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A buncha zeroes

Brian Hibbs

Yeah, so the DC “Zero month”, hows that working out?

(I know this is lazy bloggery, finding an easy theme and going from there, but in my defense it took me longer to write the Tilting than I thought it was going to take, and I gave Kimbrough the weekend, so I’ve been working a crazy lot recently. I’m sleepy!)

 

One thing I’m not going to do is be all dumb and try to review each and every one of these comics — my head still aches from doing that with the #1s. So, just overviewy time, I think. Let’s start with some new books?

 

PHANTOM STRANGER #0: There are some characters — like, say, Wolverine — who stay much more interesting when there’re bits of them shrouded in mystery. Knowing that ol’ Logan used to be a foppish little child who wore a night dress… well it kind of diminishes him, I think. Much the same with the Phantom Stranger, whose very appeal IS IN HIS NAME. “I…am a stranger.”

So, turning him (actually) into Judas Iscariot (with his trademark ’70s love-disk necklace becoming the literal 30 pieces of silver) is… well, ill-considered, at best, right?

What you need to remember is that when there was an issue of “Secret Origins” about The Phantom Stranger in the 80s, DC was clever enough to give him four different possible origins. That’s smart, and really kind of amusing really. But, no, today we need to be all literal. Ugh.

It’s a bad idea though to really underline that both the God of the Old Testament and the “Council of Wizards” on display here who are handing out apparently handing out god-like powers and conditions and, like, the Greco-Roman pantheons all exist in the same world. You CAN make it work, but mostly by God being indirect, but in this first issue we’re already well off the rails, as Dan Didio conflates The Phantom Strangers origin with that of The Spectre. Oh boy.

So, follow along: PS *is* Judas, condemned to “walk this land until the debt for your sins is paid”. And, when PS levels up, one of the thirty pieces of silver drops from his chain. (!)

So, let’s think about the storytelling problems with this set-up.

First and foremost, “Redeeming Judas” is a fairly distasteful Plot — 30 level-ups and PS is forgiven for killing the Son of God, really? We’re going to make Adolph Hitler the next Green Lantern, next? Yikes!

The second problem is that PS’ first level-up comes from encouraging Jimmy Corrigan along a path that makes him The Spectre. In other words, he earns his first level-up from essentially *betraying* Corrigan, not helping him. This version of God is a supremely large asshole, doncha think? Didio tries to kind of be coy about the involvement of God by being all “I’m not sure whose Voice it really is”, but this is all put to a lie at the end when the Voice clearly has the power to not only create, but to control The Spectre.

Theologically, cosmologically, this thing is just a horrid mess — it feels like the kind of idea come up with at 3 in the morning, the night before your solicitation copy is due, when someone panics and points out that someone counted wrong, and you only have 51 books in the third wave. It’s just possible that maybe, the setup could be messaged to make work, but it would take a much more skilled writer than Didio to rise above the errors of the plot.

Brent Anderson’s art is nice, of course, but otherwise this comic is a fairly insane mess. Flatly AWFUL.

 

TEAM 7 #0: Here’s a book whose premise I really don’t understand: is it meant to be permanently set in the past? It’s a “flashback” series? That won’t work, not with these characters, at least… ugh, and my first week sales really show that (3 copies only? ruh roh). Wow, I’ll be selling zero copies by issue #6 for certain.

The problem is, kinda, that this is retarded: they won’t tell us the backstories of, say, the JLA in the “five year gap”, but they want people to buy a team that includes Grifter and Deathstroke… characters in the bottom 20% of DC sales? And that it is a mixed hybrid of WS and DCU at that? Ew. It’s all guns and ammo pouches and belts and shoulder pads… and really nothing that almost anyone in the modern audience is really interested in at all.

The other problem is there are at least 9 team members introduced in this first issue (but only seven on the cover, so guessing a few of those are introduced-to-die), plus “control” from Lynch — and introducing all of THAT doesn’t leave any room for, y’know, actual plot.

I’m giving this a Thumbs Down, but from pure craft, it’s not any worse than OK.

 

EARTH 2 #0: I was really wondering how the LAST wave of books was going to work, considering they had just started and all that, and here’s one answer: it feels like James Robinson had no idea what to do with this interruption to his world building — most of this issue is really just a minor redo of issue #1, now with more Terry Sloan. Pity, I was groovin’ on this until now. OK.

