining phase of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's model of grief--and the helmet of Fate is a heck of a bargaining chip. Come to think of it, Kübler-Ross's own story involves a fake clone, a naked "spirit medium" with a turban, some "afterlife entities" hooking up with the bereaved... wait! it's practically Ralph's story!

Renee Montoya:
WEEK 1: Drinking a lot, irritable.
WEEK 35: Mostly just reacting to everything that's happened to her--she's had very few opportunities to act independently of what the whole business with Charlie has required of her. Her story is still her character-formation arc--"what will she become"--and "why her" really is the question, since it still isn't at all clear why Charlie picked her.

The Question:
WEEK 1: Mysterious.
WEEK 35: Unwell.

WEEK 1: Sullen, hardworking, not getting along at all well with Natasha.
WEEK 35: See above.

Adam Strange:
WEEK 5: Blind, gruff, running on fumes, largely devoid of personality.
WEEK 35: Ditto.

Animal Man:
WEEK 5: Homesick family man.
WEEK 35: Homesick family man who's pretty sure somebody out there likes him.

WEEK 5: Personality-free glyph.
WEEK 35: Personality-free glyph--I think her only flash of personality in the series has been her confrontation with Lobo.

More notes:

Pg. 2: The title is a reference to the 1992 storyline--also partly drawn by Jurgens--that introduced John Henry Irons, among other things. As J.G. Jones confirms, it was this issue's working title, too...

Pg. 4: One real-world George Calderon translates Tolstoy. Another was "an impulsive, quick-tempered man with a cocaine habit." In any case, this George Calderon seems to have had a less impressive career as Leviathan than the pre-reboot Gim Allon will have... and even if he'd been able to grow, it wouldn't have done much good, thanks to the "Gwen Stacy problem" explained by Secretary of State Kakalios. Also, Lee is probably not this one. Incidentally, my research turned up this useful page, should you ever be presented with revocable superpowers by a former U.S. President.

Pg. 5: Beautiful bit of business there.

Pg. 6: What's Supernova doing chatting with Luthor while people are still falling from the skies? All of Luthor's dialogue from the beginning of the issue to the end of this scene takes about 25 seconds to read--even assuming that George's failed rescue of the woman who does not so much fly as plummet happens simultaneously with Luthor's scene, that the guy in this page's first panel running toward the exit of what looks rather a lot like the Steelworks with body language that all but announces "this looks like a job for--" is not somebody who subsequently has to change into Supermova and get to where Luthor is, and that Dennis called him five seconds after midnight, by the end of the page the remaining plummeters have already been falling for 30 seconds. Basic physics tells us that they've fallen about 4400 meters; that's very high indeed to be up in the air unprotected.

Feel free to correct my physics, incidentally.

Pg. 7: There is indeed a Fifth Avenue in the New Troy borough of Metropolis; the Lexcorp Towers are at the Eastern tip of the borough. But it doesn't look like the Steelworks is very close to them.

Pg. 9: Ami Soon was last seen in Week 7, and seems to have gotten a lot less Asian-looking since then. And regularguy over on the DC boards points out that we've seen the "teleporting the crowd just outside the Metropolis city limits" gambit before.

Pp. 12-13: The return of Dan Jurgens' curious Geo-Force fixation! And the fourth Dr. Light, Kimiyo Hoshi, is the one who can talk about more than one subject--although this page explains the baffling continuity mess that's accrued around her. (And I have to say I really miss the days when Arthur Light was the kind of character one would expect Ty Templeton to draw. While you're at that site, by the way, do spend some time reading Stig's Inferno...)

Pg. 14: I like the Metamorpho-as-oxygen-mask concept. Plus: the return of Offspring! I know Mark Waid has tried to distance himself from The Kingdom, but any comic with Frank Quitely art is A-OK with me. Speaking of which: that new All-Star Superman is just wonderful...

Pg. 18: Hmm: do you think it might just be possible that this is not in fact Jake but Hannibal? Ah, but what on earth would give anyone that idea? Hey, when was the last time anybody saw Hannibal and Jake in the same place...? I don't think we necessarily saw Everyman in the big action scene...

Pg. 19: How many weeks in a row do we need to read the "oh, man, Lady Styx, she's a toughie, and there are only four of us, how the heck are we going to get through this one?" speech? Also, a "Type 2 civilization" on the Kardashev scale is pretty challenging to mess with, and "virtually immune to extinction." Maybe it's a different scale we're dealing with here.

Pg. 20: So Buddy's using Fishy's abilities to survive in the vacuum, but how is Adam doing it?