Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Monday, August 29, 2011

things comickal

-- things comickal -- la robusta's final big notes

And, again, another all-DC, all the time entry, in which conclusions are discussed, and the conclusion of The Big One is noted, but not reviewed, because I don't read Action.

And, once again, please note: SPOILERS, SWEETIES!

Wonder Woman 614 (Written by J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI and PHIL HESTER/Art by DON KRAMER and WAYNE FAUCHER)

For what it's worth, I'm guessing that Straczynski contributed the outline of the first half of the story, since he provided the outline structure of most of Odyssey. The back half of the story, where all the interesting stuff happens -- or, technically, doesn't, but yet is still more interesting than the front half -- would be all Hester, since DC didn't decide on the nU until after Straczynski was off the title.

One of the things that the Odyssey arc has suffered from is excessive padding. Originally, Straczynski's outline had it ending around issue 610. When Hester was brought on board, DC asked him to extend the arc -- twice, I believe, although I'd have to check that and I'm not sure where I saw the information -- so that it would dovetail into the universe reboot. The padding shows in the previous issue and in this one. In normal comic book pacing, Diana's climactic battle with Nemesis would take only one issue; instead, it got notably stretched in issue 613, so that it could conclude in 614. And, as with several of the other universe-ending issues I've seen in this run (Detective, Power Girl and Zatanna being the most prominent exceptions), the actual story ends early in the issue, making way for a coda that could be entirely anticlimactic. And, in the case of Wonder Woman, it is anticlimactic ... but that's entirely by design. You see, of all of DC's major titles -- Batman and Detective, Action and Superman, Wonder Woman (and, if one must count them, Green Lantern and The Flash) -- Wonder Woman contains the only action in which Flashpoint actually happened.

To be sure, it's all behind the scenes. After all, it would not do to upstage the Big Event, now would it? When last we saw her, Diana was beginning to get the better of Nemesis; she'd managed to arrange it so that Nemesis seemingly killed her, but what that meant was that Nemesis was in contact with her, which enabled Diana to take back that part of her essence that Nemesis had stolen. (...Just run with it. It'll hurt less.) At the end of 613, therefore, Diana is back to herself, with all her memories intact, older, impressively unstabbed, and back in the star-spangled panties of Wonder!

In 614, the fight continues between Nemesis and Diana. Eventually, Diana kills Nemesis. (Something of a side note: why, one wonders, is it that Diana is the only one of DC's major heroes that's allowed to kill and still remain a hero? Granted, most of those she kills are mythological beings: Medusa, the devil, Nemesis, etc. But she did kill Max Lord, although that didn't stick, and he's still pissed off about it. And there's no doubt that, for example, if the Joker decided to try to operate in a city she was protecting -- superheroes are remarkably territorial, in some ways -- she would simply put him down like a rabid dog. But I digress.) However, it turns out that, as with Diana's plan from the previous issue, Nemesis' death was part of her plan all the time, as that would force Diana to take over the role of the Vengeance of the Gods. Diana being Diana, she declines forcefully. In the process, she destroys a magical artifact that explodes! ... and then, for no apparent reason, it explodes again! There are two consecutive frames of a bright green explosion, and then when the smoke clears, Diana stands on Themiscyra ... in the version of the new costume that DC had originally planned for her to use, as shown on the cover illustration for issue 614.

Cover illustration for DC's Wonder Woman issue 614
As is not shown on the cover, however, this Diana is clearly younger than the one that went into the explosion. Not the teenager that she was during Odyssey, but also not the more mature woman that she was at the beginning of the issue. She also very clearly remembers everything that happened during Odyssey, and more or less remembers her past. She goes to see her mother, discovering during the process that all the people who died during Odyssey, all of her Amazon sisters, are alive again. Hippolyta comments on her new costume, which produces some understandable confusion in Diana, who rather clearly doesn't remember why she's wearing or how she chose it or anything about it, and yet there it is. And then Diana flies off into her future. It would have been absolutely perfect, except for something entirely out of the creative team's control: DC's public waffling about Diana's costume. Wonder panties? Wonder jeggings? Stars upon h'ars? No stars upon h'ars? It reached the point where Jim Lee, DC co-publisher and artist, did a public drawing at Comic Con of Diana in the star spangled panties, holding the star spangled jeggings, with the caption "For the love of Hera, Dan, make up your mind!" And, as we now know, Dan DiDio did make up his mind, and decided on the star spangled panties look, which meant that the new costume design at the end of this issue was all for naught.

