Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Supergirl's last gleaming

One of comics' most iconic covers.
Before I say anything else, I think after slogging through the first 6 issues of this series with my opinions of them being decidedly in the mixed category, I can happily say that this issue was fantastic. It's focused, has a sense of purpose, and has a sense of stakes and consequences that feel real. More importantly, I felt an emotional reverberation that the first 6 issues honestly lacked. The previous issues all seem like they are constantly at risk of buckling under the weight and scope of the sprawling narrative that ranges across time, and space, and realities. With this issue, however, the story zeroes in on characters in a way it hadn't before. Oh, don't get me wrong, the gratuitous size of the cast is still there, but the POV doesn't shift quite so often. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the old beat-by-beat...

Lyla and Alexander are floating around in space on an asteroid. Lyla is pretty much tapped as far as powers and Alexander is pretty much being kept to the rear for some sort of final trump card because he is made of both matter and anti-matter. Pariah appears insists that Lyla must know why the Monitor set up his “eternal life/appear at mass misery” powers. She says she does and says that perhaps it is time for explanations, but first she tells him to take the three of them to earth, where “all will be enlightened.”

Cut to Earth-S, home of Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, Uncle Marvel, and presumably Fetus Marvel. Also, an anthropomorphic tiger because Earth-S is the best place in the DC Multiverse.
This looks like the beginning of furry slash a beautiful 
Two characters I’m assuming are part of Captain Marvel’s rogues gallery are having a discussion. Sivana is your run of the mill 50’s mad scientist. Short, bald, round glasses, lab coat. Ibbac seems to be his designated hired muscle. Big, not too bright, doesn’t wear a shirt (very hairy chest—woof),and has a short proto-mohawk. Sivana thinks he’s ahead of the curve. He tells Ibbac of his plan to take over all five Earths before anyone knows what has happened. Captain Marvel appears, totally interrupted the supervillain monologue because I’m assuming Captain Marvel, his alter being only a kid, lacks proper superhero/villain etiquette. Before that gets too far Sivana and Ibbac vanish.

The Murky and Lurky of Earth-S
We see that Psycho Pirate’s hold on the heroes of Earth-4, Earth-S, and Earth-X has dissipated and they’re playing nice with the Earth-1/Earth-2 heroes who were sent there to help.

Meanwhile, the heroes of Earth-2 commiserate over their maimed comrade, Wildcat. They are secretly observed by someone who was on the scene when it happened, Yolanda Montez. She seems to know who his secret identity is. Her thought bubbles say she regrets never having told him about her own powers and regrets that they would have made a good team. In this issue, she has donned his costume, which really must have been taken in to be such a snug fit on a woman. She’s the new Wildcat. If this proves important is anybody’s guess.
The Exposition station has been downsized to Exposition asteroid.

               Back to the whole universally-significant plot, Lyla, Alexander, and Pariah have gathered up six characters, one from a different Earth, only five of them from a still extant Earth: the Superman of Earth-1, the Superman of Earth-2 (the older one), the Blue Beetle of Earth-4, Lady Quark of Earth-6 (the sole survivor), Uncle Sam (yes that Uncle Sam) of Earth-X, and Captain Marvel of Earth-S. Also, Alexander is from Earth-3 and Pariah is, safe to assume, not from one of the main Earths either, but the writers seem to have forgotten that. Lyla is telling these representatives the big explanation in the hopes that they will explain it to the rest of the population of their respective earths.
Elections were not held, I'm taking it.
Ages ago, there was only one universe and the people of the planet Oa (distinguished by their blue skin, white hair, and penchant for robes) were the sole residents (or sole residence of consequence) and were an immortal, scientifically advanced utopia. That is… until one of them who is selfish about his scientific discoveries, named Krona, scienced too hard and created both the Evil Anti-Matter Universe and the multiverse. Oa seems to be the only planet without duplicates in the other dimensions with the exception of the exception of the EAMU, where it is known as Qward (Oa being the one from the Positive Matter Universe). As punishment for his actions, Krona is turned into immortal incorporeal energy… because no comic book character has ever come back from an eternal prison or anything like that. Oh, when he’s sentenced he’s totally saying “you will suffer for this,” putting him firmly in General Zod territory.
   The Oans get hypervigilant about maintaining the integrity of the multiverse and anti-matter universe, since one of their own was responsible. At first they created the Manhunters, which were machines, but later abandoned them in favor of creating the Green Lantern Corps. [Quick case of backtracking for something I forgot to mention in an earlier recap. GL John Stewart and other corpsmen have been having trouble using their rings. A trip to present-day Oa in issue 5 or 6 revealed that the Guardians are trapped in a stasis field. These two facts will probably tie into this somehow.]
The GLC’s rings are powered by an energy source the Oans generate. I don’t see how this really fits into the multiverse, since the GLC acts more like intergalactic cops than interdimensional ones. But I digress… Not all Oans were satisfied with the GLC, which led to an Oan civil war, resulting in half the Oan population to an alternate dimension, where they built destructive weapons and evolved into a race known as “The Controllers.” I’ll hazard a guess and say they’re bad news.
I wonder if they shrank and went nearly bald as a species from dealing with the likes of Kilowog.
               Over the course of the millenia, it's probably important to note, they evolved from fairly  humanoid with blue skin into blue yoda-sized guys. 
Anti-Monitor might as well be a space zombie.
               On the moons of Oa and Qward, respectively, the Monitor and Anti-Monitor sprang into being. The Anti-Monitor took control of Qward and created an army of “thunderers” (no idea what those are), the elite among them he changed into the shadow demons who have been plaguing the heroes on the various Earths in the COIE series thus far. With these, he conquered the EAMU.

            Meanwhile, the Monitor was basically going the route of asceticism—meditation and learning the secrets of the universe. Running out of things to conquer, Anti-Monitor sensed the Monitor across the multiverse, recognizing him both as his other self and as something to be conquered, resulting in a million years of stalemated warring between them until they both blasted each other into a very long comatose state for 9 million years. It turns out that Pariah was the one who woke the Anti-Monitor. He considers it 1 of 3 of the sins he must atone for. Thought we were done with the info dump? Ah, such optimism…

Unreliable narrator?
           Pariah can’t even tell us which Earth he’s from, it’s just a foggy memory for him. Like most of the major players riding COIE’s backstory asteroid, he was a brilliant scientist who created wonders that damn near created a perfect world—he was like Jesus, DaVinci, and Caesar Augustus all rolled into one. Then he discovered the existence of the multiverse, which was frowned on by his people because they have a damnation prophesy regarding learning the origins of the universe, but he (like most comic book scientists, I now realize) is made up of 99% hubris. He builds an anti-matter chamber to explore the multiverse and destroyed his universe in the process because matter and anti-matter cannot co-exist. Whoops.
This is what we in the professional world call a "whoopsie daisy."

