Tuesday, November 21, 2000

The Mount: Review of JLA/Witchblade, JLA: Heaven's Ladder & JLA: Secret Society of Superheroes Elseworlds

Okay…this month's going to be very eclectic, but it all relates to everything in this issue in some fashion or another. Holidays, friends and family; comics…and all the JLA stuff that was going to come last month that I didn't get to. Some of it might even be funny, some of it touching. So be warned that I'm going to go all over the place.

My parents came for their first visit to my new place and they left without incident, except for their commenting upon two things. The first is my "expanding action figure collection", which is made up of five figures which sit posed on my desk. Not much of a collection and its hardly expanding, since only one of them (an Ollie Queen Green Arrow figure) is new.

The other is the "weird badge" on my leather jacket. My mom thought it was a Wicca religious symbol and my dad asked point blank if I was "dancing naked with witch girls in the woods". (Don't I wish…) Well, it's not that weird…it's a replica of Jack Knight's badge. I have the same style leather jacket as Starman, so I decided to put my replica badge on it. It's a heck of a conversation piece and it gets me faster service in bars and restaurants. I think it's because with the jacket and badge, the wait staff think I'm a Texas Ranger…the special cops, not the baseball team.

My new wonderful comics store is quickly becoming not so wonderful. So far, they have managed to lose my subscription information for three weeks in a row. Luckily, I've been going to the store on Wednesday mornings, so I've been able to get all my regular comics before they sold out.

And speaking of things that have been lost or delayed, I had planned to spend all of last month's "The Mount" talking about all the big JLA stories that were going to come out that month. Well, most of the stories got delayed for a few weeks, well past my deadline date. So now, because I'm a stubborn old cuss of 22 and because most of the stories are of "can't miss" or "can't kiss" quality, I'm going to talk about three new JLA stories; "Heaven's Ladder", "JLA: Witchblade" and the two-part "Secret Society of Super-Heroes".

I know a few people who avoided "JLA: Heaven's Ladder" because of it's unwieldy size and it's $9.95 price tag. These people are VERY unlucky as this is easily the best JLA special written in a long while. Without giving away too much of the story, a group of god-like beings "borrow" numerous planets from the DCU. They plan to use the various religious of all the alien cultures as blueprints for their own Heaven, since the beings (dubbed the Quantum Mechanics by Ray Palmer) function on pure logic and have no ideas of faith. I know that sounds like I've just given away everything, but that's just the plot…not the story. The story is beautiful, as the JLA has to work to help the QM's in their construction all while discussing their own personal beliefs.

The characterization here is great, especially considering the obvious flaw in doing a story about faith in the DCU. That is, how can you do a story about questioning faith in a world where an angel was a JLA member, a civil war in Heaven nearly destroyed Los Angeles and Hell freezes over as the Wrath of God runs wild?

This point is addressed early on, with Plastic Man asserting his own beliefs (Irish Catholic) and asking how the rest of the team can, having known Zauriel, not believe the afterlife isn't all halos and harps. J'onn reminds Plas that Zauriel showed them how they could respect one another's beliefs. This sets the tone for the story, which becomes a "DCU Religion 101" textbook, without seeming like a lecture.

We get a lot of one-on one talks, as the team discusses their ideas of what the afterlife is. Flash asks Aquaman about the Atlantean afterlife. Diana tells Green Lantern about the Ancient Greek ideas of the afterlife as they confront the Khunds, who have a Valhalla-like vision of the world beyond. And in what is easily the best scene in the book, Atom asks Superman what Heaven was like for him when he died. Superman asks "What makes you think I went to heaven.?" Ray gives him a grin and says "Because if you didn't, the rest of us have no hope." And just so you know, this book never does settle the eternal "what religion is Superman/Batman" debates that seem to pop up periodically on numerous comic discussion boards.

My one complaint is that the story is a little slow to start, with 1/3 of the book passing before the story begins in earnest. Not that the whole book isn't wonderful, but it takes us a while to find out what exactly is going on. Though we do get some wonderful splash pages while the plot unfolds, as opposed to "JLA: Witchblade" where we spend most of the time looking at splash pages while we wait for a plot.

"JLA: Witchblade" works about as well as you think such a crossover might. The problem here is that there is no real reason for all these characters to get involved, other than for the sake of a crossover. On the one hand, we have a rebellious, loose cannon female cop with a magic weapon (which rips all her clothes off when it activates and leaves her in nothing but a thin layer of Giger-esque metallic vines (but that's a whole other rant). On the other, we have a team of the world's greatest superheroes. With few exceptions, "loners meet a team" stories don't work very well and JLA: Witchblade is NOT such an exception. I can see a "Batman/Witchblade" or "GL/Witchblade" story being done well, since you'd have common angles to work with there. Picture Sara Pezzini having to go to Gotham for a case and work with Batman. Or Kyle Rayner teaming with a New York cop who has her own "most powerful weapon". As is, this story is a serious mess with lots of bad characterization and stupid logic.

The story opens with Lex Luthor talking to "Mr. Irons", the Lex Luthor of the Witchblade book. Irons offers Lex a chance to study the Witchblade in exchange for his help in retrieving the item. Lex agrees and sends some of his attack robots to attack Sara Pezzini as she is wandering around Gotham, for what reason we never do find out. Wounded, Sara tries to find a place to recover and remembers that Barbara Gordon, whom she met once when their fathers were at a cop convention and kept writing too, lives in Gotham. She collapses on Babs' doorstep, so Barbara teleports her up to the Watchtower so they can take a look at her, without so much as a "what's with the vine bikini?"

Up on the watchtower, J'onn tries to examine Sara's mind and sees her being attacked by the Lexcorp Robots. We cut back to Luthor and Irons talking, where Luthor mentions that Sara was teleported to the JLA Watchtower. Luthor doesn't even blink at this, which strikes me as a bit odd. Even at his most arrogant, Lex would never take the JLA's involvement in anything lightly…

Meanwhile, Barbara finds a fragment of the Witchblade and tries to analyze it on her own as she talks with Batman, J'onn and Aquaman as they observe Sara. In the time that has passed, the Witchblade has formed a cocoon around Sara to heal her. The Witchblade reminds Arthur of something, and he departs for Atlantis to examine the library there as Babs' connection to the Watchtower is cut. Concerned, Batman calls Plastic Man and Huntress to come with him to Oracle's lair.

Yes, kiddies. You heard me right…Batman takes the two most unreliable JLA members with him to go and visit the team's most private member…after himself, of course. He leads them to her front door and then tells them to wait there because "she's obsessive about privacy". Hey, world's greatest detective? Why bother leading them to her building, much less the door to her apartment?

Anyway, they don't get much of look around, as the Witchblade fragment has bonded with Babs, and turned her into a half-spider/half woman "webcrawler". They eventually beat it after the fragment jumps off Babs and bonds to Huntress, who Batman promptly knocks out with a Batarang as she rants about finally having the power to bring down true justice on the evil.

They haul her up to the Watchtower, where the fragment bonds to still comatose Sara, as the rest of the JLA stand around and watch.

Aquaman comes back having discovered where he saw the weapon. It was in a book of Atlantean history, which referred to the Witchblade as "corrupter, possessor, slayer and seducer". Naturally, nobody thinks it odd when Wonder Woman reports that the Witchblade has vanished without a trace, nor do they think to examine her since thus far, the weapon has bonded to every other female member of the team.

We cut back to Irons and Luthor. Luthor notes that the Witchblade only bonds with women, and that it always seeks out the most powerful hosts possible. He says that the Witchblade will no doubt seek to bond with Wonder Woman and that will make it easier to deal with. He bases this on the idea that Wonder Woman will have no idea how to use the weapon. Irons is skeptical, and I've got to agree. Far be it for me to question a fictional genius…but one might argue that getting a sentient magic glove off a woman who is magically empowered herself would be just as difficult, if not more so, than a normal woman. And bare in mind the key word is "sentient", as in the glove will be smart enough to work on it's own, regardless of how the hostess uses it. In fact, from what I recall of the Witchblade, isn't Sara supposed to have almost no control over it?

Anyway, Wonder Woman goes nuts at the UN, thanks to the dark influence of the Witchblade. She starts beating up ambassadors, whose arguments interrupt her speech on the importance of peace (my, how ironic)…and then another group of Lexcorps Robots show up and start blasting the hell out of the place.

We get a quick cut back to the Watchtower, where a recovered Sara suggests that the Witchblade went after Wonder Woman because a pure innocent like Diana would be unable to fight it's dark lure. Kind of a faulty logic since Diana has been seduced by dark powers before and not had any troubles…but I digress. The entire team goes down to New York and get their butts handed to them. Superman is wounded and the Witchblade cuts through Kyle's ring-created armor. Things are looking bad until Sara shows up, tells the Witchblade that it is destined to be with her, and the thing just attaches itself to her and she walks off, ignoring Superman's offer to help her as J'onn says "It is a burden that she must bear alone." The story ends as Babs and Sara get together for lunch and slam GL for "needing to get over himself over the whole "most powerful weapon in the universe thing".

Okay. I have to take exception here. You can have Batman escorting other JLA members to Babs' apartment door. You can have Luthor being arrogant to the point of complete stupidity. You can give me a total one-page sum up ending (The Witchblade goes back to Sara because of some kind of destiny). You can even have Superman backing down and letting a woman walk off with an obviously lethal and evil weapon, making no attempt to try and help her get rid of it. But there is no excuse for Kyle and Wally getting the treatment they do in this story. Kyle spends his screen time in full comic relief mode, joking about Aliens and making remarks about "copyright infringement" when Witchblade refers to itself as the most powerful weapon in the universe. Wally spends most of his time telling Kyle to shut up or freaking out at the drop of a hat just because Superman got hurt.

"The Secret Society of Super-Heroes" is much better. An Elseworlds tale, SS of SH is set in a world where the JLA was founded by Superman in the 1950s. Inspired by his Mason father, who used his order to secretly help people in his town, the "Kryptic Order" works to fight crime and right wrongs secretly, using invisible shields provided by the Amazons. As the story opens, the team has 8 members: an aging Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Metamorpho, Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) The Atom, The Flash (Wally West) and Plastic Man.

We also see three people whose lives are very soon going to cross that of "The Order". Lois Lane, a tabloid reporter, is investigating various rumors of people with superhuman powers. Bruce Wayne, an FBI profiler who is conducting his own investigation into the disappearances of several people, including his father, who he believes were abducted by aliens. Then there is Bart Allen, a typical teenager with an overly strict father; a police scientist named Barry. Bart recently gained the power of Superspeed and has gained the attentions of Wally West.

