"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
A big part of me still thinks Forever Evil would have worked a lot better as one of those late-1990s done-in-five-weeks events. I did enjoy the final issue, but it was because lots of things actually happened, and it made me wonder why they couldn’t have occurred a bit more quickly.
Still, the last-page reveal warmed my withered nerd heart. It’s the sort of thing that cries out for a boatload of analysis based on a set of comics published when I was in high school. Could be a stretch, but I’ll risk it.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, therefore, for Forever Evil #7 and probably some other stories you have already read.
So I wrote up a little something on the Anti-Monitor in July 2011, after the New 52 had been announced but before it actually started. At the time I still thought the New 52 would stick with a good bit of existing continuity, and therefore figured Anti-M would become (per a storyline in the just-concluded Brightest Day) one of Firestorm’s main villains. That was either a step up for Firestorm — whose powers had been tied into the fabric of the universe — or a step down for Anti-M, because, you know, Firestorm. Geoff Johns had already established Anti-M’s role in Brightest Day by inserting him into earlier Green Lantern storylines (“Sinestro Corps” and Blackest Night). Before that, Johns and Phil Jiminez had repurposed his immense corpse into Alex Luthor’s Infinite Crisis Multiverse-maker. (Makes Multiverses in minutes!)
See, the Anti-Monitor has two main assets: a magnificently unsettling zombie-robot aesthetic, courtesy of George Pérez, and an indelible association with the granddaddy of all modern super-comic house-cleanings. This is a pretty powerful combination. In Crisis on Infinite Earths, Anti-M softened up his targets with waves of shadow-demons before destroying their universes with implacable walls of anti-matter. He wrestled the Spectre for the privilege of reorganizing all of history. He killed Supergirl when she stopped him from killing Superman, and he ended up pulling the one remaining Earth (and the Moon too) into the Anti-Matter Universe. Ultimately, it took most of the oversized COIE Issue 12 to destroy him; but even that involved hitting him with magic-poisoned Shadow Demons, various celestial bodies, Darkseid’s Omega Effect, and finally a super-punch from the Earth-Two Superman.
Because the Earth-Two Supes is supposed to stand in for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original creation, I tend to view his role in COIE largely in symbolic terms.* In that respect, giving him the last crack at Anti-M seemed to send a pretty clear signal: namely, here was the first superhero dispatching this story-specific bad guy so that the rest of DC’s characters could get on with their newly streamlined lives. COIE was designed to eat itself, with both the Monitor and Anti-Monitor serving their purposes and fading away. Indeed, the Monitor and Anti-M are associated so closely with COIE that when they reappear, inevitably they imply that big cosmic changes are on the horizon.
Accordingly, I suspect a number of longtime DC fans are gazing longingly at the last page of Forever Evil #7, and anticipating the end of the New 52 — or at least the end of its more egregious changes. COIE #1’s 30th anniversary is fast approaching,** and whether by chance or design will fall right around DC editorial’s big early-2015 move to California. It’s not hard to see how the confluence of those two events might behave like a great planetary alignment, producing massive upheavals not just in the DC offices, but in the comics themselves.
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Folks, I’m here to tell you not to get too excited; because thinking that way can only leave you disappointed. Consider how we got here:
For now, though, we readers have to put things together on our own. Leaving aside the issue of where Forever Evil falls on the larger DC timeline, you have to think that current issues of Earth 2 and Worlds Finest will be leading into October’s World’s End weekly. E2:WE will then run until March 2015, when all the weekly books are supposed to end. Presumably it will lay the groundwork for the “Earth-2 War” which is currently a part of Futures End’s backstory; and there may or may not be yet another story bridging those two series.
Thus, the final weekly series to appear may well be the first in terms of DC’s overall timeline. Here’s the sequence as I see it:
More than likely this precludes a proper ending for E2:WE, because it will have to connect to Futures End somehow. Futures End itself could even lead into yet another Big Event featuring the Anti-Monitor.
Why wouldn’t Anti-M return in E2:WE? Because Earth-2 has enough on its plate already. First, it needs to wrap up its own war with Apokolips. Next, as per Futures End, it’ll invade DC-Earth. Odds are the invaders won’t be Apokoliptian forces, because Futures End is all paranoid about parallel-Earth people. That leaves the proto-Justice Society, probably with help from Earth-2’s World Army.