       He was kept alive in solitude for 1 million years. The explosion of his world caused the Anti-Monitor to awaken and feed upon the energies of Pariah’s world, making him stronger and more powerful than the Monitor.
To Summarize Pariah’s Three Sins:
1.      Exploding his own universe.
2.      The Explosion awakening the Anti-Monitor.
3.      The Anti-Monitor increasing his powers by feedings on the energies of the exploded universe.
Conclusion: So, he didn’t really commit three sins. He committed one sin that had compounded levels of bad results.
               Lyla chimes in to mention that he also woke up the Monitor. Silver linings… Being more proactive this time, and made Pariah into a being with the ability to sense and be drawn to dimensionally cataclysmic events and he would follow Pariah to them. But with every universe the Anti-Monitor destroys, the Monitor’s powers wane. The Monitor looked for heroes to aid in his mission and in the process, he found Lyla as a girl drowning at sea and takes her as his own and raises her as his daughter.
Isn't this the same backstory for Fury and/or Troia?
Pretty homogeneous origin story for Amazons not named Diana, huh?
                Now that we’re done this, Lady Quark is about ready to pounce on Pariah for his part in all this, but Captain Marvel holds her back while Uncle Sam exhorts them all the band together instead of resorting to in-fighting. Master strategist, that Uncle Sam…
Calling her "ma'am" is actually kind of charming.

               Next, we are treated to a page where each row of panels includes different heroes across different Earths are discussing their situation, having presumably been caught up on the details. Earth 1: Spectre, Deadman, and The Phantom Stranger are having a meeting of the Spooky Club. Earth 2 has Power Girl and Huntress [sidebar: Earth-2’s Huntress is the daughter of Bruce and Selina Wayne and she’s all kinds of cool].
Possibly a callback to Supergirl and Batgirl's scene from issue #4
Earth-X has clearly the most important characters ever: a pink “Dead Pirate Roberts” lookalike named Firebrand, a guy in a hazmat suit named Human Bomb, and Dollman. He seems to be about 10”, wears red ankle boots, and Dr Strange’s cape. Earth-4 has Blue Beetle, who must have since returned from the Exposition Asteroid, talking to Nightshade and Peacemaker. Earth-S features the Marvel family worrying about Captain Marvel, but it cannot go without saying how fun it is to see Beast Boy, who was one of the Earth-1&2 characters sent there last issue,  fluttering about as a pterodactyl, as is appropriate behavior for any megamorph when extinction is nigh.

               We return again to the Storytime Asteroid, where a large fighting force of heavy hitters has been gathered. It is explained that while Pariah can go to the next cataclysmic event, he can’t take people with them (that time he teleported Lady Quark to safety must have been a one-time deal), so Alex, being composed of both matter and anti-matter is the residential transit macguffin of COIE. Monitor instinctively knew this, which is why he sent for him in the first place. Sidebar, Alexander has grown to manhood and has a curly red mullet. Alexander opens a portal and the narration compares it to the parting of the Red Sea.
Christ imagery is heating up.

In this moment, Alexander, who like Kal-El, was put into a rocket as a baby and shunted off into space in order to avoid a genocidal event, officially becomes more of a Moses analogue than Superman. Pariah spells out what he said a page ago by saying that as part of his atonement, it’s his job to lead the heroes to the Anti-Monitor.
Moses powers are a go!
               The assembled heroes fly through the “cosmic membrane” and the narration is in full congratulatory tones. You can almost hear the intense orchestral John Williams music playing in the background. They arrive at fortress that looks like an ancient near eastern ruin floating in space. The heroes regard it as having never seen anything like it.
An evil lair as built by an ant colony.
               Inside, Anti-Monitor knows all, sees all and wants Psycho Pirate to use his powers to enslave the oncoming heroes, however, PP is tapped out from having used his abilities on the entire Earths of three different realities. Anti-Monitor is most displeased and smacks PP around before deciding it’s time to take matters into his own hands.
I get the feeling that Prof Stein is fucking with him.
               The heroes enter the outermost extremes of the fortress. Characters notice a) their powers don’t work here the same way as they do back in their world, b) they got into the fortress way too easily, c) they’re all feeling afraid of what is to come. Light appears in the mouths and eyes of the gargoyle-like statuary of the fortress and the very stone and mortar of the building shapes itself into limbs and stone golems assaulting the heroes. Lady Quark is beseeching the spirit of her husband to help her blast their foes to pieces. Earth-2 Superman is shocked to discover himself bleeding following a direct hit—Kryptonians, it seems are vulnerable here. They are barely holding their own. The only hero who seems to have an edge is Captain Atom. And it’s not even that great an advantage since his ability to smash them to bits is counteracted by their ability to reform themselves.
This either raises the stakes or belies the color of the sun.
               The party is split in the chaos. Superman-1 is looking for Pariah. Pariah needs to forge ahead along with Dr. Light while Superman-2 holds off the stone golems. Pariah is crushed by the very infrastructure of the fortress seconds before Superman-1 catches up. Timing is everything. Dr. Light suddenly has a really good focal point for her pent up irritation. “The Anti-Monitor is going to pay,” and flies off. She didn’t get the memo about Pariah’s immortality, but Superman did. He’s not entirely certain if she’s a hero or villain, but she seems to have the morally right agenda, so he chases after her.
Dr. Light has mastered both English and empathy in a short time.
               Supes reaches DrL. She’s vengeful not stupid, so she waited for him outside a chamber containing a solar collector, a massive machine she deduces Anti-Monitor is using to reduce the vibrational differences between the Earths. He asks if she’s certain. Come on, Clark. You’re a reporter. She’s got a PhD. A PhD in Science. Omni-disciplinary comic book science. She’s got this. She wants to take this tech home to study, but Superman is feeling pretty punchy. Before either can act on those urges, Superman is hit from behind with a powerful blast of bright white energy. His pain is so intense and so visceral, his scream appears as a sound effect instead of a word which Supergirl hears with her superhearing and flies off to his aid knowing full-well that she might be killed by something that can cause Superman to scream that way. Again, the narration might as well be giving the superheroes one big collective blowjob. EVERYTHING IS EPIC.