In the first part of the story, we learn about the power struggle in the Kryptic Order and how it reacts to the rest of the world. The team is evenly split on the idea of acting openly, with Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl and Metamorpho against and GL, Flash, Atom and Plastic Man being in favor of. We find out soon that with the possible exception of Wally, the heroes who want to start acting openly wish to do so to be rewarded for their efforts. To that end, Wally recruits Bart into the order, so that he may break the tie in the order in their favor.

At the same time, Wayne and Lane team together as they both wind up investigating the same case from different angles: Lane looking for aliens and Wayne investigating missing criminals. We find out through the eyes of one of these criminals that the Order is sending the worst of those they catch into the Phantom Zone, so they may think about their crimes. Through his eyes, we see that the Zone is a Utopia, led by a Martian named J'onn.

In Part two, things come to a head as the order comes to blows, the Order is exposed and Bruce Wayne discovers what happened to his father. I'd say more…but you would really benefit more from reading the story for yourself.

I will say however that the story isn't completely flawless. For one thing, like most Elseworlds, too much is attempted and you are left wanting more of the strange world since things are touched upon and then ignored or barely covered at all. For example, we never do find out why exactly J'onn was put in the Phantom Zone, other than some vague talk of not playing the games of the Order. The Riddler of this world (a serial killer named Marc Question) is only in the the story to give Bruce Wayne something to do at work in the first act and to later deliver a plot point in obligatory fashion. Catwoman appears two pages away from the end for no apparent reason other than "here's another person who is different in this world!" There's also one page that shows Lucius Fox; a successful politican forced out of office for having an affair with a white woman. This has no real relevance to the rest of the story and does nothing, except show that this world is different in ways besides "superheroes work in secret here".

Final Score:
Heaven's Ladder: 9
JLA/Witchblade: 3
Secret Society of Superheroes: 7

As I write this, it's less than a week to American Thanksgiving and it seems that this will be the last issue for the holidays…and more than likely the rest of the year. So until next time, Happy Holidays and Peace on Earth.

Sunday, October 1, 2000

The Mount: - JLA: Tower of Babel & Green Lantern: Circle of Fire Review

This month's column is going to be very, very different. I'm afraid this is going to be a little difficult to say… but with all the great thing happening in my life right now… I'm back in the big city, at a new college with a new job. Things are going really great right now, so I'm afraid… I have nothing to complain about for this month's column. I have no great inspirational sermon about some great evil in the comic industry, some horrible book that is destroying a once proud legacy or some writer who is completely oblivious as to their inability to write a decent story.

In fact, a lot of really good stories have come out this last month… so for the first time, and probably not the last time… What is GOOD this month!

First up, seeing as how this is a JLA issue, let's talk about the best that DC has put out in the last few months… Mark Waid's four-part "Tower of Babel". Personally, my favorite stories during the current run of JLA have been the guest shots written by Waid, especially the brilliant story guest-starring Atom as the League fought against a scientist who created an engine that altered the laws of chance. With Grant Morrison stepping out of the title after issue 41, I was looking forward to seeing Waid take over on a monthly basis. Well, he didn't disappoint. Although I must confess that I may be a bit biased of this story. Besides being a fan of Waid's previous JLA work, he chose to make his first story feature the one villain who can get me to buy any comic no matter how much I may hate the creative team involved. He's one of the greatest villains in all of comics, the one man who makes even Batman nervous. The character who is the sole reason I continue to read Detective Comics… Ra's Al Ghul.

The plot was very simple; Ra's comes up with another plan to reduce the population of the world. The problem is that this one is much more public and likely to attract attention than Ra's usual shadow plans. So Ra's also sets about disabling or distracting all the members of the JLA, insuring they won't disrupt his plans. Of course he forgets about all the dozens of other metahumans in North America alone who can get called upon in a time of emergency. Then again, so did Grant Morrison in every story but World War III, where everyone on the planet became a superhero to fight against a weapon of the Third World Old Gods. Still, if you ignore the fact that the JLA is hardly the only group of heroes capable of stopping Ra's, this is a good story.

Another great story that came out this month was the fifth-week event "Green Lantern: Circle of Fire", a series that had almost something for everyone. When a villain who calls himself "Oblivion" attacks the planet Rann and tells a quickly-fading Adam Strange that he is coming for Earth next, the JLA moves to confront this new menace. The battle goes poorly, with all of the JLA except Green Lantern disappearing, Kyle having been sent back to Earth for reinforcements. During the battle, Kyle notes that Oblivion looks and acts like a supervillain from a comic book he wrote as a kid.

On his way back to the Watchtower, Kyle wishes he had some kind of help. Soon after his arrival, six Green Lanterns throughout time, space and reality appear; all of them claiming to have been summoned by Kyle's wish for help. Teaming with JLA reserve members Power Girl, Firestorm, The Atom and Adam Strange, the new Lantern Corps move across the galaxies, searching for a way to stop Oblivion.

This story is great for two main reasons. First, we get (even if only for one issue) to see some heroes in action who don't get used nearly enough. Consider GL/Firestorm where a Manhunter empowered with a ring teams with Firestorm to search for a weapon that might destroy Oblivion. The story is bound to please all diehard Firestorm fans, finally telling us what happened to the long lost Proffesor Stein since he became a fire elemental.

We also get an story featuring the always welcome Adam Strange, working with Green Lightning; a future ancestor of Kyle Rayner and Wally West, who inhereted the powers of both a Green Lantern and The Flash. The two travel to Rann to investigate the damage caused by Oblivion.

The Atom, along with two members of the Teen Lantern Corps, deal with the various outbreaks of metahuman crime, sparked by word of the JLA's absence from Earth. The Teen Lanterns come from an alternate future where all the adults on earth died, so the children of Kyle's ancestors share the ring to protect the people of their time.

Power Girl, a long ignored heroine until recently (Thanks Chuck Dixon!) works with a Daxamite GL from 800 years in the past, who worked on Earth in a chainmail suit as The Emerald Knight to free the JLA from Oblivion's prison.

And Kyle joins up with Alex Dewitt; his old girlfriend, who comes from an reality like ours, except that in that reality Kyle was killed by Major Force and Alex Dewitt became Green Lantern. The two lovers, both amazed to see their first love alive and well, work to track down Oblivion himself.

The climax of the story is a true surprise, with Oblivion's true identity and Kyle's response to dealing with it one of the few great secrets this year not spoiled by Previews.

Speaking of Green Lantern, Judd Winick is doing a great job writing Kyle's monthly book. The current plot, with Kyle facing off against a group of Manhunters is engaging by itself, but Winick has restored something long absent from the book since the mid-90's. Namely, Kyle's life outside of the ringslinging. Kyle had one of the richest supporting casts in comics, but aside from Radu the landlord (who only showed up to deliver plot-important packages) they've nary been seen in the past 2 years. This is a shame, since some of the series best books have featured the cast in prominent roles.

A lesbian couple living across from Kyle featured prominently in GL 93, where Deadman took possession of Kyle's body to stop a lesbian-stalking serial killer. Radu himself had a hand in the action in GL 120, when he was threatened by an assassin from his homeland. And Kyle's friendship with blind musician Cleveland has often provided the book with a sense that we are really peaking in on a person's life and not just waiting for a fight to start.

Not only has Winick restored the old cast, he's added onto it by giving Kyle an assistant and putting John Stewart in a more prominent position as a friend and mentor to Kyle. GL #129, for example, is well worth buying just for Kyle and John's conversation about the definition of retro and why a black man cannot like A-Ha!

Friday, September 1, 2000

The Mount: Of Truths and Trips and Writing Hacks and Ravages and Queen

I’m writing this a day after I got back from a trip. I’ve spent the last three days making preparations to move into an apartment just off the campus of the college I will begin attending in just one months’ time. I was just taking care of the basic things you do when you move. Set up the apartment, make sure the utilities are taken care of, setting up a checking account… and of course, finding a new comics shop. I won’t go into detail, mostly because I did go into detail talking about it with Michael, and he immediately told me to shut up and "go marry it if you like it so much". I will say that the one I found is a lot better than the one where I am now and that had I the cash with me, I could have completed my Green Arrow collection that day.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m bothering to tell you this since it has no relation to comics, other than my note about the amazing new store I found. The simple answer is that there area lot of things I will need to set up once I am there that I couldn’t do on this last trip. Among these are opening an account with the campus Internet Provider, who for some odd reason don’t open new accounts until a week after classes start. As such, it may be difficult if not nigh impossible for me to get anything written for a few weeks. Of course those few weeks are going to be during when the new issue is due out. And since I try to keep all the stuff I talk about current, I can’t write one ahead of time. So if there isn’t a "Mount" next month, please don’t panic. I haven’t quit or been fired. I’m just dealing with real life. All right? That said, let’s get on to what’s bugging me this month.

First up is Gotham Knights #6. There’s been a bit of controversy over this book because of a major revelation that came out regarding Barbara Gordon’s parentage. First of all, let me give the back story. Before Crisis, Barbara Gordon was the birth daughter of Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. Post-Crisis, due to some problems with the age of Jim Gordon during Batman: Year One, it was decided that Barbara was his niece, and was adopted by Jim after her parents (Jim’s brother and his wife) were killed in a car accident. All in all, this was a very satisfactory way to deal with the problem of Jim’s age. Barbara still existed, still was Batgirl and still maintained a good relationship with Jim. In fact, right after I got back into comics, I had been reading Batman for a year before I found out "Hey! Batgirl is adopted?" Jim and Barbara are as close to one another as any birth father and his daughter could be.

Well, some people feel that Barbara was being cheated by not getting to have Jim as her actual, birth father. One of these people is Gotham Knights writer, Devin Grayson. Grayson said, in a chat at Fandom.com that "I really felt disappointed that Barbara got sort of cheated out of being Jim`s biological daughter". Now, I have to ask one question: Why? It’s not like it has made any difference in the book. I didn’t even know about the adoption after a year of reading the book, until one story I read where the car accident was mentioned. How is Barbara being cheated? She still has the same loving father in Jim post-Crisis that she did pre-Crisis?

The truth is that unless one holds the attitude that adopted children are somehow lesser than birth children, it shouldn’t make one damn bit of difference. If I may, I’d like to tell a brief story that was related to me by a close friend while we were talking about this comic. This friend knows someone who adopted a handicapped child. I will now quote what she said to me…

"This kid was born with a skull deformity that basically crushed most of her cerebral cortex. Mental age never got past about 5…never will. She’s incapable of learning to read and write, has difficulties with speech and no sense of balance at all. She could only walk if led by the hand, or she would literally walk in circles…she had no ability to get to where she was going. Slow, slurred speech. The birth mother refused to have anything to do with the baby, and she was adopted…now, I consider adopting a child like that to be, perhaps, the most…wonderful…thing anyone could do."

Of course, it isn’t just the idea that Babs is somehow less of a character because she’s adopted that has so many fans up in arms about this; it is the way that her "true parentage" was revealed. In Gotham Knights #6, we find that Babs has been holding a letter since she was young which suggests that her birth was the result of an affair between Jim Gordon and her mother. Now, I can understand Grayson’s thinking that making Babs Jim’s biological daughter would make her a better character. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it.