One of the things I really liked about this issue is something a bit small and idiosyncratic: Diana spends the entire last half of the issue being rapturously, transparently happy, if periodically confused about the whole thing. Understandable, of course; she remembers everyone she knows and every place that meant anything to her being dead or destroyed, and yet here it is again. But what I realized in reading that is that we almost never get to see Diana being simply happy for any length of time. Most of that is due to the nature of the stories and of superhero comics; happy heroes make for dull stories, it seems. It's used purely as a contrast, where the writer shows a moment of contentment, and then destroys that happiness somehow. (Witness Diana's prior relationship with Thomas Tresser.) I think she may get to be happy in this issue for longer than I've seen her in all the years I've been reading this title ... which is kind of sad, when you think about it. (And given that Azzarello, her next writer, has said that he's going to be focusing on horror-related themes for Wonder Woman, rather than on pure superheroics, I'm guessing that she doesn't have a lot of happiness in her future.)

The other nice thing about this title is that the coda, instead of being backwards-looking anticlimax, got to be forward looking anticlimax, so to speak. This title is more organically connected to what comes after it through its storyline than any of the other rebooting titles. They leave you looking forward to what happens next, rather than feeling wistful about what came before. That's a good way to go out.

Flashpoint: Project Superman #3 (Lowell Francis, Scott Snyder/Gene Ha; DC)

Flashpoint has two enduring problems as a project. One is intrinsic to the structure -- is, in fact, required -- and the other is just baffling. The intrinsic problem is that we know -- and have known for the entire run of the Flashpoint main series -- that the Flash fails. He fails to completely repair the changes. All he can do is a partial reset, resulting in him losing the love of his life AGAIN, if in a less theoretically permanent way that the last time. And, judging from the teaser quotes that DC is releasing from the upcoming 52 titles, it's beginning to look like Flash may actually know that he's failed, and remember enough to understand how he's failed. Flashpoint itself is a series about partial success -- after all, the Flashpoint universe itself gets reset as well -- but also about the shape of failure; we're reading to see how the Flash's failure produces what we know will be happening. So the predetermined end is one significant issue with Flashpoint.

The other has to do with what that predetermined end has done to the main title and auxiliary titles. Basically, it's meant that the only issue of Flashpoint worth reading is the last one, with the climactic battle/whatever happens between Flash and Reverse Flash. But it's also meant that it's been left to the auxiliary series to show us why we should care about all of this. Flashpoint itself has been bizarrely repetitive and sterile. The most interesting of the tie-ins have been Flashpoint: Knight of Vengeance, featuring Thomas Wayne as Batman and Martha Wayne as the Joker, and Flashpoint: Project Superman, in which Kal's rocket, instead of crashing more or less harmlessly in a field outside a small town in Kansas, came crashing down with a major meteor shower into the major city of Metropolis, causing mayhem, death and destruction everywhere. In "Project Superman", Kal himself, instead of being picked up and raised by a kindly couple, was picked up and raised -- well, imprisoned, mostly, by the US Military, specifically General Lane, Lois' father and the architect, in the current DCU, of the destruction of New Krypton and the death of hundreds of thousands of people. So clearly, this is not going to go well. And, as it happens, Lane somehow caught Doomsday, and used his DNA to create his first super soldier, Sinclair. Doomsday being ... well, Doomsday, this also Does Not Go Well, and Sinclair goes slowly mad, eventually resulting in Lane imprisoning him in the Phantom Zone. A decade or so later, Thomas Wayne Batman, the Flash, Cyborg and others break into the project Superman HQ, where a major battle has clearly taken place (in the last Booster Gold, we see that the damage was a result of Doomsday waking up, as well as Sinclair breaking free of the Zone), and freeing the imprisoned Kal ... who promptly flies way far away from his prison.