And I am not using that word lightly. Everything from this point and forward in the issue is worthy of viking songs or Klingon opera. The narration is beautifully purple and gives this half of the issue the emotional weight is richly deserves.
Idealism vs 80s grim-dark
               Anti-Monitor is smacking Superman around. Dr L intercedes and declares how murdery she’s feeling. Anti-Monitor either freezes her or teleports her away in an honestly cool looking silhouette panel. Supergirl catches up with Pariah, who senses tragedy is about to unfold and Supergirl rushes forth, determined to save her cousin, determined to take up the torch for him if she fails to save him.

           She catches her foe by surprised and gets in a few good punches, thrashing him about as she harangues him over all those lives now lost. He smacks her away sending her flying into a wall with only one hit. She grabs the stone floor and literally rips it out from under him, then resumes wailing on him and destroying his “life shell,” and destroying the solar collector in the process.

               Anti-Monitor’s proverbial kid gloves are off and he transforms into a creature of glowing red and white energy as he declares, “You, your cousin, your friends, your worlds all shall die with you!” The fortress shakes and Supergirl tasks Dr. L (whom she manages to really impress, which should not going unmentioned) with getting Clark out of there to safety and getting the heroes out of the EAMU. She flies directly into the glowing form of the Anti-Monitor, smashing him and soon she is consumed, glowing like the same red energy.
She turns around, telling Dr. L to make a run for it and Anti-Monitor takes the advantage, killing her. Without a body, that took a lot out of Anti-Monitor. He blasts off screaming “you’ll pay for this next time” like a Captain Planet villain.
               The building is crumbling to bits. While the rest of the heroes regroup out front, Superman-1 is still in the solar collector chamber surrounded by Dr. L and a few others, holding the dying body of Supergirl. She tells him how much she loves him and was inspired by him until her final breath. Superman-1 assumes the “scream at the heavens” position declaring he’ll kill Anti-Monitor for this while Superman-2 comforts him and preaches against vengeance for Supergirl’s sake.
               The fortress is still crumbling (it’s like quicksand—it really does take a while) and they need to escape before Alexander’s powers give out. They don’t want to end up like the Egyptians at the end of The Ten Commandments and that Red Sea is a bitch to get caught in. They fly back through, Superman-1 still carrying his cousin’s body.

               The five Earths are no longer at risk of destroying each other and the weird time anomalies have stopped, but they’re still interlocked and frozen in time and space.  A memorial is held in Chicago on Earth-1, news coverage airing. Batgirl delivers a eulogy intercut with images of the Daily Planet folks watching from their offices as well as heroes from multiple earths mourning for her in attendance.
               Superman takes her body, wrapped tightly in her cape now repurposed as a burial shroud, to the Fortress of Solitude. He reflects on all the hope and optimism of her when she first arrived on Earth, a young girl of 15 with nothing but her future ahead of her. From there, he takes her body out past Earth’s atmosphere and just lets it float around in the vacuum of space for eternity. Good lord, Superman—cremation is your friend. It wouldn’t surprise me if an alien villain had found her body and used it to reverse engineer an anti-Kryptonian weapon or zombifies her. Minor Spoiler: However, that didn’t happen. After this event, Supergirl is literally erased from existence. She never happened. That heroic sacrifice is utterly trivialized and her heartfelt requiem is obviated from memory.

DC probably didn’t realize quite what a “fuck you” it was to their audience, but it was hardly their last. As meaningful as the second half of this issue was, DC’s perennial tug of war it has between its need to sustain the iconic status quos of their major character and its creative teams’ need to have the space to tell new stories is one that invariably results in the status quo winning out. The impact of the stories they don’t tell are immaterial compared to the wills of an often capricious EiC. Part of what was decided when Crisis was planned was that they decided that there was simply too many Kryptonians running around, which diminished both the mysterious nature of Krypton and the isolated “god amongst men” aspect of Superman’s character. Of course, this didn’t last because nobody remains editor in chief forever. Jay Edidin of Jay and Miles X-plain the X-Men (listen to them, they are one of the best comics podcasts out there) once pointed that you can tell what the status quo was when a new editor-in-chief first started reading by what regressive changes s/he makes. However, inevitably, the next wave of creative talent comes into the different with a different status quo crystalized in their minds and can just as readily make their own resets in whatever contrived methods they choose based on a precedent that has its root right here. Such mentality in creative leadership is capricious and cyclical, and really puts on display creators’ unwillingness to grasp the fact that continuity and characterization marches on and their job is to be the torchbearers and not the gatekeepers of modern myth.

Despite that angry rant, I have to say that this issue is without a doubt the best so far in the series.  The issue does carry out some of my grievances from before during the first half of the issue, but it synthesizes them into something more cohesive. There is still a massive weight of DC cosmology exposition, but the writing doesn't try to fight against it like it has in previous issues. Yes, the Pariah and Lyla's exposition from the dawn of time is unwieldy, but it's finally providing some real, concrete answers so that the reader is finally given some solid footing in the narrative instead of just being told that the destructive force is the bad guy. Yes, there are the cast of thousands, but we most of them are largely left in the background and we narrow our focus on only a handful of characters so we feel engaged in the narrative. Then, once the narrative transitions to the raid on the anti-matter universe, the narrative transcends into something that truly feels epic, the narration becomes swells with the purpleness of its prose and you realize pretty quickly that out of the fodder of the first six issues has risen a truly standout piece of work that is a match for its iconic cover. Wolfman and Perez hit their stride with this series when they realized that one character's emotional experience and self-sacrifice and the resonance of her loss is more potent storytelling than checking in with hundreds of characters we don't have time to invest in. Taken out of the context of what came after, this is probably one of the most moving and earned comic book deaths I've ever read.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Retcon Voltron

Confession time: I really thought with the benefits of decompressed storytelling, I could fit an entire contemporary arc into the same length as I write for a single bronze age issue. Wasn't that adorably naive of me? Maybe if I had chosen a title that hadn't begun in the wake of a continuity soft reset, or wasn't dealing with a lot of very complex long-term continuity elements from some very disperate corners of the Marvel Universe, or a character who habitually leans on/over the Fourth Wall, I could have been a bit more succinct. I'm hoping now that I've covered the bigger continuity recaps, I can go through this a lot more quickly. Although, this issue involves a character who is both a time traveler and a member of the Summers-Grey family, so I make no guarantees.

