Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Haunted Tank In Every Garage

He's got the whole cast in his hands
The cover of this week’s installment is pretty busy. This isn’t really a spoiler but there’s a lot going on, and it seems like Wolfman and Perez couldn’t decide on one decisive image that crystalizes what happens in this issue, so everything that happens in this issue is on this cover. Everything. Why read it? Just look at the cover and save your money for next month. I’m half tempted to just describe the cover and call it a day, but it is my sworn duty to go cover to cover for you, so never you fear. Anyway, back to the cover…
Written above the title, is written, “Titans! The Legion! The Outsiders! And more!” The page is divided into four tableaux.  In the top quadrant, we see the Legion. I really don’t recognize most of these guys, despite having met them last issue, but it looks like Brainiac 5 and a woman in white are watching the rest of the team blasting energy beams at… something, I guess, from one of the view screens of their base. A second screen shows a character in green with a turban floating in mid-air with a wall about to collapse on him.  To the left, Cyborg, Green Lantern, Brainiac, and Firebrand are in the Old West, presumably one of these guys is Jonah Hex. To the right, Batman, the Teen Titans, and the Outsiders (I don’t really know their deal, but I recognize Katana and they seem pretty cool) surround another spectre-like vision of The Flash.
Down below, Blue Beetle, Dr. Polaris, and Geo Force (I may slip and call him GF Man… ye gods, that stupid chest emblem…) are near the sight of one of the golden cyberpunk spires. Of greater interest is the fact that they are accompanied by a group of WWII era American soldiers. They are riding a tank that has been mounted with a Confederate flag. I thought these gold towers were only on Earths-1 and 2. So either this troop of soldiers are all from South Carolina (or at least The South), or the Civil War ended very differently on Earth-2.
Again, I say there is too much going on in this cover, but it does have some unifying elements. At the center of the page is the planet Earth. Bolts of energy converge upon it, dividing the four scenes. Above all these scenes, the Monitor’s face appears, looking somber and half cast in shadows. Below, the Monitor’s two hands cup the lower quadrants of the imagery, bathed in the same energy emitting from the Earth. The greatest takeaway is he ponderous sense of responsibility the Monitor feels, literally holding the fate of the Earth in his hands.
The issue starts in the Monitors’ base. He is using his equipment to examine a very naked Alexander Luthor, who has aged to about age 12 in the span of two days. Seriously? Two days and you haven’t thought to hook this kid up with clothes? And we are supposed to trust you with the fate of the multiverse? Hell, I don’t even trust you with the fate of this kid. I’m calling Child Services. The
Can you clothe the little star child as you study him? Please
Monitor determines that it is more than just his rapid aging that makes him remarkable, but the fact that, as a result of his being rocketed from the now destroyed Earth-3 to Earth-1, his very body seems to be composed of both matter and anti-matter. In case, you’re just joining us, last issue we were told that anti-matter is a form of energy that is making the different realities go up in smoke, essentially negating/erasing them from existence. He isn’t exactly sure how this has happened, but he believes Alexander is the key to their salvation.
While he contemplates this, Harbinger contemplates that her father is ignoring her. This brief moment of human clarity soon devolves into her worrying that he is wise to her corrupted nature. Instead of following up on this concern, she instead checks in with the unseen bad guy. Okay, I’m going to digress again. Sorry, this has to be said. The “villain in the shadows” shtick is getting silly. I get the distinct impression that Wolfman and Perez hadn’t figured out who their big bad was supposed to be just yet and they didn’t have time to fill him in when the book before the print deadline. Regardless, the shadowy figure trope works with a set up like Dr. Claw on Inspector Gadget because the high-backed chair obscures him while still leaving one arm open to gesture and physically express itself. In this case, we literally have a silhouette walking around. Sorry Perez, no bueno. I keep waiting for Peter Pan to try to stick him on with soap. I honestly thought him being a voice in the darkness could have worked a bit longer, but I can see why as an artist, he wanted to make some attempt to visualize him, so I’ll give him some credit for good intentions. That being said, I think this is definitely a case of “less is more.”
What is up with this evil lair's lighting design?!
Okay, getting back on track. At [unknown villain’s] base, Harbinger and Psy-Pi have some banter that makes me want to write a fanfic exploring their obvious UST. Psy-Pi revels in telling her of all the myriad lives their master has promised him. Monitor shushes him long enough to instruct
Harbinger to kill Alexander Luthor. She flies off without reply. Psy-Pi says Harbinger is unstable and offers to use his powers to better manipulate. However, our big bad can’t seem to get enough of shooting down Psy-Pi even when he makes a valid point. She’s a good guy, so it wouldn’t be unwise to make extra efforts to keep her under your sway.
Cut to the future where we meet the Flash. The book isn’t specific about this and I’m still banned from Wiki-research, so I’m going to at least guess it’s a good future, considering his thought balloons say he’s been happy and hopeful for the month that he’s been here and living in retirement. Or it would be all sunshine and lollipops if it weren’t for the fact that Mother Nature appears to have gone insane. Suddenly, a white energy force is seen coming in his direction. Flash isn’t fast enough to dodge it and fades into a fuzzy blur.
Meanwhile, in the 80s, the end is nigh! The anti-matter field seems to be coming down on a sky scraper. The Teen Titans are teamed up with the Outsiders. I think this is New York, considering I think that’s where the Titans are situated, but I could be wrong. DC sure does love its fictional cities. At this point, I’m giving up on trying to ID every single character I see. There’s just not enough space on the page. Instead, I’ll just point out that Beast Boy—sorry, I mean Changeling transforms into an elephant, a green elephant because he’s Changeling and all his beast forms are green, and it is a high contender for my favorite moment in the issue. Half the assembled teams seem to be attempting to fight the energy field, which seems kind of like attacking the sea with spears—their tactical skills are on par with Caligula’s. What I was more invested in was the team members dedicated to rescue. With an apocalyptic event, that’s where junior/b-list team are probably better suited, considering their books are more character-driven. Soon, they are joined by Batman and Superman, who saves the walking continuity snarl known as Donna Troy from being crushed by a collapsing building. Then Superman joins Team Futility, where Starfire, whose backstory from memory I can tell you involves being an alien princess of a conquered world, enslavement, and hella PTSD, is giving it her all. Superman, being everyone’s big brother, has to talk her down.
Imagine how fanservicey this would have been in the New 52...

Another sidebar: which is better? Jericho’s sideburns or Nightwing’s amazingly “disco” first costume? Does it matter? No, they both deserve equal praise! If only Dick could be compelled to grow awesome mutton chops like that so we could combine both into one fashionable package.
Suddenly, The Flash appears again. He doesn’t get to say too much more than they last time he appeared to Batman before seemingly blinking out of existence again. This time, rather than disintegrating, it’s more like someone turned off the Flash channel on an older model of television.
Meanwhile, in space, Brainiac is riding around in a space ship shaped like a skull, like his own head, in fact, with octopus tentacles… like a baller. He too recognizes that some real s#%t is about to go down and his programming is all about his own self-preservation, requiring him to reach out to find those who might be of use to him, namely Lex Luthor.
These protect quests go on forever...
Oh, yeah. The gold monolith teams… I’d almost forgotten about those guys. Blue Beetle, Geo Force, and Magnet—I mean Dr. Polaris have found themselves in the midst of war-torn Markovia, where they come to the aid of a small troop of soldiers. And these guys… Okay, military guys, I’ve never found them too remarkable. When my next door neighbor was playing with toy soldiers, I was quite honestly content to play with my superheroes and model rockets. But these guys are pretty amazing. Apparently, Lt. Jeb Stuart rides a tank named Jeb Stuart, both of whom are named after Lt. Jeb Stuart’s ancestor, Confederate General Jeb Stuart, who haunts Jeb Stuart—the tank not the lieutenant. That description really needs a visual aid. The ghost of General Stuart is fairly amorphous. If I didn’t sneak a peek at the internet while my boss wasn’t looking, I’d have no idea who this guy was, let alone know why this cloud of smoke was talking. The general delivers a message of—you guessed it—portentous doom.

