Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 6: Part 2 of Mega-Crossover-Events and the Comic-Book Readers Who Love to Hate Them

Hello and welcome to Hoopla!, the comic-book review column that prefers to err on the side of green.

This week we're going to look at the two most recent Mega-Crossover-Events (MCEs) in the DC universe, Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis, and apply our six criteria to them.

Those criteria, once again, are:

1) Did the Mega-Crossover-Event have a coherent plot/concept that could be explained in 40 words or less?

2) Was the central limited series entertaining?

3) Were the crossover issues and related limited series enjoyable?

4) Were significant changes to the comic-book universe made as a result of the MCE?

5) Were those changes actually good for the comic-book universe?

6) Did Superboy bring Jason Todd back to life by punching a hole in reality?

WARNING: The stories that are about to be discussed are largely nonsensical, violent, often unpleasant, and extremely convoluted. Reading about them may result in dizziness or a vague sense of contempt for the people who produce and/or purchase comic-books.

Please try to remember as your read the following that life is full of rich and meaningful experiences and that a few bad comics shouldn't sour you on all that life has to offer.

And now, without any further ado, let's bring out the first of our contestants, shall we?

Identity Crisis
Written by Brad Meltzer
Art by Rags Morales

Let me just start off by saying how much I hate this comic.

Seriously.

It goes beyond "Oh, that comic had crappy art," or "The story was dumb."

I'm talking about HATE.

You'll see why shortly.

Let us proceed...

1) Did the Mega-Crossover-Event have a coherent plot/concept that could be explained in 40 words or less?

Sue Dibny's murder sets off a who-done-it style mystery throughout the DC universe, accidentally revealing a couple of very dark secrets from the Justice League of America's past.

Yup. Pretty clear premise.

If we had a few more words, we might summarize it like this...

Sue Dibny, a character who had previously been used for light-hearted stories along with her husband, the Elongated Man, is murdered. A few panels later, we learn she was pregnant at the time of her brutal murder.

In the process of solving the mystery of her death, we learn that Sue Dibny had previously been viciously raped on board the Justice League satellite by a deranged and sadistic Dr. Light. This is shown in graphic detail. We then learn that the Justice League wiped Dr. Light's mind because he was threatening to also rape Lois Lane and Black Canary and every woman in the DC Universe. So, they stole his memories of everyone's secret identity.

Then they stole the memories of even more characters. They even mucked around with Batman's brain a little bit...

And they didn't just erase Dr. Light's memories; they tried to alter his brain so that he wouldn't be such an asshole. But--whoops!--that didn't work so well, and instead it turned him into a blathering idiot.

Ah, well.

Oh, and it finally turned out that Sue Dibny's rape and all the erasing of memories and all that stuff had absolutely nothing to do with the actual murder mystery. No, that was all actually just a remarkably tasteless and convoluted red herring.

No, the real reason she was murdered was because Jean Loring (the Atom's ex-wife) wanted to get her husband back, so she figured if she used his shrinking belt to climb into Sue Dibny's brain and apply pressure to knock her out, then all the super-heroes would think about how much they love their girlfriends and ex-wives and then the Atom would come back to her.

Actually not all that clever a plan, when you think about it...

But, when she tried to knock out Sue Dibny by walking around on her brain, she accidentally killed her. So, then she figured "Oh, well" and decided to continue threatening the lives of the super-heroes' loved ones because... um... because that way she could...

See, the thing is, she really, really missed the Atom. That's the thing. So, she hired Captain Boomerang to murder Robin's dad, but she sent Robin's dad a gun in a box that said "Use this." She figured, you see, that Robin's dad would somehow shoot Capt. Boomerang before Capt. Boomerang could, um, throw a boomerang at him.

But, that didn't quite work out either.

So, both Captain Boomerang and Robin's dad got killed. And so did Sue Dibny, after being brutally raped by Dr. Light, many years previously, but that had been a secret. But now it wasn't. So, I guess that was Brad Meltzer's contribution to DC continuity.

Dr. Light raped the wife of the Elongated Man in the JLA satellite.

And Jean Loring stepped on Sue Dibny's brain and accidentally killed and then accidentally killed Robin's dad by hiring a super-villain to, well, to kill him.

Yup.

And that's what happened.

Have I mentioned how much I hate that story?

2) Was the central limited series entertaining?