Whoever they are, Futures End tells us they lose; and that doesn’t bode well for the Earth-2-lings going forward. In fact, the five-years-later setting of Futures End doesn’t bode well for much of anyone. I actually think DC would continue Earth 2 in a post-Futures End timeline — why not do a series about ex-military-prisoner superheroes trapped on a hostile Earth? It’s edgy! — but setting the other superhero books in an ongoing dystopia is arguably too dark even for this editorial bunch. Right now Futures End is concerned with preventing an absolute-worst-case scenario, 25 years in its own future. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t have to worry about preventing the not-great future of Five Years From Now.
That means March 2015 can go in a few different directions. Again, I have to think E2:WE will be about the beginnings of the Earth-2 War; either in its own pages or in the pages of a separate miniseries. However, Futures End has a couple of options. It could send its characters back in time five years or so, and prevent the Earth-2 War. Alternatively, it could lead into the New-52 version of COIE, by having its superheroes team up with those Earth-2 ex-prisoners (and maybe the surviving Crime Syndicate) to fight the Anti-Monitor. In the latter case the stakes don’t seem so high, because of the future setting; so it’s also possible that Futures End could end up doing a little of both, by bringing a group of 5YFN super-characters back to the present (either before or after the Earth-2 War) to fight the Anti-Monitor.***
Regardless, the main problem is the bad future of 5YFN, which seems inevitable in light of both E2:WE and Futures End. At the risk of rationalizing shoddy storytelling, DC may want to make things as bad as it can before regrouping and reorganizing using another Crisis.
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If the Anti-Monitor makes that Crisis unavoidable, at least the lingering subplot of Pandora’s universe-tampering might give it some flavor. COIE justified its existence by saying the old Multiverse was “weaker,” structurally, than a singular Universe had been;**** and Pandora’s actions in Flashpoint were similarly grounded. However, I’m not sure there’s much to merge this time around. When Geoff Johns and Phil Jiminez revisited COIE in Infinite Crisis, their antagonists took the position that Earth-DC had squandered its potential and become too dark and corrupted. Accordingly, a total reboot was needed in order to bring back the good old days. Sound familiar? Maybe Superboy-Prime is Anti-M’s new “herald.”
While Infinite Crisis didn’t quite pull off a total reboot, it did restore a number of pre-COIE elements, including expanding Wonder Woman’s history so she’d been around about as long as the other Trinitarians. That’s not to say a New 52 Crisis will do something similar, but I think the circumstances are comparable.
Besides, as much as I have complained about the particulars of the New 52, I don’t see the utility in another wholesale reboot. Regardless of whether it went back to the “Earth-August” continuity, it would be confusing. It would also jeopardize some of the better New 52 stories. Probably the best thing it could do would be to re-establish a timeline of at least ten years, if only to give the Batman and Green Lantern backstories more time to breathe.
Here, too, Anti-M’s motives are slightly different. In COIE he wanted to rule all of creation, mostly by destroying all the positive-matter universes so that only the Anti-Matter Universe remained. Back then his arch-enemy was his positive-matter twin, the Monitor. Now Anti-M is gunning for Darkseid, and he “consumes” universes without necessarily destroying them. Furthermore, he’s wearing the original version of his armor, suggesting that he’s not the same being who fought the armies of the original Multiverse. (Anti-M upgraded his armor to a sleeker, more rounded model following the fight with Supergirl, and until now that’s the version readers have seen.) Indeed, if he sees Darkseid as his main rival, he may not be especially concerned with the current crop of superheroes.
Heck, Anti-M may not be the mastermind of the next big event. In the old days, when the Monitor had his assistant Harbinger checking up on all the Multiverse’s super-people, Anti-M was supposed to have a woman named Dark Angel in the same role. Since Harbinger could split into a dozen or so different duplicates and travel all across reality, it’s conceivable that Pandora could be a version of Harbinger, which would allow Anti-M’s unseen herald to be a duplicate of one or the other. (Or maybe just a super-speedster, since whoever-it-is has some pretty thick boot treads.)
