Archives for posts with tag: multiverse

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For trade readers, April has seen a lot of action along the fringes of the Superman meta-narrative. Elseworlds, alternate Earths, alternate timelines, clones, and adaptations- we live in a time of many Supermen. I’ve written previously on how Batman is preparing us for travel through the multiverse and today I’m going to discuss how Superman’s multiple existences in the multiverse allow us to confront and cope with some of our fears- or rather, just one fear: evil Superman. (bad Superman?)

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This month saw the publication of three trades that deal with an alternate Superman and each of these alternate Superman are more evil than the Superman archetype. Each of these titles stand among some of the best DC is publishing- compelling stories that twist the Man of Steel into a reflection of the terrors associated with absolute power and nigh-invulnerability.

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In Earth-2 Vol. 5: The Kryptonian, a Superman under the control of Darkseid has come to post-Apokolips Earth-2 to bring about a revival of Apokoliptian terror. The fear that our greatest heroes will come under the power of tyrants is not an irrational fear and Earth-2 is full of deceitful authorities coming from all angles.

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The heroes of Earth-2, including a Red Tornado Lois Lane, attempt to use Clark’s adopted parents Jonathan and Martha Kent to bring Superman to his senses. This strategy is common when trying to calm Superman down. It seems very natural to us because we believe that humanity is what makes Superman good which is all sorts of problematic, but it comforts us to think that our way of life could keep a god from doing terrible things, which is odd in itself as many comfort themselves by worshiping a god that does in fact do terrible things and swear allegiance to an employer who might not care if they live or die.

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In Justice League 3000, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Batman have been resurrected alongside Superman in a morally questionable experiment completed by the Wonder Twins in the distant future.

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These Wonder Twins differ greatly from the original Wonder Twins and that can be said for all of the members of the Justice League. Of these not-exactly-cloned clones, Superman falls the shortest of his legacy.

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Here, Superman is a sex-crazed blood-thirsty idiot who keeps forgetting that he no longer has the power to fly. This depiction of an imbecilic Superman preys upon the same fear that perpetuates the dumb jock stereotype and inspired so much protest against George W. Bush’s presidency. We are afraid of the stupid and the powerful. Being powerless in the face of mediocrity can feel worse than being powerless in the face of brilliance- here, there is no respect for the fool leading you, no hope.

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In Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Two, the story of a Superman driven to vengeful murder and then obsessive fascism continues as more and more DC Comics characters try to make sense of this totalitarian Last Son of Krypton. I’ve really enjoyed Injustice. When it first came out, I avoided it because I didn’t want to read a comic book based on a video game, but when I heard Mike Miller, one of the artists, speak about it at Dragon Con (and then subsequently found a copy of the first trade for $5), I decided to pick it up. Immediately I was impressed at how well Tom Taylor grasped the characters. I should mentioned that Tom Taylor wrote about this fascist Superman and also wrote the Earth-2 Darkseid-controlled Superman. Maybe he has an irrational fear of Superman and his therapist suggested he work through those issues by bringing his fears to their absurd conclusion. In Year One, Superman ended war. In Year Two, Superman must figure out a way to keep the peace. To do so, he needs an army and Lex Luthor has developed a pill that will allow normal humans to rock and roll all night while simultaneously partying every day. The pill even let Alfred beat up Superman.

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Superman’s motivation towards absolute rule comes from the Joker tricking him into killing Lois Lane, their unborn child, and the entire city of Metropolis. Superman just wants to keep everybody safe. This motivation creates a very different totalitarian Superman than the classic Red Son where Superman’s drive towards a one-world government-dictatorship is more philosophical than emotional. All these stories of Superman going over the edge really make me want to reread Red Son. In both cases, Batman is there to oppose him. In Earth-2 and Justice League 3000, alternate Batmans prove to be the voice of reason in the face of a radically imperfect Superman.

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All of this evil Superman stuff just off the heels of Forever Evil, a storyline than spanned nearly the entire New 52 universe and featured Ultraman, the Crime Syndicate’s answer to Superman, as one of its main villains.

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As well as Superman works as a metaphor for absolute good, he also works quite well as a metaphor for absolute evil.

