Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Secret of the Girl Behind the Boobs

Last week's issue officially kicked off the Infinite Crisis event with admittedly less than shaky results. It was a story that didn't know how to thread the thematic core conflict it wished to tell into the action of the story, resulting in an issue in which the Big Three stood around bickering while we would occasionally cut to action elsewhere, most of which were bleedover from ongoing stories happening in other books that weren't well explained enough for me to fathom what was actually happening, but giving me enough of a glimpse to realize that there were nuggets of actually interesting stories in the margins. I don't know. Maybe now when I'm writing this in late 2016, I'm exhausted from a decade of hero vs hero events, that dedicating the launch of a cosmic level event to the internal conflict of these three just left me feeling like this event might have some framing issues.

Issue #2 turned out to be a bit better, although I honestly think the story had nowhere to go but up.

We start out at the home of Animal Man, where he is looking for his space suit before he can head out to join the Titans' "Save the Entire Universe" coalition. He explains to his wife that his powers (which I assume uses the same sort of principal as Vixen's, minus the mystical totem) have been going haywire ever since the crisis began, not unlike how dogs can tell when there is going to be an earthquake.
How literal a "moon base" can we get on a Titan salary?

The Escher stairs are being installed
next Thursday. 
He teleports by super speed pinball (?) to the staging area of the mission, which looks to be a cyberpunk version of an ancient Greek cityscape nestled into an asteroid shaped like a crescent moon (or maybe a moon that has been hollowed out to look more cartoonish). This is New Cronus, which doubles as their method to getting to the center of the universe. It turns out this thing is also a ship, which sounds incredibly implausible.

It turns out that Animal Man isn't the only canary in the proverbial coal mine, as a character whose brain is basically a ham radio starts flipping out over all the SOS signals he's getting from across the universe. A bit of research showed that this kid is Hal Jordan's nephew, also named Hal Jordan. I wonder if they initially tried to pass him off as the real Hal Jordan after the last reality reboot, like with the new Wally West.

We finish this scene drawing our attention to Supergirl, who tells us that there is no word in Kryptonian for "escape." Will that fascinating xenolinguistic anecdonte amount to anything in this narrative? Don't hold your breath.

Even a giant's hands aren't big enough to
cover up the ladies.
The only reason I can think of why they would end this page with her is that the following opens with a shot of Power Girl. My knowledge of Power Girl is pretty much limited to the New 52 World's Finest series. I somehow suspect in between Infinite Crisis and the New 52, they concluded that her breasts were cartoonishly over-sized... like the artist used a then-contemporary Pamela Anderson as a point of reference. I'm going to come back to this, undoubtedly, but let me just warn you that her physical proportions are... disconcerting.

"She's a Barbie Girl in a Male Gaze World..."
I don't want to fixate on Power Girl's breasts, but the fact of the matter is the artist is making it impossible not to. Power Girl is well-known for her ample bosoms, I was surprised about just how ridiculous they are. They are so endowed that half the time, it makes her head look shrunken. Even with a giantess on the scene, it's her breasts that cause me to wonder whether or not that can actually exist in nature. She looks like pretty messed up.

What good is a cape if I can see your ass?!
Between her extreme "WWE Divas" musculature, breasts that would put Dolly Parton to shame, and a costume that both puts the girls out on display while also basically being an arrow pointing to her vaginal area she basically resembles less a superhero than the embodiment of the toxic male gaze.

There must have been a different artist for the cover because Power Girl looks a lot less like a short-haired Anna Nicole Smith doll that's been through the wash a couple times and a lot more like a viable human form. The ladies are still very much on display, mind you. The artist clearly knows how to advertise to 12-year-olds who are into boobs. In fact, they even extended an olive branch to the butt crowd with the variant cover. Seriously, how is her cape fluttering up like that when they are indoors at an extra-dimensional room full of reality tv screens?

Kal-L narrates about her post-crisis background. This version of Power Girl was discovered on Earth an amnesiac doppelganger (I think the writer meant "Jane Doe," unless there is a definition of doppelganger I'm unaware of) and that she has gone through life without a sense of direction or importance, and yet she keeps fighting. Given that, he is proud of her and quite happy to greet her when he rushes in to assist her when outnumbered and greets her as his cousin.
Stranger danger, Karen! Call an adult!

I am going to put a pin in the Kal-L and Power Girl story for now because that's really going to be the main thrust of this issue.

For now though, we have a lot of  one-or-two-page-long vignettes about all the other things going on in the DC Universe. Some of these tie in to what we've seen last issue, while others-- just like last time-- feel completely random and we don't get a full explanation.

At the Daily Planet, Perry White assigns Lois to write on the recently uncovered bodies of the Freedom Fighters (Ray and Uncle Sam are still MIA). He seems particularly riled up over this story because "they were American heroes."

Like I said last time, I feel like this team was selected for the chopping block because of the built-in patriotic symbolism. Keep in mind, this was conceived of and written in the years immediately following 9/11. I guess it was still in the era when playing up American patriotism and using clunky symbolism in order to achieve a galvanized sense of national pride was still considered moving instead of distasteful.

Mind you, I'm not taking as much issue with the idea as much as the execution. The Freedom Fighters are career C-listers. In fact, if you look up C-List Fodder on TVTropes, DC Comics has its own sub-heading and the Freedom Fighters feature prominently. If not for the fact that the team is led by a guy who goes around looking like Uncle Sam, this team would have been in the clear. This team got taken from their habitual role of warming the proverbial bench just because DC editorial needed someone to die to kick off their event while also blatantly tugging at the heartstrings of post-9/11 America.

Did I mention this came out the same year as Marvel's Civil War storyline?

Lois finds her spouse around the office, staring pensively at a framed headline from that time he died, which I suspect would be a sore subject to begin with let alone last issue Batman put salt in the wound by accusing Clark of not being inspirational since then. Just to give you a frame of reference, the Death of Superman arc ended in January of 1993 and he was back before that year was out. In the intervening time, Superman has had twelve years' worth of series across multiple solo titles as well as being a mainstay of Justice League. To accuse Superman of not being inspirational in all that time is cold and unfeeling even by the standards of Batman.

Ever get the feeling that you're reading a book set in the Darkest Timeline from Community?

I feel like they wanted to put in a pep talk, but for the sake of squeezing everything into this book, Clark settles for a kiss. Then he just switches from his Kent persona to Superman in the middle of the hallway (I guess it's a secluded wing of the office) and goes off to... something(?) I think he might have been going to seek out the Secret Society, considering without his super hearing he and presumably everyone in a five floor radius has heard Perry's half of his conversation with Lois. Seriously, Perry White's superhero handle would be "ALLCAPS MAN."

Speaking of the Secret Society, there is a two page sequence that is essentially just housekeeping and letting the reader know which books to read based on which villains they like. It's a handful of characters in presumably a "secret volcano lair" coordinating plans with characters on monitors and telling you where other characters who are visible on monitors will be. For me, this kind of scene is a lot like getting a flu shot. It's quick, it's necessary, but I will find any number of things to do other than read this kind of scene.

However, we get a twist when we immediately discover who has been eavesdropping on this entire scene. Even though he is a participant in this scene: Lex Luthor. But this Lex doesn't know why he's hearing himself on his radio. Also, the reader doesn't know why he's in his super Silver Age green and purple power suit. Then again, having only a touch and go understanding of post-Crisis DC, I wonder why he is an older bald man instead of a ruggedly  handsome bearded ginger or why he's not president. Or why he's an outright villain instead of a sly puppetmaster who manages to keep his hands clean. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say the retro power suited Lex is an extra dimensional hand-me-down who somehow ended up here when Kal-L punched a hole in reality.

Well that tacky color combo would make
anyone have trouble thinking straight.
What is weird to Lex is that just as he is about to launch into a villain speech, his brain basically shuts down on him. He forgets what he was about to say, he can't seem to get a clear thought, and not even he knows what he's doing in that garish battle suit. Just then, he looks up to see the telltale sign of two blue and red streaks shoot across the sky....

Meanwhile, Booster Gold is back from a jaunt through the timestream. Good to know he left. And he's back to retrieve his OTP's prized possession, the Blue Beetle Scarab, which last we saw what accidentally dropped in the Wizard Shazam's cave. I bet the Spectre killing him for... reasons... will throw a wrench into that plan and that DC is heavily convinced that this glorified cameo will pique your interest in finding out what happened to Kord's alien and/or magic bug thing.

A real world decision in the writer's room must have been to reverse the best tie-in scenes for Wonder Woman and Batman characters to make up for how awfully the came off looking last issue.

First we get this incredibly amazing scene where the Joker is torturing a member of the Royal Flush Gang. In case the name doesn't give it away, they are a playing card-themed team of villains, traditionally they tend to be thieves or hired muscle for villains with much higher schemes. It seems he's miffed about being at being left out of Luthor's Secret Society Games. And of course King of Spades has no problem with calling a spade a spade and telling him off. Joker electrocutes him to death with his joy buzzer. Well, what did you think was going to happen, King?