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Ultimately, despite all their destructive qualities, COIE and Infinite Crisis are both intended as constructive stories — and not in the “by beating you down I make you stronger” sense. COIE replaced the compartmentalized Multiverse with a unified, legacy-oriented timeline, which Infinite Crisis reinforced and tweaked. (Granted, that structure had its flaws, and re-reading Infinite Crisis this week really brought home how vast the superhero line was nine years ago.)
By contrast, the New 52 relaunch was more destructive, stripping out the Golden Agers and most of the original Teen Titans, and enabling wholesale reboots of characters like Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash. While that facilitated a storytelling environment that wasn’t restricted by so much continuity, it didn’t expressly add anything comparable to the legacy-hero structure.
The shenanigans of next spring can correct that — not necessarily by restoring the Justice Society to their familiar first-generation place, or matching up One True Pairings; but by smoothing out some of the New 52’s rough edges. Almost three years into it, the New 52 often feels like a place where if something can happen, it will; even if (to borrow from Jurassic Park) maybe it shouldn’t. However, three years into a relaunch is too soon to start over entirely. I see COIE’s 30th anniversary (and DC’s 80th) as a time not just for the publisher to reorganize, but to rededicate itself to the standards which can take it another 80 years.
* [One of COIE’s most potent through-lines concerns Superman. It begins with the death of one “Superman” (Earth-Three’s Ultraman) and shifts immediately to a scientist and his wife shooting their infant child away from their dying world (Earth-Three’s Alex Luthor) before incorporating the Earth-Two Supes into its narrative. Other prominent sequences later on feature Supergirl and the re-teaming of Earth-One’s Luthor and Brainiac. Issue 11 starts with hijinks with the Earth-Two Clark at the regular Daily Planet, and focuses on the two Supermen for much of its first half. Of course, Infinite Crisis then gives Kal-L a decent character arc before having Superboy-Prime beat him to death.]
** [Crisis #1 came out in comics shops in December 1984, and on newsstands in January 1985, because it was set to run throughout DC’s 50th anniversary year of 1985. Because that first issue was cover-dated April 1985, it’s probably pretty handy — if not strictly accurate — to call April 2015 the “30th anniversary of Crisis.” However, the juxtaposition of DC’s offices moving in March with COIE’s “anniversary” in April may be just too irresistible to ignore.]
*** [Don’t worry about time-travel paradoxes, because COIE — which had antimatter destroy Earth-One’s Old West, 1985 New York, and 30th Century “simultaneously”– sure didn’t.]
**** [According to COIE, the Oan scientist Krona created the Multiverse (including the Anti-Matter Universe) while trying to research the beginnings of time. This retcon was based on a similar history lesson from 1965’s Green Lantern vol. 2 #40.]
And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 4.
NOTES: The “Five Years From Now” caption is back.
The Key and Plastique are longtime DC characters who are only now starting to emerge in the New 52. I would say the same for Coil, but I’m not sure the Coil we see here (and who apparently has been in Suicide Squad) is the same one created as a Dial ‘H’ For HERO villain or even the one who appeared in Katana. Plastique’s only New 52 appearances so far seem to be connected to “Trinity War” and Forever Evil. The Key has appeared in New-52 series Justice League and Batman: The Dark Knight. As you can probably tell, I’m not that up on these characters, but each of them seems a bit more bubbly than I would have expected.
It is always good to see Ray Palmer in the Atom costume. I’m pretty sure he never wore it as a member of Frankenstein’s supporting cast, nor was he ever referred to as “The Atom.” However, this issue seems to indicate he’s got both a superhero career and a steady job as S.H.A.D.E.’s chief scientist.
As for the merits, I thought this was a decent issue, held together well by Aaron Lopresti and Art Thibert’s artwork. I enjoyed seeing the old Frankenstein gang back together, presumably written by Jeff Lemire. The “Red Robin is alive” subplot seems rather predictable, but I do like Lois Lane as a detective (and perhaps a better detective than Tim, since she found him). The Key/Plastique/Coil sequence seemed a little long for character introductions, especially since you’d think much of the same ground could be covered while they were actually on the job. Finally, I like the Grifter arc’s new direction. It seems eminently appropriate for the character’s mission, and we know from Futures End issue 0 that he’ll eventually be walking (and running) again.
NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: Terrific showmanship! Jason can go back to study group! Constantine! OMAC!