Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Teenage Mutant Disney Princess

I know I said I was going to review Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III this week, but honestly I
couldn't bring myself to think too hard about it. I can sum it up in two points: 1) What is up with the downgrade in the Turtle and Splinter puppets? Why do the Turtles have so many teeth? Turtles don't even have teeth! 2. The first two movies were silly and fun, but it's another matter entirely when they drag poor, maligned history along for the ride.

Instead, I decided to treat you all to something I didn't to be doing in this blog: indie comics. I am staying on-theme however, by looking into the very first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Originally published by Mirage Studios, so named because there was no physical studio, Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles only resembles what we now recognize as TMNT today in basic structure and premise. The characterization and tone of the subsequent animated series and films created a divergence that the original creators reportedly regret to this day. I'm going to put a pin on that for now, since I don't want to give away too much in my preamble.

Although, some historical context is needed. Firstly, this was conceived of as a one-shot, one that the fledgling comic creators scrimped, saved, and borrowed in order to afford to make. As was common for indie comics at the time, it was a black and white bare bones endeavor. Laird wrote the story and handled the inking. Eastman did pencils and lettering.

Interestingly, it is a stealth parody combining elements of four different popular comics of the day. There was Marvel's New Mutants, the first ongoing X-Men spinoff, featuring a younger class of teenage mutants. Secondly, there was DC's Ronin and Marvel's Daredevil, which both heavily feature ninjas, and Aardvark-Vanaheim's Cerebus, which featured a cast of anthropomorphic, talking animals. Teenage mutants... ninjas... and talking animals. Add them altogether and what do you get? Yes, I'm sure that's exactly how that brainstorming session went. The creators probably just looked at their pull list one week and these four titles just happened to be on the table next to each other and "Eureka!"

Even without color, this cover is pretty amazing. But then I notice Laird's signature down at the bottom of the page is from 1992. Apparently, this was the fifth reprint. I've also tracked down what I think is the cover of the original print, To be honest I'd much rather talk about the beautiful work on display in the later work, with its line work and shadows. However, it would be unfair of me to judge the internal art of the original by the same metric as the cover art of the fifth reprint, considering by then Laird had 8 more years of experience under his belt.

At first glance, I thought the original cover looked very busy due to the shading relying heavily on a crosshatching technique that resulted in the cover looking very granular and somewhat fuzzy, but I do think lends itself to the shadowy ambiance that Laird seemed to be going for. However, a point in the original cover's favor is that the rendering of the turtles themselves better resembles what we'll see in the comic itself, whereas the latter cover from 1992 illustrates Laird having refined their aesthetic over time. Both are actually pretty stunning, regardless.                                                                                                                      We begin our adventure this issue at the onset of battle. The brothers are striking an honestly badass team battle stance as Leonardo's voiceover sets the tone. There is a sense of pride and loyalty in his brothers and in just in their very prowess. They apparently took a wrong turn down a city alley and found themselves cornered by a gang called the Purple Dragons (a shout out to The Sword in the Stone, maybe?). Luckily, they are ready for the mean streets of pre-Giuliani New York and came with melee weapons.

He gives at least some basic insight into who they are. We find out that Donatello is the one with the bo staff and Michaelangelo has nunchakus, but we have slightly more details about himself and Raphael. He describes himself holding his katana as "a relaxed ready position," whereas Raph is described as "quivering with a tense energy waiting to be triggered into savage, slashing release. Okay, so we don't get too much insight into Donnie and Mikey, but we at least know that Leo and Raph's main attributes are set in stone pretty early. Leo isn't necessarily marked out as the leader, but he his stance suggests that he is a more balanced, even-tempered combatant. Whereas Raphael seems to have a lot of aggression he needs to get out of his system, which seems to be his key characteristic in every adaptation except the 1987 animated series.

Everyone pose so you look cool before you go mainstream
in three years!
Sidebar: I find it interesting just comparing and contrasting the four Turtles' personalities. Assuming Donnie and Mikey are the same as their later characterizations, it's interesting to note that the two bladed weapon users are both the most similar and the most fractious personalities. They are both alpha males, but whereas Leonardo is focused on leadership and fostering teamwork and unity, Raphael seems focused on self-actualization. Whereas the two non-bladed weapon users are both beta males, one of them is an excellent, supportive contributor to missions with his own unique skillset, and the other is Michaelango. 
The Raphael Action figurecomes with flying fatality action.
The Purple Dragons confuse our heroes for a bunch of guys in turtle costumes, but it must not be Halloween, because they open fire on them. Or maybe it is Halloween and they're incredibly aggressive Jehovah's Witnesses. Of course, bringing a knife to a gun fight doesn't exactly seem to be a problem for the brothers. In fact, Raph seems to be completely in his element.

Now, had you grown up watching the original animated series, as I did, you may be taken aback by the fact that they're fighting actual human beings and not robot ninjas dressed like ninjas by way of the putty patrol. However, these aren't your father's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and they straight-up kill (or at least sliced open) at least one of these guys without hesitation. 

Of course, even though they aren't graphic about...

...It's still pretty explicit. 

Once the four have slashed, stabbed, and bludgeoned the Purple Dragon into submission, they hear the approach of police sirens, so they slip into the shadows and down a storm drain, as is the way of jinjitsu. Check your handbooks. All ninjas travel by sewers. 

The Turtles return to their home where they tell their father, a rat about their first battle. It would behoove us to take a second to reflect on that sentence and contemplate what a reader in 1984 would make of this without a 90 second animated theme song explaining it to them. Four giant anthropomorphic martial artist turtles just came home to their father, who is a giant anthropomorphic rat. Mm-kay. There's high concept and then there's reading your mad libs outloud. 

Their father Splinter is proud of his sons and decides that tonight they have proven themselves after one battle against a bunch of nameless mooks and that they are now skilled enough for a task that he has had in mind since he first began their training 13 years ago, but more on that later. He can't issue their orders without providing an extended backstory on their own origins, ostensibly for the Turtles' benefit. 

Now, if you've seen anything except the recent Michael Bay films, you know at least some variation of this origin story. Their origin story is actually what originally gave me the thought that reviewing the third film in the franchise might have been an interesting idea. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, by the very nature of their origin are inexorably linked to Japan (the rat is even in the Japanese zodiac), and yet they are incredibly Westernized characters. In fact, allegorically Splinter and his sons could easily be read as an immigrant father whose first generation children are culturally so different from him that they practically look like they come from as completely different walks of life as a rat and a turtle. 

But on with the backstory. 

Twenty years ago, Splinter was a mere pet rat in Japan. His owner, Hamato Yoshi kept him in his dojo. This makes me wonder why he ended up with a name like Splinter. A community pet tends to have more cutesy names like Snowball, Nibbler, or Mr. Squeaks. Of course, I don't speak Japanese. According to google translate, Splinter is 破片, which transliterates to "hahen." Even so, I'm no Japanophone, so I have no sense of what sounds "cute" in Japanese... except for anything this lady will ever say.  
Splinter learns the art of ninjitsu by observing and replicating Hamato Yoshi's training from his cage. Yoshi himself being the greatest shadow warrior of his clan. The initiated might be surprised to learn that said clan was in fact The Foot Clan. Yes, generally the main villains (or the he henchmen thereof) of the Turtles in most incarnations. This causes me to wonder whether Yoshi's own hands were clean, proverbially speaking. One could make the argument that either they only turned to crime after Yoshi's departure or that the antipathy is the result of a vendetta, but come on. They are essentially a yakuza crime family. I think Splinter doesn't dwell too heavily on Yoshi's occupation because he didn't have first-hang experience of him in that context, only the master-pet/sensei-student context. I'd be curious to see if that little detail later comes back to challenge Splinter's sense of identity later on in the comics. Of course, Splinter does skip that little plot point completely in both the animated series and feature films, so perhaps it does get addressed in the comics. Who knows?
Rat see, rat do.
Hamato Yoshi had a lady love in the form of Tang Shen. Shen had eyes only for Yoshi, but unfortunately she had an unwanted admirer who was also from within the ranks of the Foot Clan by the name of Oroku Nagi. It's And it suddenly occurs to me that there are quite a number of fictional properties with an Othelloic love triangle triangle very central to its mythos, where there is a true and enduring pair of lovers and either a villainous or unpleasant hypotenuse in the equation. The X-Men has had actually quite a few, at least one involving clones and cosmic deities, but I think the Cyclops/Jean/Wolverine pairing is the most readily familiar (even if it's never a big a deal in the comics as in the films), Reed Richards, depending on the continuity and the era, had to contend with both the morally capricious Namor and the outright egomaniacal Dr. Doom for Sue Storm's affection, Guinevere had to choose between her marital duty to Arthur or her passion for Lancelot, hell, Gargoyles had two such pairing tethered close to their origins, and knowing that series' tendency towards Shakespearean allusions, I doubt it was unintentional. 