Haunted Tank... your argument is invalid.
 The rest of the gang are on a different part of the battlefield and have fairly generic names, which I presume give us a window into their personalities: Four-Eyes, Wildman, Rock, and Bulldozer. These sound more like call signs the more I think about it though, like the fighter pilots on BSG.
               Geo-Force is highly invested in helping these guys out since he happens to be Markovian, and these soldiers are protecting the country’s stock generic peasant population from the Nazis. Again, just like in last issue, Monitor seems to have picked the wrong people for this mission. They can’t seem to stay focused on the whole end of the world thing. They’d much rather pay attention to the proverbial bush in the foreground of a painting instead of looking at the bigger picture. The Nazis, meanwhile are interested in monolith because they want the technology for themselves. I’m guessing that this series coming out in and around the same time as the Indiana Jones films probably influenced this little beat in the story.
               When Jeb and the rest meet up with the rest of the gang, we have two more characters, a soldier named Johnny Cloud, who I think might be either Native American or very New Age since he believes in the Great Spirit Guides, and sea captain who wears and eye patch and goes by the name Storm. In the next row down, there is also a black soldier named Jackie. I’ve lost track of whether he was with the first group and only getting name-dropped now or if he was hanging out with Cloud and Storm. Honestly, I have no idea if these three separate groups that converge are different war comics properties or if they are all parts of a larger ensemble. This whole time, they kept calling themselves losers. I thought that was just what they were calling themselves as underdogs. Nope. Turns out that’s their “team name,” for lack of a better description. The shadow beasts appear and seize a handful of the Losers: Johnny Cloud, Captain Storm, Sarge, and Gunner. The latter two were only named after they were seized, so I really have no sense of attachment to them. This is when I realized these guys must be some toyline that DC bought the rights to make into comics, like G.I. Joes or those little army guys that everyone had growing up in the 80s, or at least they were created to compete with the GI Joe comics which I believe Marvel held the rights and were pretty successful in its day. The Losers decide to shoot at the shadows, and Flowers, named so because there are flowers in his helmet, is killed one panel after he is named. I think it should go without saying that rifles are fairly useless against shadows, but Dr. Polaris and Geo Force have a fairly creative team-up in which Geo-force pinions the creature to the ground using his geo-gravity abilities while Dr. Polaris uses his magnetic powers to stretch it, causing it to shatter. Honestly, I think Dr. Polaris could have used his magnetic powers to accomplish both these tasks, but hero/villain team-ups are to be appreciated whenever possible.

Just inserted into the mythos and now we'll never see the Blue Beetle in the DCU again... Right?
               Oh, looks like everyone forgot about The Blue Beetle. He’s been climbing up the golden tower hoping he can do science at it and figures that is where he can really contribute. Suddenly a shadow creature phases through the tower and nearly knocking him down, but then it explodes. Why? Because he inherited a mystical blue scarab from his predecessor and it only becomes handy (he actually seems to have completely forgotten he had it) when the plot deems it necessary. However, both high and low, our protagonists seems to realize that they are drastically outnumbered by the shadow creatures—they’re boned. Viewing them from a view screen, The Monitor also acknowledges how badly they’re screwed and opts to send all three of them back to their own places and times, vanishing in a blast of blue and green light, rather than die in the past.
               Time to catch up with Superman-2, Dawnstar, Solovar, and Kamandi. Solovar perishes from a wound sustained rescuing Kamandi during the battle in the previous issue. Solovar too vanishes in a blast of light, presumably to die in Gorilla City. Kamandi seems really upset about this. And it feels really shippy. DC was a hot second away for some same-sex interspecies lovin’. They are tied with Harbinger and Psy-Pi for my OTP of the issue.
Shipper on deck. Sorry.  Not sorry.

               This is getting pretty long, so I’m going to shorthand this section. We now find ourselves in the late 1800s with Jonah Hex and characters I haven’t heard of. I might have heard of Johnny Thunder, but all I know is he’s a villain on Earth-1 and a hero on Earth-2, but I might have gotten that backwards. The other characters are cowboys Bat Lash and Nighthawk, and Native American Ke-Woh-No-Tay. They all converge at a golden spire. Ke-Woh-No-Tay, being the token Native American character is required by the rules of hack writing to show how in tune he is with nature, they all want to explore. Cyborg, Firebrand, Green Lantern, and Psimon appear. Shadow creatures appear. They attempt to ward them off. One *new* detail: Green Lantern’s ring isn’t working. Jinkies. The heroes fail again. 
And now we see the result of the compounded failures across the series thus far as the anti-matter field encroaches upon them seemingly at all time periods simultaneously. The anti-matter hits Nighthawk in the Old West and Psycho Kid in the Metropolis of the 30th Century. So far, they are the only Earth-1/2 casualties, which I guess means they won’t be coming back when DC reboots at the end of the event.
Hope you saved your game before the boss battle, player 1.

               The Monitor realizes that instead of a matter of days, he has a matter of hours. He has to enact his final plan now. That’s when Harbinger finally unveils her betrayal, declaring, “Wrong old fool. It is time for you to die!”
Lyla's true power is dramatic  cliffhanger poses.

               Some cliffhanger, huh? So yeah, like I said at the top of the entry, everything that happens in this title can be gleaned from the front cover. The devil is really in the details. The one big surprise though, although not that big a detail if you read the previous couple of issues, is Harbinger’s betrayal. Although, I think it would have been more effective as a cliffhanger if the creative team hadn’t belabored the point that Harbinger is definitely evil now. If they’d made it more ambiguous instead, I think it would have been much more of a surprise. It’s symptomatic of something I’m starting to really pick up on about this book—a lack of subtlety.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mounting a Serpent-Nose, and other tales...

               Back for more? I didn’t scare you off? Things didn’t get too weird for you last time? Well, that’s encouraging. Strap in folks, it’s time for some woolly mammoths as we venture into issue #2 of DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Fetish fuel
 The issue opens to reveal Anthro the First Boy. From what I can discern, either he and his spouse are Cro-Magnons and the rest of his people are Neanderthals, or the two are Homo Sapiens and the tribe are Cro-Magnons. Either way, they look like a single generational long jump from the rest of their community. Essentially, they look like contemporary blonde teens in loincloths. I feel like I’d be doing you a disservice if I failed to mention that his wife, who is very blonde, has a high ponytail, and wears big hoop earrings. It was the 80s of the prehistoric era.

Cavegirls just wanna have fun!
Meanwhile, the rest of their tribe are full-on cavemen, complete with sloped foreheads and beady, close-set eyes. This is admittedly a shoddy interpretation of evolutionary theory, but as far as comic book-based conceits of story-telling goes, it allows to an amusing and interesting set-up.  If you grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 90s, you’ll recognize this as similar to a show called “Cro”…
Or it would except for that whereas Cro was mentored by talking mammoths, here Anthro is diverting a stampeding herd of them. He calls them “serpent-noses,” which is actually kind of charming… and kind of dirty, now that I think about it. He mounts one in the process—the mammoth, not its serpent-nose (add in the fact that he is wearing quite the skimpy loincloth and this could sound highly porny)—and almost immediately gets clunked in the head by a low-hanging branch and is thrown to the ground. He gets up and sees a futuristic cityscape beyond anything he has ever seen, but it is gone by the time the rest of his tribe reaches him. All his kinfolk are content to celebrate the averted stampede, except for one, whom I’ve named “Tiny Cave Tim” due to his smaller size and use of a crutch, appears confused because he alone notices that the herd of mammoths has vanished.
               Meanwhile, and by “meanwhile,” I mean in the far-flung future, in that cityscape Anthro saw, the 30th Century’s superteam, the Legion of Superheroes, are nearly worn out from their search for Dawnstar, whom Harbinger recruited last issue. As the word “legion” suggests, there is a ton of named characters, so for the sake a brevity (I know, not my strength, but I’m trying), let me just say that for the most part these characters all have very Golden/Silver Age names that for the purpose of the story tells you everything you need to know about what they can do, if not who they are: Collossal Man, Phantom Girl, Lightning Lass, Wildfire, Chameleon Boy, and Braniac-5. I know they have an animated series I’ll probably end up recapping, so I don’t feel quite so bad about short-handing them now.
Their search effort is halted when they get a report of a herd of woolly mammoths that has mysteriously appeared. They stop military forces from mass shooting the herd and the troops are only too happy to oblige. Before the Legion can stop them (although they’d started a well-coordinated attempt), the mammoths vanish from sight. Braniac-5, who functions more or less as the Legion’s comptroller/tech support, tells them to forget about the prehistoric pachyderms because his radar just picked up signs of an anti-matter field headed to earth that could potentially destroy the entire universe.

