Monday, October 4, 2004

Looking To The Stars: The Sky Is Not Falling

Quite a few major things happened this past week in comics. We saw the 200th issue of Hellblazer; the longest running title Vertigo Comics has ever had. The final issue of the second and current Green Lantern series was released. Michael Turner finally got the artwork for the 12th issue of Superman/Batman finished some two months after it was due. And to hear many Spider-Fans talk, J. Michael Straczynksi is the AntiChrist among us, doomed to drag us back into the era of disjointed artwork and third-rate writing.

This is far from the only controversy this week but it is the one the fans on the message boards seem to be screaming the loudest about. The end of Superman/Batman #12 also has people talking. And as always, the Green Lantern fans are grousing about something. Well, let me tell you all something. The sky is NOT falling. And ignoring the fact that it is all just a story, things are not quite as bleak as they seem as I will explain. Be forewarned: SPOILERS ABOUND AHEAD!

Amazing Spider-Man #512

For those of you who haven't been reading the Sins Past storyline, here's a quick catch-up.

Part One: Peter gets a letter in the mail from long-dead girlfriend Gwen Stacy. He and wife Mary Jane (also a friend of Gwen's when they were in college) recognize the hand-writing as Gwen's. The letter goes on to talk about something bad that Gwen is afraid to tell Peter about but has to. The letter then ends, suggesting a second page is missing. Peter goes to Gwen's grave, mulling things over and is attacked by two masked people in black, one man and one woman. Peter jumps away from them, hoping to do so unseen. But his in seen and in their conversation, we find that Peter's assailants wanted both him and Spider-Man dead, but had no idea that they were one and the same.

Part Two: Mary Jane notices imprints on the back of the letter that suggest something was written over it. Peter, as Spider-Man, takes the letter to a friend with the police and asks to have it analyzed. He then goes out looking for his assailants and is lured into a trap. Barely surviving the blast of the bomb that was set for him, Peter is told by his male assailant that he will take everything of value from his life before killing him. The female assailant just wants to kill Peter and get it over with, while accidentally letting their real names slip; Gabriel and Sarah. Peter returns to the police to find some words revealed from what must have been the second page of the letter. The basic gist of the words suggests that Gwen was pregnant, went to Europe and had twins; a boy and girl named Gabriel and Sarah.

Part Three: Peter, knowing that he can't be the father because he never slept with Gwen, sets about trying to see if what he's reading is true and explain way the other two big questions; did Gwen have children and if so, how can they be fully grown despite the relatively short period of time since Gwen's death? Taking a sample from the letter and Gwen's body, Peter as assaulted by Sarah at the lab he is investigating. He unmasks her to see that she is the spitting image of Gwen and barely escapes with his test results. The results confirm that whoever handled the letter is related to Gwen Stacy. As he goes to Mary Jane to tell her this and assure her that she isn't the father, he is surprised to learn that she read the letter and more, that she knows who the father is.

This brings us to Part Four and the major revelation that has a good number of the Spider-Fan community pissed-off. Since there is no gentle way to break this, I am going to come right out and quote the issue.

"I'd gone to seem him seven months earlier about something else and found him sad, upset, almost broken.... and I felt so badly for him, but at the same time under it all, there was this strength, this magnetism... as though there was the person I knew on the outside and deep inside this other person... so powerful, so mysterious. I didn't intend for it to happen. But it was as if there was something so strong inside him that was so strong... I couldn't say no... and the next thing I knew it happened and I knew... I was pregnant."

Months later, after she had the children safely hidden away in Europe, she confronted Norman over his refusal to take Harry Osborn to the hospital in the wake of his drug abuse. Norman feared what such a scandal as his son being a druggie would do the value of his company and Gwen promised him a REAL scandal if Harry didn't get help all the while saying that Norman would never get his hands on her children that Norman insisted were his by right. This conversation was overheard by Mary Jane, whom Gwen ran into in the hallway Gwen then confided in and then swore Mary Jane to secrecy.

I've seen a lot of angry messages about this, complaining of what was done here. And in principle, I agree with all of them. The idea of Gwen Stacy having sex with Norman Osborn is a very distasteful one. Despite that, I cannot fault the story for presenting me with a disturbing image. I cannot fault this story for being badly written. It isn't. I cannot fault this story for not knowing its' history. It does. I do not like the idea of Gwen Stacy having Norman Osborn's kids. It revolts me as much as it does Peter. But as Peter says, "It makes sense."

To all the people who say it is out of Gwen's character to do something like this, I say… how do we know? Gwen's death came about during a time when discussing superhero's sex lives was still verboten material. We were barely able to talk about drugs for educational purposes; scenes of Peter and Gwen getting to second base were right out!

And in this issue, it is revealed that even Peter doesn’t know if Gwen had any experience in high school before he met her in college. He gets sick thinking about the idea of Norman being Gwen's first time, but he doesn't know for sure. None of us know for sure because we've never seen a story about Gwen's life before she met Peter. Until this storyline, we never knew for sure that Peter and Gwen had never slept together. Just because it doesn't happen on the page doesn't mean it never happened.