Nagi, being the aforementioned Iago in this love triangle, did not take being spurned lightly. His reaction, being a one-dimensional villain with no redeeming characteristics was apparently attempting forcing his way into Tang Shen's home and "demanded that she love him." When she refused him, he did what any sane, reasonable MRA would do and proceeds to beat her. So, yeah. This looks like a textbook case of a violent case of selfish love, or what TV Tropes refers to as an "If I Can't Have You." 
So, are we supposed to think Hamato Yoshi was a good guy or what?
Fortunately for Shen, Yoshi arrives shortly into this assault. The sight of his lady love battered at Nagi's hands sends him flying into a blinding rage and he kills Nagi. I have to say this issue has a talent for being non-graphic in its violence and yet completely transparent. Even in black and white, cutting from an enraged Hamato Yoshi to a closeup of his balled fists dripping with blood is pretty effective. 

Being that he is an honorable ninja/assassin in a fairly fetischized version of late 20th Century Japanese culture, having slain his fellow clan member leaves him with two possible options. There's always good, old, classic seppuku, honorable suicide, or getting the hell out of dodge. Well, the latter option provided him the opportunity of continued nooky with the woman he just committed homicide for, so he packed up his girlfriend and his pet rat and traveled to New York City. 

Now, I'm sure you're wondering why this sounds slightly different than other versions of the Turtles' backstory you might be familiar with. That might be because in most other versions, Hamato Yoshi's rival later becomes the main series antagonist, Shredder. Pretty hard to become a Shredder when you've just been shredded. Well, it turns out that this isn't the character you're thinking of. Oroku Nagi may have died at Yoshi's hands, but his little brother Okoku Saki, though a wee bairn at the time, swore his revenge. Ever look at Spider-Man's rogue's gallery and counted out how many of them have been the descendants and/or younger siblings of villains Spider-Man defeated but hadn't managed to keep from getting themselves killed? 

Although, the origins of their conflict are a lot more petty than any of your legacy Spider-foes. It's a lot more like how on Gargoyles, the Canmore family, aka The Hunters, swore vengeance against Demona for generations because she scarred their great-great-great(x30) grandfather because she scarred his face with raiding their pantry. Yeah. That's basically this. 

While Yoshi and Shen settled in America and established a well respected martial arts academy, Saki trained for years and climbed the ranks in the Foot Clan. Apparently, you can join up practically straight out of the womb because at the tender age of 18, he had risen to the point where not only was he considered leadership material, but they trusted him enough to send him to the other side of the globe and open a branch of the Foot in New York. Imagine applying that same logic to a kid who was hired by McDonalds at 16 and showed a lot of potential, then sending her off to open up a brand new and as soon as that high school diploma is in her hand, she gets shipped off to open a franchise in New Delhi. I'm just going to keep this mental image of the squeaky-voiced teenager from The Simpsons cosplaying as Shredder for the remainder of the issue. 
As long as he gets a signature of a parent of legal guardian first.
After setting up shop in NYC, Saki's Foot Clan set up a criminal monopoly, particularly as assassins. It was during this time that he earned his title as The Shredder. He had already adopted his tradmark blade-encrusted helmet, gloves, and epaulets. Hm... was Shredder the patient zero of gratuitous spikes, impractical, arch shoulder pads in the 80s the same way Longshot was the genesis of mullets, flashy eyes, and bandoliers? Now, if only

Time in the backstory elapses so that we are now 15 years out from where Splinter started. The average lifespan of a rat is 3 years. Assuming he was a little pup (yeah, I had to look up the term for baby rats. It's either that or kittens) and bought at the pet store a few weeks before Yoshi and Nagi's fateful confrontation, he would have already been in a state of advanced old age.

Shredder enacts his revenge, first by killing Shen, then laying in wait for Yoshi. He guts Splinter's owner like a fish, but in the struggle, Splinter's cage gets smashed and the little aged rodent scrambles away from the crime scene and ends up living in the sewers. 

So far, this sounds more or less like any other version of the Turtle's origin story you've heard before, right? Well, buckle in, kiddies. Things are about to get weird. 

One day, while digging through a trashcan, little rat Splinter effectively witnesses Daredevil's origin story. Remember how I cited both Daredevil and Ronin as inspirations for the "Ninja" of TMNT? That is true, but while Ronin's influence brings in the honorable ninja warrior ethos, Daredevil's influence brings in this wonderful instance of silver age logic.
I'm surprised there isn't a Stan Lee cameo in this sequence.
So, Daredevil's origin story has young Matt Murdoch jump into the street to rescue a blind old man from being hit by a truck carrying radioactive materials. The old man get's rescued, but a barrel rolls out of the truck and drenches young Matt Murdoch with the materials, causing him to lose his eyesight, but enhancing all his other senses tenfold. Sidebar: Daredevil #1 is probably going to be an entry on the blog one day. Stan Lee's inadvertent homoeroticism cannot go unaddressed. 

In this version however, it goes slightly differently. The canister literally bounces off the boy's face. Unless that thing was porous or there was some toxic material smeared on the closure of the container, there is no way he would have become Daredevil in this timeline. That canister must be made from elastic because it bounces around like a rubber ball until it hits a boy carrying a fishbowl with four baby turtles in it, shattering the bowl and causing both the turtles and the canister itself to fall down an open manhole that apparently the kid was just standing in front of, just in the hopes of being part of an improbable Rube Goldberg scenario. Who leaves an open manhole unattended? Where the hell are this kid's parents? God, it must have been both really liberating and dangerous to be a kid in pre-Giuliani NYC. 

Now, I know this is nitpicking, but it kind of makes me laugh that Splinter mentions how various debris in the sewers cushioned their fall and yet it's in that same debris, after having bounced several times on the hard concrete up above, that the canister finally shatters and douses the turtles in ooze. Splinter had scurried down to the sewer and gathered them up in an old coffee can and ended up getting covered in the ooze too in the process of wrangling them up. 

"They can say my name? I'll train them to be assassins, obvsly!"
The origin pretty much follows the standard set from this point on. Soon they began to grow in size and intelligence, the latter more markedly in Splinter's case. Eventually they began talking and walking upright. Splinter names them after four Renaissance masters from an old book he found in the sewer and spends 13 years training them in the art of ninjitsu. Oh, and another layer of Daredevil riffing is now upon us. Just as Matt Murdoch received his training from an old man named "Stick," the Turtles were trained by an old rat named "Splinter." Follow the clues, ladies and gents. 

I find it incredibly improbably that in the interceding 15 years, with nobody to talk to other than his sons, Splinter, who was already incredibly old by rat standards prior to his mutation, never started yammering on about the good old days. However, he explains why he waited a decade and a half to explain their existence (and to be fair, their existence is fairly tangential to the discussion at hand). 
Now that he recognizes that his sons' skills are at their peak, again he comes to this conclusion after they had engaged in all of one combat scenario that he did not witness firsthand, it is time to send them on a murder quest. Yup. You read that correctly. The heroes of later iterations were just trained assassins in this one. He has had a score to settle since before he even attained sapience. He must avenge the death of his fallen master by slaying his killer, Oroku Saki. 

And I will not tell a lie: this popped into my head to the tune of a certain 1939 MGM film song... "We're off to kill the Shredder!"

He wants to be part of your world.
From here, we switch gears a bit. Raphael is on his own topside and we get some insight into his personality. As it turns out, he hates being cooped up down in the sewers. His brothers seem perfectly content to live their lives down there, but not him. He longs to be out in the world, longing for something more. And suddenly it hit me that Raphael, in all his incarnations, has the makings of a snarky, violent, temperamental Disney Princess. He wants to be where the people are. He wants adventure in the great wide somewhere. He wants to be out there among the millers, and the weavers, and their wives... okay, Quasimodo isn't exactly a princess. You got me there. Being a ninja, he clearly wants to bring honor to us all. He more than likely wouldn't want to be in an arranged marriage, and that pretty much covers every other Disney Princess ever. Oh, and he loves his siblings even if he doesn't quite get them. Frozen. Even in the way he's typically characterized, it fits, albeit for a combat-intensive universe. He's always depicted as out of step with his brothers. They all have distinct personalities, but he's always the one who the others can't quite get.  

Give her some sais and the resemblance is uncanny.
Raphael: Reptilian Combat Ready Disney Princess. Make this movie happen, Disney! Live action. None of that CGI shit. 

Now where was I? Oh, right. The plot.

Splinter has tasked Raph with a particular aspect of the mission: calling Shredder out. Yeah, apparently the act of honorably challenging your ninja opponent is a lot like telling your schoolyard enemy to meet at the flagpole at 3 for fisticuffs. Of course, being a ninja gang leader Shredder has a cadre of goons around his lair. Not that Raph has the slightest compunction about slicing up a bunch of hired goons. Remember: these Turtles are much more violent than they are in later iterations and Raph has rage issues, as a Disney Princess is wont to. 