 

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #0: Some of these books are playing “fast and loose” with continuity, and this one might be a good example: Guy Gardner has a TOTALLY different origin here than in the original comics — here, he’s the fully trained sector partner of Hal Jordan, plus he’s a failed cop from a family of cops. In the original, Guy was a gym teacher who missed being a GL by a few feet, geographically, then was rescued from a coma by a rogue Guardian during the first Crisis. So… I guess none of those Englehart/Staton issues actually happened, then? But… if none of that happened, then… how did Hal ultimately go nuts, and become Parallax, which lead to the Rebirth, which lead to the Blackest Night? Add that to the other characters that couldn’t have participated in that story, then how was GL #1 a follow-up to Brightest Day? Oh god, oh god, my head hurts! THIS is why the “five year gap” simply doesn’t work — you tug on one thread and all of a sudden all of the rest of it falls apart.

If you want a laugh (or maybe I’m the only one who is laughing), go look up the Wiki page for Guy Gardner and watch how BOTH his pre- and post-DCnU are expressed on the page, jumping back and forth between them paragraph by paragraph. Silly.

This new origin is pretty EH — it makes Guy Just Another Corpsman, rather than the complex contradiction he used to be. Oh Well.

 

GREEN LANTERN #0: It’s actually kind of nice to read a #0 that’s contemporary, AND an origin, AND will be followed up directly next month. The new GL is Muslim-American — how timely. And, of course, his “origin” involves 9/11 and being mistaken for a terrorist. OF COURSE.

And, sure, 9/11. 2001. Which is made explicit in GL #0, since it’s more than 10 years ago, by captions. But, of course, BATMAN #0 takes place “six years ago”… making Bruce and Kal and everything else explicitly post-“War on Terror” and, Jesus, doesn’t THAT change the characters dramatically? And that, folks, is why you NEVER tie superhero comics to explicit dates or historical events — my son was 3 years old when the JLA started? *headsplode*

Anyway, back to GL — I’m pretty cool with this new setup, except for the cover, I think — why does the muslim GL have to wear a gimp mask and carry a gun (!) when he’s got a MAGIC WISHING RING on the end of his fist? Why wear a mask like that when your EXTREMELY DISTINCTIVE tattoo is all lit up in green light?

But, even with all of that, this COULD work… if only GL didn’t launch into a four-month, four-book crossover next month. *sigh*

Even with all that, I kind of thought it was a low GOOD.

 

BATMAN #0: As I noted before, this goes the furthest back in the “near past”, set SIX years ago. But, I think this might have been one of the most effective #0s I’ve read so far as it really did try to add to the legend of Batman, showing us something we’ve never seen before, with pre-costume batman-ing. And, I frankly loved the backup story (mostly from the art by Andy Clarke), even with the whole Jason’s-an-accessory-to-murder bit (which is reasonably fine with his character) — so, yeah, I’m going to say this one is VERY GOOD, even if the timeline makes zero sense.

 

OK, books almost arriving today, I’m out of time… as always, what did YOU think?

-B

31 Responses to “ A buncha zeroes ”

  1. “So, turning him (actually) into Judas Iscariot (with his trademark ’70s love-disk necklace becoming the literal 30 pieces of silver) is… well, ill-considered, at best, right?”

    Right. At very best.

  2. The only Zero issue of the above that I picked up was Batman 0, which i also thought was very good. I try to stay away from anything that seems too influenced by Jones/Didio/Lee.

    I passed on Earth 2 as it just doesn’t seem to be realizing its potential.

  3. To pull at that GL thread some more… in the New 52, did Doomsday/Death of Superman/Reign of the Supermen ever happen? It sure seems like it didn’t, right? But if it didn’t happen, then how did Hal Jordan go nuts, given that he was pushed over the edge by the Cyborg Superman nuking Coast City? Did Emerald Twilight not happen now? And if Hal didn’t go nuts, and didn’t become Parallax, wouldn’t that mean some fairly dramatic changes to the last however many years of Green Lantern stories, none of which seems to have happened?

  4. *First and foremost, “Redeeming Judas” is a fairly distasteful Plot — 30 level-ups and PS is forgiven for killing the Son of God, really? We’re going to make Adolph Hitler the next Green Lantern, next? Yikes!*

    I think DC being too specifically Christian in their stories could certainly be problematic, and it sure sounds like they were kind of hedging on parts of this, but I don’t find “redeeming Judas” all THAT disstasteful.