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beyondgoodandevil

“And the Justice League is dead,” announces Ultraman in the first issue of Geoff Johns and David Finch’s mini-series Forever Evil, the main book of the DC Comics event of the same name that resurrects the Crime Syndicate. “And Jesus wept,” John recalls as he tells the resurrection of Lazarus. If the DC Universe died when the New 52 initiative began, Forever Evil is a way of telling those bemoaning the reboot to stop weeping because that old universe has come back to life. The event certainly shook up the New 52, but has only left the universe stronger for it. Remember that Lazarus lived an additional 30 years after his resurrection and that was spent mostly signing autographs and trying not to laugh.

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Forever Evil tells a great threat to our world and features a lot of villains. The great threat is employed to expose the more intimate natures of DC Comics fan-favorite villains. The threat comes from the Crime Syndicate, an alternate and “evil” version of the Justice League, with a roster of villains that correspond to members of the Justice League.

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The Crime Syndicate comes from Earth-3, a parallel Earth that resembles Earth-1 but lives under the thumb of the Crime Syndicate. An over-simplified assessment could describe Earth-3 similarly to the original conception of Qward, a place where evil is law- right is wrong and wrong is right, but the narrative of Forever Evil shows the impossibility of such an idea by showing how the villains of Earth-1 themselves are beyond good and evil. Earth-3 is not the opposite of Earth-1, but rather an Earth where those in power care even less for the people than those in power in ours. While the spirit of the Crime Syndicate is nastily selfish and sadistic, the people of Earth-3 are quite aware of the boot stamping on their face- forever (evil).

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The Crime Syndicate hope to recruit the villains of Earth-1 but encounter some resistance. This resistance comes from major villains like Catwoman, Lex Luthor, Black Manta, Black Adam, and the Rogues. More minor villains like Blockbuster and Parasite have an easier time towing the line. The Crime Syndicate do a few things that irk the villains and it’s hard to say if these actions are even evil based on their motivations and the villain’s reactions. For Ultra-Man’s survival and strength, he blocks the sun with the moon, something that pisses off most Earth-1 residents and particularly Poison Ivy. Black Manta opposes them because they “killed” Aquaman and his anger does not come from grief for the “fallen” Atlantean, but because the Syndicate robbed him of the chance to kill him. It is the autocratic imposing of their will upon the nations and people of Earth-1 that angers both Lex Luthor and Black Adam- two individuals who pride themselves in their abilities to impose their will on others. The Rogues initially consider joining the Crime Syndicate until the Crime Syndicate orders them to destroy their own home towns, the Gem Cities. The Rogues, of course, have long been known to stick to a no-kill code and their motivations clearly financial, so their repulsion at the thought of decimating Central City and Keystone City makes perfect sense. Two-Face’s response is typically loyal to the outcome of his coin flip.

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The Forever Evil story has been published in trade form over the past five or six weeks. As with most big events, the choices made by DC Comics in publishing the collected event cause a Groundhog Day-like disruption of narrative. The action of Forever Evil can be found in many places throughout DC’s catalog. Events unfolded in the Forever Evil mini-series itself, Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S., Forever Evil: Arkham War, Forever Evil Aftermath: Batman Vs. Bane, Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, Constantine, many of the “Villains Month” titles, and a scattering of other titles. Some events and even panels repeat in different issues- the Rogues breaking Trickster out of Iron Heights, for example. What DC Comics generally does when there is a major event like this, they publish the trades based on the title rather than the timeline. This makes the reading experience for the trade reader (myself) distinct from the experience of the issue-reader who sees each piece of the story unfold simultaneously, much safer from spoilers. I’ve heard and read trade readers complain about this and admit some discontent myself. The phenomenon hits Green Lantern fans repeatedly. Another curse is that in collecting the trades, you end up with multiple printings of the same issue as experienced in Throne of Atlantis and Rotworld events. The Forever Evil: Blight trade contains issues that readers of Justice League Dark, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, and Constantine will find already in the collected trades of those individual series. It’s a bit of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-dont-paradox that leaves comics readers either missing out on chunks of story or buying multiples printings of the same material. As DC has spaced out the release of each trade, there is an implied order to reading them. Forever Evil: Arkham War and Forever Evil: Blight actually works pretty well independent of the main Forever Evil series, but Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S and Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion are entirely dependent on the events of the main series.