Then as Joker walks away, we see all the dismembered, maimed, and otherwise dead bodies of the RF gang. Sometimes, I forget just how effective a character the Joker can be. I generally view him the way I view Deadpool. He's at his best when he's used in moderation and becomes less engaging when he is at the center of drawn out arcs, or in recent cinematic past, in films he didn't need to be in. Also, "body horror" Joker really doesn't work for me either.
Alfred: He'll regret this when I write my tell-all book.

In the Batcave, Alfred is trying to treat Bruce's injuries, but it is clear that Batman is growing unhinged. Or, well, even more unhinged for a guy who runs around dressed like a bat so that he can punch people with actual superpowers into submission. Once he yells at Alfred to go away, his computer screens light up with a pink light and we see a giant Egyptian-style eye.

Bruce recognizes it as Brother Eye. And it's here that we find out that he created this thing in order to spy on meta humans and other terrestially based super-powered beings basically because he's still miffed over Zatana erasing five minutes of his memory. Imagine if she'd erased the memory of seeing his parents get gunned down right in front of him. Maybe his personality would have adjusted seismically and he could be a sane, well-adjusted person.

Not only is Brother Eye the result of Batman's paranoia, but it turns out so are the OMACs. Yeah, Brother Eye is so committed to his programmed mission statement to keep meta-humans from threatening the Earth (read: "Bruce Wayne's fragile sense of security") that it turned apparently thousands of unsuspecting humans into sleeper cyborgs who can be activated and having their free will overridden at a moment's notice in order to achieve Brother Eye's objectives.
I feel like THIS should have been more of a focal point.

Brother Eye also has a quirk of saying "Eye" instead of "I" when using the first person singular and I have a hard time deciding if that would be more irritating in print or out loud.

Finally, we cut to Themiscyra, where Wonder Woman and a cadre of female superheroines are all battling the OMACs. There's not much to say about it, but it is truly a spectacular bit of action that, once again we only get a glimpse of.
Also would have light THIS to be the main conflict.

Finally, we return to the Kal-L/Power Girl story. Keep in mind, this is the subplot they decided to feature on the cover. It's what they are using to sell this issue. Want to know what earth-shattering plot point happens? Do you think you can handle this? Okay, get ready for your jaws to drop to the floor.
Her breasts are WAY too close to her cousin's crotch. Just sayin'...

Kal-L and Alexander Luthor summarize a twenty-year-old storyline. I mean, they do eventually restore Power Boob Girl's mammaries memories, but essentially they exist in this issue to be an expositor and an audience surrogate. To be fair, it had been 20 years since Crisis on Infinite Earths and there are younger readers and casual readers who inevitably need some context. However, seven of 28 pages, a full quarter of the issue is dedicated to explaining an old plotline, including the complex multiverse cosmology. Exposition is a thankless chore, granted, but this one feels like a thankless chore that has been heavily labored in the hopes of getting a pat on the back afterwards.

Also, the exposition paints D-Cups as this special, special snowflake who managed to survive the Crisis because she has a unique purpose. He thinks she is the sole individual from Earth 2 slipped through the cracks of reality because she must have some important destiny. But clearly the writer only read a summary of the event he is failing to succinctly summarize because this conclusion is emphatically not what we learned in the original. In fact Kal-L's description of events even covers.

Basically, everyone who was at the site of the battle with the Anti-Monitor at the beginning of time survived when the Earths were all merged into one. Most of the non-Earth-1 remainders ended up being killed afterward, except Earth-2's Kal-L and his Lois Lane-Kent, and Earth-Prime's Superboy, who all went to live in a heavens pocket universe. Everyone else had no doppelgangers who survived-- that includes Wonder Bra here because Earth-1's Supergirl famously died in Crisis and up until very recently DC's publication history, the Supergirls that appeared afterward explicitly wasn't "Superman's younger cousin." In fact the new Supergirl who had surfaced a few years earlier was "Superman's older cousin who just seems younger because... plot stuff."

Hell. She isn't even the sole survivor of Earth-2. I know that Jay Garrick is around, and even in this issue, we saw Psycho-Pirate, as well as Alan Scott and at least one of his children. This explanation Kal-L is giving her does not hold up well under scrutiny.

Finally we find out what Kal-L's objective is. He thinks that the wrong Earth survived Crisis. In case you didn't read my last installment, he arrived at this conclusion because they did nothing in their supposed heaven dimension by watching nothing but vast numbers of screens showing events playing out on New Earth.

Have you tried flying around the
Earth counter-clockwise?
One plot point that I have failed to mention until now, in fact the comic doesn't reveal it until very late as well, is that upon leaving their heavenly reality, Earth-2 Lois immediately started dying. Kal-L immediately explains that this is what the existing reality does: it actively targets the elderly and kills them. Maybe one of the channels they got in that heavenly screening room was playing Final Destination.

My interpretation of events is that Lois was already old back in 1985. Living in this pocket dimension basically halted the ravages of time and leaving it basically caused the ravages of time to catch up with them. The others all have reason why they don't visibly age, but from Kal-L's perspective, it's as though this world is actively targeting Lois.

Well, of course, you think the world is fucked when you do nothing but watch reality TV all day.

Now he is determined to fix it by restoring Earth-2 to existence and erase the existing reality. Bearing in mind that Earth-2 has a more Golden Age wholesome affect to it, it's like someone saying "life was better in the good old days" except Kal-L has the power to bust through reality like the Kool-Aid guy, so he possibly could make this happen, regardless of how adversely this could effect the billions of lives of the extant reality.

Ye gods! Earth-2 Superman has become an incredibly well meaning Donald Trump and he sincerely does want to make the DC Universe great again. He's out of touch with reality. He surrounds himself with yes men (one is literally hid younger self). He plans to ruin the world in order to bring his idea of "great again" into being. He mansplains. He gets angry at the TV. And he's looking a bit too longingly at a younger female family member who is well-endowed. Ye gods, when will he start tweeting angrily at the cast of Hamilton or SNL?!

I'm scared.

Send help.

I was going for a "Superman in a Trump hat" picture, but this just feels better.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Dr. Claw's Judgment-O-Vision

Last time, I hypothesized that Countdown to Infinite Crisis was a "Zero Issue" to Infinite Crisis. Countdown and issue #1 of Infinite Crisis that it launches with a completely different status quo from where we left off last time. In fact, I felt so lost after reading this week's issue that I did some cursory research in my totally legit database that I swear to Zeus isn't wikipedia (full disclosure, it was wikipedia) and found out that Countdown wasn't the launching point for Infinite Crisis, but instead launched four six-issue mini-series that lead into Infinite Crisis. Even worse, last week's read is also referred to as Prelude to Infinite Crisis. Uh-huh. DC Comics, someone needs to sit you down and explain what the words "Countdown" and "Prelude" mean.

Foolish me. I was emphatically wrong. So much shit apparently went down betwixt

Yeah, if it seems like this revelation is abhorrent to me, then congratulations on your basic ability to pick up context clues. The fact that the issue which was supposed to launch an event actually launched four separate series that you need to read to follow what's going on here is on the one hand evil genius, provided the entire fanbase follows all the series and nobody is cherry picking their titles. On the other hand, it's a pretty dumb move. The four mini-series are six issues long and the main event is seven. That means this entire narrative from Countdown to the conclusion took over a year to tell. And keep in mind, that events usually drag the entire existing publication line with them. Cross-over exhaust can drive away an audience just as easily as bad story-telling... which tends to be a frequent companion of company-wide events in shared universe comics, surprisingly enough.

But on the other hand, this blog's mission statement is diving into the deep end with these giant events and trying to suss things out with as little additional reading as possible. So from that perspective, this is DC giving me a gift. We thank you for this bounty we are about to receive.

We start the issue with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman arriving at the Justice League's lunar base, The Watch Tower, which has been left in ruins following attack. Like I mentioned, there has been six months' worth of stories between where we left off in Countdown, so as easy as it would be to postulate that this was an attack by Luthor's united villains (in fact one of the mini series leading up to this was called Villians United), until the story tells me otherwise, I'm just going to assume that this was the result of a structural problem, maybe even termites. "Termites on the moon" sounds like a hilariously awful B-Movie from the 50s that MST3K would have screened, now that I think of it.

Batman and Superman appraise the damage, and Batman finds the Watchtower's black box. They determine that Martian Manhunter wasn't on-site when the assault happened. They don't state whether anyone else was around, but to be fair, despite having multiple cover identities on Earth, J'onn tends to be treated like an extension of the Watchtower.

And yes, her cape game is slaying it. 
Batman and Superman are not pleased that Wonder Woman is in attendance, declaring that she doesn't belong there. I think they're going all "he-man woman haters club" because she's horning in on their cape game and out-doing the both of them, but the reason they cite for their hostility is because she kind of had this oopsy daisy moral event horizons in which she snapped the neck of arch villain and career manipulator, Maxwell Lord.