In this particular issue (thought I'd never get there, didn't you?), Kal realizes that he can't just leave things alone. That he has to try to help out in some way. He searches for Lois, with whom he became infatuated when they were both young children, and finds her in the remains of London/New Themiscyra, where the Amazons have discovered that she was an agent of the resistance and are trying to hunt her down. (Side note: Have I mentioned how very TIRED I am of the Amazons becoming the bad guys every time the DCU seems to need something major reset lately? ... Oh, I have? Well, carry on, then.) He saves her from the initial attack, and then basically slugs it out with the attacking Amazons. This being his first major battle of any sort, he lacks the experience to know how to go about it -- and, for one of the few times ever, we see Kal deliberately killing someone. Unfortunately, certain aspects of the battle do Not End Well, which is all I will say directly about that.

This issue evoked all the reasons that Flashpoint matters in the DCU, in a way that Flashpoint itself has not done to date. We know what Superman is supposed to be. We see him trying to become that person, in a terribly short time, despite having no training, no experience, no Jonathan or Martha Kent to teach him right and wrong and how not to scare or damage the fragile humans he'll be guarding. We know what his relationship with Lois is supposed to be. And this issue makes you want that all back, and the only way to get it, or something like it, is for Kal to figure out how to join the battle ... and yet, we already know that it won't quite work. The writing and art were perfect in this series, which managed to actually make you care about Flashpoint, which was no small feat.

Batman: Gates of Gotham #5 (SCOTT SNYDER and KYLE HIGGINS; Art and covers by TREVOR MCCARTHY)

The way this title ends makes me wonder if (1) it wasn't originally meant to be part of the main Batman title, and (2) if perhaps it was also meant to be Scott Snyder's initial Batman arc before the reboot was planned. I wonder because the ending makes absolutely no sense as part of a miniseries, but makes much more sense as something that was meant to be part of the main title, and to dovetail into Batman Inc. (about which more later).

The main action of the story goes more or less as you know it must. Dick figures out that, yes, there is a surviving Gates of Gotham, a descendant of the designers of the city, and he's completely off his rocker, because insanity runs in the family. (How you have technologically induced insanity -- one of the things that Dick notes very clearly is that the suit that allowed the Gates to wander around the bottom of Gotham Harbor has problems that produce prolonged oxygen deprivation and hence insanity [although I always thought that produced death, but whatever] -- that somehow runs in the family is something best ignored.) Cass comes up with an ingenious solution for dealing with the bombs at the base of the bridge and retaining wall that keeps the city from flooding, a solution that even gets her some respect from Damian. Tim is sidelined by a concussion for the length of this issue, and has only a brief conversation with Cass at the end.

That conversation, along with the one that Dick has with Bruce, is what makes me wonder if perhaps "Gates" wasn't originally meant as part of the main series. In her conversation with Tim, Cass clearly indicates that she wants to come back to Gotham. And in his conversation with Bruce, Dick says that getting through this crisis, and how he did it, shows him that he can really be Batman .... and Bruce starts making noises that indicate that, now that he's got Batman Inc. set up, he's going to settle back in Gotham, so there won't be any need for Dick to be Batman any more. Which, to put it mildly, makes less than no sense; the city has been doing just fine with two Batmen in residence. But, for Inc. related purposes, as well as joint marketing with "The Dark Knight Rises" coming out next year, DC needed to have only one guy under the cowl in Gotham, and that had to be Bruce.

(Purely a side note: would someone please explain to me why anybody lives in Gotham? As far as I can tell, in the DCU, most other major cities on the planet have one, maybe two superheroes. Gateway City and/or Washington DC have Wonder Woman. Opal City has Starman and Stargirl. Metropolis has Superman and Black Lightning. Central City and Coast City and Star City had a Lantern, a Flash or four (well, they're a family, so that happens), a Green Arrow, something like that. New York City had Power Girl (and, OK, sometimes the rest of the JSA, but usually just her). Gotham has, at last census: Green Lantern the first (Alan Scott), Batman the first and second, Robin 5, Red Robin (formerly Robin 3), Batgirl the third (formerly Spoiler and Robin 4), Oracle, the five Birds of Prey plus Creote and Savant, Manhunter, and I'm sure I'm forgetting someone. To be sure, only Black Canary has any sort of meta power, and hers is somewhat limited if she doesn't want to blast her teammates. But still. A city dangerous enough to need a minimum of THIRTEEN extralegal vigilantes? Why would anyone stay there if they could leave? And yet, Gotham has a fairly large and wealthy elite. But I digress.)

