How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
Can’t quite say I’m back in the saddle, since I’ve merely been changing saddles since Thanksgiving. This one fits pretty well, though….
On the whole I enjoyed this issue as much as any of the others. However, I’m not sure that the big reveal at the end of the first story works; and the revelations of the second story have left me with some questions too.
Anyway, you know the drill:
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“The Empress, The Chariot, And Judgment” was written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert, colored by Pete Pantazis, and lettered by Pat Brosseau; Rachel Gluckstern, associate editor; Mike Carlin, editor.
In Brief: When Arcana clash!
— According to Tarotpedia, there are 22 Major Arcana cards. Last issue, twelve villains were assigned to the Arcana, with two more added this issue. We’ll go over the rosters in detail at the end of this story.
— We’ll soon learn that the new set of word balloons belongs to Lord Khyber, the alternate timeline’s version of a character created by Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco for their “Camelot Falls” storyline in Superman. There, in another alternate timeline, Khyber’s battle with Superman pretty much wrecked modern civilization, and ended with Superman’s death … so, you know, good times ahead. (Gulp!)
— Back in August, Kurt told CBR he didn’t know when Khyber would next appear. I know this doesn’t quite count, but it’s good that Kurt found a place for him.
— Also, Khyber first appeared in Superman vol. 1 #657 (December 2006).
— I think we all appreciate the cruel irony of shouting “Look! Up in the sky!” (or some form thereof) just before a flying villain makes our head explode.
— No annotations, except to say that I was wrong last time about Shiva being Cheshire.
– “She reads the shifting destinies of the world”: I take this to mean that the imperfections in the Troika’s work have placed the Earth in a constant state of temporal flux. Insert your own “Star Trek” comparisons here.
— No annotations.
— The JSI’s Tarot squad is Power Girl, Ragman, and Triumph. Triumph’s electromagnetic powers would be a good match for Doctor Polaris’ magnetic abilities; Ragman matches up with Lady Shiva; and that leaves Zoom for Power Girl.
— I don’t think the inquisitors in the alternate Rio have been seen before.
— Last issue, we saw that Hawkman’s incomplete Tarot roster included Ragman, Tomorrow Woman, Aquaman, Mr. Terrific, Plastic Man, Luthor, Starfire, and himself and Hawkgirl (who I’m counting as one card, “The Lovers”). This issue adds Power Girl, Triumph, Green Arrow, and the Flash, leaving 11 open spots.
— Near as I can tell from the Internet, “sim salla bim” are magic words, used (among other places) by Hadji on the “Jonny Quest” TV shows.
— No annotations.
— Clearly I don’t know how the Tarot works, but I would have guessed that corresponding cards on opposite sides would end up facing each other. In other words, I expected Ragman, Power Girl, and Triumph to be Empress/Chariot/Judgment.
— “No real structure”: I have a theory that a lot of super-characters are simply versions of Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman, but like so many of my ideas, it’s not that well-formed….
— Khyber’s recruitment makes fourteen Dark Arcana members, with eight to go:
1. The Magician (Enigma)
2. The High Priestess (Morgaine Le Fay)
3. The Emperor (Lord Khyber)
4. The Empress (Lady Shiva)
5. The Hierophant (Ra’s al Ghul)
6. The Lover(s)
7. The Chariot (Zoom)
8. Justice (Konvikt)
9. The Hermit (Brainiac)
10. Wheel of Fortune [not assigned to a villain, but I would not be surprised if this were Amos Fortune, founder of the Royal Flush Gang]
11. Strength (Giganta)
12. The Hanged Man
13. Death (Solomon Grundy)
15. The Devil (Deathstroke)
16. The Tower (Vandal Savage)
17. The Star
18. The Moon
19. The Sun
20. Judgment (Doctor Polaris)
21. The World (Floronic Man)
0/22. The Fool [like Wheel of Fortune, one would think the Joker has a lock on this]
— Justice Arcana, sound off! Clockwise from Gangbuster, there’s Starfire, Deadman, Booster Gold, Mister Terrific, Luthor, Cyborg, Firestorm, and the Phantom Stranger.
— With the Arcana seen already, this brings the JA’s roster to a robust nineteen characters and eighteen cards. Three we know for sure:
4. The Empress (Tomorrow Woman)
7. The Chariot (The Flash)
20. Judgment (Green Arrow)
I’ll guess at the others’ assignments:
Gangbuster: (1) The Magician
Aquaman: (5) The Hierophant
Hawkman and Hawkgirl: (6) The Lover(s)
Ragman: (8) Justice
Mister Terrific: (9) The Hermit
Booster Gold: (10) Wheel of Fortune
Power Girl: (11) Strength
The Phantom Stranger: (12) The Hanged Man
Deadman: (13) Death
Cyborg: (14) Temperance
Luthor: (15) The Devil
Triumph: (16) The Tower
Starfire: (17) The Star
Firestorm: (19) The Sun
Plastic Man: (0/22) The Fool
That leaves four unassigned:
2. The High Priestess [Charity?]
3. The Emperor
18. The Moon
21. The World
— I note that, unlike Morgaine and Enigma, none of the characters who have replaced Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in their respective cities has been assigned to one of the first three cards.
— Deadman, a/k/a Boston Brand, was created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino and first appeared in Strange Adventures #205 (October 1967). He is normally an unseen spirit (able to communicate only by possessing another body), so I suppose Hawkman has worked up some way to render him visible.