You'll remember him from my last entry as the man who coordinated the complete ruination of Blue Beetle's life, then shot him square between the eyes when he refused to join up with his clearly evil organization. I really don't think I'm going to loose any sleep over this.

They treat this like this was a severe betrayal of the ethics of the justice league and throughout the issue, there will be a lot of discussion between these three. Yup. The holy trinity of DC comics are going to spend the premiere issue of this major event going having the worst group therapy session. It's threaded throughout the issue, but the summary of it is that Bats and Supes think Wonder Woman has lost her way because she took a life.

Now, I do acknowledge that the popular conception of Superman and Batman is that they both hold true to the belief that they do not kill. That being said, both characters actually have killed. Granted, at least in the post-crisis instances, these weren't done lightly. But none of these instances were grounds for the other Justice Leaguers to subject her to a good old-fashioned Amish shunning and it only serves to make Clark and Bruce look sanctimonious and preachy.

In fact, I think they care less about her killing than the fact that she did it on live television where the entire world could see. One of the most legendary members of the League committing homicide for all the world to see is probably hell on their PR. I'm assuming the Justice League is a lot like the Avengers and whenever there is a major re-working of the lineup, there is a press field day and a public reveal, so more than likely they are just on edge at the thought of having to field pesky reporter questions about ethics and excessive force. Also, since I didn't read the mini-series that occurred in, I'm going to go out on a ledge and say that, being a poor man's Lex Luthor, Lord managed to do enough to provoke Wonder Woman without ever being publicly outed as a supervillain.

Then, still in the wake of this abysmal election cycle, I can't help but note that Wonder Woman is being held to a higher standard that Batman or Superman. It reminds me of how the Grand High Oompa Loompa was laughably unqualified to run around the block, let alone for the presidency (and the revelations since the elections have only made that clearer), whereas Clinton was basically put through the wringer basically because she was less than perfect. I really feel like that's what's going on here. Batman has had some really dark chapters and Superman has been know to kill as a last resort, too. And yet it is beyond the pale when Wonder Woman does it because girls are supposed to run around with their little lassos, play nice, and set a good example. Seriously, fuck that noise.
Still less damning that Trump's "grab 'em by the pussy."

Their discussion ends up devolving into just a general airing of grievances and they all decide the effort isn't worth it. Before they can all go on their separate ways however, they are ambushed by Mongul. I only vaguely remember him from Young Justice (which is sad in light of the fact that he was voiced by Keith David), but the general gist I got was that he is an alien conquering warlord type with a history of getting repelled by the Justice League. I didn't see the need to do too much research on him because honestly, he's really only here because the heroes need something to hit.

In another era, giving them a common enemy to vanquish would be a good way to bring them together towards a common goal and help them put their differences aside, but in this book, once the fight is over, they just resume their pithy argument. It's actually pretty Whedonesque how very little Mongul factors in once he's gone. He might as well have been a whack-a-mole that they could have knocked down repeatedly over the course of their spat.
Ugh. Action? Didn't anyone tell you this is a debate issue, Mongul?

For the sake of brevity (I know, I know. I'm working on it), the key arguments against each character is as follows:

  • Wonder Woman has grown too hard-lined and alienating to the world.
  • Batman's paranoid mentality has made him even harder to work with than usual
  • Superman is too human and doesn't seem like the god-like optimistic beacon of hope he once was. 
The arguments on all three sides are heated, albeit contrived, but they abruptly stop for no real reason. They just say "we're done here?" Thus, they peel off. Again, a forced ending to a forced argument. 

The narration, mind you, is someone who has been watching this and everything else that happens as though he's watching in a room full of surveillance monitors and he's pretty disheartened that not only have the world's three greatest heroes found themselves in such a dark place at present but they've lost faith in each other.

This is the A Plot of the issue. Yup. The selling point of the for-real for-real launch of this major company-wide crossover is a passive aggressive peer review between the three biggest names in DC. All I can say is, shrug. 

Of course, there is a cohesive B Plot in the story, which I will get to in due course, but there is also a few glimpses we get of the rest of the DC universe that I want to cover first. Many of these things touch of the many ongoing plot threads as well as the results of the mini series that all feed into this narrative. 
My boyfriend has a lot of emotional investment in seeing
Conner's arms and this issue let him down so hard...

Conner Kent seems to be in semi-retirement at the Kent Farm, watching footage of the Teen Titans fighting an army of Lord's O.M.A.C.s and is almost tempted to fly off when he has a crisis of confidence and buttons his shirt back up. My guess is that the events of the Titans/Young Justice crossover, Graduation Day immediately preceded this. I haven't read it, but if memory serves, both teams lost a few members and ended up disbanding. I think the two teams to be to be folded in together and relaunched later, but for now Superboy is feeling to shell shocked and burnt out to throw himself back into the mix. His Aunt Martha (I find it very cute that he calls her that) is supportive of him and tells him, "the world needs a Superboy. And right now you're all they've got." 

Hmm... that doesn't seem like something to keep tabs on, does it? 

Elsewhere Supergirl and Nightwing meet up with the Titans. Mainly this scene serves to set them up on their respective courses. Supergirl and the Titans are off to recruit as many as possible to help save the universe (and remind the audience that Donna Troy has been newly revived) and Nightwing is off to do some street-level heroing. 
Do you mind, narrator? They're having a moment, here.

Again, that narrator sounds incredibly judgmental about Dick and Kory's on-again, off-again relationship. Who is this asshole just observing everyone from the shadows à la Dr. Claw and making incredibly judgmental about people's interpersonal relationships? What a dick. 

Also, lest we forget that we're moving on, the Titans are off the save the freaking universe. And yet this is only a sub-plot here. It pales in comparison to the thrilling story of Supes, Bats, and WW airing out their dirty laundry, right?

As Nightwing swings across the city, we catch a glimpse of a homeless man apparently being forcibly transformed into an O.M.A.C. then join a throng of others who are swarming in the skies above. This version of O.M.A.C. certainly does seem to be derivative of the Prime Sentinels from Marvel's "Operation: Zero Tolerance" storyline...

Elsewhere, the Green Lanterns are struggling to stop the fighting of the Rann/Thanagar conflict, but it's a struggle. It seems like the Guardians aren't as effective as they ought to be, according to the characters. I personally think the Guardians' leadership is about as useful as the Time Lords, the Watcher's Council, or the attendees at any town hall meeting on Parks and Recreation. Apparently, their home planet of Oa is no longer the center of the universe and that is effecting their ability to effectively aid in the crisis. I guess it's effecting their connection to the power source of the green aspect of the emotional spectrum. 

Nothing to see here, folks, we'll get you back to that
riveting pissing contest in a moment. 
Over in Gotham, the Riddler's latest showdown with the police gets upstaged by the Spectre, who has killed the wizard Shazam. The Wizard Shazam is one of the mightiest sources of magic in DC and the Guardian of the Rock of Eternity. He's a fundamental being in the DCU. Killing him is about on par with destroying gravity. Yeah, that's sounds like it has to be a fairly huge deal. And yet we only get a glimpse of that. Because Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman's rendition of the blame game is the real reason you shelled out the money for this issue, amirite?

Finally, we arrive upon the B Plot: the Freedom Fighters. In case you don't remember who these guys are, they are a team of heroes from a different reality who were folded into the main continuity at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths. And they are led by Uncle Sam. Yes, the symbolic embodiment of the United States is a DC character. And he's one of the rare DC characters with ridiculous origins who doesn't have a newer, darker, edgier redesign in this era. He still pretty much looks like he hopped right off a military recruitment poster. 

A whole bunch of heavy hitters... and Dr. Light. I just don't get it.
Don't get attached to these guys because they are super doomed. Apparently, Uncle Sam got a hot tip about criminal activity going on in this dark and clearly secluded, closed in place that screams "TRAP!" Surprisingly to them, it turns out to be a trap and they are besieged by Lex Luthor's Secret Society of Super Villains. And the kid gloves are off. This entire issue keeps hammering in the fact that the modern world of superheroes is darker, more violent, and unpleasant and this fight does more to illustrate that than the pages upon pages of the Big Three constantly telling each other how they've lost their way. We see some pretty graphic deaths. Human Bomb literally gets pummeled to death by Bizarro. Phantom Lady gets completely run through by Deathstroke the Terminator (I don't know if "Sorry, darlin', just business," makes it better or worse). 

Giving his faceplate a smile only makes him
The only two who aren't decisively killed by the end of this issue are Uncle Sam, whom we last see getting blasted by Sinestro, but not definitively killed, and Ray, who is psionically subdued by the worst piece of trash villain from the last DC Crisis I read, Psycho-Pirate. You'll remember him as the one villain in all of the multiverse who sided with the primordial villain who threatened to wipe out every single dimension in existence. He's an opportunist, sadistic, and a pathological narcissist, so while I'm displeased at the sight of him, maybe I'll have fun watching the shit beat out of him. 

*Correction: Uncle Sam is confirmed dead during the end of the triumvirate's squabble. Because that's where it will get the attention it deserves. 