My question is what about the character of Jim Gordon? How does this help him? I mean, suppose that Jim had fathered Barbara and they are truly father and daughter now in all ways. Jim Gordon has always been shown to be a man of strong moral convictions. Doesn’t taking this man, who has always been shown to be great and honorable, and having him have an affair… with his own brother’s wife, no less… lessen his character? Doesn’t it make Jim Gordon less of a man that he fathered an illegitimate child while quite literally breaking a Commandment (The 9th Commandment, depending on translation, can be "Thou Shalt not Covet they Brother’s Wife" instead of neighbor’s wife, so I am told)? I think it does. And I think that it is ludicrous Grayson added in this flaw to Jim’s character in order to fix something which didn’t need fixing in the first place.

Despite this, I’d still rather Grayson be writing Catwoman than Bronwyn Carlton. Thankfully for me and Catwoman fans everywhere, that is no longer a problem. As soon as all the stories written so far are spent, Ed Brubaker is taking over Catwoman. Brubaker, who is also taking over Batman this month, said he is looking forward to taking the book in a new direction. He also noted the intense dislike to the book's recent direction on the DC Comics message board (and everywhere else), saying "Hopefully, they'll like what I do," in a recent Mania interview.

So all you Catwoman fans out there can breathe a little easier…

That goes double for all the Green Arrow fans who are still worried about new writer Kevin Smith being able to maintain a schedule. In the most recent report made on Smith’s news website, the scripts for the first issues are done and turned in. Smith reports that he’s keeping a good pace and thinks that perhaps Issue #1 can make it out before New Years Eve 2001. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that, but I do think we’ll get it about the time it was promised: first quarter 2001. Still, we have a lot to be happy for as the artist for the new Green Arrow book has been announced. It is Phil Hester; former Swamp Thing artist and artist on Clerks: The Comic Book.

Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Starman: Sins of the Father - A TPB Review

This is my favorite comic in the whole world. This is the one comic that always keeps me on the edge of my seat wanting more when I reach the last page. This is the one comic that I genuinely get angry about if it isn’t there waiting in my subscription box. And, it’s also the comic that after a rather shaky beginning, turned me into a full time, card-carrying comics geek.

I’d never gotten a chance to read comics much as a kid, my mother being a librarian. Like most librarians, she held the opinion that a child is bound to go illiterate unless they are reading Dickens and Stevenson at all times. And heavens forbid that they ever be reading some of that mind-rotting garbage with all the satanic imagery and scantily clad women! So, despite being a major Superfriends fan as a kid and having the complete line of Super Powers action figures, I had a mostly superheroics free childhood, reading comics only at friends houses. I got dragged into my hobby shortly after getting work at a local bookstore. One of my duties as the newbie was upkeep of the magazines and comic books. And it was while doing that I saw it: an issue of Green Lantern. The name caught my attention and then I noticed the artwork. That was not Green Lantern on the cover. Green Lantern was a guy with brown hair and a green leotard with black tights… this guy… this guy was NOT Hal Jordan, I said the name coming back to me, clear as if I were a five year old watching Superfriends again.

My next day off I went to the local comics store and after looking around for a minute, I was checking a back issue bin. After a few minutes of digging, I found finally found something with the man who looked like what I remembered Green Lantern looking like. I also found the issues for a mini-series called "Emerald Twilight" that the clerk assured me told the whole story about how Green Lantern changed. I spent a birthday check from my grandma on that and all the other Green Lantern comics I could get.

After that, I started reading several of the books with Batman (my other childhood favorite) and began to learn about 50 years of history I’d never known from the cartoons. I learn there had been a man named Alan Scott who was Green Lantern in World War II. I learned there was a third Robin now (I was barely aware there had been a second). Still, as fascinating as I found all of this, I didn’t find anything that really gripped me enough to continue reading despite the stigma of being a twenty-something comic reader.

That changed when I found Starman. I don’t remember quite how I started subscribing to the comic (the store didn’t regularly order even one copy of the book) but I do remember when I picked up "Sins of the Father", a trade paperback covering the first five issues of the series. And reading that, I was taken in. Because in a weird way, Jack Knight is me. I don’t mean that I relate to Jack because he is young, sarcastic, artistic, and a collector with an eclectic taste all his own (which does describe me pretty well, I think). No, it’s because in Sins of the Father, Jack goes through a journey with himself where confronts and settles with a new aspect of himself.

The book opens with a view of Opal City. And Opal, like Gotham in the Batman books, is a city with a personality all it’s own. It has the modern skyscrapers in the background, but the older city itself is made up of smaller, elegant Victorian and Art-Deco designs. The whole city seems as if items from different times were thrown together in an odd grab bag. This is fitting, because the theme of things and people from different times and the unusual conflicting with the expected reoccurs throughout the series. An excellent example of this comes shortly after the view of the city, where we see David Knight. We are told that David is Starman, a title he inherited from his father not more than a week ago and that his father was the city’s protector since World War II. And no sooner are we introduced to this young man, posing majestically as he looks down upon his city, the very epitome of superheroic splendor… that he is shot from some distance away and falls to his death.

We cut to earlier that day as an argument erupts between the just slain David Knight and his younger brother Jack while they are both visiting their father, Ted Knight. The argument erupts over some items that Jack, who runs a collectibles store, wants to buy from his father. It quickly becomes clear that David is the favored son; Jacob to Jack’s Esau, as Ted tells Jack to stop bothering David because "he serves an important role now" and "has a lot on his mind right now". Jack insults both the men and leaves in a huff to go back to work at his collecting business. This is where we first get a look at Jack’s character. We learn that he is a collector of things, that he has eclectic taste and that he is very much a rebel. We also learn that he is very much an outsider in his own family and has spend most of his life just watching the life of a superhero from afar while trying to build his own life.

Three hours after leaving the observatory, Jack gets a phone call from his dad, who has just heard of David’s death. Ted says he is going to identify the body and warns Jack to be careful, telling Jack that there is a spare cosmic rod and a cosmic belt among some papers he asked Jack to hold for him. Thinking nothing of it, Jack continues on his work until a man comes to the store. The man shoots Jack, sets the store on fire, drops a timed grenade and leaves with the cosmic belt. Jack escapes the explosion that claims his shop, thanks to the flight-granting power of the spare cosmic rod.

In a brief interlude, we learn that the man who bombed Jack’s shop was working in concert with a woman who bombed Ted Knight’s observatory. The two of them, Kyle and Nash, are both children of The Mist: Ted Knight’s archenemy as Starman. In another interlude, we see a "shadowy man" eating dinner as he listens to news regarding a crime spree in Opal City. The man decides to go for a walk and see how badly his city is fairing.

When Jack gets to the hospital, he finds out that his father was injured by debris from his observatory, which was hit with a bomb. Going to visit his father, Jack finds him being guarded by three cops, who identify themselves as the O’Dares. Jack tries to talk to Ted about what happened, but Ted turns on Jack, wondering aloud how David could die and his "less-heroic son" could be spared. He accuses Jack of being a coward, afraid of the family heritage and tells Jack that he not needed.

Jack wanders into the hallway, shocked at what his father has said. He is joined by a woman; a cop named Hope O’Dare. Hope explains that the cops guarding his father are her brothers, and that their father, Billy O’Dare, was close friends with Ted when he was Starman. She and Jack don’t have much chance to talk before Jack is called back into the room to hear a phone call for Ted. It is the Mist, who tells Ted that he has taken his observatory and his sons. He continues to say that he will take everything that Ted values before finally killing him and that his next goal will be the memory of his dead wife. Apologizing for his rash words, Ted apologizes to Jack and tells him to leave town before things get worse. Jack agrees to do so and is waiting at the train station when he hears on the news that a wing of county museum is being ransacked by The Mist’s thugs. Jack realizes the wing in question is one named for his mother, who donated the money to the museum to have it built; her memory. With that thought, Jack spurs into action and uses his the cosmic rod he still has to fly to the museum and fight the thugs while a crowd looks on. Among the crowd is the Shadowy Man from before, who immediately realizes that the young man they see fighting is Jack Knight, not David. Jack is forced to flee when Kyle, the Mist’s son, arrives armed with the cosmic belt. In his escape, Jack crashes into the Opal River and loses the rod.

Returning to his apartment, Jack creates a costume of his own. He eventually selects three items. The first is a leather jacket, which has painted on the back a star encircled with astronomy/astrology symbols. The second is a pair of World War II anti-flare goggles, which he takes to protect his eyes from the light of the rod. Finally, he pins a toy Sheriff’s badge (a five pointed star) to the jacket and leaves his apartment by the roof. Soon after he is forced to fight off various thugs who were waiting for him. Among the thugs, he confronts Nash, who says that she is going to kill him because they’re father’s are enemies. Jack manages to convince her not to kill him, pointing out that she has no personal reason to do so. He escapes and rests for a moment in the shop of a fortuneteller named Charity. The two talk for a while and Charity leaves Jack with a prophecy of the future, telling him among other things that he cannot shake his destiny or his mantle as much as he may want to.

Quick aside here, but old time DC fans may recognize Charity as the host of "FORBIDDEN TALES OF DARK MANSION", a DC horror anthology from the early 70’s. I mention this because James Robinson and Starman are often compared to Neil Gaiman and his Sandman series for many reasons. Among these are their similar uses of dark humor and intelligent dialogue. But one similarity that rarely gets discussed is the obvious love they both share for old DC Horror book characters. Her appearance here is brief, but Charity went on to take a much larger role in Starman than she did in her own solo book. Gaiman did similar things with Cain and Able, the hosts of The House of Mysteries and House of Secrets books, respectively. He made them both storytellers in the dream realm ruled over by Morpheus, along with Lucien the Librarian, who was host of an even more short lived horror anthology called "Tales of the Ghost Castle" in 1975.

While Jack makes his way back to the hospital, we follow the Shadowy Man for a bit longer, watching as he confronts two thugs at the museum. Ater being threatened, the Shadowy man brings the shadows to life and shapes them into the form of a dragon, who eats the thug. He then makes a discovery amongst the rubble that he thinks Jack Knight would want to see. Later, this same man meets with The Mist. We find out that the shadowy man is The Shade, another super villain of old. The two strike a bargain that in exchange for a share of the loot from the Mist’s crime spree, The Shade will kidnap Ted Knight from his hospital bed.

Meanwhile, Jack finally reaches the hospital where Ted tells him of a warehouse where an older, larger version of his rod is stored. Jack leaves to fetch the rod, leaving Matt O’Dare to guard his father. Shortly after he leaves, The Shade enters and takes Ted with him, telling Matt to make a note that while The Shade could have easily killed him, he didn’t. When Jack returns with the cosmic staff, he recieves a phone call from The Mist, who proposes a duel between his son and Jack for the life of Ted Knight. Jack reluctantly agrees and starts preparing for the fight.