    Judas got kind of a bum deal, as sure, he dropped a dime on Jesus, but what if he DIDN’T? That would sorta undo the whole plan, and Jesus’ foreknowledge that he was going to be betrayed also suggests a predetermined universe where Judas might not have been acting on his own free will, but rather as a pawn in a cosmic plot.

    Of course, I may have been overly-influenced by JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, which, at this point in my life, I’ve probably seen more times than I’ve read the Gospels…

    I was kinda fascinated that The Phantom Judas and his coins appeared in a DC comic the same week that DC released JUDAS COIN, which opens with Judas and follows one of his coins through DCU history.

  5. “First and foremost, “Redeeming Judas” is a fairly distasteful Plot — 30 level-ups and PS is forgiven for killing the Son of God, really? We’re going to make Adolph Hitler the next Green Lantern, next? Yikes!”

    You don’t know anything about theology, do you? Or Christianity, for that matter. It’s best if you criticize the comic on its own merits because when you try to be snarky you come off as ignorant.

  6. “First and foremost, “Redeeming Judas” is a fairly distasteful Plot — 30 level-ups and PS is forgiven for killing the Son of God, really?”

    There’s a pretty deep tradition of sympathizing with (or at least understanding) the plight of Judas, actually. In the Bible, Judas returns the silver, and hangs himself in remorse. Many have speculated that Judas didn’t realize that having him arrested would lead to his death. Just as Peter denied Jesus three times, in accordance with his master’s prophesy, Judas had a role to play in the drama of the crucifixion.

    So while the writing of the comic may be bad, to place a redeemable Judas on the same plain as a redeemed Green Lantern Hitler is a tad off-base IMHO.

  7. Wow, the Green Arrow #0 issue (I confess I skimmed it in a shop) was insultingly poorly done… hate to be a hater.

  8. Redeeming Judas may be forgivable. Dan Didio writing it… is not.

  9. To be clear (er?): the redemptive forgiveness and love of God is a wonderful thing, but to use the story of Judas in such a reductive way in a comic book setting with video-game style (I swear, I pictured Scott Pilgrim as PS) power-ups is badly wrong-headed, in my opinion.

    If it works for you, more awesome for ya’

    -B

  10. As someone who only occasionally dips his toe in the Green Lantern universe, I thought the #0 issue was pretty great. I ended up really liking Simon Baz as a character and was planning to see what they did with him…until I remembered that GL is launching into another multi-part crossover. I may actually pick up JLA #1 now, since he’s a member – I certianly hadn’t been planning to beforehand. But any desire follow the GL series has been stamped out.

  11. I gave the Team 7 issue a try and wasn’t disappointed. It got a good write up at the AV Club, and i keep hoping one of the “Dark” titles can carry a War comic theme. This seems pretty close, with lots of ’90s tone, but a good move towards something a little more contemporary, or at least Rucka-esque.

  12. I think the Phantom Stranger comic needs to go into my “too-awful-to-be-real” mini collection. I have the Rise of Arsenal series in there. (People think I’m making it up when I give them a mini-recap. When they read it, their first reaction is, “I don’t believe this is a real thing that exists!”) I have OMD in there. And I think I have some batshit crazy Aquaman comic where he was present for the birth of Jesus. I need to go read that one again. It was also written by Dan DiDio.

  13. “PS *is* Judas, condemned to “walk this land until the debt for your sins is paid”. And, when PS levels up, one of the thirty pieces of silver drops from his chain.”

    “PS’ first level-up comes from encouraging Jimmy Corrigan along a path that makes him The Spectre.”

    So he wandered around for 2000 years before doing anything?

  14. I think the only reasonable way to incorporate Biblical concepts into superhero universes is to bring Jack Kirby back from the dead and have him do them as crazy alien space gods with excitingly chunky Kirbytech. I would buy every issue of JACK KIRBY’S YAHWEH!

  15. The frustrating thing about PS is that Didio really does nail his voice. The dialogue is lovely. But on top of all of the other problems listed here, he’s turned Phantom Stranger from an agent of Fate to its pawn, giving us a character who, in order to function, must remain a step behind from the forces stringing him on. Which is a terrible place to put the hero of any book.

  16. ‘First and foremost, “Redeeming Judas” is a fairly distasteful Plot — 30 level-ups and PS is forgiven for killing the Son of God, really? ‘

    ? I haven’t read PS and it’s a long time since I’ve read the Bible so maybe I’m being a bit thick but didn’t Judas only betray Jesus(if you believe the Bible)? He didn’t actually kill him ablit maybe indirectly if he knew the punishment would be death?