Once he has cut down his opposition, he sends a sai with a message wrapped around it flying through the window and lodging it into the wall of Oroku Saki's office. This happens just as he was wrapping up a meeting with some "constituents" about why they need his "protection." They question why they should be paying protection money to a man who can't keep armed men out of his compound. It is doubtful that under normal circumstances, Shredder had bothered responding to Splinter's challenge. After all, he's an unabashed mafioso and isn't bound by the demands of an honor code. However, making him look bad in front of men that he had just about put to heel changes the matter entirely. Shredder cares more about losing face in front of his subordinates.

The Turtles await their foe up on a rooftop. As Shredder approaches, he seems to be more concerned about why he is being challenged over the murder of Hamato Yoshi after 15 years more than the fact that he is being challenged by a bunch of giant anthropomorphic turtles. Even when he does acknowledge that they are turtles, he never seems to so much as raise an eyebrow over this. His men certainly think it's odd. One even called them kappa (ancient Japanese demons). It makes me wonder whether he's a furry and seeing giant anthropomorphic turtles simply doesn't phase him. 

As I said, he is an unabashed baddie. So despite being instructed to come alone, he comes with a small legion of Foot Soldiers. The Turtles acknowledge that they're good, but not good enough. They manage to cut down everyone between them and Shredder, but Shredder is keen to point out that they've been bloodied up too in the scuffle. 

One by one the brothers confront him, but Shredder is no hired goon. Then, oh right. The turtles remember this isn't Street Fighter and they can attack him altogether. Three of them launch throwing stars, throwing daggers, and even throwing sais (or just normal sais) at Shreddrer and while he is thrown off, they trip him, Donny whacks him from behind with his bo staff and even knocks off his mask before Shredder kicks him right in the nads. Finally Leo puts the kibosh on this battle by making Shredder a kabob, running him through with his katana.

It wasn't a killing blow, however. The Turtles prize themselves on being honorable and give Shredder an opportunity to commit honorable suicide, with Leo extending the hilt of his own bloodied katana to him.

Shredder has a contingency plan up his sleeve. Literally, the plan was up his sleeve as he happens to have stuffed a thermite bomb up there before heading out. It's kind of like stuffing a $20 in your shoe, in case you get mugged on the street. Except, you know, 'splodier. If he's going down, he's taking the Turtles with him. But Donnie is quick to stop him by hurling his bo staff at him, presumably with the intent of knocking the bomb out of his hands, but instead, knocking Shredder himself off the side of the building. Fortunately, Splinter had chosen a building set for demolition for the location of their battle, so we don't need to think about any innocent lives lost when Shredder and the bomb hit the ground and a bright explosion lights the air below the Turtles. 

A+ swordsmanship, F-- punmanship
Weary from their skirmish, the Turtles make their way down the building to head home. They notice one of Shredder's armored gauntlets laying on the ground. Now if this were Spider-Man, The Thing, Buffy Summers, She-Hulk, or Deadpool, I'm fairly certain this would have been met with a perfect gem of a quip. When Leonardo tries, however, he fails utterly. Oh, Leonardo... you tried.

I have to admit I appreciate Leonardo a lot more than when I did as a child. Granted, it simply means he's second to least favorite instead of least favorite, but still... Leonardo is generally depicted as the eldest and treated as the leader by this virtue and the presumptive role of the eldest sibling to look after his younger ones. What I can't help but think about now is having a mini marathon of the old cartoon show and see how this plays out with an adult's perspective. I don't really remember his characterization all that clearly other than being the leader, but I like to imagine he's that one kid who's trying really hard to be an adult to the point where his friends just can't take him seriously outside of combat situations. And suddenly I realize Leo and Scott Summers should probably form a support group. But yeah, Leo doesn't get to be the "fun" one. Raph is the badass (Wolverine), Donnie gets to fill the role of the affable inventor (Beast), and even Mikey, when he isn't being annoying as hell is fun to be around (Iceman). Being Leoclops is a thankless task. 

Now that I'm through with this apologia for Leonardo, Leo tosses the gauntlet aside as as the Turtles prepare to make their way back to the sewers. Leo's narration punches the point home their nature as ninjas. They fought hard, but now they slip away as though they were never there.
I have to admit, for as different as this is from what would later follow it, this is incredibly good work. Both the pencil and ink work are incredible, and also manage to display a fairly wide range between cartoonishness and realism that still manages to fit the same story. I do have to wonder why a comic that was conceived of as a one and done story devoted as much time to backstory as it did, but considering it was technically a late bronze age comic, long and wordy exposition sessions were de rigueur for the day. I think Donnie and Mikey get the short stick in terms of development, but their personalities typically don't drive narratives the way Leonardo's drive to be the perfect son/disciple and leader and Raphael's hot temper and individualism tend to. Oh, and I guess April retroactively gets short shrift, considering the origin story usually gets told for her benefit in later iterations and she hadn't been created yet. I know it's a cheat to put this is the "good" column, considering this is a story written with no intensive continuity behind it, but I do think it deserves props for borrowing from four very different source materials and creating a fusion that is unrecognizable as anything othe than what it says on the tin... you know, besides that blatant Daredevil parody. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed

So, now that Crisis on Infinite Earths is out of the way, I suppose I'm probably morally obligated to finish up this arc of Uncanny Avengers, right? Sigh. I guess I brought this upon myself.

Well, the cover is a pretty fun switch up of a classic X-Men attack. I appreciate that it's on prominent display here. Despite Uncanny Avengers being the "Avengers/X-Men mashup" series, it has gradually reduced the presence of X-Members so that Rogue is only on this team to justify it. Despite long ties to the X-Books, Deadpool isn't an X-Man, let alone a mutant, and Cable is better known for being a solo hero or leading very fringe X-teams than he's known for being an X-Man proper, so seeing Rogue and Deadpool take on Colossus and Wolverine's respective roles for a Fastball special is a pleasure to see. Also, kudos to Stegman for playing to his strengths-- not a close-up of an unmasked face in sight.

A brief sidenote: Apparently, Marvel packages this arc into a trade under the name "Future Lost." Quite honestly, I think it was a grievous error on their part and I will continue referring to it as "Plant Apocalypse" and will accept no substitute.

If you'll remember the latter half of last issue, just after Quicksilver ran off to get an antidote to Human Torch, who is slumming with an MIT think tank, the Shredded Man used his toxins to KO most of the team except for Synapse, who is immune, and Cable, who took his vitamins. Cable sticks around to inoculate the rest of the team and sent Synapse out to confront the villain solo only to discover that he is in fact her own grandfather.

This issue starts off reminding us of last issue's newly revealed familial relationship between our rookie and our villain by cutting back to the prologue from the first issue of the arc. This is unnecessary. Marvel has been employing a recap page across the line for years. It's just the latter half of the scene where Shredded Man wakes up, but this time we see that it was Synapse in the other terrigen chrysalis. It really is a little pointless to the narrative. We learn absolutely nothing new about the characters in this scene nor does it help progress the narrative already in progress. They do cut to yet another chrysalis in the household and establish that there is yet another Inhuman in the family. Perhaps you could argue that this scene sets up story elements for a later arc, maybe, but I'd be quick to shoot that defense down. There is no drive, no dramatic question to this scene that the plot hook, which ought to be handled with a bit of subtlety feels more like a Hidden Pictures game in Highlights for Kids after someone already has circled the fish in the tree.

I am going to be so surprised when that brick the writers threw at us finally lands.
Duggan, do you mind if I call you Duggan? Good. Duggan, I know you're far more used to writing for Deadpool, and perhaps that explains why you've embraced this "sledgehammer to the head" approach to long game storytelling, but might I advise you remember that as a storyteller in a serialized format, as a dramatist, you need a far more deft hand in the writing stage. Make a scene that is utterly essential to the narrative before trying to be clever.

Okay, for a story that is just so "meh," I've already had a rant and we're only on page one. That doesn't bode well...

We transition to the present, where Synapse tries to hearken to her grandfather's better nature, but he doesn't see eye to eye. Apparently, that's enough to get Synapse from being very blubbery to being action girl because she's tired of people yelling at her today. She takes a swing at Shredded Man, but we cut away before we see if she manages to land the punch.
Yelling is all it takes to break the ties that bond.