As Jack prepares, he is joined by Matt, Hope and Mason O’Dare. Hope says that she thinks Jack is being very brave to agree to do what he’s doing but Jack shrugs off the praise and insists that despite everything he has done so far, he is still not a hero. As he says this, he recalls a forgotten memory of when he was a kid and his looking at a Viewmaster reel of his father and saying that one day, he was going to be just like his father. Think about how he’s now living a life he’d wanted as a child, Jack flies off to the duel. At the same time, Nash and Kyle say farewell to each other. Nash says she’ll be so unsure of what to do if Kyle gets killed but Kyle reassures her that he’ll be okay and even promises that they can go and see a movie together like old times once the duel is done. It’s an ironic contrast that it is the children of a villain who have a closer relationship. Indeed, the Mist’s family seems to be much more stable and loving that the heroic Knight family.

As the duel in the sky goes on, The Shade appears to the O’Dares. He explains that the only reason he agreed to kidnap Ted Knight was so that he could learn the location of the Mist’s hideout, which it turns out is inside the Knight family mausoleum. The shadowy villain leads the police to the hideout and even assists in the capture of the Mist and Nash. At the same time Jack kills Kyle in the skies over Opal, impaling him on the cosmic rod and cremating his body. Meeting with the police and his father later, Jack gets a note from The Shade, saying that the two will talk another day and that Jack will receive two gifts. We see Nash get taken away, swearing revenge on Jack for what he did to Kyle and her father. Her father, we discover, went mad upon the discovery of his son’s death and is now confused and senile. Returning to Ted’s other observatory in the country, Jack and Ted discuss what they will do now. Despite still seeing superheroics as "an excuse for grown men to put their underwear on the outside of their tights", Jack agrees to act as the city’s protector on the condition that Ted start trying to find ways to use the cosmic energy for something besides weapons. We then get two brief interludes to two other heroes who called themselves Starman: one an alien imprisoned in an sideshow on Earth and the other an Earthman trapped in an alien lab.

A few days later, The Shade does visit Jack, as he works on constructing his new custom cosmic rod. After a brief discussion regarding reincarnation and the possibility of Jack’s being reincarnated from a sheriff who once defended Opal 100 years ago, Shade shows Jack the two gifts he spoke of. The first is the memorial plaque from the museum, dedicated to Jack’s mother. The second is a book; a journal belonging to Shade, who is immortal. He says that he thinks that Jack will need to know the history of the city in order to defend it properly and leaves telling Jack that he does believe he is destined for great things. Later that night, in a story tying into one of the books odder subplots, Jack is visited by a man who seeks a Hawaiian shirt that supposedly has a portal to heaven painted on the back. The final story of the trade paperback has Jack meeting his brother David in a black and white dream world. The two fight and talk, coming to terms with their lives and finally making peace with one another. The story ends with David promising to visit Jack at least once a year in this manner.

By the end of the story, I saw that Jack’s internal struggle with the idea of becoming a hero was similar to my struggle with becoming a comics fan. We were both concerned about being labeled as something clashing with our personal image because of something we were doing that might be considered childish. But by the end of the story, Jack begins to realize that there is a bit more to what he considered a childish dream when he kills a man in his capacity as a hero. Kind of like how I felt when I read my first issue of Preacher. Jack found, as I did, that one can still be the same person while adopting a new aspect to your overall personality. Jack does refer to superheroics as "Self-propagating kid stuff" and an excuse for grown men to act foolish at first, but he eventually comes to accept and even love his status as a superhero. Likewise, many older readers look upon their hobby with a shame that they are doing something childish but then they decide "Damn, but I do love it."

It’s like a wise person once said, "What’s the point of being an adult if you aren’t allowed to act childish once in a while?" But young or old, one thing is certain: the trade paperback of ‘Sins of the Father’ is a worthy edition to your comics library and well worth the $12.95 asking price and a great read.

Saturday, July 1, 2000

The Mount: Anarky - Better Dead Then Read!

Okay. Throughout this issue, you've been reading a lot of stuff about a lot of good books that didn't get a chance to develop. But I want to talk about something else. Maybe it's because I just enjoy being the one shining beacon of originality at all times. Maybe I just enjoy going against the grain. Maybe it's because all the books I wanted to write about were already taken. Regardless, I want to talk about a book that didn't get canceled quickly enough: Anarky.

Now, I had a bad feeling about this book from the start. I liked most of his early appearances, but at the time his book came out he had become an uber-god: a human who has nothing but a lot of technology and their wits and still manages to take on most of the metahumans on the planet, much like Prometheus or Batman as written by Grant Morrison.

I liked the original concept behind Anarky: a teenage geek who reads "The Will to Power" one too many times and decides to go out and fix the world. But the minute he wound up getting $100 million in a Swiss Bank account, owning a building, impressing Darksied, getting a Boom Tube and was shown as being able to outsmart Batman, outhack Oracle and generally be invincible, I lost all interest I had in the character.

The first issue set the tone for the series. We opened on Anarky meeting with the JLA, after having hacked the Watchtower communications network. After introducing himself (nobody knew who he was) as "branded a criminal", he then informed them that not only had he proven the Superstring Theory true, but that his calculations proved that there would soon be an aberration that would negate all the laws of space and time and cause the universe to stop existing. Or to use more easily understood psuedo-science babble, a big anti-matter monster was going to come and eat everything as all hell broke loose. The JLA was loath to believe this, even after they used Wonder Woman's lasso to find out Anarky was telling the truth. They were going to take him into custody, when the timer on his boom tube activated and teleported him away. While the JLA gasp and look around in confusion, Anarky watches them from his secret base underneath the Washington Monument.

Pretty much every major problem I had with the Anarky series and indeed the character can be explained away in this one scene.

  1. Inexplicable Stupidity for a Genius.

    I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer but this thought occurs to me. If you are going to ask a bunch of superheroes for help, the phrase "I'm branded a criminal" is not one to include when introducing yourself.

  2. The Justice League of Idiots

    Of course the JLA isn't much better. Their entire presence in this story is entirely dependent upon the same premise that Peter David used recently in the "Sins of Youth" storyline. That is, the JLA will trust a public media impression of someone over their own word. Granted, in the case of Anarky that is much more justified than when they questioned their own sidekicks but let's think about this. Here we have Anarky, who admits to being a wanted criminal. As far as you know, he has no superpowers other than being really clever and a good hacker. Now, we send out Superman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, The Flash. all the big guns on duty that night and surround this guy. He explains that the reason he called you is that he thinks that something weird is about to happen and needs you to fight it before the universe goes kablooie? Do you:

    1. Figure that he's got to be telling the truth, what with all he is risking just talking to you and the fact you've got him surrounded with four of the most powerful beings on the planet. And even if he's just a nut, it can't hurt to check his figures.
    2. Have your team telepath reads his mind and confirm that he at least believes he is telling the truth.
    3. Assume that there has got to be a trick. Somehow this guy has got to be lying as part of some scheme, never mind that you wouldn't know he was a wanted felon if he hadn't told you. Say that he is obviously wrong and that you are taking him in.

    If you picked C, you're either far too paranoid or noticed that sarcastic writers like me always put what really happened as the last option in an ABC poll.

  3. With Powers Like These.

    As I mentioned before, Anarky has become insanely overpowered in his last few appearances. But his escape from the JLA takes the cake in terms of pure Batmanesque "I prepare for everything". He preset his Boom Tube to take him back to his secret hideout, which is built in the bedrock under the Washington Monument. He then notes, with some satisfaction, that his cloaking technology must be working if the JLA doesn't realize that they are standing on top of him.

    Sorry. that doesn't cut it. Superman is there. The guy with a little thing called super-hearing? If he can hear children crying way on the other side of a big city like Metropolis, I can guarantee you that he can hear through a mile of rock. But for the sake of argument, let's say that Anarky spent a couple of million on soundproofing walls to the point that even a Kryptonian can't hear him. That still leaves one big green Martian telepath, who in the past has been able to track the minds of people on the other side of the planet. I'm not sure what the DC has in the way of telepathy blocking technology, but I'm pretty sure that whatever exists is classified and under tight guard. Of course Anarky could just hack the plans out of a Pentagon computer, but it doesn't matter. Either way you have a character whose actual abilities are being greatly exaggerated.

Anarky also did one thing that all Green Lantern fans should find unforgivable; it erased the one good permanent thing to come from Emerald Knights. Before returning to the past, Hal Jordan made a copy of his ring and gave it to Kyle, so he could someday start a new Corps. Kyle went off into space to do that, leaving one copy of the ring and his battery in the hands of Jenny "Jade" Hayden. Anarky #1 took place at the same time as Green Lantern #111-112, when Kyle returned to Earth only to find Jade and Jon Stewart fighting GL-hunter Fatality. Anarky knew that it would take the power of a GL ring to fight this aberration, so he went try and help Kyle and Jenny in the hopes that they would then help him. Instead he found Jade's power ring, which had been forced off her hand by Fatality in their fight. He takes the ring and after testing it by uprooting a statue of "Senator Gerry Mander" (oh, that IS subtle), he goes off to fight the aberration. The story continued through issue #2 of Anarky, where a very displeased Kyle kicks Anarky's rear around Washington DC as the anomaly grows in power. The two then team-up to fight the aberration in Anarky #3.

Why should GL fans be upset by this? Because after Anarky and Kyle defeat the anomaly, Kyle asks for the ring back and it poofs into nothingness after Anarky removes it. The two are both dumbfounded into where the ring gone and Kyle basically just shrugs and flies off.

The GL issue ended with Kyle telling Jade and Jon that he couldn't find any sign of the ring Fatality took. This left it wide open that somehow, some day, this new ring might show up again and could be used again.

But because of this plotline in Anarky any hope that GL fans had of a new Corps through this ring that could make duplicates were dashed. Similarly, this story destroyed the hopes of Jade fans everywhere that she'd be taking an active role as a hero again and not just be Kyle's girlfriend.

Anarky slouched on for a total of 8 painful issues. After the three-issue story with the GL ring, there was another three-issue story that involved Ra's Al Ghul deciding that Anarky was too dangerous to live after he discovered Ra's trying to start a war in the Middle East. This brings to mind two immediate questions. First, why would a dedicated environmentalist like Ra's be trying to start a conflict that would result in nuclear war? Since Ra's ultimate goal is the to save the world from the more destructive side of humanity, wouldn't causing fallout to rain down on the planet be totally counterproductive to his goals? And secondly, if Ra's thought it important to kill every brilliant person in a costume who contested with him, he'd have sent assassins after "the Detective" long ago. The final two issues concluded the series with an Anarky/Haunted Tank meeting (no I am not kidding) and Anarky searching for his birth father in Arkham.

