"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
Well, it all comes down to this. With Trinity #52, Kurt Busiek, Mark Bagley, and the rest of their intrepid band have one last opportunity to sound off about Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Who will live? Who will die? Will there be food? And where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?
Join me, won’t you, for one more trip around the triune block!
“Where They Should Be” was written by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza; penciled by Mark Bagley (pages 1, 4-5, 19-25) and Mike Norton (pages 2-3, 9, 12, 18), Tom Derenick (pages 6-8, 10-11), and Scott McDaniel (pages 13-17); inked by Art Thibert (pages 1, 4-5, 19-25), John Stanisci (pages 2-3, 9, 12, 18), Wayne Faucher (pages 6-8, 10-11), and Andy Owens (pages 13-17); colored by Pete Pantazis and Allen Passalaqua, and lettered by Pat Brosseau; Rachel Gluckstern, associate editor; Mike Carlin, editor.
In Brief: The Trinity throws a wrap party — and the cosmos gets a present!
— As we’ll see on the next page, panels 1 and 2 are zooming in on the twin cities of Keystone and Central, connected by a bridge across the Missouri River. Naturally, this is a callback to issue #1, where the Keystone Coffee Pier made its first appearance. (But where is Cheynie?)
— Considering how this issue ends, it’s worth pointing out that in the days of the original infinite Multiverse, the two cities each occupied a different Earth. Earth-Two, home of DC’s Golden Age heroes, had Keystone; and Earth-One, where most heroes didn’t emerge until the Silver Age, had Central. Accordingly, the presence of Keystone City on the main DC-Earth is a constant reminder (for those of us old enough) of its merged status. The two were first seen as “twin cities” in Crisis On Infinite Earths #11 (February 1986).
— I won’t try to identify everyone on the patio, especially since most of them are spotlighted throughout the issue. However, I will say I like how this spread flows, particularly how the speech balloons lead one’s eye down alongside the tier of inset panels to the tiny Grace and Metamorpho, and then back up to the “close-ups.” Roy Harper connects panel 2 (the first inset) with panel 3, and Hal Jordan connects panels 3 and 4.
— For what it’s worth, Ollie Queen and Dinah Lance also appear with Roy and Hal in the insets. The guy in the tie is probably Tom Kalmaku, Hal’s longtime friend and frequent co-worker. Tom, an aircraft mechanic who’s known about Hal’s Green Lantern career practically since the beginning, was created by John Broome and Gil Kane and first appeared in Green Lantern vol. 2 #2 (September 1960).
[EDIT– no it’s not Tom Kalmaku; it’s Ryan “Atom” Choi, as Mr. Busiek noted in the comments.]
— Wonder Woman’s expression in panel 2 suggests that while she might be “nearly drained of power,” she’s still ready for the challenge. That’s a nice bit of acting from Bagley and Thibert.
— Likewise, it’s balanced by Superwoman’s wild-eyed eagerness in panels 1 and 5.
— With Geo-Force, Katana, and Metamorpho in the picture, it looks like the army of Justice Leaguers, Justice Socialites, and adult Titans (all of whom went from Castle Branek to the North Pole) has been augmented with a few Outsiders.
— “That favor we owed you”: I’m sure this has come up before, but the favor was owed when the Justice League (and friends) saved the Anti-Matter Earth from the Void Hound (then inhabiting a Qwardian battlecruiser) back in JLA #114 (July 2005).
— Enigma, Stephie, and the Void Hound are a sort of “trinity,” even though they’re not quite three separate beings anymore. It also looks like Enigma never gave up a last little bit of creation energy.
— I had pegged Stephie for the new conduit to the Anti-Matter Earth’s worldsoul, but this works too. Considering that she’s got the mind of a young girl, “I sort of want to [rip their throats out]” is funny in a very demented way. Again I wonder — since the Anti-Matter Earthlings are naturally predisposed to be bad, how much of that sentiment doesn’t come from the Void Hound?