I didn't even notice it on my first read-through. That's how poorly placed it is. It's only because reading on Comixology in the guided panel-to-panel format that I saw it. Now that I have, however, all I can say is, really guys? That's laying the symbolism on a little too thick, isn't it? Just as communication finally breaks down completely between the trinity, it is then that it is revealed that the living embodiment of freedom is dead. Oh, you guys are are just so clever. You wove that in like a quilt. Pat yourselves on the back. Then ram your heads into a wall. What? Did you all learn subtlety from the films of John Waters?

Speaking of Crisis On Infinite Earths, perhaps you were wondering who is his who have been omnisciently narrating the proceedings. Well, it turns out he is one of four observers and the consensus in the private extra-dimensional screening room is that the DCU has turned into a shit show and the only recourse is for some audience participation. To that end, the narrator begins punching the view screen. Ah, I can recall being but a wee bairn and not quite understanding that the cartoons I watched were only projections on a screen and wondering how I could get past the glass to join them. Fortunately, I never tried smashing my way through. I'm sure my mom is happy that I never needed stitches for that reason, at least. 

This character is more successful than I would have been and by breaking through the weird wall of view screens, he has burst through a dimensional barrier, bringing him and his cohorts into the main DC Universe and at last we see who our observers are, good old Kal-L, the elderly Superman of Earth-2, his wife Lois Lane, Alexander Luthor, the son of Earth-3's heroic Lex Luthor, and the Superboy of Earth-Prime. That's the Earth WE THE READERS live in, mind you. Yup. Shit's gonna get weird. 

Yup. Everything is going to pot and our supposed rescuer
just broke reality. That's a good sign
If you'll recall, for reasons that I cannot remember right now, these four were stranded outside reality in an effort to stop the Anti-Monitor once and for all from destroying the newly squished together New Earth at the ending of Crisis On Infinite Earths. Alexander Luthor used the remnants of his tapped out anti-matter powers to create a pocket dimension (and also managed to spare Lois-2 from being wiped out of existence) so that the four of them could have  a happy ending together. 

Of course, nobody said anything about them being forced to sit in a dark room and seemingly do nothing but watch life unfold in the main reality in their happy ending. And not only did they have to watch what was happening, they had to watch the 90s. Think of all the horrors they witnessed. The death of Superman. Bane breaking Batman's spine. So many bad battle armor redesigns... If you were Golden Age Superman, you'd think the 90s and 00s were the dystopian future you'd usually be called upon to save, too. 

I feel like this book had a lot of material to kick off an event, but they didn't have said materials in the right proportion. The story is overwhelmingly dominated by the defining rift that has formed between Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but instead of dynamically dramatizing it, they basically just stand around talking and thus failing one of the crucial tenants of dramatic story-telling: show, don't tell. The book keeps weaving some interesting threads into the fabric of the story, but instead of following through with what could have been exciting, we keep defaulting back to the Bickersons on the Moon. Even the B-plot of this story would have generated more interest if we had seen more of it, as it isn't presented to the reader until fairly close to the end. What I'm seeing here, illustrated both in the two main plots of the issue as well as the sub-plots we touch upon, is that this event seems to be more or less the result of a lot of smaller events that happen to be happening at the same time, as opposed to in Crisis on Infinite Earths where there was one all-consuming plot that drove the over-arching narrative and whose subplots were either a by-product or a reaction to the driving narrative. This isn't horrible, but it also isn't very promising for the trajectory of the story-telling. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Passion of the Beetle

I admittedly haven't been active on the blog lately. To be fair, I think most of us have been in either in a state of shock/rage/disbelief for the past month or so. It makes the notion of sitting down to write a comics blog feel about on par with the string quartet playing while the Titanic was sinking, but at least there is something therapeutic in routine. Not that I ever think I'm going to feel like the results of the 2016 US presidential election should be normalized, but I finally found a way to channel that into my work. And that involved remembering why I started this blog to begin with.

Much like seemingly everything we know about how the Trump administration is going to run, DC's Continuity is a fucked up brier patch of confusion. If you aren't already drinking the Kool-Aid, jumping into a DC event is like jumping out of an airplane headfirst only to find out that not only was it parked, but you just slammed your head into concrete. All that's left is headaches, frustration, and the fleeting hope that this might turn out to be an object lesson about life choices.

With that in mind, we turn to DC Comics' 2005 event series, Infinite Crisis. Yes, I know. Another major DC event in which those two words are key components. Buckle up, kiddos. DC likes it's Crises and both DC and Marvel are gaga over the word "infinite" and/or "infinity." I guess the rule of cool is in full effect when you need to fabricate a global/cosmic/multiversal narrative that brings everyone no matter how far-flung they are into the narrative. Hell, Infinite Crisis even got its own sequel a couple years back with Infinite Crisis: Fight For the Multiverse. As much as I give Marvel side-eye for being lazy enough to put reuse event titles and *at most* slap a number on the title to differentiate, at least they didn't give them sub-headings that sound like they'd be suitable for a multi-player beat-em-up game. Actually, I think I'd play that game.

Of course, the Big Two's approach to events in the mid-00s was a lot different than it was in the mid-80s. Not only have maxi series like Crisis on Infinite Earths gone from being a novelty to being an anual/semi-annual standard, but there are also now additional accoutrements involved. Of course, you still have the on-going series that have to tie in to the greater narrative, but now events tend to trigger mini series, and one-shot stories to bolster the main narrative. Which brings us to today's subject: Countdown to Infinite Crisis. This is not to be confused with Countdown to Final Crisis, which is 51-issues long, and weekly and I won't be touching that unless I find myself with a lot of free time and possibly a paid gig.

No, instead Countdown to Infinite Crisis is a one-shot, albeit mammoth-size, story that hopes to catch the reader up with anyone who hasn't been reading the ongoings up until now. Of course, it's confusing when the introductory issue for your story is not actually part of the main narrative and isn't even part of the same series. When you are on a website like Comixology or diving through back issue boxes, this issue is a separate listing. Unless you were picking these issues out when they were first hitting the stands or if it is incorporated into the collected edition, the casual reader is still going into the main series blind.

I was originally going to pin it as a cheat, since the actual first issue of the actual story was not actually part of the series (books that start with a "zero" issue also teeter on this precipice), but the more I think about it, this is a series failure.

When beginning a narrative, there are two crucial moments: Point of Attack and Inciting Incident. The Point of Attack is the moment the writer chooses  to start the story. The Inciting Incident is the event or decision that causes the problem of the story. Depending on the writer's preference and the needs of the story, they can be simultaneous. The inciting incident can predate the start of a narrative, by hours, days, even years. The Inciting Incident can even happen after the Point of Attack, which is how you often see it diagrammed in your average high school English class text book. These are all acceptable options in storytelling.

What isn't an acceptable option? Writing a Point of Attack, but not making it part of the same narrative. Imagine seeing a version of Hamlet that started *after* the prince met with the ghost of his father was not only cut from the production, but also staged as an independent production, even though it isn't a complete narrative unto itself. Then again, we do live in a world where film studios thought The Hobbit had enough meat to it to warrant three separate films, so maybe I'm a minority voice in a chorus full of stupid.

And even though I've opted to include this as part of the latest stretch of blogging sessions, I'm going to afterwards try my hardest to act as though I've never laid eyes on this. In fact, considering this is nearly triple the size of an average comic, I'm going to breeze through it as quickly as possible. I might just be pointing out stupid shit more than actual important things because I'm going to play the fool and think "why wouldn't they cover this information again in the actual story?!"

We start off, 20 minutes ago according to the captions, with the Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, is sneaking into a building via the air duct system. His narration tells us that fellow leaguers like Batman and Captain Atomgenerally feel that his heart is in the right place, but his brain is not. Translated: he's probably going to get himself in trouble.

This place he's sneaking around in has one of your traditional supervillain headquarters standards that  I honestly cannot get behind: the giant computer monitor. If this were meant for mass viewing, such as training henchmen in classes (note to self: research henchmen new hire workplace training videos). But no. This looks like it's just the giant-sized monitor for someone's personal desktop. And judging by the desktop wallpaper, this is clearly a shadowy organization of some kind. Based on the icons on the bottom of the screen, it's keeping tabs on all the *other* sketchy organizations floating around the DCU. I guess that includes the Justice League because the first file BB seems to open is Batman's dossier.

Of course, I'm always a bit shaky on how many other Leaguers are privy to whose civilian identities in a given era, so I'm not entirely certain if he's simply shocked that the Knight Chesspiece Society (Knightswatch?) has intel on the secret identities of the Justice League or is he even more shocked to discover that one of the greatest superheroes in the world, JL co-founder, and one of the default JL leaders is actually the renowned womanizing, slacker trustfund baby (or "billionaire playboy," as is the popular idiom). Imagine finding out that one of the Kardashian sisters was a high-ranking Navy Seal. And not Khloe or the mom-- one of the younger ones you pretend to remember the names of. Yeah, you'd be shocked, too.