Entertaining in the sense of showing Sue Dibny getting raped by Dr. Light and in the sense of having a mystery that, once solved, made absolutely no sense at all?

Sure.

The only thing that could have made it more entertaining would have been if Brad Meltzer had actually walked into the reader's room and stabbed him/her with a knife over and over again.

While dressed as a scary clown.

3) Were the crossover issues and related limited series enjoyable?

There weren't too many crossover issues, thank God. After the fact, there were a bunch of comics where you'd find out that someone had had someone else mind-wiped many years ago. I wouldn't say that was particularly enjoyable, but it was confined to just a few titles and wasn't a big deal.

So, I'll give this one a neutral.

4) Were significant changes to the comic-book universe made as a result of the MCE?

Sort of.

It established that most of the Justice League of America had been engaged in some very questionable activities.

Oh, yeah. And also that SUE DIBNY WAS RAPED BY DR. LIGHT IN THE JUSTICE LEAGUE SATELLITE.

I almost forgot that part.

And it did--and this is one good thing to come from this Mega-Crossover-Event--establish a more organized criminal community in the DC universe. I think that change, at least, has been positive.

Oh, and there was some other really minor stuff like introducing Captain Boomerang's son.

[He's just like Captain Boomerang, y'see, but he's also super-fast! So, he can throw boomerangs and run really, really fast! How cool is that?]

5) Were those changes actually good for the comic-book universe?

As far as I can tell, the purpose of all of this was to show the mainstream reading public that comics aren't just for kids anymore, that they've become more mature and gritty and realistic and stuff.

That's my understanding, anyway.

So, here's author Brad Meltzer, who's a best-selling author and whose name will theoretically attract people who wouldn't normally read comics and they'll be amazed that comics are now able to show things like rape and they'll say, "Why, I was all wrong about this comic-book thing. It's actually quite adult and appealing!

And here's why that kind of thinking is so horribly, horribly wrong...

First of all, if you want to show people that there are comics for adults, such comics already exist. Maus. Persepolis. American Born Chinese. Pride of Baghdad. Love and Rockets / Palomar. Dave McKean's Cages. Alan Moore's From Hell. American Splendor.

And the list goes on...

So, when comic-readers and producers say, "We've gotta show the mainstream public that comics aren't just for kids!", I totally support that. But, I suspect that a lot of the time they're not so interested in the mainstream public embracing Maus and American Splendor. They want people to like their comics. The super-hero stuff.

What they actually mean is"We've gotta show the mainstream public that super-hero comics aren't just for kids!"

And that, my friend, is a quest as doomed as Jean Loring's attempt to win back her ex-husband by stepping on Sue Dibny's brain. Because the simple fact is, a lot of people aren't into that genre. It's not that they don't understand it. It's not that they simply lack exposure to the best super-hero comics. It's that they don't like super-heroes. They don't want to read about people in costumes who fly around fighting crime, even if it's a really well-written, well-illustrated story about those people.

And that's okay.

So, no, Identity Crisis wasn't particularly good for the DC universe; it just made it a darker place.

And in the long run, I don't think it did much for the comics industry, in terms of convincing people that they want to read about super-heroes.

End of lecture.

6) Did Superboy bring Jason Todd back to life by punching a hole in reality?

No, but Identity Crisis did help lead up to the story (Infinite Crisis) in which this happened.
And Jean Loring did accidentally kill a pregnant woman by stepping on their brain.

So, that's something anyway.

Final Analysis: Identity Crisis probably shouldn't be counted as a full-fledged Mega-Crossover-Event because there were only a few crossovers; it was mostly self-contained. But, on the other hand, it was a deliberate effort to change the larger tapestry of the DC universe, both by retroactively mucking about with continuity and by setting a tone for future DC comics to follow.

Infinite Crisis
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Phil Jiminez, George Perez, Ivan Reis, and Jerry Ordway

Of all the Mega-Crossover-Epics, I would argue that this was the one spread out amongst the most limited-series, crossovers, etc. It is also the one with the least comprehensible plot. I still don't know what the story was about, and I read 187 of the 214 individual issues that made up this MCE from hell.

Here's what happened...

Infinite Crisis was apparently conceived as a sort of sequel/homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths, which we talked about in the previous column. 20 years had gone by since that MCE had come out, and DC wanted to do something big for its anniversary.

