Monday, October 24, 2005

Crisis on Infinite Crises!

Millennium is Coming!“Infinite Crisis is here!”

At least, the review for it is (and it's a doozy!). I'll be discussing Countdown to Infinite Crisis, The OMAC Project, Day of Judgment, Villains United, Rann-Thanagar War, the last two parts of Sacrifice (you know, the relevant parts), and JLA #115-119, better known as Crisis of Conscience. Here there be spoilers, so read on at your own risk.

Let me start by saying that I've enjoyed the series so far, for the most part. It's certainly not the best group of comic stories ever, but it's pretty damn good (with the exception of Rann-Thanagar War, but we'll get to that).

Countdown to Infinite Crisis was a decent mystery, but was too mechanical in parts. The scenes with the Day of Judgment and Rann-Thanagar War introductions seemed shoehorned into a story that was primarily about Beetle's quest. There were too many moments of plot-necessitated characterization, particularly when Martian Manhunter brushed off Beetle's concerns. Other than that, though, it's a pretty book that nicely sets up OMAC, and plays with your preconceptions of who's behind it all. It also examines the major ongoing themes that tie the Countdown miniseries together.

Day of Judgment is chock full of contradictions. The most powerful cast members are the most impotent against the Spectre's quest against magic. The most jaded characters display the most optimism and hope. The youngest character is also shown to be one of the most powerful, but that power turns out to be in vain. The Spectre, divine agent of an all-knowing God, does not see either that Eclipso is tricking him, or that his attacks against magic will only lead to magic having greater chaos. Characters who have never ventured past the fringes of traditional cape-and-spandex superheroics offer the most traditional superhero story of the four miniseries. DoJ follows a ragtag group of misfits who team up against insurmountable odds, with little regard for their own safety, to save the universe. That's the heart of superheroics. I really hope the Shadowpact gets an ongoing series, because this is the most fun I've had reading comics in quite some time. Humor, misunderstood romance, intrigue, action, and a talking chimpanzee. You can't beat that.
Oh, there's one more contradiction: the miniseries I looked forward to the least turned out to be the best.

Villains United, despite having little to do with any superheroes, told another fairly traditional superhero story. The Six were underdogs, like the Shadowpact, fighting against the unbeatable Society. Naturally, they weren't real heroic...the Six were plagued with infighting and betrayal, but ultimately had deep bonds of loyalty between one another, particularly when you deny Cheshire's place among the Six, and accept the "Secret" sixth member, Knockout. I really underestimated Simone...I figured Knockout's presence among the Society was the result of editorial oversight or unfamiliarity with the character, since Knockout was never really evil. Way to exceed my expectations, Ms. Simone. Kudos.Meanwhile, we discover that Lex Luthor is behind the Six, while the self-described "other Luthor" (with blue eyes, as opposed to regular Luthor's green ones) led the Society. I'll have more on the "Crisis on Infinite Luthors" later in the week, but I like that Simone pulled one last switch on everyone. I mean, throughout the series, it looked like Luthor was going to turn out to be Mockingbird. Simone clearly wanted us to think that Mockingbird was actually Scandal, as she seemed to have the most direct connection with Mockingbird. It seemed like Simone was blatantly misdirecting us, while not-so-subtle hints were dropped to suggest Luthor was leading both teams. When the solicitations hit, we all assumed that Mockingbird would be Luthor, and once you saw the cover on the shelves, that was confirmed. Simone once again managed to surprise me after I thought I had it all figured out to be a cliché or sloppy writing, and gave us two Luthors. I guess I should remember that, just because Jeph Loeb can't write a good mystery, doesn't mean all comic writers are so impaired. Villains United makes me want a new Suicide Squad, if only because Catman and Deadshot are such fantastic characters. A villain with a conscience and a villain who wants to be Batman? Come on, that's fantastic. And the last scene, with Catman sucker-punching Green Arrow, because Catman's the one with the moral high ground? Classic.
Eaglesham's art was fantastic, and I wish he'd gotten to do all of the issues. Hopefully his newly exclusive status will mean more awesome mainstream DCU work from Dale.
Oh, and Villains United made my English Major self ashamed of me. I only realized the significance of Catman's last name, Blake, after reading the miniseries this second time.

The OMAC Project was a decent mystery and, at the very least, an above-average story. People complain that a key event, Max Lord's death, took place outside of the miniseries, in Sacrifice, but that's bull. You don't need to know the lead-up to Lord's death, and all the relevant information for the rest of The OMAC Project was contained in the first few pages of OMAC #4. OMAC wasn't about Superman and Wonder Woman, it wasn't even about Max Lord. It was about Batman, Sasha Bordeaux, and Brother Eye. Max's real purpose in the story was to die and usher in Brother Eye's autonomy and the birth of Blacknight One. It was about what Batman's omnipresent paranoia has done to the Bat-family, and by consequence, the world as a whole.
OMAC had the sort of intrigue and action that I expect from Rucka, and his love for Sasha Bordeaux really seems to border on unhealthy. Still, he has clearly established her, and by proxy, reestablished Checkmate, as vitally important players in the DCU. Her post-OMACization appearance leaves quite a bit to be's too generic, and the eye thing works better as a symbol than it does as an actual eye. She looks like Platinum, from the Metal Men, with pink-eye and a wig.
The OMAC designs were well-done, evoking Kirby while also looking menacing and inhuman.
Sidenote: how many things did OMAC stand for? "One Man Army Corps," "Observational Metahuman Activity Construct," "Omni Mind And Community"...sure is a versatile acronym.
The series really opened the door to any number of new series, from solo titles for Sasha and Booster Gold (with Fire, naturally), to a book featuring the rebuilt, restructured Checkmate, to a "different side of the tracks" look at the OMACs' quest to eliminate metahumans. I'd buy that in a heartbeat, methinks. Not bad by any means, though it didn't end up being my favorite of the titles.