Elsewhere, Cable has the rest of the team up and running again. Rogue and Deadpool perform a fastball special. Say whatever else you want about this comic, but you cannot say they failed to deliver what the cover promised us. Of course, this should be a big finisher attack, but it's being used to kill one of the many, many plant monsters that it feels more ostentatious than effective. Points for the nostalgia factor.
Oddball Special: Patent pending.
Deadpool calls out to Quicksilver, presumably they're on an intercom or Quicksilver is omniscient, and asks if the speedster can swing by his armory for some ammo. Instead, Quicksilver materializes with a guns as well as a local shop owner in tow. Apparently, in that nanosecond Quicksilver had time for a conversation with a gun-owner who is not a speedster, in which he insisted on coming along, then ferry the gun shop owner over to the battlefield. Ignoring the fact that this puts a civilian at gross risk when clearly there was the far more viable option of going to Deadpool's armory like he asked, it is also is an example of the writers not telling a story in which the mechanics of their heroes make any sense. Granted, this is a superhero comic in a shared universe with 60+ years of history. Inconsistencies are bound to happen. But there is a difference between inconsistencies in power levels and baseline humans being able to able to apparently mimic their abilities for no reason.

A Plant Apocalypse is not enough to deter fanboys.
Oh, wait. There is a reason. The guy is a Deadpool fan. I'm a little annoyed that Duggan felt the need to break the physical laws of its characters in order to support a... you know, I'm not even entirely certain that I'd call it a joke, but Duggan sure seems to think so. It's probably fair to point out that Duggan is one of the two current regular writers on Deadpool's eponymous book, so perhaps he got a little confused about which book he was working on.

Back at MIT, Quicksilver has returned to see about the cure that Johnny Storm's think tank has been cooking up and again I find myself asking why is Johnny Storm there? I'll give him props for having the idea to outsource the science portion of Marvel superheroism, but what purpose does he serve staying there? He has fire powers! Anybody who has played the starter battle of any Pokemon game can tell you that grass types are weak to fire. Either he is A. a world class slacker, B. an idiot, or C. the writers need a reason for this story to last the length of an average trade paperback.

Stand aside Emma. Pietro is the
OG Jerk Hero.
I will give Johnny Storm this, however: as Quicksilver speeds away, he gives a quick little monologue that gives me all the feels about our resident speedypants. Quicksilver is one of my favorites because he falls into one of my favorite paradigms: the jerk hero. He's smug, he doesn't play well with others, he's had a few turns as a reluctant and/or conflicted villain, but he has a lot of heart, is fiercely protective of his loved ones and tries to do what he thinks is right... even if that means convincing his sister into overwriting reality. Okay, nobody's perfect.

I am only now noticing how Stegman draws Pietro's super speed and honestly, it doesn't look quite right. I think he was aiming for a creative new approach to motion lines, but the actual result creates the impression that he has sprung tentacles from his back. It's not a dealbreaker, but it is certainly a bird that wasn't meant to fly.

Back in Boston, Cable suddenly gets a psychic vision of Synapse snapping her grandfather's neck. Oh, yeah. Two volumes of X-Force ago, Cable mysteriously gained a new ability in the form of precognition. About four years of publication later, I still don't know what is causing these insights, so I'll continue to assume it was the plot convenience fairy. Anyway, Cable's time traveler insight into the future lets him know that his precognitive insight in the future is bad, so he rushes off to stop Synapse from committing grand-patricide.

Before Synapse can snap her grandfather's plant neck (which I'm fairly certain wouldn't have killed him with his far more arboreal physiology), Cable leaps forth and knocks her away, warning that killing Shredded Man will ensure that the crisis doesn't end. As he breaks up them up, he overhears the part of the conversation that they are in fact related.

A strategically calculated dick move?
Why you are Scott Summers kid, after all!
Cable confronts our villain himself. Apparently, Shredded Man has read the villain's handbook because he expects Cable to announce that his plan will fail. However, since Cable is here specifically because his plan succeeded, he instead describes his process for developing a cure. In the process, he formed a sister strain of the original virus that removes the immunity to Inhumans. Shredded Man says he's prepared to die, but instead Cable shoots Synapse.

Um, I'm not the world's biggest fan of Cable by any stretch of the imagination, but that is coldblooded. He hears them mention they're related, asks for clarification to make sure he hadn't misheard (which actually detracts from the badassitude of this scene), then two minutes later, he shoots one of his comrades-in-arms point blank. You're a sick bastard, Dayspring!

Synapse twitches about on the floor as her grandfather's pestilence courses through her body. Still she manages to sputter out a patented guilt trip. And this is what causes her grandfather to realize he in fact still has the milk of (in)human kindness coursing through his planty veins. It's like the ending of Care Bears movie. He relents and all his plant apocalypse vanishes away. Yes, our crisis is wrapped up that neatly. It's about on par with breaking a spell with true love's kiss. The terrain completely returns to normal and Synapse (and presumably all his other victims) are cured.
Funny. Guerrero doesn't sound like a Jewish family name.

Synapse reaches out to her grandfather, offering to help him find a cure for what he has become, but he declares that when he "wiped the slate clean," he undid all that he had done, including his own body, which dissembles itself in front of her, saying he can make more. So, what that tells me is that it probably wasn't even the genuine article they were facing. He was just some plant golem. That feels so less impressive when it isn't a Doombot.
"You captured their stunt doubles!"

So that was our big climax, everybody. Such as it is. Oh, yeah. I know you hardly noticed it as this story didn't peak so much as it consistently fizzled from about the halfway point onwards. It's hard to tell when the tension is rising when all you have to decipher is a steady stream of "mehhhhhhhhhh."

Now, I'm all for an emotional climax as opposed to a big, punchy kick-kick battle, but this is not earned. Our creative team waits until the final page of the penultimate installation of the story to reveal a familial relationship between our antagonist and our team rookie, neither of whom, I might have had enough characterization done in order to make us feel invested in this revelation. All we really know is the former is a genocidal maniac and the latter feels very cagey about being on a team of superheroes. That's all we know going into this revelation.

I can't even care what this means for them as people, let alone what this means for the story. And yet Duggan hinges the end of the narrative on this.

Mind you, this could have worked. There were three issues leading up to this revelation. Three issues in which we could have taken a few minutes here or there in which to get into Synapse's head or even have another character ask her something personal. She was even on a date with one of her teammates, for crying out loud. But no. The creative team concluded that any time spent setting their characters up so that this wouldn't have felt like a forced plot twist was better served by killing Quicksilver only to bring him back immediately at the start of the next issue and giving Cable not one but two painfully drawn out introductions. This issue could have have a strong emotional impact on its own, but the creative team sabotaged itself by making the two middle chapters of their narrative extremely unfocused, with the third issue being mostly a waste. It takes the wind out the sails of  what honestly could have been a decent conclusion.

Well, let's wrap up this narrative.

As the team gathers around what was once the Shredded Man (or his plant golem), Synapse asks Cable to keep her secret, but doesn't know if he can. But he tries. Keep in mind, Cable isn't terrible by nature. He's just occupationally terrible.
Good guy Cable: he shoots you in the face but keeps your secrets.
Later, we cut to the rooftop where Captain Rogers has landed the helicopter on their base of operations. A helicopter? Yeah, it's kind of weird that the Avengers are flying around in anything besides a quinjet, but I think Iron Man lost his vast wealth over the eight month gap, so I guess that means a helicopter is their way of downsizing.

Rogers is once again refusing to accept Deadpool's letter of resignation, presumably because he's running out of team members with ongoing solo titles and he needs some way of keeping circulation of this book up with the the other three (minimum) Avengers titles.

Cable and Captain Rogers have a grizzled staring contest
and the rest of the world shudders in terror.
Synapse approaches him, looking pretty sheepish, asking to talk to him about something. Rogers kind of charmingly shoots her down, saying he doesn't have time to coddle her and Deadpool. Yeah, old Cap doesn't have the time for handholding that he'd normally have. Oh, well.

Rogers recruits Cable by telling him that the Unity Squad's secret mission is to find Red Skull and retrieve Xavier's brain. They stare at each other in a panel in which Stegman perfects his talent for making grizzled elderly men look horrifying.

The final splash of their story gives you the impression that this was a "getting the band together" story. You see the whole lineup together albeit, for some reason most of the team seems to be headed towards the rooftop door, but Johnny and Pietro have assumed lifeless stock poses. Again, Stegman should be drawing action figures for a living. Also, this wasn't a "getting the band together" story. This was a "getting Cable to front our shitty band" story. On top of that, two of the team members were markedly absentee throughout the entire story. Rogers and Johnny have not been through this adventure. They weren't part of this supposed story about them coming together as a team. They just fill up the ranks. You could argue that at least Johnny was contributing, even if it was a misuse of his talents, but all Steve Rogers, Mister huge shredded octogenarian, did in this story was drive the freaking chopper.
Is it just me or do they all look embarrassed to be here...
...except Deadpool?

