Sunday, August 07, 2005

PATH TO INFINITE CRISIS: SACRIFICE

SUPERMAN #219
ACTION #829
ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #642
WONDER WOMAN #219

Getting the griping out of the way right at the top because, on the whole, Sacrifice is a kicker of an arc: this would have worked just as well as a three issue storyline. You could have skipped either Superman or Action as they are basically interchangeable -- Supes battling some convenient archenemies in vaguely Silver Age-style hallucinations while everyone else looks confused.

In fact, I think there is an argument to be made that Sacrifice works better without either Superman or Action, for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with either Mark Verheiden or Gail Simone. I skipped the first two issues the first read-through (they're not normally on the schedule and I forgot) and started with Adventures of Superman. Greg Rucka does a two-page recap and the reveal of Superman's assault of Batman registered just fine without two issues of foreboding. I'm sure the last page of Action had impact when read in order, but all of the serious action takes place in AoS and Wonder Woman and I don't think the first two issues of the arc together carry a proportionate weight of the storyline. Although if you skipped Action, you would have missed Simone's J'onn fanservice with the chocos, a pleasantly complex Lois, and the surreal sight of Supes in costume-plus-hoodie. (Thank you, John Byrne.)

AoS works because it relies on an unreliable narrator who we can realistically forget is unreliable, which is easier to do if we haven't been reminded of the fact for two issues. Clark's genuine remorse and guilt fuel his segue into the next delusion without a hiccup. His fears that Max will take advantage and use the rest of the JLA to take him down are perfectly logical and he reacts in kind, strongly and benevolently and making sure he doesn't actually hurt any of his controlled teammates. (And if you can remember Cyclops returning to the X-Mansion where everyone is being manipulated by Mastermind into thinking he's Dark Phoenix, then you can imagine that maybe Supes is the sane one this time.)

Superman's wary dread of the truth of events he doesn't remember, not unlike how we mere mortals feel after a night of too much drinking, is very powerful on its own. Clark's faint hope that this isn't what it looks like, despite all the evidence that it is precisely what it looks like, has an ache of heartbreak. As the scope of his actions is revealed to him (and us), we can almost feel the nausea rise -- as well as the fears of the others.

Where I really started to wibble on the gullibility meter in AoS is in how easily Superman takes out a veteran team and why there seems to be no protocol for dealing with either a rogue Superman or an evil entity of Superman's power class. Clark's genuine goodness has probably encouraged others-not-Batman to be lax about protecting against his turning, but even if we're going to forget all about JLA: Tower of Babel.... meh. Nevertheless, the last page was quite cool (and the accompanying start to WW) because it's comforting to know that Max is still a perv even when he's the bad guy.

[As a semi-aside, I suppose it's just part of the whole Return to the Silver Age that DC is going through that nobody seems to either notice or care that half of the JLA types in this arc aren't actually in the JLA anymore. Silver Age has trumped current continuity for a while now, so the presence of Black Canary and Hawkman, both JLA reservists more recently of the JSA, don't cause anyone to bat an eyebrow. J'onn is permanently there, Wally stands in for Barry-as-peacemaker, and that John is there instead of Hal could be as much a coincidence as a nod to the JLA's current roster. They certainly treat him as unnecessary and useless.]

When it's done right, Diana taking on Superman (JLA: League of One) and Batman (Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia) is so very much more than the tough broad showing her mettle because while Diana's a fantastic fighter, she's not a brawler. I'd love to see her in a fight with Hawkman, but her first instinct is never violence. Rucka played that up -- perhaps a little too far -- with the whole Book o' Pacifism arc last year, but he more than makes up for any overemphasis with this battle royale.

The three-way fight in WW between Diana and Max and Kal is great not for the no-holds-barred violence and for Diana's fantastic demonstration of how to work with what you have when what you have isn't much, but instead because Max spends the entire time goading Diana into doing what he has to know that she will eventually do -- kill him. This version of Max Lord is no fool. He outsmarted Batman and pretty much the entire world, so it's too much of a stretch to believe that he thought Diana would hold back. Diana was trained as a warrior before she became a hero and Max knew that. He knew she'd kill him if there were no other alternative and he is driven enough to be content with a posthumous legacy. Kal witnessing Diana's killing Max will continue Max's plan, even if he isn't around to see it.