Suffice to say, I'm amazed it lasted as long as it did and I don't miss it a bit. Rest in Pieces, Anarky. Rest in pieces.

Oh, and one last final thought. After reading my review of Catwoman 80 last month, several people asked me on the boards if I favored canceling Catwoman, due to the many problems with the apparent direction. Well, no I don't. Not yet. I'm still riding out the current storyline and hoping for a plot twist soon. Once it becomes apparent that Selina really HAS become a whinny bimbo for good, only then will I declare this book "better dead then read".

Monday, May 1, 2000

The Mount: Introduction and Bad Comic Shops

Hello and welcome to The Mount… a new monthly column where I get to talk, discuss, scream and just plain rant about things in the comics world in general or things in certain comics that I find just plain annoying. Why? Because you demanded it! Well, because I demanded it anyway….

For this first column, I'd like to talk about bad comic shops. Or more specifically, MY bad comic shop. I live in a city of 60,000 in Middle of Nowhere Texas. As such, I have no other places I can go to get the new Starman without driving over 120 miles, so I have to go to "Store A".

Store A has the four hallmarks of a traditional bad comic shop…

1.) They Order 75 copies of the New Flavor of the Month, while under-ordering the old

True Story: When Danger Girl first came out, my comic store decided not to order a copy of The Flash, Catwoman, Wonder Woman, Robin or any DC books that came out that week except JLA, so that they could afford to order more issues of what Wizard said was going to be "the biggest hit book ever". Naturally the clerks began trying to push the book on everyone who walked in the door… even the kids who just came in to buy baseball cards. It's like at McDonalds, where they ask if you want a "Nice Hot Apple Pie" TM, no matter what time of day it is or what you are ordering.

The same thing happened when Fathom first appeared and then later with Tomb Raider. Of course each of these books has gone on to become a huge hit. Tomb Raider in particular has gone on to be successful, but I credit the four big things the book had in its favor from the very beginning. A popular game series to build on and mass marketing… And the other two? Put it this way… I doubt that many people are buying it for Dan Jurgens' brilliant writing.

And even when there isn't a special new T&A comic coming out, they typically order only one issue each of some monthly books and specials. This leads into….

2.) Can't/Won't Get Subscriptions or Special Orders on a Steady Basis

This past month, "Shop A" didn't get even ONE copy of Detective Comics or Legend of the Dark Knight, both of which I have been subscribing to for over a year. I ordered a copy of The Sandman:World's End trade paperback 6 months ago… and it still hasn't show up. My Starman figure? I gave up on that after two months and got one on-line for a fraction of what they charged me. Speaking of Starman, that's a pretty good way to lead into…

3.) Outright Hostile Clerks

Don't get me wrong. I've clerked before and I do realize that there are days when you become convinced that you must have been a mass murderer in a past life and that having this job where you must deal with an endless line of fools is your punishment.

I realize that its not easy having to tell a group of kids for the seventeenth time that day that no, you do not have any new Pokemon cards, there will be no new Pokemon cards until next Wednesday and would they please stop having their moms drive them up to the store every hour to check thankyouverymuch?

That said, is it really that much trouble to ask you to have to get up from the computer where you are hunting for photomanipulated images of Agent Scully in a Jean Grey costume for one second so I could inquire about my subscriptions? Could you please not roll your eyes when I ask about special ordering a Morpheus action figure? And I don't expect you to smile or dance for me when I come in the door, but if you could please refrain from saying "You actually read this?" in a condescending, "What a loser" tone when you see the copy of Birds of Prey in my file, I would really appreciate it. After all, I somehow manage to refrain from commenting upon how your inability to get a date might be tied to your apparent belief that a 44-18-38 figure on a 5'8 woman is normal.

4.) The Quarter Bin is Larger Than The Archive Section

This may not be a bad sign per say. It is all-dependent, like many things, upon the contents and distribution. Here is a rough breakdown of the contents of "Store A's" quarter bin (about sixty short boxes).

--- 10% Old Issues of Gen-X
--- 12% Old Issues of Gen 13 Boot-Leg
--- 16% Old Issues of various Rob Liefield Projects
--- 32% The Last Six Issues of What was the Flavor-Of-The-Month about a year ago. (Wow! Fathom #1 for a buck!)
--- 10% Issues of Spider-Man: Year One
--- 17% Old Issues of various Rob Liefield Rip-Offs
--- 2% Stuff you'd consider buying as a cheap alternative to toilet paper.
--- 1% Actual Readable Comics.

NOTE: This study has a 1% Margin of Error

So what can we do about it? We the poor and downtrodden trapped in the middle of nowhere? Well, you might try the comic racks in the bookstores at the mall. Granted, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton aren't likely to carry some of the odder titles or anything outside of the big three (DC, Marvel and Image). However, if you're looking for your core heroes (IE: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern), odds are you can easily get them at a decent bookstore. Nation chain bookstores can also be a lot more reliable about special ordering Trade Paperbacks than small stores. Depending on your area, the store may in fact have a very large TP collection in their store. I was able to get The Sandman:The Wake from a Barnes and Noble in Dallas after "Store A" took four months to tell me my order got canceled somehow.

On-Line comics shops are also becoming popular. However, I can't speak about them, since all the ones I looked at were credit card only and I don't have one. You might want to consider that option if you can afford the shipping costs.

Or you can just complain to the manager about the rude clerks. Complain about poor service. Complain about poor stock. And then get a column in a magazine and complain some more and encourage a bunch of other people to complain with you!!

Or not.

Of course that's just my opinion. I might get sued if I say the rest.

All I Have To Do Is Dream... - Green Lantern #121-124 Review

Written by Ron Marz
Pencils by Terry Banks
Inks by Don Davis, Cam Smith, Greg Adams and Andy Smith

(WARNING: Spoilers Contained Within)

Back in GL #120, HEAT members everywhere had a field day at the end of the issue. Kyle had been surprised and shot and for months comic boards across the net were treated to endless complaints of "The ring has a fail safe that prevents its users from being wounded." Well, Hal's ring did. It's been shown time and time again that Kyle's ring doesn't have that feature.

It was shown that Kyle's landlord Radu has known for a long time that Kyle is Green Lantern. And various people did say "Oh, Kyle's so stupid for not being able to hide his secret identity better". Actually, I think all that proves is that Radu is a lot smarter than most of the people in Metropolis. Think about it, Jimmy Olsen has worked with both Clark Kent and Superman for ten years now…. and never even thought about all the many times Clark Kent disappeared and Superman showed up. Radu managed to figure out Kyle's identity by accident, going on only two things; the fact that Green Lantern was the guy who showed up each time a supervillian tore up his apartment building and the fact that Kyle's girlfriend looked a lot like that Darkstar woman… and they were both named Donna.

But then the piece de resistance was when Kyle was tended by the best healer he knows…. Donna Troy. Wait? Is that Donna? Her skin looks awfully Green to be Donna… oh good Lord… Can it be possible? Can it truly be possible that that idiot Ron Marz can't even remember which heroine is which anymore!!! Oh, what a horrible horrible writer…. why doesn't DC fire him?? Oh, Kyle is evil… Kyle is bad…

Yes, there were people blaming Ron Marz for what was apparently a coloring mistake…. or was it a mistake? It turns out, the combination of Donna's body with Jade's skin coloring was a rather clever bit of foreshadowing the next few issues….

Part One: New World

When Kyle wakes up, he finds himself in a strange bedroom. He looks out the window and sees other Green Lanterns flying around… and all the buildings have Green Lantern insignias on them. What's more is that Jade (who dropped Kyle like dog doo sometime back when he admitted he was uncertain as to his feelings for Donna Troy some months back) is in his bed, acting very friendly for an ex-girlfriend. In fact, she says they're married. Groggy as he is, Kyle very quickly realizes that something is not right… one way or the other. Jade very quickly tells him that they got married, Alan Scott helped Kyle to find a way to get his ring to copy itself like the old Silver Age ones and that Kyle rebuilt a new Corps on the planet of New Oa. In other words, everything that Kyle has wanted to do with his life in the last thirty issues or so and screwed up has actually come to fruition… so why doesn't Kyle remember any of it? The two agree to keep Kyle's apparent memory loss a secret until they have time to think about it more deeply, the two having just gotten an important summons from Ganthet, the last Guardian.

Ganthet asks them to check on a missing Green Lantern who has not reported to him in some time, suspecting that the Controllers may be responsible for his disappearance. They assemble a team to go with them, made up of Senn Rendle (a Durlan shapeshifter), Shraash (a legged whale-man), Tomar-Bor (a young Xudarian who sees himself as Kyle's "Kid Lantern") and a jellyfish like creature with an name that cannot be said by anyone who is not of his species: so they just call him Lenny.

The six arrive at the planet and begin to search for the lost Lantern. Jade and Kyle find him… impaled on a firey staff in a tomb. They turn around to see Effigy; a young man given the ability to create and shape fire by the Controllers. Effigy stuns Jade with a fire blast, forcing Kyle to chase after him alone. Kyle manages to knock Effigy down for a second, during which time Effigy refers to Kyle as "Amnesia Boy." Kyle begins the chase again, wondering how Effigy knows about his apparent memory loss, only to run into a whole Effigy Corps….

Part Two: Stand In The Fire

The Effigy Corps is a bit of a sightgag for long time Green Lantern readers. Among the various members, empowered by the Controllers with the same fire controlling powers of Effigy are Fatality (the Green Lantern hunter), a Manhunter robot, some of the old Darkstars who had working suits after GL 75 when the Darkstars all but quit… even Sinthia, Grayven's Henchwench from his attempted invasion of Rann in GL 75.

Anyway, a massive firefight ensues (pun very much intended) between the Effigy Corps and Kyle and Jade. Thankfully, the other four GL Corps Members show up and hold off the Effigies long enough for Kyle to snare Effigy and the six to make good their escape,

Back on New Oa, Kyle wants to question Effigy more about his apparent amnesia, but Ganthet refuses, saying he can handle any questioning that needs be done. Later that night, Kyle sneaks into Effigy's cell and talks to him. He asks point blank if what is going on is real. Effigy responds, "No, of course it's not real." He then tells Kyle that he can't tell him what really is going on unless they get away from New Oa, because the place has too big a hold on him there. Kyle reluctantly frees Effigy, and after fighting through the new Corps, they go into deep space. Once there, Effigy reveals himself as a part of Kyle's subconscious. New Oa and everything in it is a whole world created by Kyle's imagination: a dream of everything he wishes his life was. Something has caused Kyle's conscious mind to revert into that world and is trying to get him to live in that world while ignoring the reality. His subconscious was aware of the fact that this world wasn't real, and Effigy was brought forth as a symbol of that message, since Effigy himself is a symbol of what Kyle might have become had he gone down a different path. Effigy creates a fiery door, Kyle steps through and wakes up screaming in bed with a shocked John Stewart looking on.