— In Panel 1 are Wally “Flash” West, Koriand’r/Starfire, Raven, Nemesis, Gar “Beast Boy” Logan, and Vic “Cyborg” Stone.
— Eddie “Kid Devil/Red Devil” Bloomberg, Maxine “Cyclone” Hunkel, and Cassie “Wonder Girl” Sandsmark are in the background of panel 4. Eddie lost his powers and his demonic appearance sometime around Teen Titans vol. 3 #68 (April 2009), but I don’t suppose that’s meant to fix Trinity‘s spot on the overall timeline. The “bubble of time” probably includes a fudge factor.
— If Nemesis is in a funk here, wait ’til he gets to this week’s Wonder Woman #32….
— It’s an understatement to say that Morgaine and Jason Blood have a long history of mutual animosity. I don’t recognize this particular style of bookend. Coming soon from DC Direct…?
— “All of Enigma’s tech-goons are being deprogrammed” sounds like he brainwashed a few of DC-Earth’s Geek Squads.
— The prison planet Takron-Galtos was created by Jim Shooter and Curt Swan and first appeared in Adventure Comics #359 (August 1967). At first it was only seen in the 30th Century in connection with the Legion of Super-Heroes, but eventually it began to show up in present-day stories.
— Despero’s restraints echo Krona’s from his banishment in Green Lantern vol. 2 #40 (October 1965).
— A couple of familiar Green Lanterns appear in panel 2, Salakk (second from left, miscolored blue) and Kilowog (third from left). Salakk was created by Denny O’Neil and Joe Staton and first appeared in DC Special Series #1 (1977) (a/k/a Five-Star Super-Hero Spectacular). Kilowog was created by Marv Wolfman and Joe Staton and first appeared in Green Lantern vol. 2 #149 (February 1982).
— At first I thought the end of this particular subplot would mean no comeuppance for Kanjar Ro, but even his bravado recognizes how hard it’ll be for him to get away.
— In the foreground of Panel 1 are Barbara “Oracle” Gordon, Helena “Huntress” Bertinelli, and Zinda “Lady Blackhawk” Blake.
— “Ectotheric” should not be confused with “ectothermic,” which means “cold-blooded.”
— The Vittaglias were seen previously in issue #26, as part of the altered timeline where Anthony was still alive.
— Since the Hermit card signifies “communion with one’s own inner world and deriving [one’s own] truth from it,” it’s naturally appropriate for Xalitan Xor.
— Kind of an ironic twist to his story, though.
— “The Lovers” has been associated with Gangbuster and Tarot for a while now, so this is no surprise.
— E. Barrett Prettyman (1891-1971) was a federal judge who served for fifteen years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, including two years as chief judge. As the caption indicates, the courthouse which bears his name is located in Washington, D.C., and is home to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia as well as the D.C. Circuit’s Court of Appeals.
— Accordingly, the Dreambound were probably there for a hearing before that U.S. District Court regarding federal criminal charges, including their fight at the National Air & Space Museum. Perhaps in the interests of judicial economy, other charges stemming from their actions in Gotham City, Metropolis, and elsewhere were all consolidated into one case before this court.
— Naturally, the Wheel of Fortune card signifies “life’s unexpected changes.”
— I think this is Courtney Waxler’s first appearance.
— I thought Graak would be revived and Tomorrow Woman would stay dead, and the complete opposite happened. Still, I’m glad Tomorrow Woman is back, especially since “Clara Kendall” is back with her. I’ll look forward to her inevitable meeting with Clark/Superman when he re-settles on Earth.
— Jay Garrick’s T-shirt looks an awful lot like the original Mento costume. Maybe it’s the latest from Graphitti?
— I’m still drawing a blank on the two guys talking (without dialogue) in panel 1.
— Hawkman’s soliloquy seems to set up the kind of “everything you know is wrong” story alluded to in Jim Starlin’s infamous Hawkman Special.
— And now the stars of the show: the Trinitarians and the League of Extraordinary BFFs, three groups of three.
