Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Dr. Claw's Judgment-O-Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Passion of the Beetle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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