The next scene suggests that the writer doesn't grasp the concept of a "countdown" because we go from "20 minutes ago" to "four days ago." Ugh. That's not how time works, guys! Whatever.

Kord is meeting up with Barbara Gordon on her jet (I'm assuming Bruce owns any number of parent companies or just fake businesses that fund her or perhaps the Birds of Prey are heroes for hire) because Babs is one of the few people who will hear him out. Plus she's someone he's into despite her lack of interest. Yeah, Teddy boy is a virtuoso of the world's smallest violin and a bit of a creeper "niceguy." How long is this issue again? Ugh.

I don't know if it's relevant yet, but as he enters the plane, Barbara skyping with her fellow Bird of Prey, Black Canary, who suspects that their line is tapped. I'm bookmarking that in case it's important or just establishing Black Canary.

Oracle concludes that somehow Wayne Enterprises has siphoned off nearly all of Ted's company funds and dispersed it across several businesses, meanwhile OMAC is running around using his credit card. So yeah, apparently one of the best scientific minds of the DCU needed to turn to a technopathic hacker to figure out he's an identity theft victim. I'm starting to understand why everyone else crosses the street when they see Kord coming. He's probably that guy who would fall for the "IRS" phone scammers.

It turns out OMAC is just a cover for Kord's BFF, Booster Gold. He's from 500 years in the future and doesn't have an SNN and thus can't get a bank card, so I guess letting BG have a spare debit card was his way of doing him a solid. However, after decades of stories in which characters would relocated from different time periods or different realities, I'm sure the superhero community has a workaround for this sort of problem by now. Hell, even if they don't, Kord has his own company. He could have made a few phone calls and had someone cook the books to set his buddy up with a new identity, then set him up with an entry-level job within the company so he can actually provide for himself. I honestly feel bad for Booster Gold for having such a shitty friend who is either so stupid or so egotistical that he'd rather give his bestie handouts than a job.

After waxing nostalgic to the tune of the world's tiniest violin reprise about how during their JL tenure, they were rookies among giants and felt like they could never measure up (ye gods, do I not care), Blue Beetle meets up with Moocher Booster Gold. Booster. After the two have some totally heterosexual manfeels, Kord admits to his own financial problems, Booster suggests he seeks out the expert on money laundering and corporate takeover, Max Lord.

Max Lord (a version of him is on CW's Supergirl has so little impact in his scene that at first it struck me as baffling that they chose to include it. He gives some phoned in sympathy and brush-off lines like "I'll look into it," but the line that ends up sticking with Ted is "Your best days in tights are behind you. You need to stop looking backwards and start looking forwards."

I find it odd that the word choice was "in tights." Aside from the fact that "tights" is probably a pretty basic cut among the superhero community, there are plenty of bright opportunities, these gentlemen can have in tights. They are both trained combatants with accomplished athletic abilities. They could go on to have successful careers in gymnastics, ballet, or even American Gladiators.

Having arrived at a dead end with Max, Booster says he needs to go take care of his own business. What would that be? An audition for a commercial he needs to interview for. Yeah, that's what he's maxing out Kord's credit card for-- airfare for the audition. You'd imagine he would prioritized helping out a bit more, considering he's effectively a dependent, but no. In this story, Booster Gold is basically that guy who has been crashing on your couch for two months and his idea of helping out around the house is limited to making sure there is a clear path from the sofa to the bathroom, the fridge, and the area immediately around the entertainment system.

By now, you'll notice that the book has a bit of a pattern in its storytelling. That initial scene inside the secret organization's super computer provides the basic framework, with Blue Beetle pulling up their intel and footage of a given character and then transitioning to a flashback in which during various parts of Blue Beetle's investigation, he turns to each of them for assistance or at the very least moral support only to be met with some variation of "sorry, bro, not my problem." The book tends to divide itself into chapters with each character he visits being one of the dossiers on the computer. Chapter 1 is actually a bit of an outlier from this formula because we end with Batman.
Batman: DC's loner who is on every team.
Master of no social skills

Batman's scene does a fairly good job at helping to illustrate what's been going on in the greater DC universe as well as within Batman's solo series without taking the focus off Blue Beetle. The scene starts with a Gotham Gazette headline about what was then a new player in town by the name of the Red Hood. Ted's tendency to yammer on in the course of his one man pity party not only grates on the measured and taciturn Batman, but it also triggers him at the mention of Dr. Light. No, not the awesome MVP from the original Crisis, we're back to the first guy because #THISISWHYWECANTHAVENICETHINGS.

Based only from what I remember from a youtube video from Zeus only knows when, Batman is salty because the JL's Zatana erased Light's memories and when Batman objected, she wiped his memory of the incident, too. Of course, with Batman's default mode being both paranoid and right to be paranoid, he figured out what they did pretty damn quick and so now Batman is on strained terms with the League. Oh and he's actively spying on them now. Sounds about right.

Chapter 2 focuses on Superman, but it also folds Hal Jordan into it. Somehow, despite having a nearly 70-page run, there wasn't room for him to have his own focus. It's odd how the icons on the computer set it up. It includes the Justice League's Big Seven (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman), plus Shazam/Captain Marvel. In-universe these are all characters that are legends even among the superhero community. You'd think each of them was set up for their own focal section.

Low angles: emphasize the package size
in order to show dominance
But no. Green Lantern is folded into Superman's focus and he more or less functions like the messenger in a Greek tragedy would. He bids our protagonist greetings, gives him Guy Gardner's regards (I'm assuming this was thrown in because editorial insisted they use Hal even though Guy actually would have had a connection with Blue Beetle) and when Superman arrives on the scene, he relays some bad news. That is the limit of Green Lantern's appearance in this story. What he actually reports is of interest, though-- 100 lb of  kryptonite has been stolen from Kord's last remaining warehouse (again, that pesky violin). I wonder if it's the same supply that Red Hood stole from Black Mask over in the "Under The Red Hood" arc?

As for Blue Beetle's interaction with Superman, well, it seems that despite being a superhero for ages at this point and having been on presumably a few lineups with him at this point (most notably around the Death of Superman), you'd think he'd be able to keep his shit together around him, treat Superman as he would any other peer. Instead, he fangirls out a bit, somewhere between being star-struck and intimidated. Granted, Superman is a big deal in-universe, but so are just about all the other heroes he interacts with in this book.

It's an interesting character beat, but this sense insecurity around Superman doesn't add to the narrative at all. The thrust of the scene is Blue Beetle being unable to confide in Superman despite himself when Hal's report more effectively pulls Clark's focus and provides him with a reason to fly
Fun Fact: Joker has groupies other than Harley.
off before Kord can say much.

After this latest round of fail, Blue Beetle is set upon by a group of hired goons called the Madmen, who look like they were designed to look like muscular Joker henchmen. He is rescued by Booster Gold, who has inexplicably ditched his all-important audition and donned the uniform he swore he could never wear again.

Subtext: you're all fucking sheep!
Chapter 2 ends with one of the most delightful scenes in the book which doesn't tie into the narrative at all, but I'm hoping it plays a big part in the main series. It involves the Injustice Society, Dr. Light wanting retribution for having his memory erased, and Black Adam basically being the Namor of DC comics.

On a related note, chapter 3 starts with Beetle looking into Captain Marvel's background before flashing back to Kord's house. While he is at his computer trying to suss out who is siphoning off his fortune, he and Booster Gold are wondering if Ted could possibly weaponize the mystic beetle scarab that he had inherited from the original Blue Beetle... and a science hero weaponizing magic is a fun story idea. Booster, being a man from the future who thinks the internet is about on par with legos, tells Kord to step aside and let him have a shot at the computer and KA-BOOM. Yeah, The computer explodes. That happens. And it totals the house in the process. I know this is happening in a world where Kryptonians, Amazons, homo magi are running around, but that there is what threatens the delicate suspension of disbelief of this story.

Kord gets his buddy and his scarab out in the burning wreck and rather than seeing if Booster gets to the hospital safely, considering the universe has it out for them lately, he instead decides to seek out Captain Marvel. Unfortunately, Billy Batson is busy being a first tier character, so in lieu of him, Kord is met with the cryptic advice of an all-wise wizard who thinks that a 12-year-old is emotionally mature enough to handle being the living embodiment of seven divine beings. The Wizard Shazam really doesn't have the patience for Kord's whining, so he casts Teleport, sending him away but leaving his scarab in the cave.
Princess Leia Syndrome: crushing on the
girl who treats you like a little brother

Chapter Three: Wonder Woman/Martian Manhunter. We flash back to a a mission earlier in the day.
And KA-BOOM. Yeah, this time it's Kord airship, Bug, that explodes. I'm starting to think he must have cheated death at some point before this and now we are in a comic book adaptation of Final Destination.

Kord wakes up in the infirmary of the JL's moonbase, the Watchtower. Wonder Woman has been looking after him. Again, there is little meat to her scene. She's more supportive than Batman or Superman were, but that's all that can be said about it. Her scene also commits a heinous sin of storytelling by having Ted Kord recap a lot of what has happened so far. Granted, this sucker is 70 pages long, but come on, give the reader some credit.