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For those readers who are considering only one additional Forever Evil beyond the main series, here is a breakdown of what you can expect:

Arkham War is obviously written with Batman fans in mind despite having very little actual Batman in it. It’s written by one of my favorite writers Peter Tomasi and I believe they picked the worst possible picture for the cover. The art within is so much better than the close-up face-off of Bat-Bane and Batman. It is predominantly a Bane story, but features a whole slew of Batman’s enemies including Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Penguin, Killer Croc, Man-Bat, Pyg, and Clayface.

A.R.G.U.S. centers largely around Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, making it a book for Wonder-Woman fans despite the fact Steve Trevor hasn’t really appeared in the pages of Wonder Woman. It is more closely related to Justice League, Suicide Squad, Justice League of America, and the secret agent-y government-y titles. The major villains are Killer Frost, Cheetah, and Deathstroke. Among the lesser villains, Cheetah leads a cool-looking pack of anthropomorphic antagonists. While it tells the back story of an important plot point to the greater Forever Evil narrative, it is probably the weakest, in both story and art, of all the Forever Evil subplots.

Rogues Rebellion is a story for Flash fans, obviously. It features the usual lineup of Captain Cold, Trickster, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and Glider. Classic Flash baddies Pied Piper and Gorilla Grodd appear as well. Several character more normally associated with Batman makes appearances; the Rogues find themselves transported to Gotham where they encounter Victor Zsasz, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, and Black Mask.  In addition, there are quite a few second-stringers like Black Bison, Parasite, and the Royal Flush Gang making appearances. This book more than any of the others, including the main series, celebrates the community of villains operating in the DC Universe.

Blight is a Pandora story that stars John Constantine. It is readers who have been following the Dark family of titles and have familiarized themselves with the Trinity War event. This story is important to the entire plot mainly because Pandora’s box is what enables the Crime Syndicate to come over to Earth-1. It retains the feel of Justice League Dark and if you like that, you’ll like this book. If you’re expecting some Vertigo-eqsue tome, you will be disappointed and I recommend you read Rotworld for something closer to that experience.

All in all, I see Forever Evil and titles like World’s Finest and The Multiversity in the same way other comics speculators have already said: DC Comics is gearing up for an infinite crisis of infinite proportion. I’m excited. I feel I’m much better prepared to understand it than I am to understand Infinite Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is a book for its time. Will my generation’s crisis overdo the crises of the past? If Forever Evil is any indication, I believe it will.

 

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One day our consciousnesses or rather those of our descendants will be able to perceive the multi-verse, defy space and time, and engage in a logic beyond the childish way you and I have been thinking. As our cells ready the coming mutations and our technologies reflect our peculiar ambitions, we grasp for examples that can anchor us in the blurred existential hurricane that is surely multi-versal living. One Virgil to our Dante in this exciting stage of development is the Batman. We are living in an age where people are living in multiple Batman universes. A noticeable portion of the world population coexists with multiple Batmans. While Batman is not unique in this and certainly not among other comic heroes, Batman is special. His multiple universes are more fully developed than any other superhero.

Look at some of the universes that continue to expand:

New 52 Batman (This universe is the same (sort of) as the Justice League War animated movie universe, but not necessarily the Son of Batman animated movie universe. Batman of the New 52 is complicated because he and Green Lantern have a lot more history than Superman and other heroes, making this particular universe great exercise for our evolving brains. All of which has been twisted even more strangely with the all whole Zero Year timing and whatever Jonah Hex and Dr. Arkham get into in the past. Of all the characters in the New 52, Batman holds the distinction of appearing in the most titles with no serious competition for the honor. At any given time, well over 10 creators at DC Comics are working on Batman stories.)