And even if Gwen did lose her virginity to Norman, it isn't totally out of character. I've had friends in my past who had one-night-stands; friends who were morally upstanding people like Gwen, who I would never see doing such a thing in my life. I think that most of us have. It is entirely possible that Gwen did give Norman a pity-shag without thinking of the consequences. And despite what many fans out there may think… one night does not a "slut" make.

Incidentally, I find it interesting psychologically that many of the very same readers who are rushing to Gwen's defense are freely bandying about the S-word and the W-word.

Besides, we're totally ignoring the idea that there's more to the story than we're seeing here. Norman was a scientific genius who developed a formula that made him stronger and faster than a normal human; a formula that also gave him a superhuman healing factor. Who's to say he couldn't have created a pheromone or something? Gwen's description, as written, suggests that something was making her act towards that end in spite of herself.

And for all the people complaining about how J. Michael Straczynksi is ruining some perfectly good stories, I say phooey! JMS is building on some rather fractured history and, as much as I don't like the idea behind it, explaining away some things that have never been adequately explained. Why did Gwen so suddenly go on a trip to Europe? Why did Norman lay low in Europe of all places after his "death"? The current story explains away both of these points, quite brilliantly.

We still have one issue left. And one issue is a long time in comic books. JMS has caused similar rumblings before (remember the screaming over his "rewriting" Peter's origin some four years or-so ago?) and always managed an interesting story that respected what came before while giving us something interesting. That is really all I can ask for in a comic book writer.

Superman/Batman #12

Since the end of Crisis of Infinite Earths, where she sacrificed herself to save her cousin Superman, there has been a cry out for a new Supergirl. And lo, shortly after John Byrne said they were removing the Supergirl, Super-dog, Super-cat, Super-Horse, Super-Monkey and the entire rainbow of Kryptonites, there was a new Supergirl.

Granted, this Supergirl was a shapeless blob called the Matrix and was a telepathic shape-shifter who had been created by the heroic Lex Luthor of a parallel Earth to travel to our Earth and get help to fight against three Kryptonian Super-Criminals. But it was still the same Supergirl we all knew and loved. Except she then returned to our Earth, promptly fell in love with our Evil Lex Luthor and…

Well, it really isn't best thought of.

And lo, another cry went up; Give us a Supergirl who is a real girl that young female readers can relate to! And Peter David did appear to write a new Supergirl series, which began with a girl named Linda Danvers dying during a Satanic ritual and The Matrix giving itself up to save her life by merging with her.

And it was good; if you were a 40-something guy reading a book meant for young women. Any young female readers hoping to read about the adventures of a super-powered girl would have to wait a few years for The Powerpuff Girls to be created. And in a move that would have gone over like a lead balloon were Jerry Falwell as actively concerned about comic books as he was popular music, Linda became an "earth angel" with fiery wings and became romantically involved with a being who was a mystical merging between a horse, a handsome jockey and an African-American lesbian.

This also is really not best thought of.

And lo the fans said again "Give us a Supergirl who doesn't require a flow-chart to explain who or what she is!" And DC gave Supergirl a new costume, based on the one she was given recently in the Superman Animated Series.

And lo the fans said again "Give us the Supergirl who was Superman's cousin!" And lo, Peter David did work his magic and create a tale. A tale in which the rocket from Krypton, which carried Superman's cousin became lost in time, and landed some several years after it should have and was discovered by Linda Danvers. And lo the rocket did contain Kara Zor-El, the famed and much lamented cousin of Superman who was immediately adopted and introduced to Earth society and whom Linda set about trying to raise and train as her own younger sister.

Alas, it was not to be. For The Powers that Be at DC decided that this first part of what was to be a six-part introductory story did not sell as well as it should have and ordered the book canceled. And so Peter David was forced to backtrack from his original plans to turn Supergirl into a team-book akin to Birds of Prey, forming a triumvirate of Super-women ; Linda, Kara and Power Girl.

(Power Girl had been a version of Supergirl from an alternate Earth BEFORE "The Crisis of Infinite Earths" and was now… well, even more confusing to explain than everything that came before this sentence.)

In the end, Kara was sent back in time because her death was needed to keep Superman from dying and the universe from destroyed. Linda retired from being Supergirl, and just disappeared into comic character limbo. And Power Girl is currently in the book JSA, waiting to get a backstory.

And still did the fans cry for satisfaction. And lo, the Powers that Be at Warner Brothers demanded a Supergirl in the comics, that they might market many cutesy items to young girls. And provide a positive heroic female role model in a slightly more modest costume than what Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl wear.

And so Jeph Loeb, being a fan of all things Superman back in the good old days, set about penning a tale to bring Supergirl; the Supergirl we all know and love despite numerous continuity hiccups back into the mainstream history of DC Comics.