And once again, she finds a reason to leave without really helping. Though, this is probably the least motivated exit thus far. Despite him being at an incredible low point and their station having access to an instantaneous teleportation system, she has to go to the embassy now. Okay. I am starting to suspect everyone enters an interaction with Blue Beetle with an exit strategy. We all have that friend we dread getting stuck talking to and for the *entire* DC superhero community, it seems to be Ted Kord. He has to be Lt. Reginald Barclay of DC Comics.

Of course you weren't included in the psychic APB-- you're in the room with him!
Kord makes his way from the infirmary to the main operations room of the base, where Martian Manhunter is on monitor duty. Manhunter is also on the more supportive side, albeit more distantly and objectively. Still, he does listen to Kord's problem, which is more than Bats or Supes did. Kord almost manages to get him to pull in some extra help to investigate when Adam Strange, protector of the planet Rani (which I'm assuming reads as a white savior narrative, but in SPAAAAACE), calls in with a dire request for aid, as Rani is being invaded by Hawkman's people, the Thanagarians. Yeah, remember how I said this book is good at hinting at the breadth and scope of the DCU? Case in point. Well, so much for help from Martian Manhunter. He gets to recruit some a-listers and potential fan favorites to go play Star Wars.

As he wallows alone in self-pity, he takes a closer look at the goggles of his uniform which had been scratched up in his fight with the Madmen only to discover that they had actually bugged him suing a piece of Booster Gold's robot buddy who was thought to have ditched him for a trip back to the 25th Century. He manages to track it back to a remote castle-- which brings us back to the supervillain lair with the giant computer screen.

And the worst thing you can ever do is read someone's private files on you. I can attest, I once read an old audition form from college and whoever was casting definitely scribbled "is terrible" on it. Yeah, it can be a blow to the ego. But enough of my woes. Their file on him says "DECEASED." Yeah, that's quite a few degrees more troubling.
Celebrity death hoaxes are the worst
It's at this moment, when he turns around to discover the mastermind of all his woes, as well as a cadre of armed henchmen, has been in the room with him for a while. Why do these heroes never notice villains and their goons sneaking up on them? To be fair, his costume covers his ears.
The best evil plans have evil chess-themed titles.
Max Lord's plan is to take down all the meta humans on Earth. This is despite the fact that he himself is a meta human, albeit one with a very subtle talent to influence people. Also, based the dialogue, I get the impression that the writer isn't well versed in DC mythology, which lumps all super-powered beings into the category of meta-humans, which are more akin to DC's answer to Marvel's mutants than anything else.

Lord actually wants to recruit Kord, since Kord has no superpowers, only his own natural physical and scientific acumen. You know how NOT to foster the sense of loyalty you'd want in a potential recuit? Ruining his business, by siphoning and dispersing his funds and stealing from his warehouses, blowing up his inventions, blowing up his home, blowing up his best friend... all of these are great ways to show people how bad a boss you'd be.

Max Lord's Plan B, it turns out was if you can't beat 'em, shoot two bullets in his head.

So, yeah. That's how this issue ends.

I don't know what to say about this issue. It had three talented writers on the project, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Judd Winick. And despite three writers, there is barely enough story here to justify a 30-page story, let alone one over twice that length. The book had two missions and it only sort of accomplished the one that justifies its existence, namely to line up the various story threads from the ongoing series that will coalesce to form the story elements of the event. Instead, they gloss them over a bit, but they seem like distractions from the story the book wants to tell: the Passion of Ted Kord.

Yeah, I know that's the title of the entry, but it's not out of laziness that I'm hearkening back to it, but emphasis. This book is all about putting Blue Beetle through his paces, which is the role of a decent dramatist, but I think they break the character in order to enable the story they want to tell. The Ted Kord from the post-crisis Justice League titles is a lot more buoyant and confident than the one presented to the reader here.

I almost feel like his entire journey in this story is meta-commentary on the comic book industry's tone problem as creators kept trying to work dark, grim, and gritty character traits into characters who were neither created with that intent nor allowed to organically evolve to it. DC honestly suffers this problem more than Marvel because they earnestly try to maintain the classic, iconic, wholesome images of their heroes, but at the same time when the sales numbers dip, they will go boldly in other directions even if it results in severe tonal whiplash. Hence, we are presented with a story in which a character whose MO is so patently Silver Age that in the face of the modern era of storytelling, he reads as pathetic and ineffectual and his only recourse is a suicide mission for the sake of maintaining his values. When read from that lens, this becomes not only a dark story, but also some wicked commentary on the nature of the comics industry in 2005.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

So, it's come to this...

Disclaimer #1: For any of my readers who may be actively avoiding US politics this election season, let me give you a trigger warning. This entry is going to be addressing a politically driven satire that pokes fun at both major party candidates. If that is not your cup of tea, I advise you to give this read a pass.

Disclaimer #2: I'm an intractable bleeding heart liberal and I'm totally in the tank for Hillary and will probably be more prone to noticing the Trump jokes than the Clinton ones. If you don't want to sit through someone taking glee in and/or analyzing social commentary about your candidate of choice, you may want to sit this one out.

For those of you who are still reading this, let's all be honest: the election season has been a bit of a bear and both parties have ended up with candidates that are not without their detractors from within their respective parties as well as from their traditional opposition. But for every dark cloud, there is a silver lining: political satire. Yup, nothing takes the sting out of a particularly unpleasant election cycle quite like all of us gathering together as one to heal by taking the piss out of our entrenched political system. And for that, Marvel has given us this little boon that is Vote Loki.

One thing I love about this book is that it's pretty apparent early on that it's extra-canonical. It's certainly set in the world and basic status quo of the artist formerly known as Earth-616, but there really only a scant few wonky continuity things you need to know going into this book:
1. This is not your father's Loki. In the past decade, Loki has been revived twice, once as a woman (although that didn't take), and a second time as a child (aka my favorite Loki). Kid Loki eventually magically aged up more or less to make him about the same age as Tom Hiddleston around the time of the first Avengers movie. These days, he straddles the fuzzy area between being an anti-hero and anti-villain, but I think you can sum him up best as being a character who uses villainous means with theoretically heroic altruistic intent.
2. Thor is a woman now. Don't worry, the actual son of Odin and Freyja/Gaea is still roaming around somewhere, but the actual person now worthy to lift and wield the enchanted uru hammer Mjolnir (and all the powers that go with it, including the superhero persona) is Thor's original love interest, Jane Foster. And it's slowly killing her. She has cancer and every time she becomes Thor, it undoes the effects of her chemotherapy.
3. Loki and Thor have a new half-sister from another company. In a dispute with Image Comics, Neil Gaiman was awarded the rights to winged warrior woman Angela and he allowed her to be brought into Marvel's pantheon of characters in a wacky timeline-wonky story. To better weave her into the universe (and don't ask me the fine details because I haven't gotten around to reading that story yet), it was revealed that Angela is their long-lost sister. She's basically a hyper-aggressive She-Ra wing wings.

Well, now that I've covered the basics, on with the story of Vote Loki. Years ago (no specific time is given because characters only age when editors and/or Franklin Richards wills it so), the Avengers donated a large sum of money to rebuild a neighborhood in NYC  that had been utterly pulverized following one of their epic battles. If only scenes like this were featured prior to the events of Civil War... I'm sorry but I know it's considered a contemporary bench mark for Marvel, but on a basic conceptual level it's just not that good in terms of logistics and solid character-driven motivation on either side of the divide.

I can't help but notice the character lineup. Cap, Iron Man, Black Widow, Wasp, and... the Hulk? Okay, the Hulk's presence here means this would have to be either very early days or very recent. I could quibble about the details, but I'd rather just skip all that and arrive at the conclusion that this is not in-continuity and the MST3K mantra is in full effect: it's just a comic book, relax.

That money never got where it was supposed to because NY Governor Hitt funneled the donation from the Stark Foundation into his election campaign. Yeah, we are two panels into this book and we are not holding back when it comes to pointing out the deeply skeavy practices we've learned of in recent years in which charitable donations don't end up helping who they're supposed to.

One of the people effected by this morally bankrupt decision was a young Nisa Contreras who couldn't be more than maybe a high school freshman based on her appearance. From here we have a time skip. The book describes it as "a few years later," which in my mind means "not many." Of course, Marvel's timeline is weird, so a few years gave the tween enough time to get a journalism degree and establish herself as a reporter for the Daily Bugle. Of course, when your titular character is a millennia-old deity, what qualifies as "a few years" may be relative.

Nisa doesn't pull her punches and it's a great way of establishing her character as our deuteragonist as she uses her journalistic prowess to publicly take down Governor Hitt, exposing his wrong-doing from her youth. I'm not going to pretend that she didn't have vested interest in seeing him get his comeuppance, but she doesn't seem to gain satisfaction with it. The juxtaposition of the past and present scenes implies that she does have an inherent sense of bias, but it also frames her as a social justice crusader. As much as I think the internet has maligned that expression, I think it's fitting. After all, I think, particularly when speaking in terms of US politics, we are culturally hard-wired to associate truth and justice... and the American Way, whatever that implies.