During Crisis on Infinite Earths, several different version of Earth, which had co-existed in earlier continuity, had been mushed together into one. So, the rumor was that Infinite Crisis was going to bring back some of the other Earths.

Another rumor had it that all the bleak, grim crap that was being published by DC at that time (including Identity Crisis, discussed above), was all setting the stage for a new continuity that would emerge from Infinite Crisis. In this new continuity, you wouldn't have Sue Dibny being raped by Dr. Light, for example. It would be a fun, pleasant continuity, made up of entertaining comics that would fill readers with an old-fashioned sense of wonder and awe.

It is interesting, in retrospect, to consider that the stories being published by DC previous to Infinite Crisis were so violent and unpleasant that many readers seriously believed it was all part of a deliberate strategy to get readers psyched for a return to a simpler, more light-hearted DC universe.

No such luck...

The first prequel to Infinite Crisis, aside from the afore mentioned Identity Crisis, was a limited series about Donna Troy.

I'm not going to get into a big discussion about Donna Troy. I simply refuse to go there, because that, my friend, is a digression that might take us hours. Possibly even days.

Suffice it to say, there was some confusion surrounding the character.

So, there was this limited series about Donna Troy and there was Identity Crisis. And everyone knew these were prequels to this big upcoming MCE, but no one knew how it all fit together. Oh, and there was also an Adam Strange limited series that was also allegedly going to tie into this bigger-than-life MCE. That was a pretty decent series.

Next came a one-shot called Countdown to Infinite Crisis. This was supposed to be the official prequel. Not as "pre-" as Identity Crisis, the Donna Troy series and the Adam Strange series, mind you, but still a prequel.

In Countdown to Infinite Crisis, we followed a character, Blue Beetle, who had previously been used mostly for lighter, comedic moments.

That obviously couldn't be allowed because people might accidentally think that comics are for kids, so Countdown was a grim and gritty story about the Blue Beetle trying to solve a mystery and every time he'd go to one of his superhero friends for help, they'd blow him off. Finally, he solves the mystery on his own and gets his head shot off for his troubles.

It was a graphic picture too. You really felt like you were right there, getting his brains plastered on your shirt.


Thank you, DC Comics.

After Countdown to Blue Beetle's Bloody Corpse, DC treated its audience to four more prequels to Infinite Crisis. These were four limited series, each of which were six issues long, so that's 24 more prequel issues. And yet, even at this point, it was impossible to figure out what Infinite Crisis was going to be about.

Was it about Blue Beetle getting his head shot off? Was it about Donna Troy? Maybe it was about the supernatural war that was occurring in Shadowpact. Or the battle between Rann and Thanagar (two planets in the DC universe) that began in the Adam Strange limited series and then continued in the unreadable Rann Thanagar War limited series. Or might it be about the OMAC robot things that kept popping up everywhere and attacking DC superheroes because they were being sent out by some satellite that Batman had launched into outer space because he'd been mindwiped by his friends in the Justice League and so no longer trusted them? Or was it going to be about the organization of super-villains that had formed as a result of Identity Crisis and which starred in the fourth prequel limited series, Villains United?

How would these things all fit together? And how would it all tie in with the original Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series from 20 years earlier?

All of which brings us to the actual Infinite Crisis series itself...

1) Did the Mega-Crossover-Event have a coherent plot/concept that could be explained in 40 words or less?

Ha.

Ha ha ha.





Bwah-hahahahahahhahaha!!!





Uh, no. No, it could not.

And I'm not even going to try, because I honestly still don't understand what that story was about. So, rather than further confuse you, I'm going to see what the good folk at Wikipedia have to say.

Keep in mind, this is going to get confusing. Really, really confusing. But I'll be there with you, providing helpful illustrations as we go...

The story begins in the wake of the crises of the four lead-in limited series, with Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman feuding, the JLA Watchtower destroyed, and the heroes of the world all facing a variety of menaces. Over this backdrop, Kal-L (the Earth-Two Superman), along with Earth-Two Lois Lane, Earth-Three Alexander Luthor, and Superboy-Prime escape from the pocket universe where they had been trapped at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths.[1] Kal-L seeks out his cousin, Power Girl, also a survivor of Earth-Two. Believing Lois' health will improve on her native world, he hopes to replace the current Earth with Earth-Two, which he considers perfect.[2]

Kal-L tries to enlist Batman's support, stating that the Post-Crisis Earth's inherent "bad" nature caused Batman's recent mistrust and hostility. Batman refuses. Afterward, he learns Superboy-Prime destroyed the JLA Watchtower.[3]

Alexander reveals to Power Girl that he and Superboy-Prime had been leaving their "paradise" for some time, manipulating events to help create an inter-dimensional tuning fork.