So did he just melt off Ultron's face to
prove a point?
Epilogue. Yes, this monumental epic warranted an epilogue. In the far reaches of space, a crew of a space vessel that all look like they are dressed like locomotive engineers have just been rescued... from something. By whom is revealed as their airlock opens and we see the telltale lights of Ultron's faceplate. As their savior steps inside the headpiece melts away to reveal Hank Pym. Yeah, I thought he was dead. Guess not. I'm a little surprised though. Usually A-Listers have the self-respect to wait at least two years to come back from the great beyond. And I'm guessing he's made a version of Ultron (or retrofitted a previous version of Ultron) to be be a space suit.
I am just shaking my head. Don't get me wrong, I really like the idea of fusing these disparate parts of the Marvel Universe that don't exactly work together. As much as I hated the Remender run for making everyone overly dark and uncharacteristically confrontational with one another, at least I felt like the characters were in the hands of someone who had a grasp on what he wanted to do with them. I feel like Duggan and Stegman were handed this assignment a week before the deadline and were told to do whatever. And that's the only word I use to describe how I feel about this arc: whatever. It isn't incredible, nor is it utterly loathsome. It's filler. Make me love you or make me hate you, but make me feel nothing and that's how you fail as a form of art/storytelling.

Next week, I'm taking a trip on the cinematic way-back machine as I watch one of the most important superhero-inspired films of this or any other generation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Never-Ending Final Boss Battle

Well, here we are with the final installment of DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths. This blog started out as other than Crisis. Do not underestimate what that means to me. No more twelve issue epics! No more cast of thousands clusterfucks! No more poorly paced editorially mandated chess piece storytelling! I feel like dancing. Hi diddly dee! An actors life for me!... Oh wait, I still have to sit down and write my thoughts on the final issue. Shit. Sit down everybody. This is probably going to hurt.
This started as a project of me summarizing the first few issues of the series to my boyfriend on a 6 hour road trip to visit my folks, then writing them down afterwards so I could properly gather my thoughts. Wrapping up the series at long last gives a sense of freedom. I can read something

I'm just going to get this out of the way now: this isn't working as a cover for the final issue of an epic 12-issue event. It doesn't sell that sense of climactic urgency it should have at this point. Just because the main antagonist is huge, that doesn't imply that the scope of the issue is. This is supposed to be the final issue of the series that redefined the cosmology of the DC Universe for a quarter century. It should give the sense that the fate of the whole universe rests on the edge of a knife. Instead, it's just a bunch of heroes smashing a giant monster. It feels routine, like Anti-Monitor is still referring to the Rita Repulsa Playbook.

It reminds me a lot of the first issues of Fantastic Four and Justice League of America, where the heroes are basically fighting kaiju monsters on the cover. If that were intentional, I might be able to find some reason to appreciate it, since the founding of the Justice League was really the moment that gave birth to DC's shared universe... and now we behold last final gasps of air of the cumbersome, convoluted serpent it nursed in its bosom.

If I disregard it's editorial context, the art isn't bad. Although, I do find it a little busy. I think the culprit would have to be the crosspatch of black lines that make up the cityscape in the background. Granted, most of the lines do draw the eye to the central focal point of the page, but there is just so many of them that they come into conflict with the lead to the focal point that the flying heroes are creating with their motions. They distract from one another. Removing the cityscape could have done this issue a world of good. Otherwise, it's fine.

So remember last issue when that handful of characters with whom I wasn't familiar enoughto care about found the lifeless Brainiac ship adrift in space? Well, they're back! And this time, Wolfman was good enough to give me a quick blurb about each of them, so I have at least some context for each one. Still, it's a bit of a failure to captivate. Yes, there is Adam Strange, who we saw way back in issue #4 of  the series and was kind of hilarious when he appeared on Young Justice. And there's Rip Hunter, with whom I'm pretty familiar from Legends of Tomorrow (and ye gods, do I need to take a brief sidebar about how he looks here), but for the most part, this is a group of characters with whom I have only the most cursory of familiarity or less. Dolphin had a pointless cameo that led to nothing a while back. I've at least heard of Animal Man, although his description here makes him sound like Vixen plus a Y chromosome. Atomic Knight and Captain Comet? Sorry, I got nothing.

So, as for the pressing diatribe I need to have about Rip Hunter's personal appearance in this era? What other way can I summarize it other than "Flash! Ah-ah!! He's a miracle!" Granted, he looks more like something out of the old comics or the tv serials and not the glorious piece of 80's shlock that I hold so dearly. Still, I feel like this is both warranted and necessary...
Yeah, it was either this clip or the opening scene. I had to make a judgement call and this better reflected how silly and pointless this moment is in the comics. Why, you ask, do I find it silly and pointless? Well because it mainly serves to reiterate what we learned from them last issue. Namely that they found Brainiac and his vessel lifeless in space. That covers the pointless. As for silly, they over-dramatically infer that maybe, just maybe, Brainiac isn't dead after all. No shit, Sherlock! Were they deluded enough to think the reader would buy the fakeout of an off-panel death for one of their key character's chief antagonists? I am convinced this entire sequence could be re-drawn with everyone with derp-face and it would actually improve that reveal. But yeah, their assertion is that he's only sleeping. Like when your dog is only sleeping before your dad takes him to a farm upstate.

The gears start a whirling, and the ship reanimates Brainiac. Amazingly enough, they somehow manage to wrangle one of the archest of villains in the DCU into assisting them without really holding any leverage over him to do so. A couple issues back, the Spectre had to step in as a literal deux ex machina in order to get everyone to cooperate again, but this list of C-Listers somehow have the right stuff. This turn happens over the course of one page. That's roughly about a minute-long interaction. Animal Man makes a reference to Star Trek as Brainiac's vessel blasts off in search of even more assistance. I'm a bit confused, honestly. I didn't realize that they were actively seeking him out and specifically to the end of requesting aid. Imminent danger creates strange bedfellows, I understand, but as far as these characters realize, there is no immediate threat, at least as far as they are aware. There is no reason for them to form this alliance.

We cut to Perez' favorite thing to draw in Crisis multiple panels of the Earth. It is surrounded by a swirling vortex of pink evil antimatter clouds. It appears the Earth has been plucked from its orbit and brought, "Here to this burning cosmic hell. Here to this place of death." Note that it only says that the Earth was, not the entire universe. Again, another instance where we see just how oversold the Anti-Monitor was back when we first met him. There are tiers of supervillainy and Anti-Monitor's tier is so high above what the heroes of Earth can muster that he by all rights should be Lovecraftian, treating the collective resistance of one planet with all the intensity of a swarm of gnats, among many. He could summarily throw the entire dimension into his little hellscape. Instead, he keeps going out of his way to stick it to the same few flies he can't manage to swat.

We pick up here exactly where we left last time, meaning that Anti-Monitor is still projected in the sky looking like a very cheap version of the 80s equivalent of of computer generated 3-D imaging. Apparently, Anti-Monitor dislodged the Earth from its orbit because it alone had an anti-matter shield. Okay. Since when? I'll acknowledge that the hard reboot that reality has suffered means that the protective pocket dimension the Monitor used to rescue the five remaining realities is no longer in play. However, it makes no sense in the rebooted, condensed continuity for the Earth to be the only one with protections against antimatter. Nobody remembers the Crisis except for the heroes, who were still sussing out the cobbled together continuity and hadn't even given a thought to preparing for phase umpteen hundred of the Anti-Monitor's strategy. Either the whole of reality should have been still safeguarded or it all should have been vulnerable. I know multiversal designations go by Earth-1, Earth-2, etc., but they are referring to whole dimensions populated with alien races who generally tend to outclass Earth's technology. I refuse to believe Apokalips and New Genesis had weaker planetary defenses than the planet that in 1984 had only just acknowledged it had a hole in its ozone layer and would have thought dial-up internet was futuristic.

From on high, Anti-Monitor monologues about how this little blue mudball somehow keeps managing to thwart him where countless dimensions were devoured and consumed helpless and how they've only made their end worse by prolonging it. Again, this feels odd that as a quasi-deity, he feels the need to deliver a lengthy verbal smackdown to, comparatively, a bunch of ants. And now all I can think of is an especially vindictive homeowner gloating to himself as he sets up a bug bomb, only to accidentally get sick from inhaling the pesticides.

The speed force prohibits
internal monologues.
Interesting little side note: during his diatribe, Anti-Monitor mentions that Supergirl and Flash died fighting him. I like how the series has made a point of not letting us forget that Barry's sacrifice went unremarked. So, it makes the quick cut to Wally's reaction feel deserved. Finally the heroes know the final fate of their fellow companion. Of course why Wally shouts out asking how he died and where his remains are, as though expecting Anti-Monitor to interrupt his proclamation to take questions, is a bit of a head scratcher.

