Thursday, June 16, 2005


Stepping belatedly into the Rann-Thanagar War....

Of the four Path to Infinite Crisis miniseries, Rann-Thanagar War is the most geared toward the dedicated (as opposed to the casual) fan. More people may be able to identify Hawkman than Detective Chimp or Catman or Sasha Bordeaux, but this story requires more canon knowledge than OMAC Project, Day of Vengeance, or Villains United combined.

Instead of taking obscure characters and giving them a new story, R-TW is a story of old feuds, older alliances, and gods that are older still. You need the DC Encyclopedia as well as a roster sheet to keep track of who, what, when, where, and which side.

Dave Gibbons made the wise choice to not introduce everyone, else he wouldn't have any room left over for the plot. On the whole, Gibbons deserves commendation for slogging through this without getting beaten to a pulp by the Exposition Fairy and judiciously choosing what's truly necessary to explain while leaving the rest for the fanboys to giggle over. We can figure out Queen Komand'r, shady ruler of the Tamaraneans, and her people's role in this story without knowing about Tamaran's succession crises, the destruction of Tamaran (and New Tamaran and... how many planets have they called home?), or Komand'r's relationship with her sister Koriand'r (aka Starfire). The backstory of the L.E.G.I.O.N. can be guessed at enough by Kyle Rayner's offering free protection. The Omega Men, the Khund, Shayera Thal, Prince Gavyn, and all of the planets in the dominions of Rann and Thanagar have relevance in the DCU, but while it adds an extra kick if you can say what that relevance is, you can follow along without that knowledge.

This briskness of characterization is a double-edged sword, of course. Kyle is Generic Green Lantern, neither his dialogue nor his constructs seeming especially unique to him, Komand'r's got a bit of Old Skool Marvelesque dialogue, and if you aren't already vested in at least some of these characters, I don't know if you will be sufficiently tempted to become so. The folks who annotate comics would be doing fans of the DCU a service by taking on this series because there's a wealth of fun to be had here with the references.

Beyond the massive cast of who-are-they? characters, the plot of R-TW is dense and a bit confusing for a monthly serial. We've gone from radical cult threatening a fragile peace to full-scale war in the first issue, then from simple conflict to a complicated one involving several planets and peoples and many layers of alliances and anticipated betrayals in the second. For this reason, I suspect this may be a better read all at once, at least as far as the warfare goes. But if you do read the issues all at once (or at least reread the previous ones), it is shaping up as an old-fashioned action story. Not as cheerfully pulpy as Adam Strange, but not as dizzying as Kurt Busiek's recent JLA arc, either.

What is being underplayed a bit in these first two issues is how this story will tie in to the Infinite Crisis. Checkmate, the Spectre and the DCU's magic, and the Secret Society are all hovering in the same general area as the Big Three, but what sort of ripple will Rann's and Thanagar's imperial war have back on Earth? The not-too-subtle hints about technology -- Onimar Synn's classic pose on the last page, Adam Strange telling of Sardath's precautions in not letting him carry his own zeta-beamer -- should be the clue, but even if someone's planning to start disappearing earthfolk or moons or zeta-beaming invasion armies, how that would affect the dissolving alliances among Earth's heroes.... The Big Three are not directly affected, but the Green Lantern, Starman, and Hawkman legacies are involved and Rann has a lot of friends back on Earth.

For the record (although I think the Shrew falls under the Absorbascon's radar), I'm rooting for Thanagar. There's very little a good mace can't cure.


Blogger Scipio said...

The character analysis in your blog, particularly your perceptions about how various writers see various characters, is very impressive.

Thu Jun 16, 11:02:00 PM EDT  

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