Part Three: In Control

John begins to explain that Donna had to leave to deal with some Titans business and that he was called in to watch Kyle. Kyle begins to tell John about his dream and then he recalls that right before he fell asleep, he was seeing Donna with green hair and skin: perhaps his subconscious attempting to make him happy by combining the two women he loves and illuminating the problem of having to choose one.

Kyle then begins to fall in and out of a series of flashbacks of alternate worlds, realities and dreamscapes. We see the JLA fighting him as he dresses in a Parallax style costume. He wakes up again, and tells John about the latest dream. John speculates that it's possible the Controllers are manipulating Kyle's mind, having both the power, the opportunity (they blasted Kyle with some unknown ray when he fought Effigy some months back) and the motive, since they would love to see the last of The Guardian's Servants disabled forever. Kyle decides to go find the Controllers and find out what they are up to. After falling into another dreamscape (where we see Jade and Kyle dressed like a warrior and princess from an Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novel), John tells Kyle where he thinks the Controllers main base was when he was a Darkstar.

On the way to the base, Kyle has another hallucination, this time of Hal Jordan flying alongide him to help in the fight. As he clears his head, he is attacked by Effigy, but Kyle notices that his newest enemy seems different: "The lights are on, but nobody's home." Kyle quickly determines that The Controllers did something to Effigy that gave them more control over his mind. However, the same process that turned the formerly hot-tempered Effigy into an obedient servant also made him more listless and easier for Kyle to quick think his way around. After beating Effigy, Kyle blasts his way into the Controller's main room and says "Let's Talk".

Part Four: Control Freak

After shrugging off a new illusion the Controllers tried to force on him (he was tipped of by the fact that wheelchair-bound John Stewart was walking), Kyle asks why the Controllers did what they did. Quite simply, the being Kyle calls Effigy was the test for the Controllers new brand of footsoldier that they would use to institute total universal order. When they encountered Kyle fighting their prototype and winning, they determined that he might be a threat, so they infected Kyle with a mental corruption that would take his imagination and turn it into a prison, sucking his consciousness into his fantasies. Kyle is then zapped into unconsciousness.

When he wakes up, Kyle's ring has been taken and he is strapped into some part of an assembly line: a machine that changes beings into Effigies. The Controllers decided that since Kyle's willpower was too strong to be easily dominated for long by the "corruption", he'd serve them much better as an Effigy slave. Kyle is naturally not happy about the idea and pulls himself free of the wires hooking him up to the line. One of the Controllers tries to trigger a hallucination in Kyle, but this time it doesn't work. "Give someone a little poison a couple of times… eventually they become immune to it. Whatever that gunk you put in me is, I've learned how to resist it."

The stunned Controller commands the Effigy troops to be released on Kyle. Running like mad, Kyle knows he has no chance of finding his ring before the Effigy clones catch up with him. Trying a long shot, Kyle closes his eyes and tries to will the ring to come to him. The gamble works, and Kyle proceeds to easily destroy the machines the Controllers use to make their slaves. When an angry Controller asks an Effigy why it did nothing to stop Green Lantern from destroying the gestation chambers, the servant replies "We were not instructed to do so."

To even up the numbers problem, Kyle creates energy duplicates of Jade and the other Lanterns from his first dream. With the numbers a bit more even, Kyle's makes quick work of the Effigy Corps, forcing the Controllers to admit the battle lost. But they tell Kyle that next time they will not underestimate him so greatly and that as formidable as he has proven himself, he is just one man. The issue concludes with Kyle flying back to Earth, his thoughts turned toward making the dream a reality… finding a way to copy the ring…. get Jade back… build a new Corps.

I was prepared to really hate this arc. I really was. The hero trapped in a fantasy world of his own making idea has been done to death and done much better (Alan Moore's "For the Man Who Has Everything" and the Batman:TAS episode "Perchance to Dream" come to mind). Also, most of the first part of the story seems to have been contrived to put Kyle back in the position of "the new guy who has no idea what he is doing", something which far too many writers (Marz especially) seem to rely upon. In other books, such as Titans #6, Kyle is shown operating on his own with great efficiency.

In JLA, Kyle has even been shown taking positions of command and leadership in the field! (see my review of JLA: World War III elsewhere in this issue for more on that)

It is rather sad when in a character looks better in other people's books than in his own and it's doubly sad here. I also wasn't too fond of Effigy being made into a mindless "Borg" for the Controllers. He was a pretty good villain with a lot of potential and personality. Hopefully the new management will bring him back, free of the Controllers hive mind influence.

That said, despite the fact that we've kind of seen this whole plot before and that Kyle is still getting cast as the hot-headed rookie after all this time, I really did like this arc. Of course, I like any story that encourages the idea that free will and imagination will beat conformity any day of the week. But on reflection I think that I'm don't like this story for what it is, but for what it sets up: A new beginning with a newly changed, stronger Green Lantern. Because the idea of a Kyle Rayner who is fully aware of his legacy and is going to find some way to rebuild the Corps again somehow…. well, to quote Kyle at the end of the arc…. "I might not know that the future holds… but I can't wait to see where we go from here."

My vote: 7 out of 10

Catwoman #80 - A Review

Written by Bronwyn Carlton
Pencils by Staz Johnson
As much as I hate to start my works with the words of another (something I’ve found only the pretentious do), I think it fitting to quote Dorothy Parker in regards to Catwoman #80.
“This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Let me state right here at the beginning; this comic is a definite miss. I wrote this column with two purposes in mind. First, to save you all from spending $2.00 that might well go to a much more worthy comic. And second, to ensure that the people involved in writing this comic never work for DC Comics again.
A bit harsh? My friend, I do not blame you for thinking so. I would have thought so too, before I’d read "Kitten in a Cage".
I bought this comic after hearing about it from a friend, who not only works in a comics shop and gets the previews a week in advance but it also one of the more dedicated Catwoman fans out there. She got my attention by declaring that she was not buying the book anymore, for the foreseeable future. After that, I knew I had to find out what happened to make her make such a strong declaration.
For those who haven’t been keeping up, this comic is the newest part in an arc where Catwoman tries to steal something, actually gets caught and is sent to prison. Or in this case, a special Women’s Correctional Facility right out of a WIP Movie (That’s Women In Prison, for you non-bad movie fans out there).
Let me ask you all: What is the first thing to come to mind why you hear the name Catwoman? Just think of the name… Cat plus Woman. Obviously, we are dealing with a woman who is very cat like; both in body and personality. Someone agile, cunning, graceful and fiercely independent. A dedicated Bat-fan would say you were right on the money. You could even ask a non-comic reader and they would probably come to that conclusion.
Explain to me then why, through the better part of this issue, hardened, experienced thief Selina Kyle spends the entire issue sobbing, crying and protesting her innocence rather than staying quiet, pretending to get with the program, learning how things work and then planning the fastest method of escape possible?
Bronwyn Carlton who spawned (I refuse to call this "writing") this story has apparently never read a Catwoman book…or indeed anything with Catwoman in it before. That is the only logical explanation I have for why Selina is acting like the Linda Blair character in Chained Heat (A classic WIP movie). In fact, the only reason I even bothered finished reading this was the hope that Warden Sybill Danning would show up and escort Selina to her office for some "harsh discipline".
On an ironic note, do you remember the many people who cheered DC’s dismissing penciler Jim Balent, who had done all of the first 77 issues of Catwoman with no breaks? Most of these people doing the cheering said that Balent’s work, which tends to exaggerate certain parts of the female anatomy to rather unrealistic proportions (even for a comic book) was sexist and degrading to women. I wonder what all those people will say about this issue…
This issue features a six-page long scene that involves Selina and several other inmates going into the shower, a fight breaking out and Selina being thrown into solitary confinement, totally stark naked. The whole scene is just pure T&A, lowering this comic yet another level. Still, Staz Johnson does deserve credit for one thing: I believe this is the first time in the history of the Comics Code Authority, that a CCA Stamp of Approval has been placed on a book featuring a five-page fight scene between a large number of women clothed in nothing but a thin layer of moisture. Hats off to Staz for his amazing creativity in keeping things decent!
No. This is not some elaborate April Fool’s Day joke…this whole book truly does read like a bad X-rated fanfic (with the lesbian scenes removed) or a Cinemax movie at one-in-the-morning. The only good thing I can think of to say about this book is that it took-up valuable paper that might otherwise have been used to print "Pat Buchanan For President" posters.

My vote: 1 out of 10

A Treatise Upon Kyle Rayner's Ring

It has long been believed that the ring of Earth’s newest Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner is the first of a new model. After careful study, it is my conclusion that this is not strictly true. It is my intent to prove in this treatise that Kyle’s ring is closer to the standard model issued to the Green Lantern Corps in the past than has been previously believed. First, let us examine some of the differences between the GL Corps rings (hereafter-called Ring Alpha) and Kyle Rayner’s ring (hereafter-called Ring Beta).

I. The Beta Ring has no Yellow Weakness.

The most obvious difference between the two is that Ring Beta lacks the most famous of the Green Lantern’s weaknesses: that is, the ring cannot effect things that are yellow in color. There are two ways to explain how this is possible.

A. The Weakness is Removable

The first, and I think most likely explanation is that Ganthet reprogrammed the ring so that it no longer had the yellow weakness. Some fans might remember that the yellow impurity of the ring was often described as being “necessary” for the powering of the ring. That is to say, the Guardians could not remove the yellow flaw without the ring ceasing to function.

However, I could not find any discussions of the yellow flaw being described as “necessary” that occurred After the Crisis on Infinite Earths. As such, this fact may or may not still be valid in the Post-Crisis continuity. (Lord Knows most other things about the Green Lantern continuity have been changed Post-Crisis.)

For the purposes of this Treatise, we shall presume that the yellow impurity to the ring is a programmed flaw and not in any way “necessary” to the ring’s proper functioning. This can be determined by two examples.

It is well within the powers of a Guardian (Post-Crisis, anyway) to remove the Yellow Impurity.. In Green Lantern #19 (3rd Series), the tale was told of Yalan Gur; then Green Lantern of Space Sector 2814 (the sector Earth is in). Yalan was widely considered to be the greatest of the Green Lantern Corps at that time. There was an occasion where he was nearly killed by a yellow beast of some kind. This incident left the Guardians wondering if it was wise to take the chance of loosing their best and brightest to a manufactured weakness.

They removed the yellow weakness from Yalan’s ring. Sadly, the virtual omnipotence eventually drove him mad with power and the Guardians were forced to add a new weakness: one to wood. Yalan was later beaten to death by a number of peasants wielding wooden weapons. In his death throes, his spirit fused with his lantern and the lantern fused with the Starheart. This lantern later became the lantern of Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern. This story clearly illustrates the possibility of a Guardian being able to remove the yellow vulnerability from a ring.