New 52 Batman Earth-2 (where he is notably the father of Huntress/Robin)

Lil Gotham (Here we find familiar characters celebrating familiar holidays)

Batman ’66 (A reflection of the old Batman TV Show universe, itself a reflection of the Silver Age Batman universe and the Warholian utopia/dystopia of the Swinging Sixties- it’s not inception, it’s not an Alanis Morrissette song, it’s more like Medeski Martin & Wood playing their own arrangement of an American jazz song about French people impersonating Chinese porcelain work)

Batman Earth One (Remember this gem from a few years ago? Will there be a Volume 2?)

Injustice (The storyline constitutes multiple universes itself and features multiple Batmans)

Batman Arkham (This universe has its fair share of continuity problems, especially when it dabbled in the prequel arts with Arkham Origins)

Zack Snyder Universe (where the Dark Knight is portrayed by the kid on Voyage of the Mimi)

LEGO Batman (and arguably LEGO Movie Batman is a separate universe; the missus and I recently assembled a LEGO batmobile tumbler, the ride from the Nolanverse, which would be a separate universe from the LEGO Batman universe as it exists in most of the sets, the video games, and the LEGO Batman movie (and, again, the LEGO Movie))

The upcoming Gotham TV series (This universe, much like other universes, rearranges chronology without causing major rifts to meaning. This phenomenon is one of the more popular Elseworlds literary devices- it relies on the familiar to give its new universe strength and recognizes time as a variable, not a constant.)

DCU Online/Infinite Crisis (The online playable universes of the DC multi-verse are (or have the potential to be) some of the highest functioning universes outside of the metanarrative (and what, dear readers, is the Batman metanarrative?))

JL8 (Yale Stewart’s charming running comic of Justice League members as kids is one of many amazing fan-created universes out there. Don’t we all have our own Batman universes that we’ve created? When kids play with Batman toys, they create narratives and become architects of our practice multiverse. Also there’s a bit of perverted Bat-fiction, even pornographic productions of the highest quality. I think Lexi Belle makes a more convincing batgirl than Sunny Lane, but it’s amazing that the modern Batman reader even has a choice in selecting their adult film Barbara Gordon.)

Meanwhile, many Batman universes that we accept as being closed continue to remain alive in our consciousnesses:

The Nolanverse (A self-contained universe spanning three films, the Dark Knight trilogy has solidified itself as my generation’s  onscreen Batman, forcing me to face all the issues surrounding my own mortality as a new Batman, Batfleck, appears in the near future. A glitch in this universe transforms Batman’s love interest into a more talented actress between films.)

Batman: The Animated Series (Hardly the only time the Dark Knight has been animated, but one that resonates so strongly and featured the work of true legends like Marv Wolfman and Denny O’Neil. The show also introduced Harley Quinn who quickly transuniversed across the multiverse into established Batman universes.)

The Dark Knight Returns universe (Frank Miller’s classic Elseworlds story had new life breathed into it with last year’s animated film. This story, closely tied to the zeitgeist (equal parts apathy and fascism) of the 1980s, continues to help readers, and now viewers, transport to a time when Batman was disappointed in both the hippies and the conservatives.)

Jeph Loeb has provided two separate Batman universes. With Tim Sale, he created the Long Halloween universe, which is not much of a departure from Frank Miller’s Year One universe. Later Loeb launches the Superman/Batman series, which brings Supergirl back to the DC universe in a form I believe far superior to the Supergirl that died back in Crisis on Infinite Earths- itself being a primer on balancing an overwhelming multi-verse with an accessible story (with varying degrees of success)

Year 100, DC One Million (Paul Pope and Grant Morrisson probably walk with each foot in a different universe at all times.)

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (This very short yet poignant set of mixed up eulogies for the Dark Knight delivered by his closest friends and enemies provides multiple alternate histories for the Dark Knight. One of the very few Batman stories that Neil Gaiman has written.)

This list could really go on and on as Batman has been featured in an overwhelming amount of material and a good chunk of that remains relevant to the modern Batman reader. When humanity is confronted with what will surely be the greatest existential crisis we will face collectively up to that point, I believe the modern Batman readers will have contributed to the evolutionary process that will enable our collective consciousness to navigate an open multiverse. Also net neutrality will prove to be even more important than even Tim Wu currently anticipates, but he deserves some credit too- not as much as Batman, but some.

 

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