Issue #2 of The Uncanny Avengers (the title is The Uncanny Avengers, which apparently sets it apart as its own title from Uncanny Avengers, volumes 1 and 2) once again has Duggan on the script, Stegman on pencils, and Isanove as colorist. The cover art is honestly pretty good, demonstrating our newly introduced antagonist standing dead center and dominating the tableau while behind him, bathed in an eerie purple light, the team is being bound and strangled by giant animated vines... including Human Torch, who could burn right through them. That doesn't make sense. I would say this is impressive, certainly better than the plastic mannequin/action figure bodies that we see inside, except that Shredded Man is very much a case of body horror. And I don't do well with body horror. I think it's gross and excessive, and makes my skin crawl within the context of horror cinema, so I'm less inclined to appreciate it in a superhero team adventure book whose tone doesn't come anywhere near warranting it. The emaciated limbs I could deal with, but seeing his torso and what appear to be his organs spilling out from underneath his cloak really upsets my stomach.

There's kicking it old school, then there's Nokia flip phones...
The issue starts off with Steve hanging out on the rooftop of the Avengers Theater listening to a news update on the situation his team is dealing with in Boston on the radio when his cell phone starts to ring. It's interesting to note that both pieces of technology are significantly outdated. He has Nokia flip phone, for crying out loud. A FLIP PHONE. I enjoy touches that remind the reader that no matter how long he's been here, he's still a man out of time and isn't quite as tech-dependent as the rest of us. But on the other hand, in Marvel's weird floating timeline, it's been somewhere between 10-15 years since he's been unthawed. He's good friends with Stark and has been the Director of SHIELD. I would have thought by now he'd have developed an appreciation of the value of a data phone in his line of work.

Old Cap isn't the bastion of hope he once was.
Comes with age...
Speaking of Stark, guess who's on the other end of the line? We see Tony doing his favorite non-alcohol-or-combat-or-sex related activity: looking smart by pressing buttons on holographic screens. He too has been keeping abreast of current events and asks if he should have his team suit up. Steve says if the Unity Squad can't handle this, it might be time to call it quits, but wants to give them a chance. Yeesh. For one of the biggest symbols of hope in Marvel, that sounds awfully pessimistic. Although, considering has had three volumes in four years, I completely understand the need for contingency planning.

There's a time and a place, Synapse...
In Boston, the Unity Team are being overwhelmed by the hostile flora and demon dogs dominating wreaking havoc on the city. Rogue attempts to get Synapse to use her abilities to shut the demon dogs down, but they don't have brains for her to tap into. When Rogue asks if she's sure, Synapse asks why Rogue doesn't trust her. Instead of giving into this invitation to in-fighting, Rogue asks Synapse to explain how her powers work, to the benefit of the reader. From the explanation given, it sounds very much like she can read and manipulate bio-neural electricity, which I think is what I guessed last time I covered these guys.

She can heal the sick and talk to animals.
She's a magical sword away from being She-Ra.
Conveniently the two are approached by a woman and her child who have been infected with... whatever has turned Boston into Day of the Triffids, but haven't been able to get to a hospital because of the Floral Apocalypse. The mother looks like she has a nasty infection. Her hands look a little gnarled and her face is covered in greenish brown pockmarks. Then Synapse looks into the baby carriage and we find out that the mother got off pretty easily, in comparison, as her little cabbage patch baby is literally halfway between cabbage and baby. Synapse uses her powers to reverse the effects of the infection of the baby by boosting her immune system, then Quicksilver rushes them to the hospital.

My understanding and appreciation of Synapse's powers grow increasingly more muddled the more I think about this move. I understand that her powers allow her to read and control the brain and neural electricity, and that the brain effectively regulates the entire body's functions. I'm not pretending that either of those facts are unknown to me. However, compared to what the reader has seen Synapse do thus far, this is a dramatic leap that makes her abilities seem less superhuman and more godlike. The team newbie demonstrated in only her second appearance that she quite literally that she cannot only control and rewrite people's minds, but also has the potential to have powers over life and death. I'm not saying that it wouldn't have been an interesting development eventually, but that would be something I'd like to see slowly evolve over the course of a few arcs.
Count Reed bids you velcome to his castle. 
The crux of his arc, such as it is.
Deadpool is suggests setting a (Human) Torch to the entire city, but Rogue points out that it wouldn't be good for civilians, while Brother Voodoo shows how the killer plants are converting by-standers into their food source. Human Torch's focus is elsewhere as we cut to a memory of Reed Richards... without ever seeing Reed. Okay, that's certainly one way of visual storytelling... It's basically an entire page of Johnny Storm in various panels. Remove the word balloons and this could have been about anything. Although Reed's shadow (or maybe Gary Oldman's Dracula shadow) is in one of the panels, so at least we know he's there. Although, I wouldn't be surprised if it was etched in an afterthought after the original art was completed. Additionally, it doesn't even earn its place. The long and short of it is that Reed tells Johnny someday might not have Reed around to do all the science. His resolution to the lack of science doers is to grab an infected civilian and fly off.

She isn't getting paid enough
(or at all) for this shit.
Annoyed, Rogue comments that either she or Johnny should have quit. Yeah, the theory that they had a relationship in the 8 month gap is becoming more textual. Quicksilver has made his way back and tells the remaining Unity Team members that there is someone they should meet, and blazes a trail for them to follow, ignoring Rogue shouting for him to wait up.
Rogue and Wade would make a good buddy roadtrip comedy.
Meanwhile, Johnny touches down on the campus of MIT to recruit a team of scientists to help in their cause. That is his major arc in this story. The epiphany that deserves its own page-long flashback is that Johnny realized that there are more eggheads where Reed came from. Yay?