B. The Weakness is Psychological in Nature

The second explanation is based upon an idea long used in literature and comic books. This idea has been used so many times in fact, I cannot pinpoint exactly from whence it first came. For the sake of this treatise, it will be referred to as “The Phantom Tollbooth Law of Ignorance.”

At the end of the book, the hero Milo is told that the quest he just completed was impossible. When he asks why nobody told him that before, it is pointed out to him that if he had known his quest was impossible, he would never have been able to finish it.

This is how Kyle’s ring seems to have worked within regards to the Yellow Weakness. In GL 53, Kyle fought Mongul, whose skin pigmentation is yellow and who was using a yellow-beamed energy weapon with no apparent problems. As Kyle held off Mongul’s blasts, the following exchange happened between Superman and Kyle.

Superman: “How are you shielding yourself? There’s a weakness against yellow in all Green Lantern’s rings.”

Kyle: “Well, that’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

Superman: “For that matter, Mongul’s pigmentation is yellow. You shouldn’t be able to affect him either.”

Kyle: “All of which is news to me…”

It has speculated before amongst Green Lantern fans on the Internet that the Yellow Weakness may be entirely psychological in effect. The ring is powered by the mind of the bearer. It has been shown in the past (with Kyle Rayner as well as Hal Jordan) that the ring can project objects based upon the bearer’s subconscious if they are not careful. With that as fact, it is not too far a stretch to think that a perceived weakness would affect the functioning of the ring.

Consider this: One of the first things that a Green Lantern is taught upon receiving a ring is that the ring cannot affect anything that is yellow. As they go through training, they are taught ways to deal with objects that are yellow in indirect manners. Throwing a boulder at a yellow spaceship with a large green catapult, for example. By the time a Lantern is fully qualified to monitor their sector or world unaided, the idea that yellow can hurt them is deeply entrenched in their minds.

Kyle Rayner did not receive any of this special training nor was he told of the ring’s weakness. True, Ganthet could have removed the weakness altogether. But there is also a strong case for the Yellow Weakness being at least partly psychological in nature. Kyle Rayner’s fighting Mongul is a good example of this. By the time Superman had found Kyle, he had already fought two supervillians including Mongul and had no problems with the color yellow. When Superman tells Kyle that what he is doing should be impossible with the ring, Kyle basically shrugs him off, noting his ignorance to the weakness and that apparently it isn’t really a problem for him. Kyle’s lack of formal training will play heavily in our next section.

II. The Beta Ring Lacks Many of the Alpha Ring Features

The Beta Ring is severely limited in the number of powers it provides compared to the Alpha Ring. Here is a short list, starting with the Beta Ring.


Energy Object Creation and Manipulation
Limited Healing
Protective Shields
Space Travel
Universal Translator
Creation of an Energy Twin
Remote Control of Ring


Energy Object Creation and Manipulation
Limited Healing
Protective Shields
Space Travel
Protection from Mortal Harm
Universal Translator
Creation of an Energy Twin
Mind Tampering
Remote Control of Ring
Ring Duplication
Ring AI/Database

Again, there are two explanations as to why this is so.

A. The Yellow Weakness Also Adds Powers to The Ring.

Given that the Guardians were easily able to remove the Yellow Weakness from the ring of Yalan Gur with no fear of depowering him, this possibility can be safely ignored.

B. The Powers are There. Kyle is Just Ignorant As To How To Use Them.

This seems highly likely, considering several incidents.

1. The Man-Child Who Could Fly

In GL #51, Kyle never thought to try and use the ring to fly until it was suggested as being possible by his girlfriend, Alex. She told Kyle that the strange ring he had that put an odd costume on him made him look like a Green Lantern. The shock-stricken Kyle (well, how lucid would you be after a blue midget in a red dress gave you a green ring outside a nightclub?) then remembered the superhero Green Lantern, thought about flying and promptly began levitating off the ground.

2. Energy Double

While it has never been implicitly identified as a true energy double (IE: a green energy shell used to hold a person’s life force) Kyle has used structures that might be energy doubles in the past.

In JLA #15, a ring projection shaped like Kyle’s head appeared, warning Superman and Batman not to destroy the copy of the Philosopher’s Stone that Lex Luthor possessed since doing so would trigger a chain of events that would end with Darksied’s conquering the Earth.

In Green Arrow #126, Kyle used an energy double (albeit a very stretchy, Plastic-Man styled double) to question a jailed suspect. The double quickly changed into an Alien (as in James Cameron’s Alien) but still maintained Kyle’s voice.

3. Remote Control of Ring (or “Use the Force, Kyle”)

Until recently, Kyle showed no ability to control his ring from a remote distance as an old Corps member could. That changed in GL #124 when Kyle, captured by the Controllers and stripped of his ring, reached out with his mind and tried to will the ring to come to him before he was found by the Controllers flame-powered enforcers. This marks the first time that Kyle has use a power that has been limited before to the old Corps rings that could not be replicated by another power (as energy doubles could).

4. Protection From Mortal Harm

Kyle has been snuck up on and assaulted, near fatally wounded and just plain shot more times than someone with a ring that is supposed to prevent sneak attacks should. The most recent of these occurred in GL #120, when Kyle was shot in the back by an assassin. However, if we consider the effects of the Phantom Tollbooth Rule, the ring may not have this function because Kyle was never told that the ring would stop him from being seriously wounded.

5. AI / Ring Database

The ring has also shown no signs of having the sophisticated AI that the old Corps rings had nor of the database that a Green Lantern could access for information. However, this is quite easily explained. Imagine that the AI for each ring was a computer on a network, with the Central Power Battery of Oa acting as the main computer of the network. With the Main Battery’s destruction, the database should have been rendered in inoperable.

6. Other Powers

As for other powers Kyle has shown no inkling of being able to use, these are easily explained by the “Phantom Tollbooth” rule. For example, Kyle has never had any occasion where he could believe that his ring could be used to alter another person’s mind. Nor has he ever thought of using the ring to become invisible. That leaves only the ability to create duplicate rings from his ring, which is not all that unusual. The ability to create copies of a ring was limited to very experienced Green Lantern’s who had large amounts of willpower. It was several years before Hal Jordan was able to copy his ring unaided. I think we can all agree that Kyle lacks that will at this time.

III. Charging Differences.

The Alpha Ring provides unlimited power for 24 hours, after which point it must be recharged.

The Beta Ring functions more like a rechargeable power tool battery (like the battery for a cordless drill, for example). Once it is fully charged, it can be be used as much or as little as is needed until the ring needs to be recharged again. It can take days before it needs to be recharged, or hours depending on the amount of energy expended by the wielder.

It should be noted, as Desaad observed in GL #91, that the Beta Ring Battery appears to be wired directly into The Source (the energy field from which all metahuman power comes) as opposed to the Alpha Ring Batteries, which were indirectly wired into the Source through the Central Power Battery on Oa. The Beta Rings appear then to run on Direct Current, while the Alpha run on Alternating Current.

IV. Conclusion

Taking the Phantom Tollbooth Rule into account, there is no logical reason to assume that Kyle Rayner’s ring is any different from those of the classic Green Lantern Corps, save that his Battery is plugged directly into The Source and that his yellow weakness has been removed.

A Special Thanks Must Be Made to The Green Lantern Corps Website. Their website was of invaluable help in compiling a complete list of Green Lantern powers and in research some key issues. Give them a look see!

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Chain Lightning & The Dark Flash Saga

First be warned, this here review be packed with spoilers for almost two years' worth of Flash comics. So if you don't want to have the results of the Chain Lightning and Dark Flash saga spoiled for some reason, click on the forward bar over there in the upper-right corner and go read some nice fan-fic or look at some artwork.

Okay. Everybody who is going to stay here, here? Good.

This has been a very hard review to write for a number of reasons. The first being that at times I barely understood what I was reviewing. I've always had that problem with Mark Waid when reading his work on The Flash; understanding everything that was happening and where it was going. Well, that's not precisely true. I knew broadly WHAT was happening but the exact logic and sequence of the goings-on escaped me.

I am however dead honest in saying that I had no idea where I was heading at any given time, like I was riding a rollercoaster blindfolded. An apt metaphor, considering that in the last year of Flash comics, Wally West has himself been running blind, not knowing what he was running into.
The story began many months ago when an unknown assailant kidnapped Linda Park, fiancee of Wally West (a.k.a. The Flash, The Fastest Man Alive). Shortly after, everyone in the world forgot about Linda's existence for then unknown reasons. Wally didn't have time to worry about it though (even if he did remember her) due to the emergence of a new villain called Cobalt Blue.

Cobalt Blue, it turns out, is Barry Allen's long lost twin brother. Yes, it seems that Barry's mom gave birth to twins at a doctor's office the same night that another woman, Charlene Thawne was due with one child. Sadly, the doctor, who was quite drunk that night, accidentally strangled the Thawne's child. Attempting to make up for the mistake, he gave one of the Allen children to the Thawnes, convincing the Allens that one of the twins had been stillborn. The Thawnes named this boy Malcom.
The Thawnes were a family of con artists with a special power: a blue flame which could steal pain from another. They used their gift to temporarily take away a person's pain, attributing the loss of pain to a "magic salve", which they would sell to whoever witnessed the injured being healed. Malcom was abused by his family, since it was obvious to them that he was not really one of them.
In time, Malcom learned the truth of who he was and killed the doctor who had made the switch. He also gained the power of the blue flame and, under the name Cobalt Blue, set out to destroy Barry Allen and all the other Flashes. This resulted in the very large, very complicated Chain Lightning storyline where various Thawne descendants gained the power of the gem and tried to use it to destroy the Flash of that time period.

To make a long story short, despite the united efforts of 1,000 years worth of speedsters, Cobalt Blue assassinated Barry Allen in the 30th century during the short time he lived there with Iris. This created a major paradox, for without a Barry Allen to sacrifice himself during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Anti-Monitor won and Wally's attempt to return to the past resulted in him being trapped in an anti-Matter Universe. After two failed attempts to solve the problem by replacing Barry in his sacrifice and by trying to aid the assault on the Anti-Monitor, Wally saved the universe by simply going back to the 30th century, grabbing Cobalt Blue, and taking him into the Speed Force. This is believed to have killed Wally West.

Shortly after Wally disappeared, a new Flash appeared: one in a darker red costume with a silver lightning bolt. Referred to as the Dark Flash, this new hero refused to reveal his identity to the public at large. Indeed, save for Donna Troy and Superman (and eventually Jay Garrick) he refused to even tell his teammates who he was. What was known about this new Flash was that he had abilities that Wally West didn't, such as the ability to drain speed from objects. He also had a much more violent attitude towards the criminals that he fought. This violence resulted in the creation of a new villain: Replicant.