— “New Chronus” … wow, we’re so close to the end and here’s a reference to Donna’s origin! Well, I volunteered for this, so here goes. Originally, as depicted in Teen Titans vol. 1 #22 (July-August 1969), Wonder Woman rescued the infant Donna from her burning orphanage and took her to Paradise Island. This worked fine (in narrative terms) until Wonder Woman was removed from the Silver Age by her 1986 revamp. Consequently, The New Titans #50 (December 1988) revealed that Donna was rescued by Rhea, one of the Titans of Myth, who were the forerunners of the Greek gods. After the Greek gods deposed them, the Titans relocated to the planetoid New Chronus, and it was there that young Donna received her powers. When Donna was “killed” in 2003’s Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day miniseries, she was actually “reborn,” with a new identity as Goddess of the Moon, on New Chronus. The Teen Titans and (Nightwing’s) Outsiders then brought her back to Earth in 2005’s Return Of Donna Troy miniseries, just in time for Infinite Crisis.
— “That other world might have … needed gods to repair the damage Krona did”; and the Trinity did a lot of good there. However, as we’ll see in a few pages, apparently they weren’t exactly what the other Earth needed.
— “We’re not above this world”: again, this is a revelation which is not new to Trinity, and which I suspect many fans will associate with stories like Kingdom Come. More on this later.
— No annotations.
— I’m not going to argue the logistics of Superman’s whispered message, because it’s a sweet sentiment and a fine cap for the series.
— What’s the sphere (that’s not the moon) in panel 1?
— Drained of all his extraordinary power, Krona’s back to his familiar Oan/Maltusian appearance.
— “Make this Earth one at last”: I didn’t capitalize “one,” but I wonder if it shouldn’t be. In 1985, when the Multiverse was transformed/reborn/streamlined into a single DC Universe, there was considerable discussion about whether the new Earth was really a beefed-up Earth-One, which after all had been the main DC Earth for some thirty years. The short answer seemed to be no; the new DC-Earth was a conglomeration, dubbed by one fan “Earth-Sigma” (for “summation”). More recently, when the 52-Earth Multiverse was unveiled two years ago, there was considerable discussion about whether the main DC-Earth was the new Multiverse’s Earth-1. Again, the answer was no; it was “New Earth” (notwithstanding scattered contrary references), because the new Earth-1 had yet to be charted.
— “A world is lost, a contest won, a child is orphaned”: references to our heroes’ origins, obviously.
— “What might have been … what could have been … what, perhaps, should have been”: the implication, I take it, is that without Krona’s interference (in the name of cruel science), the humanoids would not have been the blue-skinned people we met. Furthermore, this Earth would have produced a familiar Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, living in familiar-looking Metropolis, Gotham, and Themyscira.
— Together with the “Earth One” mention, it all makes me think that this new Earth might well be an analogue for the old Earth-One. Like many of the other pre-Crisis parallel Earths, it had only one main generation of super-heroes (as opposed to the current DC-Earth’s four). On Earth-One, when Superman first appeared (as the teenaged Superboy), he wasn’t really picking up where a Golden Age’s worth of super-people had left off. Instead, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were at the top of the heroic hierarchy because they were the first superheroes, not because they did things the Golden Agers couldn’t….
* * *
,,, And that brings us to the last roundup.
Let’s finish “Earth One” first. Trinity exists, at least in part, to give narrative meaning to this facet of DC’s publishing history. In practical terms, these three characters have been at the center of that history for the past seventy years. However, in the post-Crisis context, an entire generation of Golden Agers now precedes them. On the old Earth-One, as on its sister world Earth-Two, the Trinitarians were part of that first generation, and could claim to have inspired all of those who followed. Moreover, the Earth-One Trinitarians inhabited a fairly static universe, except for the occasional marriage, divorce, noble sacrifice (i.e., the Doom Patrol), or new Robin or Green Lantern. Their place in the hierarchy wasn’t challenged either by predecessors or successors. If the “Earth One” reference is any kind of a clue, that may also be true on the new Earth (Earth-Trinity? Earth-Krona?). Thus, in a sense, Trinity has produced a world which probably doesn’t need the justification of a series like Trinity.
