Wednesday, January 04, 2006

2005 In Review, Part 4: We've Avoided It Long Enough

It hasn't been easy to sort through my feelings about the mega-story which has been running through the DC superhero books since the summer of 2004. I did feel baited-and-switched at the end of Identity Crisis, since I had supposed it to be a self-contained story, not the spark of a longer fuse. What's more, this is a 2005-in-review essay, and the actual Infinite Crisis miniseries still isn't at its halfway point.

Therefore, by way of concluding my look back at last year, let's focus on the five summer miniseries which set up the event, and the series affected most by it.

Greg Rucka's two ongoing series, The Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman, started the year with their own storylines, but soon became wholly-owned subsidiaries of Infinite Crisis. I thought WW was the better series, because I was never quite sure Rucka really had the same kind of handle on Superman. Not that Rucka didn't have his moments on Adventures, most notably the last Mr. Mxyzptlk story; but for a while his Wonder Woman was really firing on all cylinders, on par with the best of his superhero work.

That makes WW's surrender to Infinite Crisis and its machinations all the more puzzling. Judging by the most recent installments, Diana will close out her first 19-year post-Crisis series having failed utterly at her mission to enlighten Patriarch's World through Amazon philosophy. Regardless of whether this will usher in a new era of fantastic Amazonian adventure in 2006, it's still a depressing way to end a tenure, and a series, which made the most out of the character's potential.

Another post-Crisis book being ushered out by Infinite Crisis is Superman, although it's the 19-year-old book, not the 66-year-old one now set to regain its original title. After finishing up Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee's inconsistent "For Tomorrow," Mark Verheiden and Ed Benes took over in order to tell a series of stories about people becoming paranoid of Superman. While not a direct tie-in to Infinite Crisis at first, its connection grew stronger until it too was subsumed into the larger story. Thus, two out of the three (or four, counting Superman/Batman) Superman titles spent most of 2005 complementing Infinite Crisis, which made for an unrelentingliy dark take on the character.

JLA was the last of the regular series I read which tied into Infinite Crisis, and it was the most consistently entertaining. The year started with the unrelated Kurt Busiek/Ron Garney "Syndicate Rules," which recalled Busiek's glory days on Avengers and contained a few clever mirror-Earth moments to boot. However, even the knowledge that Infinite Crisis elements were upcoming was enough to taint what might otherwise have been meant as moments of genuine character interaction and/or drama. Now those moments were "oh no, they're starting to fight and The League Will Never Be The Same!" Surprisingly, though, when "Crisis of Conscience" began, it turned out to be a good Justice League story for the most part, even if it did end with some awkward setup for Infinite Crisis and the book's final arc. Now, the current "World Without A Justice League" is just marking time until the end. It consists of unremarkable arguments, strung together by a slow-moving Key plot, and it is probably interesting only to longtime fans who at last get to see Satellite-era Leaguers interacting on a case again.

DC Special: The Return Of Donna Troy wasn't billed as an Infinite Crisis lead-in, but her multiple-choice history made her a good choice to realize that the Multiverse wasn't quite forgotten. Beyond that, it was an adequate New Titans story which made more sense if one had just read Wolfman and Perez's "Who Is Wonder Girl?" from The New Titans #s 50-54. I read those issues in 1988-89 when they first came out, but I was glad of the paperback reprinting them this summer.

Now for the main events. I have written already about the bulk of The OMAC Project, Villains United, The Rann-Thanagar War, and Day of Vengeance. (I also did a "2/3 mark" essay back in October.) Villains United turned out to be the best of the four, followed by OMAC, Rann-Thanagar, and DoV. I initially resisted buying Day of Vengeance, and I still think it was the weakest of the three for its treatment of the Spectre. True, the Spectre has been set up for the past several years as an instrumentality of God, which necessarily makes him a tough character to make interesting, but "horny" is still a very hard choice to justify.

Thankfully, Infinite Crisis itself has been pretty good. The lead-in miniseries do seem to have helped streamline InfC's plot, leaving room for Geoff Johns and Phil Jiminez to craft their tale as a standalone story. I haven't read the three issues on their own, but so far I don't think anything major has happened outside their pages. Jiminez especially seems to be enjoying himself, filling the series with allusions to classic DC stories and the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.

It is the nature of current serialized superhero comics that creators don't think fans will accept wholesale changes without being taken along for the process step-by-step. Another version of this was on display in Supreme Power, and the deliberate speed at which that series crept along really turned me off. However, the Infinite Crisis machine set up a number of minor events which could be checked off the list as each little story arc played out. Therefore, instead of devoting X number of issues to accomplish one huge goal, DC let readers choose the little goals they wanted to follow, and the strategy seems to have worked so far.

Still, I don't know if I will want to revisit the "checklist" for a while after it's all over. There's an old saying that "you might like sausage, but you don't want to see how it was made." As far as Infinite Crisis is concerned, 2005 may be remembered as the year in which the sausage-making was put on full display. I'm now ready for the sausage of 2006.

1 comment:

David N. Scott said...

True, the Spectre has been set up for the past several years as an instrumentality of God, which necessarily makes him a tough character to make interesting, but "horny" is still a very hard choice to justify.

Oh, so very true. His invoking 'the Universe' was odd, but mostly just cosmetic... the hooking up with Eclipso, though...