Using the Anti-Monitor's remains [Yuck.] and captured heroes and villains specifically attuned to former universes (Power Girl among them), Alex restores Earth-Two, un-populated except for the Earth-Two heroes transported there.[4]

Superboy-Prime attacks Conner Kent, this world's Superboy. Multiple super-teams intervene. Superboy-Prime kills several heroes before the Flashes and Kid Flash force him into the Speed Force, assisted by speedsters already within it. Jay Garrick, the only speedster left behind, says the Speed Force is now gone.[5]

Seeking to create a perfect world, Alexander restores many alternate Earths. The Earth-Two Lois dies, and an aggrieved Kal-L and the younger Superman Kal-El fight until Wonder Woman separates them.[6] Bart Allen (wearing Barry Allen's costume and aged to adulthood) emerges from the Speed Force, warning that he and the other speedsters were unable to hold Superboy-Prime, who returns wearing armor that stores yellow sun radiation to empower him.

Batman's
strike force destroys Brother Eye.

Alexander selects and merges alternate Earths, trying to create a "perfect" world, until Firestorm blocks his efforts. Conner, Nightwing, and Wonder Girl release the Tower's prisoners.[7] Fighting each other, Conner and Superboy-Prime collide with the tower, destroying it. The multiple Earths recombine into a "New Earth" as Conner dies in Wonder Girl's arms.

When a horde of supervillains attack Metropolis[8], heroes fly off to the rescue. Superboy-Prime takes off to destroy Oa, planning to collapse the Universe. Superboy-Prime kills many Green Lanterns trying to stop him before Kal-L and Kal-El carry him toward Krypton's remains, now essentially a huge cloud of kryptonite. Flying through Krypton's red sun, Rao, destroys Superboy-Prime's armor and causes all three Kryptonians' powers to dissipate. Landing on the sentient planet (and GLC member) Mogo, they fight. After Kal-El finally knocks Superboy-Prime out, Kal-L dies in the arms of his cousin, Power Girl.

Back on Earth, Batman contemplates shooting Alex but is discouraged by Wonder Woman. Alex escapes, only to be tortured and killed by the Joker, who is angry at being left out of the Society, while a gloating Lex Luthor looks on.

Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman later meet up in Gotham. Wonder Woman plans to find out who she is. Batman plans a similar journey of self-discovery, revisiting the training of his youth, this time with Dick Grayson and Tim Drake joining him.

Superman retires from superheroics until his powers return.[9]

Alexander Luthor, Jr. is killed by the Joker as Lex Luthor watches on, in panels from Infinite Crisis #7 (June 2006), art by Phil Jimenez. Hiding in an alley in Gotham City and making new plans, Alexander Luthor is found by Lex Luthor and the Joker. The Joker mutilates Alex with his acid-flower, while Lex taunts his enemy for his various mistakes, including underestimating him and excluding the Joker from the Society (the Joker was the only villain not offered to join the Society, due to him being too unpredictable). The Joker then shoots and kills Alexander, while Lex mockingly asks, "Now who's stupid?".

The Green Lantern Corps imprison Superboy-Prime inside a red Sun-Eater. The series ends with him carving an S into his chest with his bare hands and declaring that he has been in worse places than his current prison and has escaped.[10]

Yup.

That's what happened, I guess.

Honestly, I still don't understand Infinite Crisis.

I don't get how all the pieces fit together.

Like, what did the magic war thing have to do with all of that? There was something about Jean Loring (the lady who stepped on Sue Dibny's brain) becoming the new Eclipso and seducing the Spectre... what was that??? How did it fit in with the rest of the story???

And why was Maxwell Lord (the guy who shot Blue Beetle) suddenly evil? He used to be a good guy, you know. And he was friends with Blue Beetle. Did they ever explain why he suddenly turned into Mr. I-Hate-All-Super-Heroes guy?

And what did Alexander Luthor really want? Or Superboy Prime, for that matter? And why was Superboy Prime so kooky-crazy? Isn't he just like Superman, but younger? So, why was he all "I'm gonna rip your arms and legs off and then carve a big "S" on my bare chest with my own fingers?"