Wade is at his best when he's
kind of the worst.
Back in Boston, Rogue is exasperated that her team members keep on blazing off without waiting to confer with the group, let alone wait for a leadership command. She asks if they'd act that way for Cap and wonders if it's because she's a woman. I think it's hilarious actually kind of hilarious considering she an X-Man functioning in an Avengers world. The X-Men historically have been profoundly better at being gender balanced both in terms of power sets and command ability, whereas the Avengers really tend to forget about eras with strong female leadership, especially since teams post-Avengers Disassembled did away with elected chairpersons, resulting in Cap and Iron Man being cemented as the designated leaders in the collective consciousness. So as paranoid as her question may sound, it's also valid.

Deadpool counters that maybe it's because she's a mutant. Because Deadpool is the master of being both the best and worst person in the room. While this fun bit of banter is going on, Synapse tries to get in contact with Quicksilver using her pseudo-telepathy, but only gets radio silence.

Suggested Team Name: Los Leafadores
Meanwhile, Shredder The Shredded Man interrupts a news update from the mayor outside her office flanked by his Chia Zuul dogs and two pod people. Remember that poor security guard at the end of last issue that was woefully unschooled in the ways of superhero and creepy villain's lair tropes? Now we see what becomes of those who fail to do the homework. He and some other uninformed rent-a-cop have been coopted, turned into a plantman golem. It just goes to show you, when your city is besieged by a disaster of either supernatural or comic book super science variety, do not approach strange cloaked persons in shadowy lairs. It will not end well for you. Also, remember the poor woman's green baby? She looked pretty much how these guys do. If Synapse hadn't stepped in, would an infant plantgolem be crawling around doing Shredder's bidding?

Even with the latest retcon, Pietro can't help
making battles about his (non) daddy issues.
                                                                      His plant patrol assaults the film crew while he corners the mayor. He seems very focused on how humanity has been taxing the Earth's natural resources, which is a valid complaint for an environmentalist to have and would certainly not sound out of place on an episode of Captain Planet. However, threatening to turn humanity isn't a message that even Wheeler would have supported. As he says this, he's holding her by the face and within two panels, she has turned green, presumably killing her. For a newly minted villain, he has a flair for the dramatic, because as he finished his pronouncement, the dome of the mayor's office blasts off as a giant tentacle/vine monster springs forth, knocking the remaining building to rubble to make way for it.

Where's the Southern Poverty Law Center when you need it?
              He continues on about his evil plan of evilness when he gets knocked down by a Quicksilver sucker punch. Quicksilver has the upper hand and uses it to trade barbs (and remind the reader how glad his is that he so isn't Magneto's kid) when a vine creeps up and slices open his neck. Pietro tears it away and tells the Shredded Man that things will go a lot better for him as he lunges forth, but suddenly is stricken with paralysis. Shredded man gloats and taunts Quickie's mutancy, saying "I try not to feed my darlings junk food... but just one bit of gene trash can't hurt." Okay. villainy is one thing, racism is another. I want this guy mulched never to return. As he says this he is putting Quicksilver in a pod. When Quicksilver protests, Shredded Man says "That's just the hallucinogens talking. You're already dead," as the pod seals itself shut.

So, is she a living image or a gif  file with 10 positions?
What happens next? I have no idea, but I can tell you that in the 70 year time skip, things apparently went to hell in an handbasket after Boston failed to maintain its quarantine and was the first city destroyed. A figure we totally can't see, but has seems to have time traveled here, has a big metal arm, and couldn't possibly be Cable is conversing with what appears to be a sentient tattoo of a WWII-era bombshell pinup girl on his metal arm. She goes by the name "Belle" and is quite the fiesty A.I. program, unafraid to give him a hard time even while complying to orders. In that regards, she reminds me of Friday (or maybe F.R.Y.D.A.Y), Stark's new A.I. in the MCU now that J.A.R.V.I.S. has become the Vision.
Are they in a relationship?
How does this work?
They chat back and forth about whether this was the M-Pox or if the Kree would terraform the planet but not claim it, all the while never panning up from totally not Cable's feet. This mysterious time traveler with a metallic arm uses telekinesis to navigate through the inhospitable terrain. I'm just stumped-- who is this guy?  He guns down a Zuul chia dog with his improbably large plasma gun (why aren't they dropping any clues?) and we finally see an over the shoulder shot of him and can make out the white hair and glowing eye of... oh, who could it possibly be? How many issues will go by before we find out who this mystery man is?!

He finds a newspaper that just happens to be from the day of the Avengers appearance there and has somehow managed to survive outside of archival preservation and still pictures Quicksilver and Deadpool in vivid color AFTER SEVENTY YEARS. Then suddenly the big reveal of our intrepid mystery man as... whaaaaa? Cable?! Great googly moogly, what a twist!!! Oh, and of course they include a big title drop using the cubed lettering from his header of solo titles, just in case we didn't get it. Good grief.

It occurs to me that some readers might not be familiar with Cable, since to my knowledge he has only had a small handful of cameos in the 90s animated series, and the fact that for some readers, X-Men TAS seems as old as Superfriends does to me. Okay, understandable. I was going to try to keep this entry brief, but since clearly I already failed at that task, I might as well. But keep in mind I'm doing a streamlined version. I have to because every other sentence opens up a new can of worms...

My sense of surprise is non-existent. 
Nathan Summers (born Charles Nathan Christopher Summers) was born the son of Scott Summers and Madelyn Pryor, who was a clone of Jean Grey created by Mr. Sinister because he'd been manipulating both the Summers and Grey families' bloodlines in order to birth the chosen bane of Apocalypse, and he wasn't going to let Jean dying on the moon get in the way of generations of planning. Following some Mutant Soap Opera that brought Jean back into the picture and turned Madelyn into a demonic villainess before getting her out of the picture, Nathan was being raised by Scott and Jean until Apocalypse infected him with a techno-organic virus, giving making his left arm and eye a cybernetic appearance. Then he was taken into the future by the high priestess of a cult who later turned out to be his own half(ish) sister from a defunct timeline in order to help him... Okay, let's try this again. Cable is Scott and biologically Madelyn's/Jean's adoptive son who was raised in a far distant post-apocalyptic future by an elderly version of his other-dimensional half sister (plus Scott and Jean in rental bodies) to be the messianic figure of a cult dedicated to overthrowing Apocalypse because he was genetically engineered for that specific purpose by Mr. Sinister. He is an incredibly powerful psi-talent, but usually doesn't use get to show it off because he generally uses it to fight off the techno organic virus that turned his left arm, shoulder, and the area around his left eye appear cybernetic. He is a time traveler and a career soldier and is so grizzled he could give Sam Elliot a run for his money. In recent continuity (as far as I know), Apocalypse is dead, so spent 16 years raising hopping around the timestream and Hope Summers (who herself was a messiah for mutant-kind) while playing cat and mouse with Bishop, has been cured of the TO virus, and uses a cybernetic casing around his arm to compensate for the chicken wing that was left over after he was cured.