What, though, is that justification? Why read Trinity, and not 52, The Nail, or Kingdom Come? Well, for one thing, Trinity combines aspects of each of those miniseries into its own distinct story. Through the use of two Earths — one deprived of the Trinitarians, and one which saw them as gods — Trinity asserts generally that our heroes are symbols of strength, hope, and justice. When deprived of those unique symbols, the altered Earth tried mightily to recall and/or replace them, while the armies of the Justice Society and Global Police Agency struggled to fit Golden Age ideals to a changing world. Meanwhile, on Earth-Trinity, the Trinitarians themselves lived their lives over, often in strange new ways. Those experiences helped lead the people of that Earth out of a dark, Krona-dominated past, but along the way the Trinitarians lost sight of the people who “grounded” them.
This development is nothing particularly new, but it highlights the utility of “Clark Kent.” Clark is the person Superman aspires to be, even as Superman himself is an inspirational figure. (It’s all very circular.) More significantly, Trinity suggests that not only does Superman choose to be Clark, the choice is inevitable — even for Kellel, god of a parallel Earth. By contrast, Dinanna and Ahtman embraced their roles as gods, and the resulting schism almost destroyed the Trinity’s adopted world. Here in issue #52, we see that they used Krona to rewrite Earth-Trinity’s history, presumably to avoid that cataclysm. Although having them as gods would certainly have made their influence eternal, in the long run their human flaws were better managed when they were “lesser beings.” The nigh-omnipotent Superman tries to relate to the rest of the world as an ordinary person. The mythologically-infused Wonder Woman relates to the world as an ambassador of her people. The non-powered Batman’s perspective is colored by his particular crusade. Take them away from their familiar surroundings and fill them with immeasurable power and they become boring and pompous, worth examining only with regard to their old selves. If trading that sort of eternal influence for the illusion of change means periodic reinventions, it’s a small price to pay. According to Trinity, our heroes will never be perfect, so some tweaking comes with the territory.
While the Trinitarians might not be eternal in real-world terms, they aren’t going anywhere either. When the next round of line-wide DC housecleaning comes along — and it will — the Trinitarians will be at the center of it once again. Although they’ve been revised, rethought, and relaunched countless times across various media, their resiliency has facilitated their longevity. For its part, Trinity has done a lot, especially early on, to establish both the Trinity’s individual qualities and its relationship to the larger DC world. It’s been fun not only to read but to dig into, and I’ll be glad to revisit it in the future.
* * *
Now, I’m sure this is not the last I’ll write about this miniseries. Before I close up this feature, though, I want to thank the many websites upon whom I’ve relied over these past fifty-two weeks.
My own research trinity has been the Grand Comics Database, Mike’s Amazing World Of DC Comics, and the Unofficial Guide to the DC Universe. I’ve also turned often to Tarotpedia, the Unauthorized Chronology of the DC Universe, the Superman Homepage, Supermanica, TitansTower.com, Flash: Those Who Ride The Lightning, DarkMark’s Comics Indexing Domain, Cosmic Teams!, the Great Book of Oa, and Amazon Archives. My dead-tree collections of DC Archives, Complete Histories, and Encyclopediae have been invaluable; and of course, I had the Vast Bondurant Comics Library (when I felt like looking at it).
Thanks also to everyone who read and commented, especially writers Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza and colorist Allan Passalaqua. Whether you worked on Trinity or not — and whether you liked it or not — I appreciated your insights.
Thanks to Matt Brady and Troy Brownfield at Newsarama, who let me start this feature there; thanks to Jonah Weiland and Brian Cronin at CBR for their help in moving it here; and thanks to JK and my fellow Robot 6ers for all your support.
Finally, you may remember that a few months into Trinity, my wife and I welcomed our own little Trinitarian! Here was Olivia, barely a week old, channeling the cover of issue #12 …
… and here she is today, forty issues later and 9 ½ months older.
She’s been my own special research assistant. Whether she does something as insane as this will be entirely up to her.
Talk to you later!