Once he's done speechifying, he disappears along with the evil antimatter cloud, which seems to have been the sole form of natural source lighting as the entire world turns pitch black. It's only because of their super-vision that they can see that, as happens whenever there is no light in a major metropolitan area, chaos ensues. We see a few images of mass panic, but it's probably safe to assume there is also looting.

Just to be on the safe side, say five "Our Fathers" and two
Hail Marys."
Harbingers appears before the two Supermen, and recruits them. They are ready to take Anti-Monitor out. MORE IMPORTANTLY... Next we see another one of Harbingers split selves recruiting the best DC character in Crisis, Dr. Kimiyo Hoshi, aka Dr. Light. She seems to have undergone some character development since she is far more unsure of herself since last we saw her as a featured character. This is because during Supergirl's battle against the Anti-Monitor, Kimiyo called out to her at a crucial moment and Anti-Monitor delivered the killing blow while she was distracted. Harbinger reassures her that Supergirl was already dying and Dr. Light only helped end her suffering sooner. Thus reassured, they peace out, leaving fellow Japanese superhero Sunburst all by his lonesome.

Elsewhere, the Challengers of the Unknown are still just standing around doing the whole Greek chorus thing as they behold a veritable armada of the Anti-Monitor's shadow demons. After 12 issues of this series, I'm starting to realize why certain "new to me" characters strike a chord with me right away and others feel pointless: agency and purpose. Take Dr. Light, who is amazing. Even before the Monitor imbued her with powers, she was empowered. She suffered no fools, was actively pursuant in her personal science mission, and showed a whole lot of personality in a relatively brief amount of panel time. Meanwhile, I think this is the third time we've encountered them in this series and I still have very little idea of who they are as individuals. At least with Rip Hunter's ragtag team out in space, they all have a little chance to show some personality and be active protagonists in their subplot. These guys just keep on being utilized to point shit out and declare how important it is. That requires an entire superhero team. Marvel just uses one alien who lives on the moon. Just saying...
Who needs a character arc when you can settle for staring at things intensely?

Speaking of Uatu, I just want to mention that the more i look at them, the more I can't help but notice that they bear a striking resemblance to what the Fantastic Four would look like if they hadn't had that run-in with cosmic rays. The team girl is a dead ringer for Sue. The big, stocky guy could be Ben Grimm whenever we see him in human form. Ye gods, and he's named Rocky. This can't be a coincidence can it? One of these guys is named Prof, so that takes care of Reed, and both the blond guy and the ginger guy could easily be mistaken for Johnny. One of them is even a pilot. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals that they were created by Jacky Kirby. Well, now all the puzzle pieces are falling into place.

From here, we have about two and a half pages of padding in which we see heroes around the globe combating shadow demons and doing protect and rescue missions. I have to assume the rescuers are having a higher rate of success than the shadow demon combatants. If you'll remember my recap of issue #1, it's basically shadow boxing.

Hey look! Blue Devil is back on Earth. Well, now I can sleep easy at night knowing he made it back after we left him hanging four issues ago. As an extension of the series' overarching failure to establish a cohesive POV is its tendency to introduce significant characters into the narrative who seem like they're going to be major players, only for their stories to wander off with a note from the editor telling them where to read the continuation of their narratives. I get it. Comic companies want your money. It's the way of the world. That being said, if you're going to do that, take a moment to re-introduce those characters back into the narrative so that readers like me who either aren't picking up every comic on the store shelves or are reading this literally decades later aren't left scratching their heads.

A few mystically-inclined heroes, including Deadman, seem to be gathering to protect the Spectre, who is apparently comatose and hovering over Harbinger's staging area after his big confrontation against the Anti-Monitor. I'm guessing he's still going to prove to be an important element for the conclusion of the story, since they are focusing their powers on safeguarding him. I actually like Deadman, at least the way he's written here. He has this worldly wise, kind of flippant attitude and a beta male energy that keeps him from coming across like quite such a grizzled loner as his M.O. would suggest. .

What's the use of being on guard duty if you can't warn anyone?
Harbinger in the meanwhile, has assembled a pretty large team of heroes and is discussing with them the importance of putting differences aside and working as a team to save the day. Friendship is magic, right? Jade takes a moment to explain why her father, Green Lantern Alan Scott, is over at The Tower of Fate with the other magic heroes. It really comes out of nowhere without any prompting and it comes across like she's telling us that her dog at her homework. Alexander is now fully charged with antimatter again and uses it to break through the barrier of evil antimatter clouds and teleport our cast of characters through. All the while, Deadman, who is still with the magic heroes watches as apparently one of the shadow demons (it just looks like a bunch of squiggly parallel lines) seems to rush away, potentially giving Anti-Montor an early warning of what the heroes are up to, which I'm honestly not clear on.

Far away, in space, Brainiac has taken his new-found allies to someone who can help on a planet that looks like an industrial fire. Oh, of course. This is Apokalips. Who else would be in an A-List villain's rolodex but other A-List villains. Hey Darkseid. How's tricks? You may recall back in issue 8 having a page-long visit with Darkseid where he might as well directly addressed the reader and says he's too good for this story. I'm annoyed that the scene cuts off with his reveal because I really want to see Darkseid react to getting forcibly dragged into this narrative at the 11th hour.

Back on Earth, Hawk and Dove are on a rescue mission when Dove gets impaled from behind by a shadow demons. That has to be an extra twist in the knife. Not only was he killed, but he was killed by a literally nameless, faceless henchman.

At least these guys will have a bit of payoff from spending
so much time staring intensely
Over at the Tower of Fate, all the mystic heroes are ready for their part of the final mission. They also have one hanger on monitoring the news named Johnny Thunder. I know nothing about Johnny Thunder, but I can say that he and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen probably go to the same tailor. We get a pretty cool image of all the mystic heroes channeling their powers into Doctor Occult and OG Green Lantern. We don't know what they are doing, but it looks like it's going to be massive in scope. Sidebar: Doctor Occult's Mystic Symbol of the Seven might have been produced by the Umbrella Corporation.

Next stop, Qward. Yeah, things didn't exactly go smoothly the last time our heroes were here. Kryptonians are vulnerable here and Supergirl died here, so I'm expecting some scenes of self-doubt. They attempted to use Pariah's tragedy magnet powers to act as a compass to find Anti-Monitor, but there is just too much evil all around them for it to work.

Well, considering you're retired, and a minor,
and apparently dying...
But hey, who invited the kid? Yeah, apparently Wally West stowed away. That was Wally zipping into the group, not a shadow warrior. He sounds a bit miffed that he wasn't invited along, since they now know the Anti-Monitor killed Barry and Wally thinks he ought to be included in bringing back his remains. It's actually a good surprise, but with so much going on in this series, I feel like we needed another moment with Wally earlier to set up this surprise a little better. He is pretty snippy about not being tapped for this mission, but considering we later find out (and were earlier hinted at a few issues ago) that he is dying of cancer that gets aggravated when he uses his speed, perhaps they were right not to utilize him. Yet again.

Suddenly, they see a vision of The Flash. Remember during Barry's big sacrifice when he saw flashes of friends? This is one of them. It fades away, but Wally can still see traces of the after image and runs after it and finds his empty costume and ring as well as a now fully cray cray Psycho-Pirate hysterically begging the red suit for aid as though it were really Barry.

Guys, quit grieving. The plot is off the starboard bow!
Suddenly, Pariah's Canary in the coal mine sense starts tingling and we turn the page... and we get a final splash page of the Anti-Monitor rambling on about the wanton doom of all things again. [Sidebar: he's still gigantic, like he was during the last climactic fight, if not even moreso, so I have to question if people in the DCU have a widespread inability to use peripheral vision, detect background noise, or feel the ground shake under their feet] Oh, wait. Did I say final splash page? My mistake. We're only halfway through this sucker. Apparently, this series thinks a double sized issue is literally two issues taped together.

This might as well have been followed
with an intermission sign.
"Let's all go to the lobby..."
Before I continue, I feel like I really need to go back to another bugbear I have about Anti-Monitor. Not only has he been fairly ineffectual to the point that I've been comparing him to Rita Repulsa a lot (I resisted the urge to compare Dove's death to the Pink Power Ranger getting killed by a Putty, or at least I did until now), but we cannot deny the fact that Anti-Monitor isn't an engaging villain. A good villain doesn't think he's a villain. Magneto just wants to safeguard his species. Dr. Doom just wants to run his country and prove how much better he is at everything than that fool Richards. Lex Luthor (at least post-Crisis) wants to prove that humanity doesn't need to be protected by demi-gods. They're all rooted in their relatable  human goals, albeit often flawed ones. Then there are the characters like Batman's rogues gallery, the majority of which are damaged and ultimately tragic. When they retconned away Mr Freeze's backstory so that he was never trying to save his wife, he was just psychotically fixated on some random lady, I was genuinely upset and thought it cheapened the character. That's how important an understandable villain is. But what is the Anti-Monitor? He is literally just evil incarnate. Hell, they brought an evil detector with them. He has no traits a reader can identify with, he isn't exactly a charming scenery chewer like Mr. Sinister or the Joker, he doesn't even have a feasible objective like Apocolypse or Darkseid. He's just there to be someone everyone of all walks of life can punch. They even made sure he had no body so that characters can wail on him for hours on end without the Comics Code Authority complaining about the blood. If you took a Tickle Me Elmo, switched it to Punch Me Elmo and the voicebox played proclamations of your inevitable doom, you'd have the Anti-Monitor.