Batman, Incorporated #8 (Morrison/Clark/Beatty)

From what I've seen, this issue has impressively divided people. Either you love it or you hate it. Sadly, I'm in the latter camp.

Basically, what happens is that Bruce is conducting a virtual meeting with people that he wants to invest in his Internet 3.0, using a demo version of Internet 3.0 itself to hold the meeting with the investors in different cities. Only it turns out that one of the investors is a double agent for Leviathan, and has compromised the meeting, somehow trapping the investors in the meeting against their will ... or maybe just telling them that they're trapped. Since we get absolutely no sense of the equipment being used, how they're connecting, or any specificity to the threat, who knows? In any event, just when the virus/malware seems to be taking over Internet 3.0, enter Oracle to save the day! (Yes, yes, the Oracle that's supposed to be long dead by now. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and comic book continuity, don'tcha know.) And, well, her internet avatar is kind of cool ... if insufficiently detailed. In fact, the art for the entire issue suffers from a simultaneous detail overload in the background, while not having enough detail for the foreground characters themselves.

It's fairly clear that very few concessions were made to the universe reboot in this title. It's clearest of all in the repeated references to Batgirl, Stephanie Brown in this case. Oracle mentions (inside the video game, where the other people can hear, which WTF?) that she's been getting messages from Batgirl in the British boarding school where she was placed. Bruce mentions that she's been doing some good investigation and finding a lot of information over there. And at the end, there's another one of those big pulpy between-frame things, saying that Batman and Batgirl will be back next time, investigating the School For Terror! ... only, if you read Batgirl, you know that investigation never happened. It got cut short by the universe reboot; Stephanie got over to London, had an awesome one-and-done teamup with Squire, but then had to come back to Gotham, because her title was ending and they needed to wrap up her investigation into the speedsters and her father's new criminal activities. And they were very clear that she hadn't been able to do anything with the boarding school; she didn't have time. Unfortunately, Morrison's story clearly needed the information that Stephanie was supposed to provide, so he just needed to proceed as though she'd done what she was sent there to do. Which would be fine if they'd been able to convey, at any point in either title, what the hell she was sent there to do. Instead, we get drive-by infodumps that seem both irrelevant and impossible.

The most unforgivable part of the text, however, is that we're simply told at the end who is apparently behind Leviathan, the conspiracy that Bruce has spent the past eight issues setting up Batman Inc. to take down. We've been given no real lead-in for this, haven't seen him investigating anything that would lead to this conclusion. It's just dropped down on us as though it should be perfectly obvious. On the one hand, I suspect that this sudden reveal was one of the results of the reboot -- we needed to know what Bruce thinks is going on before the next story arc starts, and there wasn't enough time to develop the story the way it should have been before the reboot. On the other hand ... really, Morrison? REALLY? THAT'S the villain? I'm really hoping that Bruce is wrong, and that he's been deceived about who it is, but given that Morrison has said that he views his Batman run as one big interconnected story ... I'm rather afraid he's serious. Which is truly unfortunate.

Gotham City Sirens 26 (Galloway/Guinaldo/Ruggiero/Fernandez)

At first glance, this seems to be the most profoundly unnecessary of the conclusions of the Bat titles. And yet, turned out that in some ways, it was the most impressive.

I will admit, I only started reading this series by accident. I meant to get only the issue that was part of the "Judgement on Gotham" crossover that ended Azrael, but instead, I got the issue before that, in which Harley decided to go to Arkham to free Mistah J, against the firmly expressed desires of Selina and Ivy. And it was interesting enough that I just kept reading. One of the most fascinating things to see is that, if she weren't hamstrung by her extreme devotion to the Joker, Harley would be a very effective criminal/vigilante/whatever she is. She plotted the attack on Arkham, successfully carried it out by herself, successfully freed the Joker, and they'd have gotten clean away if he hadn't felt that wreaking havoc on the way was more important and she hadn't been so devoted to him that she hung around just because. In any event, at the end of the last issue, it seemed that everything was over. Harley had been caught and was going to stay in Arkham, and Selina had drugged Ivy to make sure she was caught and stayed in Arkham, as repayment for Ivy trying to torture Batman's secret identity out of her.