  From there, we transition to the present of Earth-1, where the Joker is up to his usual routine (and looking mighty fine in a high-collared purple trench, I might add) and Batman is doing his by the numbers thwarting of Joker when suddenly the Flash appears looking like a chilling apparition. Bats is surprised because the Flash vanished some time ago. Joker is surprised and indignant, basically saying that heroes have some underhanded secret agreement with each other. This I find odd because I always figured it was public knowledge that the JLA exists and are pretty much on each other’s speed dial. Batman sends Joker packing and devotes his attention to the Flash, who grows more chilling with each panel, growing increasingly emaciated in each panel as he delivers portents of doom for the entire world until he finally vanishes. Batman doesn’t know what’s going on, so we can predict a pretty cranky (well, crankier than usual) Batman for the duration.
More impressive than Batffleck's nightmare any day.

The Monitor’s Exposition
               At last we arrive at the Monitor’s space craft, where we left him and his handpicked team of superheroes last issue. Wolfman does an excellent job of filling the space with imagery of what could be just a page of Monitor and a dense collection of word balloons. 

Beautiful symmetry down below as Harbinger's ragtag team takes stock poses.

This is the time for what we’ve been waiting on for the past issue and a half for: answers. He explains that 1,000 universes have already been destroyed by the anti-matter force, previously referred to in my first post as the “White Nothing Eraser.” The typical superhero/villain banter keeps interrupting The Monitor. It’s barely tolerable. This sort of thing usually works better in character-driven books, where we feed from the characters dynamics and personality quirks. This just feels like a writer stalling.
Lyla, meanwhile, once again in her pink flowing robes, has a panel where she feels an unknown energy and animosity growing inside her.
Back at the totally productive briefing session, Monitor manages to explain to the assembled doubting Thomases that he assembled them to be his initial vanguard against the END OF EVERYTHING. No pressure. No really, no pressure because he has every intention of gathering more heroes as the need arises. Don’t get too attached to this lineup. All that time spent establishing who these people are was fairly unnecessary, come to think of it.
Lyla returns, once again dressed as her Harbinger persona. You might be asking yourself, “why did they have that costume change? Was there any purpose for her to appear in her pink robes since she was in her cosmic swim suit at the end of last issue.” To be honest, you’d probably be giving it more thought than the artist did. Harbinger explains their mission: five focal points across time have had power bases implanted in them that need to be protected from the shadowy forces that attacked them last issue. Anyone who has ever played a protect/escort mission in a video game knows the world of suck that these guys are in for.

Lyla can be pretty passive-aggressive when
she's not in the mood.
As she briefs them, Fabio the Magician (I think his real name might be Arrion, but honestly, does it matter?) senses darkness within Harbinger. Blue Beetle asks what are the locations of these power bases, but Harbinger opts to just send them in there blind. Granted, that is seriously a dick move on her part, but I grow weary of the tedious questioning of exposition that can occur when 15 disparate characters are all put in the same room and given instructions without establishing a pecking order. Alone with the Monitor, Lyla’s thoughts reveal that she has given into the malevolence growing inside her and that she must betray him.

Elsewhere, far on the other side of the cosmos, the Guardians¸ better known as the bald blue hobbits who give the Green Lanterns their orders, gather and discuss the incontrovertible fact that universal Armageddon is nigh and they need to assemble the full force of the Corps to combat it. Before they can move on from the brainstorming phase of the plan, something ka-booms and they are all caught in the blast of the explosion.

Back on Earth-1, Superman is responding to a rendezvous summons from Batman. Superman is totally that guy who will drop whatever he’s doing when his crush texts him. Although, to Batman’s credit, they meet up in Metropolis atop the Daily Planet building, so maybe they’re mutual crushes/secret boyfriends. Sorry, I know we’re still in the wake of Batman V Superman, but I am much more content to be really shippy.  Although, when your civilian identity has a private jet and you’ve both been known to work from orbiting space stations, assembly location is probably a moot point.

Batman fills in Superman about his vision of Flash. Bats tells Supes he fears the worst. As if on cue, Pariah appears. If this were in live-action, I’m sure he’d have a hokey leitmotif or maybe an audience “whoo,” like an annoying neighbor on an older sitcom He tells them he needs them, as they have been legendary on his world since before his exile. Remember this, because I will be coming back to it. Before he can tell them much other than the standard “world is doomed” message, he vanishes, presumably being pulled to the next doomed Earth.

Even in the future, there are towering
phallic structures for your amusement.
We cut to a future which the narration goes out of its way to be vague about. In the background of the establishing panel, we can see the Statue of Liberty jutting out of the background, which would normally make me feel we are in a future where we are ruled over by apes. I would that is, if it weren’t for the giant golden cyberpunk monolith dominating the page. Scaling it on a vine is a strapping young man in a loin cloth and I know what you must be thinking, and no—Anthro the First Boy didn’t get lost in time like those wooly mammoths. Instead we have Kamandi the Last Boy. Nice sense of symmetry, putting them in the beginning and end of the same issue—very alpha and omega. They are pretty similar, admittedly, except Kamandi has golden blonde instead of sandy blonde and his loin cloth and boots are blue. Remember, kiddies—wear brown loincloths in the past and blue ones in the future. That’s how you’ll fit in when time traveling.

Komandi covers up his gorillism pretty poorly.
Kamandi’s vine snaps when a shadow creature phases through it, but instead of falling to his death, he is rescued by the convenient arrival of the Superman of Earth-2, who is surprised Kamandi recognizes him. We can extrapolate that the main Superman had future caveman adventures at some point. Dawnstar and Solovar joins them very soon after and Komandi confuses the king of Gorilla City for one of Czar Simian’s henchapes. Yes! Score a point for me on the Planet of the Apes prediction! When Solovar tells him that he isn’t even from this time period, he says, “Your eyes are different from the other animals’. Warmer… more trusting.” You know when a bigot tells a member of a particular minority “You’re one of the good ones?” Yeah, I’m getting that read off it. He come off as backpedaling, no doubt spurred on by not wanting to offend Solovar or, more to the point, Solovar’s incredibly powerful Kryptonian travel companion.

Dawnstar notices some things are askew as they fight off the pack of shadow creatures and everything about it leads her to suspect The Monitor, but Earth-2 Superman advises her to focus on the task at hand for now. The shadow creatures abruptly disembark and Dawnstar makes prolific claims of being able to find them anywhere. Solovar reminds her that the last thing that they need on a protect mission is for someone to go all Leroy Jenkins on the respawns and leave their protectee vulnerable.

Back on The Monitor’s space vessel, Harbinger is even more consumed by the evil coopting her delivering a pretty standard villain monologue to nobody in particular. I would say not bad for her first day as a baddie, but she thinks most of this little monologue except for the last word, “death,” which she shouts so loudly everyone in the remaining multiverse probably heard her. Subtle, Harbinger. Real subtle—especially for being an undercover villain. She is still doing his bidding until the time is right. In this case, doing his bidding means fetching the Luthor baby who was retrieved off panel. She is surprised however to find a ginger-headed five-year-old where a gingerbaby was supposed to be. And the right half of his body looks like a starscape.
Lyla is worried she's stuck with a ginger toddler.

               Arion, Obsidian, and Psycho Pirate have been sent to Atlantis. I’m guessing this is Arion’s Atlantis partially because it’s top side, but mostly because its denizens recognize him. It does however have another gold cyberpunk spire dominating its skyline. PsyPi rhapsodizes over all the emotions he can feel and Arion threatens to open a can of whoop-ass should PsyPi try anything. Inside the citiy, Arion catches up with a Lady Chian, who appears to be a lady warrior type and presumably Arion’s love interest. Obsidian pulls Arion aside and tells them PsyPi is missing.