Crisis of Conscience was the best JLA story in that title since Joe Kelly's run ended. That isn't saying a whole lot, after all, the competition is angsty Chuck Austen garbage, dated Chris Claremont/John Byrne spinoff-pimping, and overly complicated crossover repercussions from Busiek. Even so, it ended up being a good follow-up to Identity Crisis, and it really showed us just how splintered and compromised the League is these days.
It also gave both the heroes and villains a chance to shine. Superman saving Lois, the Flash joking even in the face of the SSoV and the League's internal problems, Aquaman kicking ass and taking names, and Despero being the supervillain he deserves to be. Oh, and freaking awesome appearances by Catwoman and the Red freakin' Tornado! Besides delving into the murky moral darkness of Identity Crisis, it gave us a kickass "primary colors" superhero battle, and I couldn't ask for much more.

Rann-Thanagar War. You know, I love Adam Strange, and I really enjoyed the recent miniseries featuring the character. I love Kyle Rayner, I like Captain Comet, I like Starman, and I'm a fan of the Hawk-people. I love epic space adventures, and Adam Strange made me interested enough in the Omega Men to pick up some back issues of their series.
Yet Rann-Thanagar War was intensely boring. Sure, there were big space battles and betrayals and political struggles and murderous gods, but the sheer volume of characters and locations and events made for a muddled read.
Some of the storytelling choices, too, were suspect. It really stood out to me when Captain Comet talked about how he sent Shayera's body into Polaris, in accordance with Thanagarian customs. Rather than spend a page talking about what they did with Shayera's body, I would have greatly preferred a solemn splash page where they actually committed her body to the heart of the star. "Show, don't tell" is typically the cardinal rule of literature. Unfortunately, there was a lot of telling in Rann-Thanagar, and we sure could have used a scorecard to tell who was where at what time and on what side. I couldn't tell you who the Okaarans were fighting with as opposed to the Durlans, and a dozen other worlds were involved. I really wanted to like this story, but it was a twelve-issue maxiseries, cut up and randomly assembled into a six-issue miniseries.

Then, there's Infinite Crisis, which is a little too early to judge. I wish we could have seen more of the new Freedom Fighters before they were dispatched. The Ray and Damage survived, and Uncle Sam...the man is a symbol of the spirit of the United States. It's no accident that his "lying in the gutter" scene was juxtaposed with the scene of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman's falling out. Sam was defeated because these symbols of the American spirit are divided between shining optimism, militaristic pragmatism, and paranoid isolationism. The scene with Mongul is intentionally evocative of "For the Man who has Everything," a story where Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman were at the height of their friendship, and Superman was driven almost to kill, but refused to do so. Here, we see it play out differently, with the fractured group not only failing to defeat Mongul, but Superman has to stop Wonder Woman from killing Mongul, rather than stopping himself.


Let's all go to the lobby, let's all go to the lobby...

Overall: There are a few overarching themes at play throughout the various stories. The foremost of these is, as I believe Geoff Johns has said, "what it means to be a hero." Blue Beetle starts off the theme, acting even when all his friends have snubbed him, even stripped of his fortune and disrespected by the superhero community. He had several opportunities and reasons to give up the hunt, but he went through with it, staying true to his heroic nature even up to the end, even when he could have traded his integrity for his continued life. We see the Shadowpact and Captain Marvel making the same choices throughout Day of Judgment. They have little reason to be fighting the Spectre on behalf of the magic community, and they certainly don't have the ability or name power or experience to back up their gumption. Sasha Bordeaux doesn't act like much of a hero until after she is tragically altered into Blacknight One, and she finally stops following Max's destructive plan. Rann-Thanagar War shows us that heroes do not owe allegiance to one world over another, but to the universe, to the greater good. Even Villains United showed us that true heroes stick together and fight 'til the end, even when those heroes are villains. We see that heroes aren't necessarily the big seven, in their capes and tights and insignias. Heroes abound in the DCU. Catman struck Green Arrow for two major reasons: one, because Ollie had betrayed Catman's respect of him by involving himself in a group that would engage in such underhanded tactics, and two, because both of them are Batman-based characters. Ollie left the Batman model behind years back, while Catman has only now begun approaching it again, but Ollie betrayed their ideological progenitor. Ollie and Thomas are very similar people, when it comes right down to it, and Thomas felt betrayed when Ollie allowed that line to be crossed.