My question now that Cable has landed as a protagonist in this series is where exactly are we in his personal timeline? Cable is a very messy character to write in general because, as the paragraph above might indicate, he is basically a bunch of retcons that pulled a Voltron and joined together in order to take human form. Especially considering he bodyslided in from a distant future, we really have no sense where he is relative to our knowledge of his history, let alone whatever might have transpired if he's from significantly further in his personal timeline than his most recent appearance.

Being the middle chapter in a story is a difficult, thankless job. You don't get to have fun establishing a status quo nor do you have the big battles, the epic smackdowns, or the sense of resolution of the conclusion of a story. This story is no exception, however what seems to be further impairing it is the fact that it seemed like there wasn't enough story to flesh out the issue. Johnny's flashback and trip to MIT contribute very little to the narrative and feel like they were last minute additions to pad out the issue. Cable's sequence also seems like it was written two pages longer than it needed to be to stretch the book to its designated page count. In fact, I would argue that as written, I think it would fit in better as an epilogue to a completed arc, setting up a second arc instead of stopping midstream to insert him into the present one. I honestly think it would be more interesting to see him just pop in during the present and grumble on about how the team done fucked up the future. Especially since I picked up a team book for a reason, I would have preferred that prolonged five pages of interaction to be with the team instead of his A.I., as amusing at Belle may be.   This issue isn't the worst story I've ever read, but it feels like the creative team under-served the main story of this issue in order to give Cable more of a set-up than was actually needed and thus it dragged on, resulting in a very "meh" issue overall.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mandatory Sidequesting

In today's installment, we look at issue #6 of Crisis on Infinite Earths, once again from the creative team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez. I think it's fair to say that thus far I've been underwhelmed so far. As much as I find the weird little continuity wonks amusing, it's not enough to make up for the the lack of narrative focus, the pretty needless padding, or the conspicuous fingerprints of editorial mandate. Today's issue has all the problems we've seen before, but I think it starts to move past them by the end of the issue. I wouldn't call this a 180 turn-around, but it is a good sign of improvement.
The cover of issue #6 doesn’t excite me. It is visually interesting, as it is a gruesome-looking cosmic android/cyborg and well-drawn, but it really doesn’t tell me anything about the issue I’m about to read. In fact, it really feels like this was alternate artwork for the Anti-Monitor's big reveal from the end of issue #5, which to be fair is a valid reason to make him a focus of this issue's cover.. But to what end?  What new information does this communicate to the reader? That he's scary? I think we figured that out at the end of last issue. A close-up of Dracula can also be frightening but it doesn't tell the story the way an image of him him lunging at a victim or recoiling from a crucifix-wielding Van Helsing would be. Perhaps if he had been rendered in a medium shot, actually doing something in a way that is visually interesting and dynamic that also give us a hint of what is about to unfold in this issue, I'd feel differently, but as is, it's a portrait, not a cover.  Perhaps, if I hadn’t already read the preceding issue, that might draw my attention, but since I did, all it does is offer me a second look at the big reveal from last time. The Anti-Monitor, this time in a beauty shot. The tag on the issue reads, “At last… the Anti-Monitor.” Well, at least the cover delivers on its promise.

Master of the sick burn
Such great "show, don't tell. You don't even need Anti-Monitor's villain monologue...
               The splash page teases us with the issue title, “3 Earths, 3 deaths!” We are in the Anti-Monitor’s base. Now, not only can we see our principle protagonist, but we can see their surroundings as well. Maybe the Anti-Monitor didn’t step out of the shadows. Maybe he just found the light switch. Now that Psy-Pi can actually see his master, his focus on Flash seems to be waning. Flash needs only to wait for the right moment. Psy-Pi begs Anti-Monitor for the vast amount of emotions he has been promised. Without failing to go into detail about how loathsome he finds Psy-Pi, he concedes, filling him with cosmic energy that seems to expand Psy-Pi’s consciousness in the process.
Never change, Kimiyo... 
               We cut back to the heroes’ base, where the ship is a’rocking and on the verge of destruction. It makes me wonder how the Anti-Monitor was about to do so, since I believe it’s in the Monitor’s netherverse along with Earth-1 and Earth-2, and thus beyond his reach. The characters are all trying to get their bearings and rescue any that might have fallen from where they’ve been. Hawkman rescues Dr. Light and she rewards him for his efforts with verbal abuse because she’s the bestest.

              Another character who is continually vying for the title of best character in the crossover is Changeling (or Beast Boy, I forget what his codename is at this point). Though honestly, I think if you gave half the lines he has had thus far in Crisis, it wouldn't work. The key to writing Garfield Logan, at least when Wolfman is writing him, seems to be writing him as cocky, over-confident, and more than a little bit of a hornball without ever forgetting that he's a 13-year-old boy with all the impulses and lack of impulse control that implies attempted to emulate what he thinks to be appropriate masculine behavior and failing miserably at it because he is so deeply out of his league in terms of maturity. True, today we'd call it toxic masculinity, but he's always so affable and self-deprecating about it that I'm convinced this is .
She's out of your league? Who? Pick one.
             The space station seems like it’s breaking apart at the seams, turning into more of a hostile death trap with every passing moment. Pariah begins vanishing, realizing he’s drawn to another tragedy. Alexander is tempted to use his matter/anti-matter powers to draw in the three unprotected Earths (not certain if that is his only power, that’s been extremely vague thus far), but Lyla realizes that it is she who must act. She uses her powers to knock Alexander out and teleport all of them to safety, and presumably to their next desired locations on the three unprotected Earths before I ultimately explodes.
And this is the totally non-evil Harbinger you should really be trusting.... 

Time for some interludes. I'm starting to really question why some of the interludes and cameos we keep coming back to exist. Did Wolfman and Perez simply want to give as many characters as possible a moment in the spotlight? Are they being set up in a way that will pay off by the end of the series? Or are these blatant ways to incorporate new characters and plot elements that will be incorporated into the new status quo? Time will tell. 