Okay, now that I'm done with that rant... for now... let's get back to the story. We leave the heroes with Anti-Monitor in his Super Ultimate Digevolution and check in back on Earth. We see Aquaman and his crew fighting shadow demons underwater with a casualty in the form of Lori the Mermaid. I have to wonder how central to the line certain deaths are based on whether they happen in montage sequences or are given their own scenes. I know today, Aquaman has become a bit of a cheap shortcut to a punchline, but he is one of DC's Big Seven, rules his own kingdom, has a fantastically Arthurian-inspired backstory, and at least in this era, can hold his head high for never having stooped to using a harpoon as a hand. However, amidst all the deaths in this issue, we have a full scene devoted to the fall of an Atlantian character who bears the name of Lori the Mermaid. And this is the second time one of his supporting characters have been offed with this amount of special attention. It makes me wonder whether they were a) fan favorites, b) creative team favorites, or c) editorially mandated.

Not even mass casualties will interrupt the Olympics of Staring Contests.
The next scene is a a fantastic two page layout ithat intersplices the Mystic Heroes' efforts with a variety of heroes protecting civilians on the street. Yeah, there's a sizable body count here. Green Arrow-2 gets impaled in the very first panel of the sequence. Robin-2 and Kole of the Teen Titans try to rescue Huntress, who is trapped under the rubble of a fallen building. Kole throws up a crystal dome barrier, but nobody in this series seems to get the essential problem of fighting an incorporeal foes. Instead of protecting Huntress she effectively traps all three of them for the shadow demons to kill without hindrance. Smart move, Kole. How did you make it to #13 on Ranker's list of Teen Titans?  Clayface and the Bug-Eyed Bandit are taken out too, but I think the roughest death in this scene has to go to Prince Ra-Man, who by all rights would have been better off contributing his services at the Tower of Fate, but instead looks like he gets sliced clean in half at the waist. I'm thankful this was back when the CCA still had some modicum of control over how graphic violence and gore could be.

Plan B was Mega Maid from Spaceballs.
All while this is going on, the two page layout's center is dominated by the image of all the mystic characters focusing their powers while basked in a green glow. Visually, it amounts to them all staring really hard at Dr. Occult and Alan Scott, who are staring really hard at each other. But then finally, the Mystic Heroes efforts reach fruition and a mystically enhanced chain of Green Lantern energy spreads across the globe gathering up all the shadow demons in a giant net and throwing them out into space.

Eventually, writers will realize that dickishness and heroism
aren't mutually exclusive.
With Earth out of danger, or at least less imperiled,  we return to the main event in Qward. Everybody is smashing and blasting, but it doesn't seem to be effective at all. Sound familiar? Yeah, that was issue #10, minus the mystically enhanced Spectre ex machina to lend an assist. However, unlike then or their ill-fated previous trip to Qward, Harbinger actually has a plan. Yeah, it took her a year in publication to realize that a united show of force is nothing without a strategy. The linch pins of her strategy are Dr. Light and Alex Luthor. Dr. Light absorbs the power of a neighboring binary star. I suppose that Anti-Monitor is also using it as a power supply because doing so drains him. Next, Alex uses his biological affinity towards antimatter to siphon off our villain's own energy. All the while, his tired villainy ramblings continue.

Now that he's weakened, Negative Woman wraps herself around Anti-Monitor binding him into place and more than likely infecting him with her radioactive touch. Ye gods, I just realized this is a final boss battle in a video game. It's like X-Men Legends or Avengers Ultimate Alliance. The party is pitted against a gargantuan foe, before we can do any damage, first we have to cut off his power source, and now we're applying multiple debuffs in one strike, which both cuts into his agility and causes damage over time. Well thus weakened, the rest of the party lines up for a Care Bear Stare and yay for teamwork! The Final Boss'  first form has been KO'd! And just in time soon. Even a seasoned hero would be taxed siphoning off an entire sun, so it's impressive that she had all that power contained as long as she did. She released all the energy, delivery the final blow to Anti-Monitor, embedding him into the crust of a nearby asteroid.

Danger's over, right?

Hell, no! But the comic sure wants to fool you.

You know when a toddler throws a tantrum when he clearly
needs a nap, but doesn't want it? Yeah. I'm so over this guy.
Well, Alexander re-opens a portal back to the positive matter universe wide enough to get the Earth through, but I suppose an opening that large expends a lot of mana because it expends all his energy and there is a ticking clock to get through the portal before it seals itself shut. The Earth gets through safely and is restored to its original orbit. The heroes then start flying toward the opening when we see life return to the Anti-Monitor's eye. The mystically ensnared collection of shadow demons is drawn to Qward. He completely drains them all of their life force in order to repower himself. Again, that feels like something out of a boss battle.

Okay, villain points for killing one of the Big Three.
You did something right, Anni.
That being said, his actions are pretty bad ass, taking out Wonder Woman-1 with a single blast, but his dialogue paints Anti-Monitor as having become truly become utterly pathetic, outright declaring that he doesn't care about consuming the last positive matter universe or even destroying the Earth. His driving ambition is petty revenge against beings who are gnats compared to him. He has lost sight of what his goal ought to be, but more dishearteningly, the writers have lost sight of why he ought to be an imposing threat. Gone are his complex designs of multiversal destruction with nary a thought other than expanding his dominions. Now all we have is petty jerk with too much power.

No seriously, what is up with everyone's
peripheral vision?
Well, Superman-1 has had all he can stands, he can stands no more! Having lost his cousin and now one of his besties, he's determined to take Anti-Monitor out. And Lady Quark is right there with him. Of course, this makes it convenient for Superman-2 to knock the two of them out in one fell swoop. He hands them off to Superboy-Prime and with orders to get them through the portal before it closes. It's a suicide mission and a noble sacrifice that Superman-2 declares he's making because he has no reason to live without Lois-2.

The Anti-Monitor vs Superman-2 showdown is the battle we've all been waiting for. It feels visceral in a way very few fights against him have been save for Supergirl's. It's an interesting parallel that the best fights in the season were fought in the name of either saving or avenging a familial bond. Supergirl saved her cousin and Old Man Kent fights to avenge his wife being erased from memory.

Seriously, guy?
Of course, this far into the final boss battle, Anti-Monitor's life bar is probably at 45% and this is further exacerbated by the fact that he totally fell for a Trojan Horse scenario. It turns out when Team Mystic ensnared his shadow warriors, they infected them with some magical malware and left them all trapped where he would surely find them.

Closer to the portal, Alex Luthor's strength is waning thin, and Superboy's window of opportunity grows short. However, Superboy realizes that like Superman-2, he has nothing to go back to back on Earth, in fact even less when you think about it, and wants to aid Superman-2 in this last stand. So he just tosses Lady Quark and Superman-1 through the closing portal like a sack of potatoes as the portal closes, trapping him, Superman-2, and Alex Luthor inside as apparently Alex had to seal the rift from their side.

Ye gods, Ganondorf isn't even this hard to kill. Stay the fuck down!
For some reason, though, Alex's eyes begin glowing and feels a surge of energy within him, and soon we soon find out why. We watch the epic battle between Superman-2 and Anti-Monitor literally through Alex's eyes. As it turns out, so does Darkseid. Somehow, without having included himself in the story up until this point, he managed to learn enough about Alex's unique physiology in order to co-opt him into a cross-dimensional spycam.

Of course, Darkseid would only do something heroic if it meant
violating someone's agency without asking for consent.
Superboy rejoins the fight just long enough to get knocked on his ass. So it looks like it's still up to Superman-2, who slams him down onto a nearby planet and crushes him with an asteroid. So, Superman-2 is our big damn hero? Wrong, Anti-Monitor gets back up, bereft of his oh so clownish body armor. Although, oddly this time he is different in appearance than when Supergirl destroyed his previous chassis. Maybe the colorist ran out of magenta. He has tapped into the very energy of Qward itself in order to keep himself juiced up. If possible, he's even more desperately pathetic, declaring that he doesn't care if he has to die in the process as long as they all die in the process. Oh, for the love of Mike, why won't this guy die? Well, Darkseid turns his human periscope into a cannon, channeling incredibly potent presumably anti-life energy at Anti-Monitor, vaporizing him.
The Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
is laughing at you, ya jackass! 