               PsyPi really just needed a good sulk. An emotion-controlling villain doesn’t do well with others or with an altruistic mandate. His need for emotions is growing. Just then, there is a green flash and PsyPi smells terror. Oh hai, Pariah! Before Pariah can get too far with his usual doom portents, PsyPi decides he’d be much better off with a debilitating case of the giggles. Pariah’s laughing face will be fueling my nightmare for weeks to come. I do this for you, readers. 
Nightmare fuel.
PsyPi is bombarded by a magic attack, by Arion, who along with Obsidian, have tracked him down. Turns out however that putting the whammy on Pariah has the side effects of increasing his powers, so PsyPi puts all of Atlantis, including Arion in an intense state of terror. The narration gets pretty purple. “They all suffer the swelling, growing fear… Their hearts explode with every painful beat… Every terror, every nightmare, every agony, is relived, and relived, and relived. He is the mage of Atlantis, his power knows no equal here. Yet Arion’s sorcerous spells are cast awry by the darkling horrors gnawing at his brain…” Obsidian takes Arian into his shadow form because apparently that provides immunity to emotional manipulation. PsyPi is all set to take out his anger at Arion on all his fellow Atlanteans when he vanishes in a cylinder of fushia energy.

               The next thing PsyPi knows, he’s in a black void, where he is addressed by an unseen second party who has recruited him away from the Monitor to serve his purposes. This voice doesn’t take any of PsyPi’s bullshit. When PsyPi insists he show his face, the other takes away. It is just gone, like an unfinished drawing. The voice gives him the options of dying without a face or serving him. And in true c-level villain fashion, PsyPi buckles pretty quick.
Pycho Pirate: born with a will of vermicelli.

               Back in Monitor HQ, Monitor bemoans the loss of PsyPi, as he was apparently very crucial due to his empathic powers being especially important against the enemy, who is one of emotions. Also, because for some reason, he can’t tap Raven of the Teen Titans. Instead of fixing the problem, he asks Lyla to get him the file on the new Dr. Light. It’s time for him to create her. It wasn’t until my second time through that I realized how timey whimey this moment was.

               Back outside the city of Atlantis, Pariah is shaking things up by, you guessed it, spouting off about the end of the multiverse. This time however, we get one new bit of info—he’s from the first Earth that fell. He tells them that he appears wherever tragedy is about to strike. And this world is probably not going to last much longer. Arion and Obsidian are pissed because the Monitor promised them that coming here would help save the day. Well, yeah, if you guys had been guarding the golden spire thing instead of dicking around with Atlanteans and getting into fights, it might have worked. The proverbial car only works when put it in drive, guys.

               Meanwhile, the Monitor despairs at how weak he is growing, how fast his foe seems to be progressing, and he hasn’t completed the new Dr. Light projected yet. Elsewhere, Harbinger reports to her unseen new master/manipulator about the Monitor’s progress. The unseen voice takes time to gloat over how big, bad, world-shatteringly evil he is, while the Monitor’s thoughts appear in narration boxes, praying that Lyla break free of their foe’s control, for all their sakes. Monitor, it seems has known the whole time. Both the Monitor’s and the unseen foe’s speeches, though, feel unnecessary, like they had to have some dialogue to justify devoting the entire final page of the issue to the admittedly spectacular example of cosmic art. The Bronze Age was a different time. Nowadays decompressed storytelling results in a given comic having about as much written text as 3 pages do have in this one.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Did Clark Kent letter in shadow boxing?

Well, last week's exploration was... okay, that was a thing that happened. But now it's time to get to what this blog is really meant for: comic books.             

I’m starting of with DC’s landmark maxi-series, Crisis On Infinite Earths because it really helps establish this blog's mission statement. This isn’t one of my long-beloved books, although someday I may revisit some of them to see how well their logic holds us or if they have some meaning to them that was lost to me when I first read them. No, the purpose of this blog is to venture down the rabbit hole of comics outside my comfort zone. Continuity snarls, stories I only know through their (dubious) reputations, the deep weirds, forgotten gems, and diamonds in the rough. Crisis on Infinite Earths is very much at the center of all that. I only occasionally dip my toe into DC comics, and even then only for specific characters and runs, not the expansive cosmology. For the casual DC fan, the elements and vast canvass of the DC multiverse and its cosmic primordial deities might as well be like reading The Silmarillion after only reading a few chapters of The Hobbit. Now that I’ve made this little preamble on the basic nature of this blog, although there will be some deviation as time goes on. Onto Issue #1…

              We start off with imagery evocative of the Greek origin myth by way of the Big Bang. In one instant nothing, then in a burst of energy and purple narration, the multiverse is born. A future issue in this same maxi-series will contradict this in exhaustive detail, but that’s a moot point for the time being. For now, we need to fast forward from the birth of the multiverse to halfway through its destruction.

Earth-03, don't get attached

              Arriving on Earth-3, we are treated to the baleful, green-cloaked Pariah. Get used to him because he’s going to be front and center A LOT in this title. A white field of destructive energy descends upon Earth-3. Textually, it functions like The Nothing in The Neverending Story. Extra-textually, it functions like the eraser from MS Paint. Pariah laments that he lives eternally and is forever being drawn to dimensionally cataclysmic events. From the way he describes it, though, one would think he’d be used to it by now.  It makes me question his coping skills. I mean, appearing at the site of extinction level events is essentially what he does and has been doing it for centuries, possibly even millennia. He should be used to it by now. Or at least numbed to it. Imagine working at a customer service call center and having an episode of despair and panic every time someone calls in with a complaint.

              The defining characteristic about Earth-3 is that its sole hero is Lex Luthor, while the traditional heroes of main continuity are all members of The Crime Syndicate. Whether this is an evil dimension or one where morality is simply flip-flopped is unknown. Ultra Man and Power Ring, Earth-3’s versions of Super Man and Green Lantern are fighting off the natural disasters that seem to accompany the White Eraser Nothing. Ultra Man’a shoulder pad game is on point. Ultra Man tells Power Ring to summon the rest of the Crime Syndicate, but he doesn’t see the point since they’re all going to die. Meanwhile Owlman and Johnny Quick lament their impotence in protecting the world they’ve conquered. I’ve mentioned these guys aren’t heroes, right?

I HAVE to believe this already looked silly in the mid-80s
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is wearing the worst costume ever. Okay, maybe not the worst, but it’s pretty embarrassing. Ever hear of the short-lived Marvel property, NFL Pro? Filter that through an old issue of Flash Gordon and you have Lex Luthor’s costume. Also he has a 70’s space pirate goatee. Ginger, naturally. He attempts to save Super-Woman (Wonder Woman’s analogue) only to see her evaporate absorbed by the White Eraser Nothing, unwritten from reality.

Is there a rule somewhere that in alt. realities where Lois and
Clark don't end up together, her fallback guy must be Lex?
Luthor returns to his home where his wife, Lois Luthor, and their newborn child Alexander. Luthor knows that the  end of all things is incontrovertible, but wait… he has a plan. He, being an omni-disciplinary comic book scientist worth his salt, is aware of the existence of the multiverse and accurately predicted that their world was doomed. Lucky guess? To that end, he built a rocket designed to travel the multiverse and usher its occupant to safety. Occupant. Singular. Why don’t these narratives ever plan for groups of five or six in their escape pods? Highly inefficient. They decide that the only one who can go in the rocket is wee baby Alexander, who is blasts away to safety just in time to escape the holocaust of Earth-3. Baby Alexander is in heavy competition with Superman for the title of Space Moses.

Pariah is your high school livejournal account given human form
              As this is happening, Pariah meets Ultra Man and he bemoans to them in his patently emo style about his basic MO. He lives eternally and is eternally drawn to suffering and death. Blah blah blah. Cry me a river. You have all the coping skills of the Bubble Boy, Pariah. Get it together. Ultra Man is having none of Pariah’s pity party and declares that he would rather die fighting. He may be a villain on Earth-3, but this moment really makes you forget this fact. It’s actually a pretty inspirational moment.
Ultra Man makes a pretty inspirational bad guy.

              Alexander rockets away as Lois and Lex declare their love for each other and in a flash of white light, Earth-3 ceases to be. Alexander’s rocket arrives in Earth-1 which is the main universe (not the Prime Universe, which is its own little continuity headache), landing in the apparently long-abandoned satellite space station of the Justice League.
Meet Lyla. Get used to Lyla. She's kind of a big deal.

It's like if Kirby had designed Rainbow Brite.
              We see that this has been observed as we cut to the observation deck of another space vessel, where a blonde woman in a pink dress is addressed by an unseen figure, telling her that in order to save the world, they must act now, reminding her that she knows what to do and who to summon. While she does that, he will retrieve the newly arrived Alexander Luthor. To accomplish her task, Lyla needs to “energize” which occurs in a page where she seems to meditate until her body expounds a serious amount of Kirby cosmicness while she contemplates the gravity of the situation—until she is transformed into The Harbinger. Skipping ahead a few pages, we see Harbinger basically wears an asymmetrical cosmic unitard with a red piece of headgear that allows her face full exposure and her long blond locks to flow. Imagine if the Captain Britain Corps put out a swimwear line and you’ll be off to a good start.