I bet they bandaged him up with
his boots still on.
On Earth-2, The Atom puts Wildcat to bed. Wildcat’s legs are bandaged up and he is definitely feeling a case of owwies, I find it odd that he's still in full uniform, whereas I'd imagine most any physician would have put him in a medical gown for the examination. Of course, I don't think they explicitly said they took him to the emergency room, so for all I know, someone in JSA headquarters just grabbed all the gauze in the first aid kit and gave him thigh high mummy boots. He has been rendered paralyzed from the waist down after saving his friend Yolanda Montez from Red Tornado’s lightning last issue. Speak of the devil, Yolanda Montez is watching outside from the window… with no shoes on. Where are your shoes, lady? That’s how you get tetanus! Yolanda regrets having never told Wildcat about her own abilities, but resolves to put them to good use in his honor.

Does your method of honoring him include staying out of danger?
Considering he lost his legs keeping you safe...
On Earth-1, or at least Outer Space-1, Lex Luthor is just floating around in his green and purple battle suit, then suddenly gets picked up by Brainiac’s floating head/tentacle ship either through a whirlwind, a tractor beam, or a tractor beam that looks like a Red Tornado fart. The art shows the external view of Brainiac's ship instead of viewing them interacting, most likely because the pages were done before Wolfman and Perez had this mid-Apocalyptic Legion of Doom-esque subplot figured out. Luthor doesn't recognize the enemy of his enemy, but Brainiac clarifies that he is the new Brainiac. I bet they will introduce more iterations sparingly, considering they're only up to Brainiac-5 by the 30th Century. Thus ends that weird bit of Dadaism story thread for the moment.
The new best part of a super-villain team-up
 is NOT seeing them interact
               The next major destination is Earth-X. In later years, DC must have figured 52 was a manageable amount of alternate realities, but for now, it seems that alternate realities were so plentiful that they have exhausted both numerical and letter designations.

A onesie, mohawk, and gladiator sandals. 
And this isn'teven the most remarkable 
instance of bird-themed costuming this issue...
In this reality, WWII waged on for 40 years. God, the entire world’s economy must be deep in the shitter after a war that long. Here we find the Dr. Light, Steel (no, not the Shaq O’Neil one), Hawkman, and, Northwind. I have never seen this character before and if it weren’t for the namedrop, I would have been calling him “Mohawk Bird Boy” for the length of this recap. Unlike the Hawks, his wings are underarm. Whether they are actual wings or just feathery growths on his arms that enable flight are beyond my knowledge, but the important thing is that ridiculously pointy Mohawk. He is definitely a product of this book’s time. Dr. Light is surprised that she now understands what everyone is saying. Northwind suggests that is could be something Harbinger might have done. Lyla apparently can add “universal translator” to her CV. Speaking of which, Steel points out to the horizon and we see her in the sky. No, she isn’t flying in the sky, it’s like she has been projected onto the sky in a blue outline. It strikes me as very “mother goddess.” Oh, and by sky, I meant anti-matter cloud. If any characters still don’t trust her at this point, I wouldn’t question it seeing this. Northwind spots a large mob of people racing towards the cloud. He swoops in hoping to stop them, but they are all in a terrible, frenzied rage and pelt him with rocks.

By golly, we are truly fearsome!
Among this mob are the Freedom Fighters, whose membership includes The Ray, Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, Black Condor, Doll Man, and Uncle Sam. Yes, that Uncle Sam. Ostensibly, they are this Earth’s heroes, but they are acting conspicuously lawful evil at the moment, attacking the delegation of Earth-1/2 heroes. Between that and the horde of violent civilians racing towards oblivion, it can be surmised that something is askew. 

Even if you ignore the personification of the U.S. government on the team, this team at least visually is very odd, at least from the perspective of someone reading nearly 30 years later. Phantom Lady, isn't odd so much as she is just plain noteworthy as being the inspiration behind The Watchmen's Silk Spectre, and the only character to serve as inspiration for the main cast who wasn't appropriated from Charlton Comics. 

The Human Bomb is just a headscratcher to me because at least from what I can visually tell, he is just a guy covered from head to toe in a hazmat suit. And it's a pretty non-descript hazmat suit, compared to Marvel's Hazmat, whose look was very distinct. Then again, this lineup strikes me as having been created at a time when just showing up to fight crime in a hazmat suit you stole from the Springfield Nuclear Plant was sufficient.

He was scheduled to be grand marshal of the BDSM Pride 
Parade before this crisis started
Black Condor's look is amazing. I get the feeling that he gets dressed in the morning not certain whether he wants to cosplay as Storm or go to the Folsom Street Fair. His costume is, as his name implies, all black (and presumably all leather), and consists of a a black (leather) gorget/neck corset and a pair of black (leather) briefs conjointed by one long (leather) harness strap. He has black (leather) mid-calf boots, and a black (leather) underarm cape that connects to black leather manacles on his wrists. I'm just going to go out on a limb as say he's probably a submissive bottom and I actually think it's great that comics has a sex positive fetish enthusiast all the way back in the 40s. Innocent times, I guess. Although, today seeing a member of the fetish community dressed up as BeyoncĂ© would probably be just as adorable. 

Of course, the Earth-1/2 rescue party meets up with the Freedom Fighters and the fists start flying. This is a superhero comic. That's the rule. You might think that this is your classic superhero misunderstanding: punching and quips now, questions later. But no, this is different and the Freedom Fighters don’t seem to be pulling their punches. In a post-Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War world (I'm guessing I'll need to share my thoughts on them eventually), a casual reader might just assume superheroes just engage in brutal, no holds barred combat as a matter of principle, but this is not the case. In fact, some of the away team are friends with the Freedom Fighters. But the FF and the rest of their world's population seem to be raving mad, both uses of the word mad being in play.

