Can’t fit every great idea in one story, and sometimes the writers and artists seed for future stories in comics that no one picks up and runs with. This is life in the speedbump-filled fast lane of serial superhero comics. This is where we are, deep in the outside lane, trying to break across four lanes of traffic guided by four different editors, each with sets of artists, writers, and outside commercial concerns like toy deals and a new cartoon that will require a passing reference to their design of a costume.
Four Events, Four Hooks, Four Missed Opportunities
by Travis Hedge Coke
Intentional or not, the funnest two things about Crisis on Infinite Earths, for me, are that a) the Monitor and Anti-Monitor’s actions really make little sense issue to issue as cumulative pursuit of goals, and b) the new superheroes are largely tired women who have no time for condescending do-gooder dudes. Out of all that Crisis has, all it achieves and presents, for me, that has aged the best. Grant Morrison picked up the Monitor-motivation thread and spun Final Crisis and The Multiversity out from it. No one did much with the new generation, the new model of superheroes. The successor of Dr Light and Harbinger is probably The Authority, more than anything, and that’s latent-parallel development twenty years later.
There are moments in serial superhero comics, loudly trumpeted event-tier developments, prestige deals, classic imprints, and a hook that popped in but then got muted. What could have been, can be again. What rough beast, its hour come round at last. If we’re lucky.
“The shade who haunts your most private thoughts and desires!”
In Infinity War, all the superheroes that matter have doppelgängers manufactured by the villains, to undermine them, beat them up, then replace them. For the most, these doppelgängers are specifically built around the hero’s most intimate, private fears, their self-recrimination, self-doubt. And, then, sometimes, they are just the hero but with more spikes.
When we look at the range of comics featuring those doppelgangers, it is those who embody private fears that have the most resonance. Spider-Man’s more-animal-than-man, eight-limbed, Venom-like dancing monkey of a doppelgänger tells us a ton about how Spidey sees himself, and sticks around much longer than most, as part of Carnage’s adoptive family. Tom DeFalco used the Fantastic Four’s doubles to psychoanalyze them, with some losing to their sick shades, some winning, and the Invisible Woman just embracing and absorbing hers, in a way we see no one else do. Daredevil, when he needs a body to fake his own death, later, uses the mute, brutish pugilist doppelgänger, in yet a different form of autocritique.
The comics where the doubles are just commercial evil, extra spikes or sharp teeth? In your eyes and gone from your brain.
DC Universe: Decisions
They Don’t Talk Politics At Home
There is so much going on in this miniseries that no one should be able to explain, but a central thread is that Superman, as Superman or Clark Kent, does not talk politics. There is literally at least one Pulitzer in the home he shares with his wife, top investigative reporter, Lois Lane, but they do not talk politics. They have literally helped bring down a president before, but they do not talk politics.
I can overlook that the history lessons herein are b and s, promoting a weird deep nationalism. I can overlook that Robotman, who has lived with multiple trans friends and identified as an enby man, is apparently still a Republican. Some characters are going to be Republicans. Nobody’s going to get to be anything too far outside the big two American parties. And, choosing a black woman to represent the Republican party was not at all a statistical unlikelihood that looks like the mileage from here to Krypton that DC chose as a complete dodge.
In this comic, fellow Justice Leaguers are surprised Green Arrow is vocal about politics. Green Arrow. Green Arrow held political office. There is no memorable Green Arrow story that is not him railing at something political while being a dodgy father figure or boyfriend. The superheroes are terrible at superhero actions, in this comic, but not saving people from being shot is one thing, and thinking Green Arrow would remain quietly apolitical is just stupid.
In this comic, Lois Lane, in 2008, votes a straight Republican ticket because she is in favor of “maximum individual freedom.” Wonder Woman wants the Republican, because he is “a warrior.” Which, are positions. The Democratic position in this comic is to tread vacant space. Bruce “public clown Wayne” is the just about the only character used to balance out Power Girl, Wonder Woman, Robotman and Lois Lane bucking for the rightwing military machine who thumps his chest next to Wonder Woman declaring, “I am the only true warrior in this race, having served in both Gulf Wars.” It is a desperate four issue exercise in “we’re all a bit the same, aren’t we?” claptrap in which two of the top journalists in the world do not ever talk politics at home.
The Juicy Couture Butt
In Dark Knight III: The Master Race, we see Carrie Kelley dress in Bruce Wayne’s old costume, as Batman, we see her take on a costume he designs for her, which is the bat-gear, except purple and green and it has a bat-symbol over the butt. Bruce, a fairly old and grampa-y Bruce, designed this for his former Robin. Here, wear my symbol on your behind. Good soldier.
By the end of the series, she has ditched the look, explicitly addressing the color scheme and opting for black, but she also sheds the bat across her glutes. And, as you would not say too much to your dear dad or grandfather if they gifted you such shorts and tights, she does not say a thing about it.
I want to see Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, and Frank Miller to take nine comics and nine backups with some guest artists (we’re sparing Klaus Janson on this one), to tell the daydream Carrie has of what she would say to Batman, if she did decide to talk this out. Is this a gendered thing? Did he want Dick to try this when Dick became Nightwing? Is it a pass?
It lends itself to jokes a lot, but exploring this could open up both Batman and Carrie in fresh ways, and the groundwork is all there, already laid out.
The original 2099 comics were about 72% satire, with some (Punisher 2099 under Pat Mills, the Warren Ellis Doom 2099) being created entirely as vehicles for satire and others (Spider-Man 2099, X-Men 2099) serving up healthy doses in otherwise straight stories of a Spider-Man in the future who unironically selects his doorbell to be a hotty. The non-satire stuff is not all terrible, but much of it faded to unmemorable soon after reading. Does anyone remember the plot of a Hulk 2099 story?
Revisits of the world or concept have summarily ditched satire for mild parody. Marvel Knights 2099? The recent uses? Other than mild nostalgia, or a half-laugh, have they been much good?
My tongue has been pretty in cheek , but the world we live in needs some vibrant satire. Get goofy talking about the future, but get goofy in a way that tells us something we can do better, not just, “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if Spider-Man was tied to a holiday?”
Four Events, Four Hooks, Four Missed Opportunities
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