What follows is a sequence of Harbinger visiting various locations and/or time periods across Earth-1 and Earth-2 recruiting. King Solovar from Gorilla City {hint—he’s a gorilla), Dawnstar, a winged member of the Legion of Superheroes from the 30th Century. Firebrand is a fire bender from the 1940s of Earth-2. Ted Kord, the second Blue Beetle is a Batmanesque gadget hero with a buggy theme. He is from an undisclosed city on an undisclosed earth.

              Next we arrive in a psychiatric ward on Earth-2. Here we meet Roger Hayden, aka Psycho Pirate II. Considering Earth-2 seems to be WWII-era inflected, I’ll give this guy a pass on that dubious choice of code names. He has been driven mad by his powers, but this doesn’t deter Harbinger even when he warns her that using his powers makes him want to use them more. I’ve deduced that he feeds on and manipulates people’s feelings. Harbinger convinces him that he is needed and gives him his gold faceplate of a mask. Apparently  Psy-Pi is impressed with shiny things because this wins him over.
There is something undeniably creepy about a psychiatric patient who wears
a faceless mask and manipulates emotions.

              Returning to the less important recruits. Arrion is a Sigfried/Roy lookalike sorcerer from 45,000 years ago. Firestorm is a atomic powered fire/flyer guy, and Killer Frost is his cryo-powered nemesis. How do we get Killer Frost on board with this plan? Why by Psy-Pi putting a whammy on her, making her utterly infatuated with and submissive to Firestorm. I am really uncomfortable with this. Even in its own time, this was not okay. The enforced deprivation of a woman's agency feels very much like a Golden or Silver age plot contrivance, but by the mid-80s, we should know better.
This single page is a Women's Studies term paper waiting to happen.

The writer seems to realize by now that recruiting all these characters one by one is getting tedious and is really just padding, so everyone else is introduced in a sprawling splash panel. This is a company event, so we should just get used to these things now. It is chock full of “as you know, Bobs” so everyone knows who’s who. Representing the villains is Dr. Polaris and Psimon. Among the heroes, we have Cyborg of the Teen Titans, Obsidian, the son of Earth-2’s Green Lantern, John Stewart, the second Green Lantern of Earth-1, the Superman of Earth-2 (distinguishable from the main Superman by the fact that he is depicted as a man of a certain age), and Geo Force. Geo Force is another character with some dubious ideas about superhero design.
If this series were a game, these characters would be your players for the tutorial stage.

Let’s just take a moment now to talk about superhero chest emblems. They are a great way to make your character memorable. Superman’s S shield is iconic, for instance. It is impressive, well-incorporated into the design of the costume, and is stylized to the point where it is the defining feature of any of Superman’s redesigns. It’s also important to note that not all superheroes need emblems. But when you have to, make it impressive. Granted tectonic abilities don’t lend them well to a visual symbol, I’m sure you could do something better than slapping a “G F” on your chest and calling it a day. Adding insult to injury is the fact that they’re very much cartoon bubble letters. It’s just very, very sad.

Before things get too chummy for our heroes, they are attacked by a cadre of shadow creatures. Someone notes that Harbinger went missing when they appeared, but they’re too busy fighting to follow up on the observation. Nobody proves that effective. Superman is aghast that punching doesn’t solve his problems. Killer Frost won’t stop addressing Firestorm affectionately and Firestorm’s thought balloons prove he’d be a terrible boyfriend, Killer Frost’s villainy notwithstanding.
Superman is the master of observation

A blinding flash of light sends the shadow creatures packing and on the final page of the comic we finally meet Lyla’s boss, The Monitor, who is only here to do two things: save the multiverse and have excellent mutton chops.
Meet the Monitor and his Kang the Conqueror-meets-Kirby Cosplay

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Small in ville, small in scope

Odds are if you're a fan of comic book films today, you're used to even the lesser movies being at worst just okay, barring your occasional Green Lantern or Fant4stic. If you didn't start watching this genre of film until about 2008 when the first Iron Man came out, you've basically been living in a golden age of super hero films. But there was a time when that good to bad ratio was quite reverse... oh, a very dark time. On that note, my boyfriend has been urging me for months now to sit down and watch 1983's Superman III. 

Of course, this was still from a time when the superhero film genre was in its infancy, but there had already been critical and/or box office disappointments such as Swamp Thing and Flash Gordon. However, this was a poorly received entry in the film franchise that gave us the cinematic superhero in the first place. Up until now, I've only known it by reputation. After all, I'd seen Superman IV: A Quest For Peace quite a few times growing up, so I thought, "how could it be any worse?" Well, now we'll find out as I find out why Superman III was considered anything but super. 

"Did you try to bullshit last week?"
The film starts out in a Metropolis unemployment office where local ne'er-do-well Gus Gorman, played by the late Richard Pryor, is trying to eke one last week of unemployment out of what has been a pretty long time without a steady job. But is summarily shut down despite his talent for bullshitting. On the way out, though he bums a pack of matches off someone to light a cigarette (he lit it indoors in a government building-- the 80's were like another world) and by chance he espies an ad for becoming a computer programmer. You know, the computer programmer ads you see on a tiny flip pack of matches instead of brand names.... What? You say that's not a thing? Oh, well. Cue the credits.

Whereas the credits of the first two films were iconic, set in space giving the viewer a sense of Superman's cosmic background while the signature, grandiose theme by John Williams played, Superman III takes a decidedly different approach. The two words that best describe it are comedic and pedestrian. Starting with a tracking shot of a blonde bombshell we will later become familiar with. The sequence travels around the city as one minor disaster cascades into another in a very Rube Goldberg fashion, sometimes intersecting with Clark Kent. I won't go beat by beat in this sequence, but the highlights are flaming mechanical toy penguins, Clark changing into Superman in a photo booth and having to snatch the photo strip away from a kid, but giving him the last shot (the non-Clark one), and a guy drowning in his own car after running/knocking over a fire hydrant. 

We finally cycle back to the blonde woman from the beginning towards the end of the credits along with Clark smacking some rando in the face with a cream pie... because this film has a sophisticated sense of wit. Oh, and it's at that moment, lingering on good ole pieface that director Richard Lester drops his credit. He could have placed it anywhere, but I suppose he wants the audience to mentally associate his directorial hand with all the dignity of a unwitting passerby getting creampied by the man of steel. Classy. 
Tonight's cinematic auteur, ladies and gentlemen...

This sequence is paired with a pretty buoyant, bouncy score. In case flaming penguin toys, the pie gag, and the inclusion or Richard Pryor didn't tip you off, the score might as well be screaming, "Hey look! A comedy! We're in on the joke!"

Time seems to have elapsed. During the credits, Gus has seemingly applied, been accepted to, and is already in class for data processing. It's worth mentioning that a recurring theme in this film seems to be the fear/frustration/fearstration that came along with what was then a slow but inevitable march towards the democratization of computers. This is a pre-Bill Gates/Steve Jobs world and it seems like the only person in class who isn't floundering seems to be our man Gus. In fact, it seems to be coming a bit too easily to him. Even he doesn't get how he's doing it. Hm...

How nice of them to point the baddies out to us.
Over at the Daily Planet, Lois, Jimmy and Perry remark off screen over humanitarian wunderkind and the film's designated corporate villain, Ross Webster while the camera is locked on a tight shot of a black and white photo of him. Lois informs us that he is good-looking despite the fact that "bland" would be more accurate. Since this is an exposition dump with visual aids, we also see pictures of Lorelei Ambrosia, the blonde bombshell from the credit sequence, and Vera, Ross' sister and business partner, who is the antithesis of a blonde bombshell. Jokes are made that insinuate that Lorelei is Ross' possession and that Vera is so homely Perry thinks the photo must be blurry. I don't know about you, but I feel like this is one step away from a workplace harrassment PSA in which Perry White stops female interns to tell them they'd be prettier if they smiled. It's a bit uncomfortable.