Soon we see why, as the Anti-Monitor has amped up Psy-Pi’s powers to the extent that he feels like his mind is going to explode. He is still bathed in the light that Anti-Monitor used to empower him, no irises in his eyes and upon a closeup of his face, the three remaining Earths are seen with energy crackling around them. It’s pretty effective, if a bit over the top, which is the series’ calling card.
It'll be like overloading a battery... except with brains splattering on the wall.
On Earth-4, Martian Manhunter, Jay Garrick, Katana, a golem-like man named “Blok,” and a winged guy I think might be Earth-2’s Hawkman arrive and start surveying the terrain. Possibly Hawkman flies up to get a better view when the Blue Beetle’s ship, Bug appears overhead and Possibly Hawkman is bombarded with an energy blast with an atomic energy signature. The assailant, Captain Atom flies from Bug, accusing them as the ones who kidnapped Blue Beetle in the first issue of the series.
This is your sandbox, Wolfman & Perez.
           I shouldn't be the one telling you how this works.
Again, Marv Wolfman really sucks at his own continuity, let alone DC’s big, sprawling multiverse, so why is he in charge of this project? Back in issue #1, The Monitor established that all the heroes he assembled were from Earth-1 and Earth-2. Were they making this up as they went along? It's not like they could have not known he wasn't from one of their main universes because half what what this entire project was explicitly attempting to accomplish was to fold characters from the various extraneous licenses DC had acquired into the main universe. After all, Wolfman stated in the forward to the Absolute Edition of Crisis that he researched continuity for years before writing and certainly an editor would have caught that right? That is... unless Wolfman was editing his own work. Sigh. Of course.
It looks like that partnership in Nite-Owl and Rorschachs' backstory
was inherited from their spiritual ancestors.

Even so, while the footnotes establish that this Blue Beetle was the one recruited by Harbinger, Blue Beetle’s account doesn’t quite add up, making it sound like all he’d experienced was an ominous story, but for some reason knows that the heroes sent here are there to destroy his world. This since the story’s internal continuity is clearly fucked to hell, so I’m just giving up and going with it. What is clear is that the denizens of Earth-4 are under the same malevolent influence as on Earth-X. From here on in, it’s a repeat of the previous scene. Heroes battling decidedly irrational villains with blatant name-drops just in case we need them. Additional Charlton characters include: Nightshade, Peacemaker, Judo Master, Thunderbolt, and The Question (sidebar: play a fun game of "spot the Watchmen analogue in this scene), who seems to be the only character native to Earth-4 who has caught on to the fact that their very emotions are being manipulated to self-destructive ends. Meanwhile, Harbinger can again be seen on the horizon.
Which is the bigger mystery: where'd they go or who the fuck is she?
We take a break from the same damn basic story on the three unsecured Earths to visit rapidly merging Earths-1 and Earth-2. Under the sea and Aquaman and company are despairing because as the Earths draw closer to merging, their cities are getting displaced, replaced with Earth-2’s version of the landscape as their vibrational walls thin out. Sea Master and Black Manta watch Aquaman at a distance as they plot sinisterly. In turn they are being watched by a white haired girl in cut-off shorts named Dolphin (who seemingly is all on her own and lacks her memories), but then they suddenly disappear. I’m betting Sea Master and Black Manta are ending up with Brainiac’s crew. I doubt Dolphin will be relevant to the story again.
Um... what's to stop people from going around that thing?
Finally, we are at the third padding tactic unsecured reality, on Earth-S. Supergirl, Changeling and Kole from the Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, and Black Canary in a truly unfortunate ensemble (I’m going to start a running tally on best and worst costumes in this series) make up this away team. Again, there is a huge throng of people making a beeline for the anti-matter, but Kole uses her apparently crystal-based powers to throw up a gigantic sheet of crystal around the opening of the field. Of course that makes me wonder if the field is stationary or will absorb the crystal in a few minutes and render her efforts moot.
The Marvel Family: action    
figures sold separately
I don’t know what else Fawcett Comics had to offer, but they most certainly did have one big nut on offer: Captain Marvel, better known today as “Shazam” for the purposes of copyright laws. I’m going to ignore the whole “blah blah blah they’re under mind control” recap because that’s a given at this point. I know the idea of a boy who turns into an adult superhero is silly by today’s standards, but I didn’t know just how splendidly silly it got until I espied his sidekicks: Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, and the resplendent Uncle Marvel. Ye gods, we’ve reached a new plateau of hokey. I don't know what's sillier-- the Marvel family or the fact that Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr seem to be a match for Wonder Woman, but are no match for Black Canary's track suit. Thank you for this moment, Wolfman & Perez!

Dea ex Machina
One more Earth for Olympic Rings Formation...
Oh! And there’s Harbinger in the sky again! We’re cutting fast and furious between the fighting on the three earths, but Harbinger is up to something, becoming increasingly more prominent on the page until the energy crackling, around her starts to draw in the three universes before Anti-Monitor and Psy-Pi realize what she’s doing. When her task is complete, she glows white, vanishing in that glow. She re-appears once again as plain old Lyla. Alexander informs us that she expelled every bit of her powers as Harbinger to complete her task and now only Lyla remains. They’ve spared Earths-4, S, and X from the Anti-Monitor, but the other problem has been compounded. Now there are five universes vibrating ever closer to one another.

On Earth-2, Power Girl, Johnny Quick, and Green Lantern are working with villains, Star Sapphire, Per Degaton, and Deathbolt. Suddenly all three of those villains vanish into thin air. Hm. I wonder where they possibly could have ended up…? Lyla and Alexander float around the netherverse on an asteroid, pondering their next step. Back in Wildcat’s hospital room, Yolanda has made some alterations to his costume and leaves, once again by window, taking on his mantle as the new Wildcat.
My thesis for this installment is that DC is positively riddled with animal-themed
superheroes with bafflingly dumb looks. Ye gods, that muzzle...
Whereas last issue felt like a waste of time, stalling for a big reveal, this issue had its own set of drawbacks. I wouldn’t mind the “side-quest” nature to rescuing the other three Earths if it weren’t for the fact that I felt like the issue devotes a lot of time to showing us the same story three times. Perhaps it wouldn’t have felt so rough if they had managed to interweave the stories on the three different Earths a bit more, intercut the action instead of feeling like we’re reading the same sequence three time with three sets of characters. I do get why the creative team felt the need to namedrop all the characters from each of the imported companies. After all, if they are going to be folded into the new Earth, might as well get to know them. However, three separate “getting to know you” fights really made this issue feel painfully repetitious. Then again, it did spare me from having to devote a lot of time recapping. This is my shortest recap so far and a good quarter of it is basically talking about industry practices. Then again, I think the sausage factory details are more interesting than the actual meat in this instance.
This has nothing to do with anything, but I'd feel like I cheated you if I didn't let you know this happened.