And what was with the big, cosmic hands and the tuning fork? And why was Donna Troy's return relevant to any of that? Why was the Adam Strange story considered a prequel? Or the Countdown story where Blue Beetle got shot? How were these things prequels to this story about multiple Earths and cosmic battles?

2) Was the central limited series entertaining?

Uh... no.

Was it supposed to be?

3) Were the crossover issues and related limited series enjoyable?

There were so many, it's really hard to make an overall assessment, but let's give it a try...
The Good: Secret Six (both limited series) and 52.
The Not-So-Good: Shadowpact, most of the One Year Later books, the Omac limited series by Greg Rucka, a mediocre story made slightly less than mediocre by the fact that there was no way to distinguish between the two lead female characters. An interesting choice by the artist. Oh, and also Countdown to Blue Beetle's Bloody Corpse.
The Bad: The Rann-Thanagar War (what the hell happened???) and all of those crossovers where fill-in-the-blank superhero would be attacked by an OMAC robot, fight for a few pages, and then stare in bewilderment after the OMAC robot disappeared at the end of the fight.
The Very, Very Bad Indeed: The OMAC series written by Bruce Jones that followed Infinite Crisis.

4) Were significant changes to the comic-book universe made as a result of the MCE?

Lots and lots of characters were killed and maimed.

The rules of magic are allegedly very different now, but it's unclear what that actually means since no one knew the rules before and no one knows them now.

After the story was over, Batman went on vacation for a year. To Tibet. With Robin and Nightwing.

Wonder Woman went away for a year to think about stuff.

Superman took a year off because he lost his super-powers.

And... let's see... there was one other thing...

It's on the tip of my tongue...

Oh, yes... and Jason Todd was brought back to life.

More on that in just a moment...

5) Were those changes actually good for the comic-book universe?

Well, the series that followed, 52, is very enjoyable. The "One Year Later..." stories have been kind of a mixed bag.

Honestly, I can't say. I think it'll be a long while before it's even clear what changes have been made or how they'll play out.

So, I'll give this one a half-No and a half-Maybe.

6) Did Superboy bring Jason Todd back to life by punching a hole in reality?

Yes.

Yes, he did.
For months and months, readers had been teased with the secret behind Jason Todd's return.
He'd been beaten to death by the Joker many years earlier. His corpse had been found and buried by Batman. Suddenly, years later, he returned. Batman dug up the coffin and found that no one had ever been inside it. There was tons of speculation about how this could be...
Had Jason Todd been dug up and placed in a Lazurus Pit? Was it really Clayface? Had Jason Todd somehow faked his own death? But, if so, how had he managed to deceive the world's greatest detective?
No.
No, it was because, in a completely unrelated storyline, Superboy Prime had punched a hole in reality, sending out ripples, one of which--quite arbitrarily--brought Jason Todd back to life.

Final Analysis: A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. With lots of deaths (and maiming) of C-list characters. Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis are perfect examples of everything that I don't like about comic-books. They mistake gratuitous violence with realism and convoluted storylines with complexity and depth. They set up mysteries, build them up over months and months, and then reveal that the solution has nothing to do with the mystery that has been presented. It's just a load of nonsense.
These are bad comics.
Beware...
NEXT WEEK: We'll take a break from the Mega-Crossover-Event for a week to focus on reviews of new comics. In an ideal world, I'd like to start doing reviews of non-Marvel/DC books, but the truth is that I'm out of touch with the indie world. So, if you have any indie books that you'd like to recommend, I'd be pleased as punch to give them a try and review them here.
And I promise next week to have some positive reviews so y'all don't think I'm Mr. Negative Comic-Book Bashing Guy.
Really, I love comics. I do.
I just don't love bad ones.

Until next week, may Superboy Prime never punch a hole through your reality...

6 comments:

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Paul said...

Dear sbj850805,

Thank you for your feedback on my column. Like yourself, I was upset by the resolution to Infinite Crisis, as I think comes across in my column. But, unlike yourself, I have never worn purple underpants outside my pants to protest a poorly written story. I think that's a very interesting idea, though, and I admire your committment.

Thanks for the feedback and all the support!

- Paul

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t.l. said...

When are we going to get to the Flaming Carrot/TMNT crossovers, eh?

The Florida Librarian

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