And so it was that a ship bearing Kryptonian writings crashed on Earth and was quickly recovered by Superman and Batman. As was the girl, who vacated said ship and accidentally caused some major property damage after being accosted by several ruffians who had less than pleasant words for a naked blond girl in the streets at night.

Thus did Superman aka Kal-El aka Clark Kent discover that he had a cousin. He was overjoyed and set about showering the girl with love as he now had a connection to the family and the homeworld that he had lost and never truly known. Batman was, as he naturally is, suspicious of such a girl appearing NOW and set about trying to prove that Kara was not who she said she was. And then Wonder Woman found out about the girl, and insisted she come to the Amazon's home island and be given a proper young lady's education… in so far as daily sword-practice and wrestling can be considered proper for a young lady to know.

Sadly, the Amazon island was attacked and Kara kidnapped by the forces of alien despot and long-time Superman enemy Darkseid, who intended to turn Kara into one of his prime foot-soldiers. Taking a dangerous mission to Darkseid's home world of Apokolips, Superman and Batman would (in this most recent issue of Superman/Batman #) rescue Kara. Batman would come up with a cunning plan that would result in the planet's destruction and received Darkseid's word that he would do nothing to strike against Kara again in exchange for not blowing up the planet. They returned home, freed Kara of Darkseid's brainwashing and sometime later, presented her with a gift- a costume modeled on Superman's, made of the same near-unbreakable Kryptonian cloth. And all seemed well and happy, for we now had the Supergirl we had all wanted for some 20 years.

Or so we thought. In the final pages of Superman/Batman #12, as Clark is flying Kara to his parents' farmhouse to introduce them, they are attacked at the door by Darkseid. Darkseid announces that his previous promise does not stop him from killing Superman. As he shoots from his eyes the dreaded Omega Beams, which can destroy anything completely with a gaze, Kara throws herself between Darkseid and Superman, apparently being disintegrated into fine ash instantly.

Fans are outraged, that after all this time Supergirl could be killed so callously, not three pages into her career as a costumed crime-fighter. But we have to ask ourselves: would we really go through this much trouble only to negate it all so quickly? Would DC really backtrack so quickly over such a major decision with so much popular demand riding on it?

Probably. But the fact remains that there is one issue left and we don't know for certain that Kara is really dead. As any student of DC Comics Villain Powers can tell you, Darkseid's Omega Beams CAN destroy a person completely. They can also teleport, time-travel or contain their life force to be restored at a later time.

A more sticking point is the fact that once an Omega Beam has been fired, it homes in on its' intended target. Unless Jeph Loeb has missed a major continuity point (which hasn't happened once in all the many continuity-heavy stories I've seen him write), then Darkseid must have been intending to hit Kara and was counting on her moving towards Superman so it would look like he was the target. Darkseid is an evil strategist and a bloody good one. And it would be just his style to teleport Kara away and make Superman think she was dead.

Of course, I could be totally wrong on this as well. Superman/Batman #13 will tell us for sure.

Green Lantern #181

Let's see. Did Kyle Rayner die? No.

Did he become a murderer and betray everything he stands for? No.

Did he give up being Green Lantern? Almost.

Faced with Major Force, the super-villain who killed his girlfriend and apparently killed his mother in the last issue, Kyle Rayner was fighting mad and ready for blood. Last issue closed with him blasting Major Force several yards and then saying to the downed military man turned super soldier, "Get up, unless you want to die on your knees."

It was an empty threat. Force was willing to bet that despite everything, Kyle was not truly willing to kill him. More, he pointed out that his powers (which bind him to the quantum field of reality) make it impossible for him to be killed without later being reformed. He tried, and almost succeeded in getting Kyle to give the ring up peacefully, pointing out that despite all the good he had done with it, the ring had done little to make Kyle happy on a personal level. It had cost him a girlfriend and indirectly caused him to lose another. But his poor choice of words in praising Kyle's removing the ring….saying that the ring would go to someone who was up to the job… that set Kyle off, prompting a battle that ended with Major Force being dragged into deep space by an angry Green Lantern.

In the end, Kyle told Major Force that while he couldn't die, "there are worse things than dying." To that end, Kyle beheaded Major Force, cauterized the wound instantly so the nuclear energy inside him wouldn't be dispersed, sealed his head in a bubble and then hit it into space with the help of a ring-created tennis-player. In the end, Kyle decides there is nothing left for him on Earth except his mother (who it turns out was not really dead) and that his presence will just put her in danger. He decides to return to deep space, hoping that maybe there he can find a place where he is needed and can belong.

What will become of Kyle? Perhaps Green Lantern: Rebirth #1 will have some answers. But based on what I've seen so far, it seems unlikely that the Kyle-haters will have their way and have a full-blown execution with full dishonors and removal of his JLA parking privileges.

Hellblazer #200

Actually, there's nothing much at all about this book that has the fanboys pissed off. I just thought I'd mention it on account of it being a bloody good read and well worth the mentioning. Give 'er a shot. And Cheers!

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. NEW Matt Website.

No comments:

Post a Comment