And that leads to the second theme, the one that I think will have the most effect on the DCU as a whole: there are no "strings." Booster Gold and Blue Beetle talk about their status low on the superhero ladder, Lex Luthor mulls over being turned down by a D-list villain like Catman, a bunch of nobodies take on the Spectre...we see throughout these stories that the caste system, which even the heroes and villains have accepted, is artificial and unrealistic. The writers here seem to be saying that every hero and villain is worthwhile, no matter their background or abilities. The Calculator--the freakin' Calculator!--has become one of the most feared, powerful villains in the world! Infinite Crisis has been about the triumph of the underdog and the importance of the "second-" and "third-stringers."

Of course, to have an underdog, you have to have some insurmountable obstacle. In this case the demon is in the corruption of absolute power and good intentions. Brother Eye was designed by Batman to watch the watchmen, to keep tabs on the metahumans in case someone went rogue. The Spectre's quest against magic started because he hoped to wipe out evil and end the need for his existence. The Rann-Thanagar war was escalated by the Rannians harboring Thanagarian refugees. The splintering of the Justice League and the revenge of Despero and the Secret Society were due to the League's hope to protect their loved ones. Even Luthor's Society was supposedly to unite villains so that they would not be victims of the League's mind-alterations. Powerful forces in the DCU put their power to work for a greater good, yet these attempts are corrupted by outside forces, or by internal difficulties.

I think the Golden Age Superman and his friends there in their paradise see a DCU that, as a whole, has become darker and more pessimistic. This corruption is not just due to the forces at work in the various groups, but to an apparent quality of the universe (hearkening back to JLA: Earth 2, where they said that good always triumphed in our universe). The best of intentions have been turned toward dark purposes, and Superman wants to change that.

My predictions? None of these are right, I'm sure, since I'm not Devon Who Erreth Not, but I might luck out.
  • The person who attacked Martian Manhunter was not the Golden Age Superman. It was either Supergirl, who I'm still convinced is probably evil (under Darkseid's control still?), or it was our Superman, under the control of Despero or possibly Psycho Pirate (my guess is Despero, in that case). The more I think about it, it almost had to be Supergirl, judging by J'onn's reaction...he thought it was Superman already. Either way, Golden Age Superman hadn't broken through to our universe yet.

  • Despero is behind Checkmate. He has always been up for a good game of chess with the League; he was controlling Max Lord (possibly through Despero and L-Ron's connection?), and had Max break down Superman's brain so that he could control him himself. Come on, that defeat by Zatanna was way too easy.

  • Catwoman wasn't mindwiped, or if she was, it didn't take. It's going to be her care and guidance that brings Batman back from his isolationist funk. This will bring her further into the Bat-family, but will also draw greater fire from other villains upon her, as her old contacts will now see her as a traitor. If I were coming up with this stuff, I'd have her torn between her feelings for Batman and a newfound attraction for Catman, who is more and more becoming the Batman that Batman used to be (with more of a mean streak), which is also symbolic of her struggle between her past and future, her conflict between heroism and crime.

  • Starro. 'Nuff said.

  • Shazam ain't dead. That rock falls on him with amazing frequency; he's a member of the Quintessence, he won't go down that easily.

  • The new Blue Beetle will be a latina girl, whose name will either be Maria, or something close to "Shayera." She will be the reincarnation of Shayera Hol, aged by the Beetle to adulthood like Hector Hall was when he became Dr. Fate. She will not have all her predecessor's memories, but will take Beatriz "Fire" DaCosta as a mentor. This will serve to further unite the Dr. Fate/Hawkman/Shazam families, and will bring Blue Beetle into the fold.

  • Booster Gold isn't going back to the future, or if he is, he'll find it a very different place than when he left.

  • The Atom will be back soon, and will be crucial to winning the epic battle of Infinite Crisis.

  • Ronnie Raymond will return to the Firestorm family over the One Year Gap. I expect he'll be acting in an advisory capacity like Professor Stein did.
    Speaking of Professor Stein, he's the alien entity that Jason encountered in one of the recent Firestorm issues. Either that, or it's his successor as Fire Elemental.
    Didn't Wally West mention at some point recently that he never met the Tornado Twins? I imagine that his twins will have some greater connection to them than they already have through the family line.

  • As Billy Batson begins coping with life away from the Rock of Eternity, he will spend more time at the JSA headquarters. This will lead to Stargirl feeling more torn between Atom Smasher and Billy.

More to come. Damn, that was a long post.

Read Much, Much More


Mark Fossen said...

And that leads to the second theme, the one that I think will have the most effect on the DCU as a whole: there are no "strings."
I see what you're saying here ... but at the same time, the whole Crisis seems predicated on a concept of The Big Three. It's as if there are The Three, and everyone else ...

Tom Foss said...

True enough, but it's based around what happens to the rest of the universe when the big three break apart. The DCU, I think, will find itself as a whole too reliant on that "Holy Trinity," and the compensation will be to even the playing field, so to speak.

The holy trinity, the "big three," the top string has fallen apart. The very fact of that really supports the idea that the 'strings' are outmoded.