Clark is getting ready to head to his hometown of Smallville for his high school reunion. He's pitching a story that sounds all kind of snobby when you think about it: how a former country boy re-adapts after having become a big city sophisticate. Ah, yes, Clark. Let's see you mince about in your fine silk suits among all those uncouth slackjawed yokels you used to know. Sigh. How much longer is this thing? An hour and fifty minutes?! Clark must be pitching this story on his last stop before heading out of town because he has his letterman sweater with him... like a total dork.

Keep it classy, LoLa
Lois too is headed out of town, to Clark's surprise. Does she just keep that bikini top stuffed up her shirt sleeve and wait for an excuse to gloat to anyone who'll listen? Did she have it up there all day or did she just prep when she heard Clark coming down the hall? Anyway, Lois is Sir Not Appearing In This Film except for the very beginning and very end. Condolences to any Lois fans out there.  

While they're hashing out their travel plans, 

 Perry's secretary is having him participate in an office lotto for a trip to the country of South America. Will this be a plot point or just a bit of business to pad the scene? You make the call.

Either we just hit another another time jump or Gus' computer course only took one session and had same day job placement. He's got a job  at our evil villains' evil company, doing evil data entry. And is pissing and moaning about the size of his first paycheck. Okay, he's already got a paycheck? I can no longer do mental acrobatics to resolve this film's faulty timeline. Screen writers David and Leslie Newman were too lazy to make sure this script made sense. His coworker gives him an idea and he uses his computer to scam fractions of cents from the earnings of everyone in the company. Is this the same computer he had in class? Or maybe the same log-in screen name? Because again, it seems like the computer system itself is doing all the heavy lifting for him.

For some reason, Jimmy is accompanying Clark on a coach bus back to Smallville. I guess Perry wanted some shots of Clark's HS reunion for the front page. Or he just wanted the kid out from under foot for a few days. You know for someone famously known as "Superman's best pal," Clark seems like he is only marginally tolerant of Jimmy as he rambles on about his life. 

Fortunately for Clark, a fire at a chemical plant stops Jimmy's stories. Jimmy gets some gumption and puts himself in peril to take pictures up close-- and breaks his leg in the process. Clark supes up and meets with a scientist who tells him that the lab is home to special super acids that can eat through anything. Checkov's gun? Check. 

The majority of this action scene kind of blurs together and feels really long in relation to how important it is to the plot. Superman's solution to putting out the chemical fire is to use his freezing breath to ice over a nearby lake and dropping it on the fire. So, we can all agree that Clark has never been put through a workplace fire safety tutorial, right? Fortunately, neither have the Newmans, so that saves the day... onto that reunion.

He's every Delco townie d-bag ever
At the reunion, we quickly meet a couple characters who will be the basis of Clark's Smallville supporting cast for this film. Brad... we all know a Brad. He was the top dog back in the day during high school, the quarterback, the ladies man. Translated: He's the has-been. In any other film, he'd barely be a blip on the radar, but in this film he functions as a Clark-specific rival and the abhorrent admirer of... 

Little did she know she'd be better remembered in a tv movie
where Tim Currey makes bad jokes in a clownsuit.

Clark Kent's childhood crush and/or girlfriend, Lana Lang. Okay, if there is one casting decision I love in this film it is Anette O'Toole. Granted I have watched the tv mini-series of Stephen King's It more times than is healthy, but I saw her enter the frame and I just went "Oh yaaaaay! It's Beverly Marsh!" Lana is recently divorced and is thankful that Clark is around to help avoid any painful Gaston-like interactions with Brad. 

Apparently another week has passed and Gus now gets to marvel at the success of his "stealing fractions of pennies from coworkers" scheme. His last paycheck didn't even crack $200, but this one could set him up nice and cozy for a good long while.

Back in Smallville, it's the day after the reunion. Either that or they waited a week to clean up. Whatever you do, don't touch that gallon of potato salad! Lana is pretty much telegraphing her desire to leave Smallville, that she thinks Clark is the one that got away. She literally spells it out just in case having a great rapport with him and looking dreamily at the blow-up of Clark's high school photo wasn't enough. Some directors believe in "show don't tell." Lester leaves nothing to chance and does both. Oh, and she drops the fact that the has a son. 

Thirty minutes in and we're finally introduced properly to the villains, who have caught wind of Gus' payroll shenanigans. Right out of the gate, we see that Ross is that corporate snake. Vera seems to be an adolescent pastiche of feminists, depicted as her brother's equal, but is a decidedly masculine-looking woman who wears power suits. Lorelei... if you take Billie Dawn from Born Yesterday and give her the voice of Lena LaMont from Singin' In the Rain, you'd have Lorelei. I feel like the screen writers must have had some intent with having a straw feminist and an MRA's ideal of womanhood play opposite opposite one another but that might be giving them too much credit. Ross calls Gus up to his penthouse. Have I mentioned he's a corporate baddie? I should clarify that he is a comically corporate baddie. His office has a secret passage in the wall that flips around to reveal a fully stocked bar, he skis on an artificial mountain on the rooftop of his skyscraper, his plans are all about cornering various markets. He might as well have a suit decked out in dollar signs. Gus is worried he's in trouble. 

Instead, Ross recruits him into his money money money schemes. However, they think he should start small. For some reason, this involves sending him to Smallville, KS. Okay, of all the towns in the world they send him to a rural pissant town in Kansas? And he arrives seemingly the next day? If Metropolis is supposed to be NYC in this movie, I somehow doubt that either you'd arrive the same day/ that Clark would still be in town by the time Gus arrives. But you know what, movie, whatever. Logic was clearly not a priority during production so let's just keep going.

Oh, before I forget-- that grand prize trip to South America that was happening during Operation: Infodump? A couple of rando day players won. Yeah, that plotpoint sure went somewhere.

Meanwhile, Clark is out with Lana and son at a picnic in a field arced by an unrealistically perfect rainbow. He's wearing his old sweater around his neck, so I'm pretty much sure that we're in midlife crisis territory. Superman eats dog food. Well, if the filmmakers' goal is to show audiences Superman doing something he's never done before, that sure is one way to go about it.
Lana's son (no, I didn't bother to learn his name) gets hurt somehow and passes out in a high crop of wheat and when Clark notices a team of tractors headed his way, he transforms into Superman. Notice I say that he changes wardrobe. No, he just transitions behind a a fence where anyone can spot him. It isn't even a good transition. It's like they stopped the camera, Reeve changed into his tights and they resumed rolling camera.  In case you're wondering, Superman rescues the kid. This scene is padding. Actually, a lot of scenes are padding, but that goes without saying. After the rescue, he returns to Lana and boy as Clark again and is clearly taking pleasure in bragging about knowing Superman.
So, yeah... That happened.

Back to Gus' story, he is for some reason infiltrating the Webscoe Smallville branch. This is Ross' company-- why is this necessary? Can't he hack the system from anywhere? In order to do that, he gets the night guard liquored up so he can do his thing. Guess who the night guard is? That's right-- it's big man on campus Brad. Boy, did he shoot for the stars! He knocks on the door, and shows Brad the contents of his large suitcase, which is stocked with about half of Ross' rotating liquor cabinet, and Ross is pretty much, "yeah, this looks legit. Come on in." I'm going to be honest, I tried but this scene is fairly inexplicable. And yet also remarkable. Now, granted, this is a Superman-as-comedy movie, but why does there just happen to be a big foam novelty cowboy hat that you'd probably wear to a Dallas Cowboys game just laying around? 

It turns out though that Gus needs good ole Mr. Pornstache to do his embezzling computer mojo because the system requires two key card users on opposite sides of the room to activate. So he schleps Brad's blind stinking drunk body  over to the second panel and strings him up like a marionette in order to activate the system. 

It's about now while I question my life choices that I realize that this would be funny in your average Richard Pryor movie you'd see in the late 70s and early 80s, but just feels ill-suited for a Superman film. Comedy or not, a film centering around a hero is only as strong as the menace of its villains. We've spent little time with Ross, Vera, and Lorelei and what we have seen sets them up as caricatures of flimsy stock yuppy villains. We've spent a lot of time with Gus, but he's not much more than a get rich quick schemer who is in so far over his head that he has resorted to sight gags and slapstick. Do these sound like foes up to the challenge of the Man of Steel to you?