— The Phantom Stranger, real name and origin unknown, was created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino and first appeared in The Phantom Stranger vol. 1 #1 (August-September 1952).
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“The Legend Of The Hunting Hawk” was plotted by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, scripted by Nicieza, pencilled by Scott McDaniel, inked by Andy Owens, colored by Allen Passalaqua, lettered by Pat Brosseau; Rachel Gluckstern, associate editor; Mike Carlin, editor.
In Brief: Meet Robin the Boy Demigod!
Page 13 (story page 1)
— Is it just me, or does anyone else hear a certain Bruce Springsteen song when they read “Hunting Hawk?” Lay down your money and you play your part….
— I suppose it could also remind someone of an infamous Bruce Willis movie, but I’d rather think of Springsteen.
Pages 14/2 and 15/3
— No annotations.
— No annotations.
— “… uncomfortably familiar”: remember, Dick’s circus-performer parents were murdered by gangsters because the circus wouldn’t pay protection money.
— I probably also don’t need to tell you that Batman approached Dick pretty much immediately after the murders. In the original story from Detective Comics #38 (April 1940), Batman explains that Dick can’t go to the police, because “this whole town [Newtown, outside Gotham] is run by Boss Zucco. If you told what you knew you’d be dead in an hour. I’m going to hide you in my home for a while.” (And as that last sentence was being written, a strange tingling reached the base of young Frederic Wertham’s spine….)
— As it happens, in ‘Tec #38, Batman is “reluctant” to accept Dick’s help, “but the troubled face of the boy moves him deeply” and he relents: “I guess you and I were both victims of a similar trouble.” Over the years, however, the texts have gradually softened Batman’s attitude and downplayed his reluctance to make Dick his crimefighting partner. Indeed, while it’s not exactly orthodox, All Star Batman has the Darknight Detective practically terrorizing the already-traumatized Dick because he knows the boy has what it takes to join his crusade.
— Rabat’s slingshot (seen in Panel 1’s third inset) recalls the slingshot which Robin used in ‘Tec #38 and other early adventures.
— Nice touch, giving one of the Laughing Chaos gang a V For Vendetta mask.
— “This isn’t about you, Dick”: well, not exactly. Robin’s death at the hands of the Joker is revealed in Batman #428 ([Holiday] 1988), but it’s not Dick Grayson in the costume. Dick’s successor was Jason Todd, created by Gerry Conway and Don Newton (who were probably assisted by Marv Wolfman, George Perez, and editor Len Wein, Dick’s caretakers over at New Teen Titans). When Jason first appeared in Batman #357 (March 1983), he and his parents were the Flying Todds, circus acrobats whose employer was being victimized by gangsters. Because Dick had returned to the circus in between gigs with Batman and the Titans, he knew the Todds pretty well. Regardless, Jason’s parents were killed by “Boss” Croc (known today as Killer Croc) and Jason was adopted by Bruce Wayne. (For many years this distinguished him from both Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, and was the source of some friction between Dick and Bruce.) Jason’s first official appearance as Robin II was in Batman #366 (December 1983), although he had operated in a Robin-like costume in ‘Tec #526 (May 1983).
— So, Rabat is Jason Todd, right? Again, not exactly. DC took advantage of the time-twisting effects of Crisis On Infinite Earths to change Jason’s origin so that it wouldn’t be so similar to Dick’s. In Batman #408 (June 1987), the “new” Jason Todd was a street urchin with enough moxie to try stealing the tires off the Batmobile. Ironically, this Jason’s attitude made him just unpopular enough that, when the time came to decide on Batman #428’s contents, he came up short.
— Accordingly, it looks like Rabat’s story is a mash-up of Dick’s and Jason’s, because in the ordinary timeline, Jason wasn’t an acrobat.
— Of course (assuming that the Trinitarians continued to live a linear existence), from Batman’s point of view, Jason’s story (including his eventual resurrection) would have been part of his past already. Are we supposed to think that the “ascended” Trinitarians are living their lives over again?
— Panel 1 is an homage to Mike Mignola’s cover for Batman #428.
* * *
It had to happen sooner or later: I didn’t like a key element of this issue. Specifically, I didn’t like the buildup which Khyber received. If Trinity is supposed to be new-reader friendly, I don’t see the point of teasing a character for the better part of a dozen pages if said character isn’t going to get an appreciable reaction from those new readers. I’d have felt better if Prometheus had freed Khyber and Morgaine had been recruiting Brainiac (or a more familiar villain).
What’s more, I don’t like the implication that Khyber is significant enough to get what looks like the special recruitment treatment from Morgaine and Enigma. I know from “Camelot Falls” that Khyber is extremely dangerous, but that’s because I read “Camelot Falls.” However, it seems a little unfair to the Troika to introduce a heavy hitter like Khyber over halfway through the story. Having him foreshadowed (by, say, Morgaine and Enigma plotting against Konvikt) would be one thing, but Khyber pretty much comes out of nowhere.
All of this may make more sense in the long run, and I admit that my reaction is an immediate one. By and large, though, Trinity has been very good at managing its twists, so I’m a little disappointed that this one didn’t come off as well.
Still, it just makes me more eager for the next issue, just four days away. I’ll see you back here next Thursday for issue #32!