Replicant (who appeared first in Flash Secret Files #2) is Tony Gambi, nephew and adopted son of Paul Gambi; the tailor of choice for the Flash Rogues Gallery. (What? You thought Leo Snart designed that Eskimo outfit by himself? No way. You need a professional stylist to get an outfit like that.) Tony grew up with the Rogues being sort of a substitute family, his own parents having been killed when he was young. He was in Central City at the time of the Dark Flash's first appearance and witnessed a battle in which the more vicious speedster crippled Captain Boomerang and nearly killed Captain Cold.

Worried about what a more violent superhero might do to them, the mostly non-violent Rogues gathered together and with the aid of T.O. Morrow, they developed a process that would allow the person subjected to it to absorb the properties and abilities of any weapon they could get their hands on (kinda like MegaMan, but much more sinister). Paul Gambi volunteered to undergo the treatment and after absorbing the powers of Captain Cold, Heatwave, Mirror Master, Weather Wizard and Dr. Alchemy, became Replicant.

Meanwhile, Linda Park (Remember her? Don't worry if you forgot. So did everyone else) managed to escape from her captor, who was revealed to be Kadabra. The Mad Magus kidnapped her, took her outside of time and cast a spell of forgetfulness on the world so that nobody would remember her. Well, nobody except Impulse… but everyone just assumed that Linda was an imaginary friend of his. At any rate, she managed to escape and thought she had found Wally, only to learn (according to him) that she was dead.

It seems that Linda, trapped outside of time, managed to find her way into another reality where she was killed by Kobra (See Flash: Terminal Velocity for that story as it happened in OUR world). It was then, as she was trying to get away from this new Wally (who was a wanted criminal hunted by the police) that another man in a Flash costume showed up. Will the Real Wally West please stand up?

Speaking of an identity crisis, the Dark Flash finally revealed himself to be Wally West to the rest of the Speedster family. He was 10 years older, and scarred with a lightning bolt down his cheek, but he refused to explain how he had gotten that way and why he had been so secretive about his identity before. The Dark Flash also became romantically involved with Angela Margolin, the police scientist who took Barry Allen's post after his death. The Dark Flash continued his courtship of Angela, all while dealing with the new threat of Replicant

Meanwhile, back on the alter-Earth…. the two Flashes had begun fighting over Linda, the psychotic Flash showing the ability to steal the speed from other objects. It was at this point that Kadabra appeared and explained that they were in another dimension. Aside from the Wally West of this world having blue eyes and the full name of "Walter West" (our Wally is "Wallace West" and has green eyes), the Linda Park of this world was killed by Kobra and Wally West had become more ruthless in his pursuit of criminals to the point of being declared a dangerous vigilante.

 The end result? Our Wally and Linda were vaporized as Wally tried to carry them through the dimensions again and "Walter" was aged 10 years and scared by Kadabra. Seeking to avenge his other self and Linda, "Walter" took on the identity of the Dark Flash and journeyed to the regular DC Universe to find Kadabra.

This brings us up to Flash #157, where Kadabra discovered that Walter West was the new Dark Flash. He summoned Replicant to his side and offered the young Rogue a chance to partner up and kill the man who nearly killed his mentors. Kadabra helpfully explains the situation thus far to Replicant (who seemed every bit as confused about this as I am).

Kadabra explained that it was Wally West's love for Linda Park that gave him an anchor that kept him from being consumed by the Speed Force. He reasoned that if he removed the anchor, sooner or later Wally would wind up out of his hair for good. He explained about the spell of forgetfulness and how Linda escaped his prison outside of time and made it to the parallel world of Walter West, where Linda Park had died months before and The Flash had become mentally unstable. Walter thought that Linda had somehow come back from the grave to be with him (And why not? After all, it happens every other month in someone else's comic…).

Yet through a fluke (probably his contact with the Speed Force putting him outside of time and out of the influence of Kadabra's magic) Wally DID remember Linda and instead of dying when he took Cobalt Blue into the Speed Force, he traveled to the alternate dimension when he sensed Linda there. Kadabra also showed up, seeking the escaped Linda. Kadabra wound up killing Wally and Linda and severely injured Walter. Needless to say, Kadabra loved the fact that he drove Walter even closer over the brink, having robbed him of his true love a second time. He had never counted on Walter journeying between dimensions for revenge.

At the same time, Walter explains the situation to Angela, including his motives for being the Dark Flash. He felt responsible for Wally and Linda dying and he wanted to make amends. But with his older body and scars, he needed a way to insure trust until he could find out how he and Wally differed in their lives and to keep Kadabra from knowing who he was.

It's at this point that Professor Zoom: The Reverse Flash shows up and offers to help deal with the new Flash ("The only good Flash is a dead Flash and I don't want this one breeding any more than you do."), bringing with him a new weapon called the Neuron Gauntlet. The issue ends with Zoom incapacitating the rest of the Speedster family (Jay Garrick, Impulse, Max Mercury and Jesse Quick).
Last month's The Flash #158 started with a bang… the most powerful Flash enemy of modern times, the arch-enemy of the entire Flash family and the most recent addition to the Rogues Gallery teaming up to bring down the Dark Flash. The three proved successful and Kadabra soon stood over a beaten and bruised Walter West, gloating that the last thing he would see would be the man who killed his precious Linda. Kadabra didn't count on one thing though. Walter looked back at him, shook his head in confusion and ruined the play with one word… "Who?"

Thinking that his spell must have somehow made Walter forget Linda Park along with the rest of the world, he negated the spell. After all, what point was there to his ultimate plan to destroy The Flash if nobody knew what he had accomplished. As Kadabra negated his spell, two things happened. First, Linda Park appeared amongst the assembled crowd of speedsters and villains. And secondly, the Reverse-Flash took off his mask to reveal a very unhappy looking Wally West.

After dealing with both villains, Wally gathered together everyone, in true Agatha Christie style to explain the latest twist in the plot. It seems that when Kadabra cast his spell to vaporize Wally and Linda, the two were already partly between dimensions. It still took everything Wally could muster to keep their atoms together as they got stuck in the spaces between worlds. The two became wraiths of energy, ghosts for all purposes, wandering between worlds. As ghosts, they watched Walter swear to avenge them and leave for their world. They tried to follow him and eventually found their world and Wally was able to solidify himself.

However, Linda could not return to normal because of Kadabra's magic. Wally went to Jay and told him about Walter and Linda. He then came up with a plan. Jay had Pied Piper construct a device that could disable Replicant: a nanovirus, placed in a weapon, that would disable his powers upon his trying to absorb that weapon. This weapon was the Neuron Gauntlet, which also doubled as a light projector and created the illusion of capturing energy fields. Jay also informed the other Speedsters of Wally's plan, telling them to freeze up when "Zoom" used his "gauntlet" on them. Finally, they also got Walter to feign ignorance as to who Linda was, so that Kadabra (whose massive ego would never allow his work to be unnoticed) would be forced to bring her back into existence. With all this explained, Walter proposes to Angela only to be stopped by a restraining lasso held by Wonder Woman. She and Superman look down on Walter as he says "Will you marry me?" and Superman says "No. Not if we can help it."

Superman and Wonder Woman reluctantly tell the assembled group about the existence of Hypertime: the bridgeway between alternate realities. It turns out that Walter's continued presence in the main DC reality is causing a major wrinkle in space and time and will eventually cause all the realities to collapse in on each other. The downshot of this being that Walter has to return to his world, leaving Angela behind. He can't even take a photo of her with him! Superman grants the couple six hours before Walter MUST leave.

The star-crossed couple go to spend their last hours in Rome (Angela's favorite city) while Wally and Linda begin planning a rush wedding (an easy enough task with a family of speedsters on site). Wally and Linda are married without incident, giving us the big wedding we were expecting over a year and a half ago. But the stage truly belongs to Walter and Angela. The two go to a chapel in Rome, where they give their own vows and "marry". Walter laments, "I'm the Fastest Man Alive. I can squeeze a thousand years out of every second… and it's still not near long enough."
Unsure that the two will ever remember each other, Walter leaves… and starts running… sorry that he'll never know for sure if he will be remembered.

It is then he enters another dimension… not his or the main DCU. He is astonished to find that the crowd around him doesn't recognize him. In fact, they start making fun of the guy in the silly costume. A man then grabs Walter and pulls him into a shop, commenting upon what a fan he must be. Walter looks around the store… and sees a large number of books devoted to the exploits of heroes in his world and the one he just left. Yes, Walter is in our world… in a comic shop. Playing a hunch, he picks up the new issue of "The Flash" and flips to the last page. He sees a smiling Angela, thinking, "I remember you, Walter. I'll always remember." With a grin, Walter disappears in a rush of paper…

What will happen to Walter from here on after at this point is anyone's guess. Literally. No series in all the time I've read comics has kept me guessing like this one. I didn't see a tenth of the aforementioned events coming. And for that, I would like to give a very hearty thanks to Mark Waid who has managed to do the impossible. In this day of Previews, Wizard Magazine Exclusives and numerous on-line scoopers and spoilers… he created a story where I honestly was surprised with every issue. This story also works on two levels. First of all, this story has all the elements of a classic fairy tale romance, with Wally and Walter both taking on the roles of princes in disguise out to reclaim their kingdom. To say nothing of the theme true love really can conquer all. Secondly, this story is a classic Silver Age story with numerous "silly comic" ideas. Evil Twins, a villain who can absorb weapons into himself….Impulse (in a reference to one of the more infamous silly Flash issues) even gets turned into a puppet at one point. And then… there is the ending of the Dark Flash saga, which ends with an old chestnut not seen since the days of the Superfriends cartoon.

That said, the storyline does have a few problems. As I said, the story was always a surprise and I was never really sure where it was going. By that same token, I sometimes didn't know where the story was coming from. Waid's writing is at times very convoluted and very fast-paced. Usually, it is not too hard to keep up with him in a double-issue story. But in a long storyline (and this one is LONG, spanning nearly a year and a half from Linda's disappearance up to now), this kind of writing can be disastrous if the reader misses an issue. If you live in an area, like me, where getting comics can be very difficult, the possibility of missing an issue is very likely. And I missed more than a few issues of this comic, having to piece together what I missed with friends on-line. This can really throw off a reader; to say nothing of the effect that this has on new readers to the series who come in on the middle of a long arc. To Waid's credit, he does explain most of the situation in 157 (Kadabra's speech to Replicant) but the series could have benefited from a "The Story Thus Far" section at the front.

Still, despite not being new-reader friendly and being hell to catch up with if you missed an issue, Waid's most recent run on The Flash has continued to evoke the classic Silver Age style that we are used to seeing from him…and coupled it with one thing rarely seen anymore: actual surprise endings.
My vote: 8 out of 10