If you're like me, it's about now that two questions come together in your mind. What exactly is the business of Webscoe Industries? What exactly could computers actually do in 1983? The answer to both of these questions is: whatever the writers want. The Smallville branch computer he gets into says "Wheat King and somehow effects a banking ATM back in Metropolis, mail order bills from Bloomingdales." We learn this as he inadvertently causes chaos while trying to figure out what he's doing. In one clearly necessary scene, we see a husband hand his wife her bill from Bloomies. She's so stunned by the bill that she barely manages to react with a weak, "oh," when her husband smashes a sliced open grapefruit into her face. If you've ever gotten citric juice in your eyes, you'll know that it burns, so even with that bombshell, I am baffled by this actress's lack of response. And no, this wasn't the result of fighting over the bill. He just does it because Richard Lester was the misunderstood genius of his time. If this happened in a Honeymooners/I Love Lucy-type marital quarrel, I think that could have been funny, but this just feels like a headscratcher. 

Webscoe also seems to control crosswalk signs. I don't know how that is the terrain of big money corporate villains, but whatever. Gus manages to mess up crosswalks so that traffic is brought to a screeching halt in the city (sidebar: I've concluded that the cosmology of this movie consists of one city and one rural town and anywhere beyond them is limbo) and causes a riot. Even the crosswalk sign starts to fight itself with the go figure climbing up for a knockdown brawl with the stop figure. You know what, it's not even worth the effort to figure out how that works.

Ye gods, I wish these kinds of scenes were  isolated incidents. You can practically see the hands of the director and screenwriters frantically shoving the comedy they want to make into the superhero film they've been commissioned to, even if it means randomly cutting to unnecessary characters you'll never see again. They're desperate, cheap laughs that don't earn their payoff and break the world established in the first two films. 

Gus at last gets his ass in gear ending that montage of awkward pity laughs and this gives him control of satellite Vulcan, which causes a storm to quickly form in Columbia, South America. Here we run into those Daily Planet randos who won the trip to South America. Apparently, the company gave them the vacation time for the trip that very day. They spot a church where a wedding is in progress and attempt to barge in watch, calling it "a native wedding" because this film is a bastion of decorum and sophistication. Fortunately, the sudden storm chases them away before they cause an international incident.

We cut back to our villains in Metropolis. They are in a winter ski lodge situated atop his sky scraper because money. Ross is gloating over the news broadcast about the storm because apparently his goal with that storm in Columbia was to drive up the sales of his brand of coffee. So, to summarize, the villains only show up 30 minutes into the film and the goal of the subsequent 30 minutes has been the coffee market. Our villains, ladies and gentlemen. Vera asks why stop at coffee when they can corner the market on oil too? I'm surprised they didn't say, " Today coffee, tomorrow the WORLD!" but we were damn close. 

This is when they are once one again joined by Gus because, in accordance with my running theory, you can just hop from Smallville, Kansas to Metropolis, New York like you're using the world map of a video game. Gus apologizes about Superman interfering with their plan. Um, when did that happen? Why didn't the news story reporting in real time mention it? Are we missing a scene? Oh, well. Gus does act out the missing scene for our benefit, including going around with a pink table cloth as a cape and Zeus almighty, you can practically hear the film begging for us to laugh with it and not at it.

"Don't make me pull out my She-Ra Man Haters Club
membership card, mister.."
 Gus ends a sentence directed at Vera with, "man." To which Vera replies, "don't call me man." In case her appearance and comportment didn't give it away you guys, she's the resident militant straw feminist and don't you dare forget it! Gus' description of seeing Superman takes place where the storm hit in Columbia. How the hell did he see that? Okay, again we arrive at my theory about this movie's cartography. Perhaps in the world of this film, Columbia is on the other side of Smallville, KS and Gus just happened to see it at a distance as he was leaving the Webscoe office... in the dead of night, and it was mid-day in Columbia, which in the real world is only an hour ahead. Okay, I give up. Did this movie's script supervisor go on strike the day before shooting? 

Ross despairs that Superman rescuing the citizens of Columbia from a hurricane means that he'll be after Ross' company next, because in some parallel universe, those two things are easily put together. He frets about Superman ruining his oil plan, which to be fair, is only an oil idea at present. They wonder how to get Superman out of the picture and ditzy Lorelei mentions kryptonite. Vera asks how she knew that and makes a snide insinuation about Lorelei's sexual activity in the process. Clearly the hack writers' definition of feminism is slut shaming. Nice work, Newmans. Ross plans to get his hand on some of the stuff, once again, implementing Gus and the Vulcan satellite. Gus implies that he either isn't earning enough for what he's being asked to do or that he wants to back out before things go to far, he responds "If there's anything I hate, it's greed." He says this, mind you, in his own private ski slope built atop his own sky scraper, from the muilti-million dollar corporation he owns and while plotting to accrue even more money. Oh, and Gus accidentally skis off the building, falling probably 30 stories to the ground but miraculously survives. Praise C'Thulhu. 

Ross narrates as Gus acts out the krypton plan, which involves not retrieving kryptonite but analyzing it and replicating it. The lab can't ID one component, so of all things, he types up tar 0.57%. This thing is less than one percent off-type from standard issue kryptonite-- remember that.

Clark is back in Metropolis trying to write his hard hitting news story about his high school reunion when Lana calls him and basically guilts him into "getting Superman" to come back to Smallville. I think she tricked him into thinking this was a favor for her son when it turned out they wanted to honor him for that chemical factory fire from what feels like an eternity ago, as well as rescuing the kid from the tractors. They reward him by presenting him the key to the city. I'm surprised they didn't go the whole nine yards and proclaim it Superman Day in his honor. 

Sit on what, indeed, Mr. Pryor.
For some reason, the villains had this impromptu day marked on their calendars and Gus takes the hidden warp zone on Level 3 back to Smallville. He just interrupts the town's proceedings decked out in his best Halloween Spirit soldier costume, delivering his best Patton impersonation and some FDA Approved Grade A  Ham. He rambles on about plastic chairs for a while, causing the also-disguised Vera in the crowd facepalm and mug at the camera a lot. Finally, when this pointlessness ends, he hands over the synthetic kryptonite to the last son of Planet K, but it has seemingly no effect, much to Gus' and Vera's surprise. When Gus reports this in to Ross over the phone and confesses the missing ingredient snafu, he is most displeased and really should have been provided a mustache to twirl.
Back at  Chez Lang, Supes is complimenting Lana on a wonderful lunch when she goes to answer the phone. Suddenly, accompanied by some ominous music, Superman lurches over. Lana's meatloaf must have hit one of his three Kryptonian stomachs like a ball of lead. No! My bad. It turns out this is the delayed effect of the synthetic defective kryptonite. Suddenly Superman's entire demeanor changes. Lana gets off the phone and tells him about a truck that is hanging perilously off the side of a bridge, but old red briefs doesn't seem all that interested, focusing more on Lana, until she tells him both verbally and with her distressed body language that he really should go help. He flies off, really disinterested, and arrives on the scene pretty lackadaisically for someone faster than a speeding bullet, and about 30 seconds too late to prevent the truck from falling into the river.

I'm going to only give the cliff notes for this section of the movie because it's pretty stupid. In case it isn't clear, the synthetic defective kryptonite effectively functions like red kryptonite, which causes him to lose his inhibitions and suffer violent, irrational mood swings.  Tar is apparently the only thing standing between depowering Superman and turning him into a raging douche bag. Because he is now Superdouche, he shoves the Tower of Pisa into a 90 degree, ruining the local souvenir stand owner's business. Next we get to see him blow out the Olympic torch at the lighting ceremony. The villains gloat over this new change in his personality while bedizened in their finest 80s workout gear.

We get to see Lorelei without Ross present. She's reading the works of Kant, speaking in a normal tone of voice, and contemplating transcendentalist philosophy, but as soon as the Gus and Webster siblings enter, she quickly hides the book under her pillow and we're back to the baby doll voice. Yes, I'm intrigued. 

The floor flips over and another wall opens up to reveal a pair of lit up maps showing the locations all around the world of computers that remotely control oil tankers. I don't know why, but some of these tankers are smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic.

Gus stands his ground, not that he thinks what they're doing is wrong, but that he wants to make some plans. Ross hears him out and Gus pulls out plans for a super computer. Ross agrees as long as Gus gives him control of all the tankers. All comply save for one headed to Metropolis, which rightly finds the newly received coordinates outlandish.