So? Is it safe to wrap things up? Is Darkseid our big damn hero? No. Like any respectable final boss, his final form is even harder to kill than the first 3. This time, he's composed purely of energy. Superman-2, however, is all out of fucks and gives the real, for serious, "no really he's dead, guys," final blow, in what visually comes across looking like an anger-induced Super Punch. He knocks Anti-Monitor into the sun, causing it to explode, and it's only a matter of time before the shockwave ripples forth and puts them out of their misery.

He's here to suck on Werther's Originals and kill Anti-Monitors.
And he's all out of Werher's Originals.
The Superpersons are consigned to their fate, but Alex has another option. So, you know how he's a walking plot device? Not only does he have a way out of their impending doom, but he has solved Superman-2's overarching dilemma since the reboot. It turns out that Lois-2 is alive, and it's all because he protected her from the ravages of continuity reboots by hiding her in a pocket dimension inside himself and never mentioning it until now.

Ewwwww!!!!! Remember when I said he was a creeper?
Was I wrong? Nope! Ewwwww!!!!!

Okay. But wait! This resolution gets weirder. Remember way back to issue #1, you know, back when you could still remember what plausible storytelling looked like? Back on the good old Evil Mirror Universe of Earth-3, Alex's father Lex Luthor was his world's greatest hero, but who was his mother? Hm. That's right-- Lois. In a weird new take on Oedipal Complexes in action, Alex saves his other-universe mommy by putting her inside himself. Apparently, he knew the universe would be reborn. And once again, he never said anything.

The long thrust of the conclusion of their story is that Alex can't get them back home, but the four of them can go into pocket universe that exists within Alex and be safe. I assume Alex going into this pocket dimension is effectively the same as someone pulling their bottom lip over their head and swallowing. For now, however, let's be comforted in the fact that they get a happy ending... at least until Infinite Crisis comes around and gives me a migraine.

Logic takes a holiday.
The rest of the issue is mostly wrap up. Somehow, they manage to retcon Wonder Woman-1's death within the same issue that she died in, which I have to admit is a really fast turn around even by the terms of comic books. No, she didn't die. Instead... okay, what the book says happened and what actually did are different matters. The story makes it sound like Wonder Woman was regressed from woman to girl, to baby, to the clay of Paradise Island. For some reason, that also caused time, relative to the Amazons, to reverse to just before Diana's birth. In reality, Wonder Woman's new origin story happens later, so that she comes to Man's World later relative to the other DCU heroes' first appearances, positioning her as a new comer.

The resolution for Wonder Woman's story is apotheosis.
Just sayin'...
Meanwhile, Wonder Woman-2 is given a place to live on Mount Olympus by the gods. Effectively, this ingrains her on New Earth to the extent that she all but reaches an apotheosis. This, in a new timeline in which nobody has ever heard of Wonder Woman at all, and it installs her in a locus very much tethered to the story of the Wonder Woman series that comes out of Crisis. I'm sure this won't open any continuity plot holes moving forward at all. Nope. None.

Cured just in time for an opening in an ongoing series.
How convenient.
Memorials were made for fallen heroes such as Earth-2's Robin and Huntress, and Kole (whose bodies were never found), as well as Atlantis' Tula and Lori the Mermaid. Meanwhile, Wally West honors Barry Allen's memory in a different way by adopting his late mentor's identity by becoming the new Flash. Oh, and he's cured. Well, that was convenient.

Lyla talks with Pariah and Lady Quark, who are now confirmed BFFs4Life, explaining what I believe amounts to "any remaining continuity gaps we haven't touched upon are simply going to fix themselves." It gives me the sense that continuity hadn't finished resetting itself when they woke up last issue, but now that the Anti-Monitor is gone, the new timeline will solidify itself. The bosom buddies ask Lyla to join them in exploring their new home, and she accepts, now that her father's work is complete, she has a life to live.
"Simba, remember who you are. You are my son and the one true..."
Oops. Wrong cloud ghost speech. Sorry. 
We have a final page-long epilogue. Psycho-Pirate is back where he started, in a psychiatric institution, but this time he's in Arkham Asylum, which means he'll be out on the streets any day now. He yammers on about how he is the only one who remembers the multiverse, confirming the idea that even the heroes who remembered it earlier will forget the previous continuity by the time DC finishes publishing their new origin stories, such as John Byrne's Man of Steel (which unfortunately now shares a moniker with a pretty craptastic piece of Snyder. And by Snyder, I mean "horseshit.") Honestly, I'm not sure if this epilogue  was actually needed, but for a character that was such a sociopathic egotist and the only one complicit in Anti-Monitor's designs, it's actually pretty satisfying to see that final comeuppance. Also the effect of seeing someone who was promised so much, being panned away panel by panel until he vanishes from sight is quite effective.

The End

So, this is the first time in the blog that I've actually finally reached the end of a story arc. I figure this is my time to give my summary thoughts on the endeavor as a whole. I bet I could go on for ages about all my problems with this, but I'm aiming for brevity here.

Before I go into what's wrong with it, I do believe in giving credit when it is due. This could not have been an easy task. It had a seismic amount of continuity to shift about to get DC's shared universe where editorial wanted it to be. Additionally, it had to accomplish this feat even while DC's ongoing line was still publishing stories. Keep in mind that this story was a many-headed hydra with every head coiled around each and every single corner of DC's labyrinthine continuity.

It's also worth mentioning how avant garde this must have been in its time. Crossovers had long been a thing, yes. But never on this scale. The notion of the "Bat Family Crossover" wasn't even a thing yet. Most crossovers were simply between two titles, such as when JLA and the JSA would have their annual team-ups. And even then, a crossover almost assuredly never went on for a whole year or with such grand designs beyond mix in two sets of characters, sell more issues, and maybe tell a good story. This was ambitious and that cannot be understated.

As for my issues with this, a lot of my problems with this book can be summed up with a few bullet points.

  • It's unfocused. The series is all over the place and good luck positively identifying a main protagonist in this story. It opts for a cast of thousands with as many pointless cameos as possible rather than zeroing in on a handful of protagonists for the reader to follow on this journey and get invested in. Quantity is confused for quality. Also, the series just fails to figure out what its big objective is. I can count no fewer than six smaller stories that make up the so-called event, one of which is honestly a huge distraction from the event and is so very summarily stopped dead in its tracks that it surpasses plot cul-de-sac and achieves plot escalator to nowhere.
  • The length. Crisis somehow manages to feel threadbare and flabby simultaneously. There is a lot of padding in this series. Additionally, it feels less like one big narrative than two and a half events that have been stapled together. And even taking that into consideration, they still don't have enough story for the 12-issue length. Like I said earlier, this sort of thing had never been attempted before and I think they realized halfway through that there wasn't enough story to sustain 12 issues, which is why issues 8-10 feel like a distraction by throwing in Blue Devil's Bogus Journey, just chilling with the Teen Titans, and the utterly pointless and heavily built-up escalator to nowhere that was the united villains subplot. Arguably, the three sizeable acts of this story would have been their own events, or more likely two events with a tentpole branding, such as often happened during Bendis' run on Avengers.
  • The villain. He's a cut and dry evil for the sake of evil baddie, which would have been just fine if he behaved as though he were on such a higher level than our heroes that he barely acknowledged their existence, but instead we end up in this weird situation where this very thinly written villain is effectively a Lovecraftian horror with a thing for dick measuring contests. He becomes that golden boy from high school who was the star athlete and student body president, was everybody's hero, and was offered a full ride, but at your 20 year reunion turns out to have completely fucked up his life beyond recognition, never left your home town, has a crappy job, and probably needs an intervention. 
Having said all that, it's an important piece of history both for DC and for the world of long-running shared universes, in general. It also manages to provide a diverse, if not exactly immersive overview of what DC's cosmology was like pre-Crisis. To a point, I don't think it's aged well, but this was still in the era when the comics industry was still shaking off the mentality that they were kids' stuff, and really had yet to be recognized as an artform in its own right, and the structure of the narrative reflects that. Of course, even by the time this series concluded, that attitude was being challenged by The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, which together changed the landscape of what comics were and how they were perceived. It can actually be argued that the continuity overhaul that Crisis was designed to accomplish also laid the groundwork for a shared universe that better reflected a modern sensibility of storytelling that Watchmen and DKR first keyed into with its audience.

Next Week: We finish up the less frustrating, but also less ambitious final issue of Uncanny Avengers volume 3's Plant Apocalypse arc. After that I think we might be about due for another cinematic palate cleansers before getting started on a couple new ongoing reading projects that are going to be a lot more fun.