(skipping a little space because I'm gonna be talking about Infinite Crisis and while it's only rumor, some of you are sensitive like that.)





Repeating a discussion I had with pals this week (okay, parroting most of it)... Of all of the Infinite Crisis rumors that are floating around, the one I came out of this arc hoping wasn't true was that Diana dies and is replaced as Wonder Woman, presumably by Donna. Before Sacrifice, it was a... not necessarily acceptable, but at least something I could swallow. Diana is the most replaceable of the Big Three -- yes, I've seen the rumors about Bruce starting post-Crisis II in Arkham and Dick returning to the Batman suit -- and DC needs to find a place for Donna now that she's been brought back after that agonizing labor. And yet.

I don't want Diana being punished, literally or karmically, for killing Max Lord. What she did was brutal, but it was a valid combat decision and it says terrible things about the ethical code of the DCU if she must pay with her life for an act that was not a crime.

6 Comments:

Blogger Dorian said...

I strongly agree. I thought this mini-arc was, on the whole, fairly strong, with some very good character work on Rucka's part that pays off lots of details he's been building in both Adventures and Wonder Woman.

Mon Aug 08, 01:06:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Lungworth said...

I want all of DC punished. Not just for killing Max Lord (and turning him into a villain, and crapping on his entire character arc in the Giffen-era league) and Beetle and Sue Dibny, but for this whole Clone Saga-worthy shock shlock fest. So I'm hoping they do kill off Wonder Woman and replace her, because it would really piss a lot of people off. Hell, I hope they kill off Superman and replace him with Paste Pot Pete.

Mon Aug 08, 03:50:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Scipio said...

At first I was disturbed by Max's apparent goading of Diana into killing him until I reliazed...

he's wearing the lasso. He has not choice but to tell her the truth and he does in a characteristic way, forcefully and brutally.

Oh, and Lungworth; Max has ALWAYS been a manipulative villain. DC didn't "turn him into one" they simply stopped having him charm readers into thinking otherwise. Sorry you got taken in!

Mon Aug 08, 01:06:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Dave said...

Max was always a manipulative villain? That's not how I read JL/JLI/JLA #1-60 -- the character arc Lungworth mentions. He started off selfish and manipulative, yes, but he ended up much less selfish (still manipulative, out of habit) and definitely not villainous.

Max's depiction in The OMAC Project runs counter to his growth as a person from the JLI days, which is what bothers most people who are bothered about this. It also completely ignores his use after Giffen and DeMatteis left JLI, when he was turned into a shape-changing cyborg imprinted somehow with the mind of Lord Havok, I think. (Greg Rucka is an equal opportunitiy ignorer of continuity -- he ignores the good storylines and the crappy ones!)

Mon Aug 08, 08:25:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

"I don't want Diana being punished for killing Max Lord"

Actually, being written by "feminist" Greg Rucka is punishment enough.

Tue Aug 09, 10:16:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Shawn Battle said...

I haven't seen Superman and Wonder Woman since the 70s and Superfriends. Needless to say my jaw dropped SO. MANY. TIMES. when reading this trade.

The thought of Superman gone bonkers against a group of heroes that doesn't include classic peers (Wonder Woman or Shazam-Man) is a chilling one.

As I understand it, EVERYONE present but the Green Man are totally normal humans with a schtick or gear that lets them do stuff. But Superman outclasses all of them and he was on the agressor mode. Ssssssssssscary!

I shared the Leaguer's shock and disbelief as they watched the security feed.

But the shocks were JUST beginning. WW #219 has got to be the most violent mainstream superhero tussle ever. I recall my granddad's SUPERMAN VS WONDER WOMAN big book and that was awesome too, but nowhere near as bloody as this.

In both books, the heroes are aware that the battle jeopardizes the public. But here a homicidal Superman has zero regard punching Wondy from the sun straight to Earth--how weird was it that the bad guy was the one to point out that they were lucky no one was hurt!

Every knows these two legends. I must say that the tussle was worthy of combatants billed to be Stronger Than Hercules, Swifter than Mercury and all that.

But the last page . . . !!!!!!!!

The choice is a very wise one I guess because Superman was really a victim here. He was a living weapon and it is the wielder that is due punishment.

But still, dang!!!

Sun Dec 17, 12:02:00 PM EST  

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