And yet, at the beginning of this issue, there they are, all fighting it out on the streets of Gotham. How did the Harley and the Ivy get out of Arkham? (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Who knows? Who cares? Arkham has such a revolving door it doesn't really matter how anyone gets out; that has to be the most insecure maximum security facility ever created. (Not helped, of course, by having been designed and rebuilt by the insane Jeremiah Arkham as Black Mask, so no doubt there are secret exits everywhere.) But turns out it's the confrontation they had to have.

Harley and Ivy are furious at what they see as Selina's betrayal. In turn, Selina tells them some home truths about how the team got together and why Batman allowed them to operate -- Selina was used to control them, and the three of them in turn helped contain the minor criminals so that Batman could concentrate on the major ones. Harley actually takes this surprisingly well, all things considered. Ivy ... does not. How badly does she take it? Put it this way: at one point, as things are getting started, Bruce arrives on the scene and tells Gordon that unless they start destroying Gotham, the police need to stay out of this mess.

And then... Ivy Destroys Gotham.

Understand, I'm not just talking about breaking up a few streets or throwing around a few cars. I mean, she does that, yes, but she does so much more. She uses her plants to bring down skyscraper after skyscraper. She breaks buildings. Fire, fire everywhere. In short, Ivy Destroys Gotham. The downtown parts, anyway. All these times Ivy's fought Batman, she's been holding back, and now she lets loose. It's a good thing for Gotham that the universe is getting rebooted, because there's just not much of midtown left by the end of this issue.

The other reason that it's a good thing that Gotham is getting rebooted is the confrontation at the end. It would be terribly difficult to sustain a Bruce/Selina relationship after the way they square off at each other at the end. There are some things that can't be forgiven, and helping the person who destroyed Gotham to get away would likely be one of those things. As would the rather heroic amount of manipulation that Bruce exercised over the Sirens. (One of the questions that's asked but never really answered is, does it count as manipulation if you know they're doing it, but allow it anyway, because you don't disagree with the goals?)

This does make me slightly -- and I do mean slightly -- more curious about the revived Catwoman title. And it helps me to see how it might be possible to choose Harley as a leader of the Suicide Squad. (Still doesn't make me want to read that title or see her in that outfit, though.)

Batman: The Dark Knight #5 of 5 (David Finch/Jason Fobok): In wihich Bruce succeeds by failing ... somehow. Dawn Golden dies, but somehow Etrigan gets his power back and ... I don't know. Honestly, I really have no idea what happened there. The art is wonderfully horrific and evocative, but the writing is just a rushed mess. (Although I do love the idea of Etrigan and Bruce as the "Demonic Duo.") And there's a coda at the end that pulls back in one of the earlier plot threads in a way that indicates that this title will ALSO be ignoring the fact that it's supposed to be rebooting after this.

Action Comics #904 (Cornell/Rocafort): As mentioned, I didn't read the entirety of this issue. After all, the only things I could care less about than Doomsday would be the New Gods and Darkseid, so I really don't care how Supes went about defeating Doomsy (as Booster Gold calls him). But I did read the last few pages, just to see how they'd send Supes out. Would they give him an ironically inspirational end like Kara? Just finish out the story like Detective? Something kind of unnecessary yet sort of awesome like Gotham City Sirens? And the answer was ... none of the above, actually. The last few pages of the issue featured Clark and Lois in a restaurant, having a startlingly public conversation about his secret identity and how it sometimes constrains him. And Lois reminds him that, more or less, he's really Clark, and that's the aspect of Superman that people relate to and blah blah blah. Basically, they remind us why Clark and Lois fit together as a couple, just in time to rip them apart next month. How nice of them! (Seriously, what does DC have against stable relationships? Every single formerly stable relationship from the DCU is gone in the DCnU.) It's a sad way for DC's other flaghship title to go out. At least 'Tec concluded on an awesome note for the Gordons. This doesn't conclude on an awesome note for anyone, from the looks of things.

Next time, the end of the old and the start of the new. And maybe one or two things that AREN'T DC.

Posted by iain at 11:25 AM in category things comickal