For some reason, we cut to Lorelei straddling the crown of the Statue of Liberty, presaging Sigourney Weaver as Zuul a year before Ghostbusters came out. Superman arrives to tell her he doesn't rescue people anymore. She is in full-on seductress mode, hoping to convince him to fetch the wayward tanker. Our hero complies, but instead of dragging it to the coordinates, punches a hole in the ship, causing an oil spill then flies off to bump uglies with Lorelei. 

Presumably the next day, there is a line stretching around the gas station with a sign saying "2 gallons per person" and it's now that I realize that this film was made for a generation for whom the oil crisis was a living memory. 

Back in Smallville, Lana is still rejecting Brad at every opportunity and it's only now that I realize the costumers consistently have dressed her in  like a 50's housewife in all but two of her scenes. Those two exceptions being when she was cleaning and when she was bowling. Maybe the warp zone between Smallville and Metropolis is actually a timewarp zone. Brad's constant pestering has finally convinced her to break ties, so she calls the Smallville airport asking about flights to Metropolis. Wait a minute. First off, who takes flights to Metropolis. Every time we've someone arrive in Smallville, it's either been by greyhound.

Back in Metropolis, Superjerk is in a bar, drinking off his regrets, flinging nuts around to break people's glasses, and heat visions his reflection in the mirror into submission. He snubs the newly arrived Lana and lanaboy (I swear he has a name), but boychild hasn't given up faith in his rescuer and his words of encouragement echo in his ear. He touches down in a junk yard and screams like Logan in statistically every third scene of Wolverine Origins. The junk yard workers know what's what and get the hell out of dodge. Then suddenly, accompanied by a glowing green light on his forehead, Superman splits into two people, the other self appearing fully dressed in his Clark Kent persona. They proceed to battle one another. I wanted to think this was an interesting way to dramatize his internal struggle, but both Superman and Clark Kent actively impact the environment around them as they fight. It reminds me of an old issue of Uncanny X-Men when the permanently absorbed psyche of Carol Danvers whom Rogue absorbed permanently years prior was given physical form but there was only enough life force to sustain one of them and they had to duke it out for survival. Okay, that's off-topic (albeit vastly superior to this film), but you all know how this kind of sequence in this kind of Superman, at this late stage of the film plays out. Clark wins and he is restored to his noble, heroic self! The John Williams theme plays!! And I get to skip to the next scene on the DVD!!! 

He flies back to Lorelei's pad where a message starring Vera tells him to meet them at the Grand Canyon where an obvious trap has been planted. Why do they want to trap Superman? How did they know he'd revert to his true self? I don't care, I just want to go home... For some reason they had Gus' super computer built at the bottom of the Canyon. Lorelei and the Websters fly down in single person motor powered hot air balloons.
They seem to question Gus' choice to ride down on a burro. acting like he looks silly on his donkey compared to the quiet sophistication of balloons attached to silver-painted lawn furniture. Gus' stated reason for preferring the burro is what I call into question. He says he doesn't believe a man can fly. I'm sorry. I know this film's ability to remember it's own continuity only reaches the heights of middling during its lucid moments, but wasn't he the one excitedly describing his first hand account of seeing Superman flying in Columbia?

Down at the super computer, Lorelei calls it a jukebox. Now that we know the ditz thing is an act, I can't help but wonder is that slang or if she wants them to think she's dumb enough to think it's a jukebox. Vera meanwhile has absolutely no plans on letting Gus be the one to operate the computer. Because she's been the computer whiz in this movie? By the time Gus arrives, they have weaponized the super computer against Superman, having trapped him in a beam of green light emitted from the newly perfected, tar-free synthetic kryptonite. Ross says that Gus will get the bragging rights for being the man who killed Superman and Gus has finally reached his breaking point and turns on them to save Superman. He zip lines down to the lower level of the facility and removes a vital screw, shutting down. Gus and Ross engage in some slapstick as Ross tries to get the screw out of Gus' mouth. Gus bites Ross' thumb as suddenly we're in a Three Stooges short.

The krypto-beam comes back on of its own accord, and we soon realize that the super computer is a living, sentient, and obviously evil thing. It taps into power stores which shuts down the power grid to apparently the Grand Canyon's nearby city of Metropolis, New York. As it so happens, everyone's favorite country mice, Lana and her son Bowl-Cut are on the subway and get trapped down there when the power blows.

Gus manages to free Superman once again from the kryptonite beam, but the super computer is angry and blasts Gus across the room. Superman hobbles away, still weak from the effects of the kryptonite. Lorelei figures out their fucked, tells Vera "later frogface," and starts running and Vera follows suit. However, the computer traps Vera in its tractor beam and sucks Vera into its main core and starts the borgification process.

This was the end result. In a post Star Wars world, this was what the Superman franchise gave us when they finally went with something more visually spectacular than Lex Luthor and a bunch of Kryptonians. Sigh... And to top it off, in her new cyborg form, which I have dubbed Frogface 2.0, she doesn't get to chew the scenery as a good special effects villain ought to be allowed to do. No, she's basically a lifeless cyborg zombie. I feel like she could have been a female version of Metallo, especially since the super computer (which might have been an attempt at a proto-Brainiac) had access to synthetic kryptonite, and she could have been a cybernetic beast driven by the rage of the loss of her humanity. Instead, she merely becomes a bipedal extension of the super computer's attack ten whole minutes before the credits roll.

Superman has in the meantime flown to chemical factory in Kansas, which we now know is either a few hundred miles away or two blocks away depending on the draft of the script,  and returns with a cannister of Checkov's acid from way back in the beginning of the film. The computer has Lorelei and Ross trapped. Lorelei seems to be pinned to the wall by a band of electicity around her midsection while RoboSister holds Ross in a stasis beam. The computer scans him as he enters, but disregards the acid. Superman reflects the stasis beam Frogface 2.0 has set on Ross against her, causing her to short out and fall down what I can only suspect is a bottomless chasm. The computer is fighting Superman with all its moving parts while the cannister starts to bubble over, turning from green to red, then splashing all over the computer and eating through the area, causing the computer to spark and explode, and generally collapse. Lorelei is freed from the wall, somehow Vera is de-zombie-fied (and apparently not in a bottomless chasm), and Superman retrieves Gus from under a pile of rubble. 

Superman is next seen flying with the acrophobic Gus in his arms. The movie is going to forget about the Websters and Lorelei, but Superman says they'll have some explaining to do with the police. And by explaining, I think he means bribes. Kal-El drops Gus off at a coal mine, where he crushes a lump into a diamond and suggests to the workers that they hire Gus as their new computer guy. Gus isn't feeling it so he walks to the bus stop.

Clark visits Lana and twerp at their hotel. Apparently, they were expecting Superman despite Lana being afraid of him due to his changed behavior at their last encounter. Clark on bended knee, gives her the diamond now made into a ring. Just at that moment, who should walk in but everyone's least favorite jerk-face, Brad. Okay, it's one thing if they keep running into each other in Smallville, but for him to just show up at her hotel room in "the big apricot (no really, they call it that)," shows some serious stalker talent. He tells Clark he hates him because he's nice and nice guys finish last before he is comically rebuffed. Who says that? Even the biggest jerk thinks their the hero of his own personal story? Ye gods! Dear Newmans-- I hope this project brought you closer as a couple because it definitely didn't do you any favors as writers.

Back in Perry White's office, Lois is back (apparently her month-long vacation is over). She praises Clark on his writing (which also took a month to write, based on this movie's timeline). Perry introduces Lois to his brand new secretary Lana, whose giant ass ring definitely sparks Lois' interest, especially after finding out who gave it to her. 

The film ends with Clark traveling back to Italy and setting the Tower of Pisa back to leaning mode, once again to the frustration of the nearby souvenire vender who since Superman's last visit has replaced his stand with 90 degree angle tower figures to sell.

End Credits.

So, yes. This movie is bad. I think Superman IV is worse by most metrics. I think this film's saving grace was the fact that it was really trying to be something different than the first two films-- a comedy. However, I really think it tries too hard to be something different than the first two films. When it's more organic to the film, such as Lorelei's bubbly ditz persona or the better parts of Pryor's bits, even when it got a little over the top. But then there's cut aways and recurring characters like the vacation couple whom I'm sure the director thought was comedy gold, but were either flat or didn't make sense within its own universe. Making sense in general was another problem. I mean seriously, it made you wonder whether it was written by people who had ever stepped a foot outside their house because they had no sense of, well, anything resembling reality. I need a drink...