Sometime later, Nisa is on the presidential election beat and she finds herself in the Spin Room, where she befriends a fellow named Lucas who finds the idea of the Spin Room amusingly subversive and I envy Lucas for remembering a time when a Spin Room was a bit of a distasteful novelty and not the sad truth of our endemic suffering. Yeah, I can hardly remember the Before Time, but for the past 3-4 months I've had to live in a world where Trump has nearly constantly been spewing offensively bigoted incendiary remarks unashamedly, only to have to hear his talking heads explain what he really meant by his latest characteristic racist/islamophobic/jingoistic/xenophobic/misogynistic/politically obtuse statement. I miss those halcyon days...

Our two leading candidates are never named in the series. Marvel has a history of not naming the presidents, at least when they factor into a story instead of being mentioned off-hand, Despite this, they do resemble their real-world counterparts, at least in broad strokes and without playing into their caricatured features. Keep in mind, this book was first announced in March and hit shelves in June, which means that even while we were still in the thick of the presidential primaries, the creative team had the clairvoyance to know that Clinton would end up clinching the democratic nomination and the Republican candidate would be an old white guy. While they are never named, the secret service refer to them as "Enterprise" and "Buffalo." When elected, I plan to address Hillary as President Enterprise and I advise you to do the same.

Nisa, being an observant journalist, spots someone with a concealed weapon in the audience and manages to alert the audience just as a small cadre of Hydra agents reveal themselves. Before they have time to enact their mission, Lucas reveals himself to be our titular character, Loki. He employs irony, besetting magical gold snakes on them. Their bite puts the Hydra agents into a coma.

Now, keep in mind, this happened in the spin room of a presidential debate. There are cameras and reporters everywhere, and with the candidates having been whisked away by secret service agents, the media all train their focus on Loki. This does seem a little odd because you'd think the safety and security of the presidential candidates would be a top priority. On the other hand, this title has a pretty flippant attitude about both candidates and aren't all that fond of the media either, so I guess it's easy to write it off as the media would rather focus on a shiny thing rather than cover the two major party candidates if they can help it.

It's pretty clear that he's toying with them and being fairly coy, but at the same time he's being refreshingly transparent about who and what he is. When asked who he's voting for, he says neither, since they're both liars. Then he declares that if he were president, he'd lie to them brazenly and they'd love him for it. I fail to see the difference is between what he's suggesting he would do and what the candidates do, but this is the basis on which buzz around his campaign is formed, so you just have to roll with it. Throughout the book, you'll see his appearances on media outlets be met with approval from hoi poloi, but you'll notice that the audience we see skews pretty young, and very urban. They're reactions sound more like they want to buck the system or praise a rockstar. This book has some opinions about millennials and/or hipsters.

Despite claiming to not be interested in running for president, he's doing a press junket, including an appearance on J. Jonah Jameson's talk show. Yeah, for future reference, it's actually been a while since he's been the EiC of the Daily Bugle. Between now and then, he's had a stint as the mayor of NYC. Now, however, he's been reduced to being a paper-thin Rush Limbaugh/Bill O'Reilly analogue. The studio has the stripes of the American flag in the background, giving it that extra jingoist touch. And like any conservative talking head, he turns out to be a birther.

Of course. The joke is on him however as when Loki reincarnated, he was born with a US birth certificate. I vaguely remember Thor finding the reincarnated Loki in Paris, France. It's been a while since the Fraction run, so I may be wrong. Even if I am wrong, Loki has been magically aged up. He was maybe 12 before, then was aged up to be about 18-21, and yet the minimum age for US candidacy is 35, so I guess the actual qualifications don't matter in this book. Even so, I wonder how he'd go about proving his birth certificate's authenticity.

Basic logic aside, it is worth it to see Jameson get caught on national television looking like a fool. Worth it.

This public humiliation is cut short however when the show gets a call-in from who else but intrepid reporter, Nisa Conteras. And she is clearly not on #TeamLoki. Remember that fight the Silver Age Avengers had in her old neighborhood? Well, it just so happens that they were battling against none other than our man, Loki. Gasp! Twist!! As we've learned about Nisa, her job as a reporter is to take down everyone who ruined her childhood. And not even death and rebirth is enough to wipe the slate clean for her. However, it's incredibly fitting considering one of our real world analogues has spent the past few decades ruining the financial futures of contractors and his own employees while getting away scot free.

Loki magicks himself into her apartment, which I have to imagine left Jameson scrambling to fill the time until the commercial break, He want to have a candid tête-à-tête with her, even while she pulls a gun on him. I suppose a single woman in NYC needs to be able to protect herself, but on the other hand making her a gun owner keeps her from being a read as an completely liberal anti-NRA strawman.

He admits to her that he is planning to run, and asks her to visit his campaign headquarters to write a story about it. Despite her better judgment, she goes.

This really has to be a whirlwind campaign because he already has a building full of pollsters making cold calls. The building is called the Ophidia research center. Ophidia is latin for snake or serphent, by the way. That's a nice touch, since most people wouldn't make the catch. It's a dumb mistake because I think the writer assumes that all religions and cultures have the same connotations. No, the god of lies is not the same as the father of lies. He's not the devil, therefore has no association with snakes. The only snake in Norse Mythology is the World Serpent, which surrounds the world, swallowing its own tail until the end of the world. Sidebar: In the Marvel Universe, the World Serpent is a guy and technically Odin's great uncle... because choices.

And of course, there are protesters outside who are crazed out of fear of what a Loki presidency would look like and inside, the pollsters are also crazy because that's what happens when an on-again, off-again villain runs for office. With all that insanity, it only makes sense that Loki hired some protection, so his sister Angela (see above, re: new continuity) has been employed to run security.

Oh, and did I mention Loki is a woman now? Don't think too much about it and don't get too invested in female Loki. Basically, Loki took this form for the day in an effort to throw whatever he can at the wall and see what sticks. They could have done more with this considering how much gender has played into this campaign, but this book is really avoiding getting bogged down with actual issues. Why talk about that when you can settle for ragging on the political process itself? That being said, female-presenting Loki actually does look presidential, as opposed to his default form, who looks like a scruffy rockstar. My boyfriend and I can't seem to agree on who, he does have a late 80's glam affect to his appearance. Steven Tyler? Keith Richards? Steve Tyler?

I don't think Nisa had any intention of coming away from this visitation with anything but an excoriating article, which she sends to her editor with a headline of "Loki Will Burn Washington." Mainly this is because of the ramblings of one crazed pollster. However, she ignores the fact that Loki has some sound ideas about bolstering the economy by providing large businesses who stay stateside with an incentive. Of course, why would she be balanced when she has an ax to grind? I think publicly declaring on national television that she has a beef with him should have automatically disqualified him from covering this story.

That becomes a moot point however the following morning when she wakes to her phone blowing up and discovers that her article has been altered, now reading the headline, "Loki's Campaign Something to Get Excited About." She's barely found out about this change when there is a knock on the door and suddenly she finds herself face to face with Thor the Goddess of Thunder. This lady must seriously be getting tired of Asgardians dropping in before she has a chance to put on something other than sleep clothes.

The next issue opens up with Loki's political ad and then running commentary from a couple of conservative news pundits. I'd say their interaction is a babbling waste, but I think that's the joke. More importantly, when I watch Loki's commercial, all I can think of is the best meme of all time.

I don't know where this fits in the timeline because this was aired maybe a day and a half after Loki announced his candidacy. When we cut back to Thor and Nisa, it's right where we left them.

Thor is not happy, thinking that Nisa is working for Loki. And being extra-canonical, Thor gets to speak like her old-school bombastic quasi-Shakespearean self and it's delightful. When Nisa points out that Loki only changed her headline and Thor actually reads the severely anti-Loki article, she delivers my favorite line of the issue: "Wow. Indeed thou dost indeed burn him."

Thor departs but not without dropping a clue for Nisa to follow, which leads her to returning to Loki's headquarters. Of course she goes while Loki is out at a rally, which only adds to his rock-star status. And everyone seems to be out of the office, as she finds abandoned... save for the cultists in Loki-robes sacrificing a goat. I don't find this as upsetting as the scary looking temple situation Loki has set up in the back of his campaign headquarters. It's an office building and that chamber has to be at least two, maybe three stories high. It makes no sense. And now my brain hurts.

Nisa makes sure that it makes it to the news and we get another visit with the talking heads, this time we have a riff on all the times politicians get caught in a scandal. In previous years, this sort of thing would be career-ending (not necessarily the fact that his constituents are non-Christian, but the fact that their ritual would probably get animal rights/welfare groups galvanized into action). But like certain politician who have been caught on tape bragging about being a sexual predator, Loki seems to be made of Teflon. He pulls the "I'm a god" card, which again, wouldn't fly in other elections and would probably be grounds for a psych eval, but here it becomes a triumphant mic drop for his supporters.

