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. 

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