In issue #4, Nisa is going to greater lengths to expose Loki, this time investigating the Hydra agents who just happened to strike at a debate Loki just happened to be attending. They have all recently woken up from their comas and were being transferred to a medium security facility. Nisa intends to go to their new location to interview them, but the truck transporting them just happens to end up crashing in a fiery accident. So much for that idea.

But wait, why is Angela at the scene of the accident? Hm...

She knows that Loki was responsible for the Hydra attack and dispatched Angela to dispatch his catspaws. but before she can snap a picture on her phone, Angela is gone.

Back in the bizarre alternate reality known as news media outlets, a grown woman posing as a journalist (and wearing a large silly bow in her hair) is reporting on the deaths of the Hydra agents and rhetorically asks-- on national television-- who can blame them for trying to kill presidential nominees.

Okay, that does it. What the hell is up with this book?
 I mean, seriously...

There are people laughing so I can't tell if this is supposed to be some sort of Daily Show parody or if this book really thinks that poorly of American TV journalism. Regardless, this lady then suggests that Loki "sends some prison buses" to the now Doom-free Latveria. She also says she misses having Doom there because at least the trains ran on time. Is this supposed to be funny or overt support of fascism? I am so lost...

The next thing you know, Loki is partaking in a debate at the Iowa State Fair (and pulling off "folksy" quite well), and charms the viewers even as he eats one of the most improbable snacks I have seen in a lifetime of eating things nobody in their right mind should attempt to eat (one day. I will replace that Yankee Candle, mom. I promise), and now I think my life won't be complete until I have a caramel apple onion ring cheeseburger cone.

His political rivals are going for the jugular because Latvaria has become the new buzz topic in the debate and Loki has spoken out both against "Buffalo" being too accommodating with them and Enterprise skyping with Doom's children. To be fair, Doom's kid Kristoff is an expatriate living in America last I checked, so he might actually be a viable social contact.

Loki explains that he will deal with Latvaria without risking a single American life. It is such a big shock that even Nisa puts her hunt for Loki's birth record on pause to hear his declaration as he declares the only right thing is to keep boots off the ground in Latvaria and that fighting will not resolve the problem. This is actually quite reassuring to everyone else.

Nisa on the other hand, had a different takeaway from that broadcast.
She immediately buys herself a flight to Latveria, which I assume is can only lead to good things. After all the only thing safer than a dictatorial state ruled over by a egomaniacal techno-wizard is 
a former dictatorial state that has been left utterly destabilized by the sudden removal of a long-standing oppressive regime.

She passes herself off as a member of one of the factions vying for control of Latveria. Elsewhere another faction is searching for one of Doom's special hidden weapons caches. A man leads them past the mystical security door and this guy is totally not Loki guys, I swear. No really, scout's oath. When the rebels come out armed, they are confronted with the armed forces of the current controlling regime and like a bunch of idiots, they use Doom's secret weapons without testing them first and the whole battle scene goes up in a puff of smoke. The man who couldn't possibly have been Loki turns into Loki and I can't help but read this like the end of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Except that Nisa was in the right place at the right time to catch Loki expose himself on video.

This has already made the news before Nisa's plane lands in the states and the news outlets are dragging Loki across the coals. Of course, this book hates millennials and thinks they're stupid contrarians about everything and by the time Nisa arrives, the hipsters have become convinced that if the media hates Loki, he must be a real threat to their establishment and must therefore be the only candidate for them.

At this point, Nisa's about ready to give up.

By the time we open on our final issue, Nisa is looking to flee the country rather than abide by a Loki presidency. All the while, she watches footage of Loki being saved by a mentally unstable superhuman by Angela followed by whispering between the two. The next thing you know Angela has pulled out her phone and sets up a meeting with Nisa. Thor is there, as well. Apparently, the two had been in cahoots the entire time. Angela had been waiting for an opportunity to save Loki's life in order to compel him to tell her some crucial information... and she happily gives that information up to Nisa in exchange for a lifetime subscription to the Daily Bugle. It's the little things in life...

It turns out they are standing in the base of operations of the Hydra sect that attacked the debate and pulling up their computer revealed "Lucas From Buzzfeed" as their leader. Lucas? Remember him? That was Loki's disguise way back in the beginiing of the mini-series.

This gets published and of course, the millennials are completely fine with it because this book hates everyone too young to remember wondering about who shot Dallas, despite being comics' target demographic. It does however further galvanize the anti-Loki movement, causing the two opposing sides come to blows.

Chaos is erupting in the streets as Loki's fans have not been dissuaded (sound familiar, guys?) and the sitting president and congress even unanimously voted to strip the office of the president of many of its more recently acquired powers in anticipation of a Loki presidency.

Nisa is watching tenuous fabric of American life rip itself apart and the seams when there is a knock on the door and does she ever wear anything around the house besides booty shorts and a camisole? I'm guessing journalism pays the rent, but not the AC. Loki needs help-- he's doesn't want to be president, not if it means causing the nation to tear itself apart. He needs her help getting him get him discredited... which has worked so well in the past. Still, he promised not to tell a single lie in the process, and trickster deities know how sacred promises and deals are.

He instantly transports her to a live studio, changing her wardrobe in the process thankfully. He is expecting Nisa to ask all the best questions and expose him, although it's fairly obvious that he knows it would backfire, presumably to bring both sides of the aisle together in support of him. Nisa has a trick of her own however and causes and upset by handing the mic over to his supporters in the audience to ask questions, this apparently has not happened before. Not a single question has been asked by anyone other than the press. Unable to lie and unexpectedly confronted by his supporters, he's already been thrown two curveballs, However, as the questions go on, it seems like Loki has no concrete plan to address many of the problems facing the nation. Not only that, the supporters who thought he would buck the corrupt system are gobsmacked to find out he'd be working in the interests of all Americans, not just the rebellious fringe.

Nisa sums it up beautifully by asserting the only message his campaign has really delivered on was declaring "the other two candidates are bad" and that's not enough for any candidate to get even close to the presidency.

One particular audience member calls him out, feeling betrayed because Loki would rather work with the government than bring it down and Loki reaches his breaking point. You know when you're the oldest member of your social circle by a significant stretche and you finally have had enough of pretending to be cool and want to let your friends know what's what? Yeah, Loki has stopped being cool uncle Loki and calls his supporters out on the idiocy that has carried his campaign this far.

The next day is the election day and the only states that Loki ends up winning are Nevada, Nebraska, West Virginia, Mississippi, and New Jersey... because if any state will vote for someone who lies nearly all the time and treats everyone like they are morons, it's New Jersey (mwahahahaha.... Trump isn't the only one going down, Chris Christie).

We see a montage of celebration from our cast. Jane Foster in chemo looks up at the hospital television with a staid grin on her face while Angela celebrates alongside Rocket and Groot in the only bar in NYC that will serve the Guardians. Although, probably not for long since Angela's jubilant excitement causes a waitress's face to get smashed with a plateful of pie and drinks. Nisa gets tapped to appear on J Jonah Jameson's show on the Fact Channel and turns around to find Loki in her apartment. Again.

He's fairly certain he's going to lose, but he twists it into a win by suggesting that this whole story was all an overly elaborate ploy to give Nisa the chance to right the wrong that Loki caused in her childhood. Of course, she calls it for the slapdash bullshit it is, but it's more friendly than any interaction they've had thus far. Maybe it's because he's no longer a threat, or maybe it's because tricking him like she did took him down a peg enough for her to humanize him a bit, but this conversation feels genuine and less like the satirical posturing that much of the book has felt like. It's actually pretty charming.

Loki floats away as he pulls out a flip phone (he can join Cap in the anachronistic phone club) as he calls to concede to his winning opponent. Of course being Loki, he frames it like his blowup the previous night was a gift for his/her campaign. And he literally disappears into the horizon as the story ends.

This isn't a bad story by any stretch of the imagination. It's fun and moves at a good pace, but it feels unfocused. This book tries to do too much, mainly because it had too much of a good thing. There is a lot that goes into a US presidential election and this current one has been an insane cycle, so there was no shortage of material for them and in trying to genuinely capture what it feels like to be an American following the election process faithfully, the creative team ended up with a book that feels unbalanced and unwieldy in certain places. I also question the angle the satire took. The crux of Loki's campaign was because everyone thinks the candidates are so bad. We never learn why. They are super generic to the point that they could have been cardboard cut-outs. As a result, the focus of the sature becomes the inanity of the organ grinder monkeys TV news pundits and spending an incredibly large amount of time poking fun at the Bernie or Bust movement. Yeah, with all the material Trump's primary constituency has going for it, the book kept going back to the hipsters/millennial well whenever they wanted to lampoon the American public. And poking fun at millennials and the Bernie or Bust movement is fine, except for the fact that they seem to be the only ones targeted in this piece. I somehow suspect that the writers feared they'd get threats if they aimed their satire at the deplorables, and because of that I feel like the book doesn't have the courage of conviction needed to write truly spectacular social satire.