    And doesn’t Jesus teach forgiveness for all sins/crimes?

  17. I don’t understand why Kurt Busiek has a desk full of Astro City scripts, but Brent Anderson is working on stuff like this.

  18. Caleb:

    If a mother knows her young son well enough to know, with pretty good accuracy, that he’ll try to snatch a cookie from the cooling rack if she steps out of the kitchen, her imperfect and incomplete knowledge of her son’s character doesn’t force him to act or have ANY effect on what he decides to do. In the same way, God’s perfect knowledge — and His existing outside of time — allows Him to determine what will happen in terms of DISCERNING the future, not necessarily DICTATING the future.

    Jason:

    It seems that Christian tradition points to Judas as a warning rather than portray him sympathetically: we must not presume that we are incapable of betraying or denying the Lord, not if Judas and Peter could do such things. Dante gave Judas the worst punishment in the innermost circle of Hell, and the Gospels are clear that Judas’ disagreements with Jesus were rooted in quite mercenary motives, John 12:6 noting that Judas was a theif who invoked the poor to line his own pockets.

    For myself, I don’t the notion of redemption even for a traitor like Judas, but the Christian view insists on redemption through faith in Christ, not through any works on our own, much less a hokey gimmick that echoes the short-lived TV show Black Jack Savage.

    And, honestly, it’s bad enough that comic-book characters rarely stay dead without dragging in biblical characters whose deaths are clearly recorded. The Vandal Savage premise of Cain having survived millennia is at least clever in its use of the fact that Cain’s death wasn’t recorded in Genesis — and the speculation that God’s protection from being killed by other men preserved him even from death by natural causes. There was a rumor recorded in John 21:23 that the apostle wouldn’t die, and the apostle noted only that Jesus told Peter that John’s fate wasn’t Peter’s business; tradition holds that John did live longer than any of the other apostles, and that he died in exile while the others were martyred, so one would wiggle into an immortal John story — or John and Abel, wandering together or separately trying to find each other like Highlanders — but NOT Judas. The Bible is clear enough about his fate.

    The whole issue of metaphysics does get to me.

    Final Crisis had the Spirit of Vengeance of the pseudo-Christian God fighting in a side battle of Darkseid’s — and easily defeated by Mandrakk the Multiverse Vampire — and it’s grating to put even fictional Jehovah in some sort of heirarchy under Kirby’s New Gods and the Multiverse Monitors.

    In general, it’s usually not worth the trouble — and the attempt is rarely successful — to try an explicit blending of the different metaphysics behind characters who were created separately. Superman and Green Lantern’s space origins just don’t gel well with the Greek pantheon of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, to say NOTHING of the somewhat more naturalistic noir of Batman, and so it’s best not to try to make everything fit.

  19. “Bubba”,

    Yeah, I can see that. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with seeing free will and God’s foreknowledge as being a either/or, versus sort of thing. Like I said, I was thinking of that scene in Jesus Christ Superstar where Judas was all like, “Waaaiiiit a minute, what if I DON’T go? What if I just sit here and screw up your plan, huh? Or do you WANT me to go? Or what, yo?” (I’m paraphrasing).

  20. Other Chris, my understanding (from comments Busiek has made on Facebook) is that Anderson is caught up on all the finished ASTRO CITY scripts, but Busiek hasn’t been able to write much of anything for an extended period until recently. So Anderson has to do something while waiting for ASTRO CITY production to ramp up again.

  21. “The Bible is clear enough about his fate.”

    Actually, it kind of isn’t. The New Testament presents contradictory versions of his death – in Matthew, Judas kills himself out of guilt; in Acts, Judas just trips and falls and dies in the field he bought with the money he got from the priests. There’s a lot that’s inconsistent or incomplete about Judas in the Biblical narrative – for a start, his motivation for betraying Jesus is pretty absent. Mark makes it clear that Judas was determined to betray Jesus before anyone offered him any money, but the narrative never tells us why; Matthew makes it seem as though Judas is simply acting out of greed; Luke and John, however, suggest that Judas is actually possessed by Satan and is acting under demonic influence while betraying Jesus (which raises the problem of free will here to a whole other level).

    Plenty of writers – including plenty of Christian theologians – have discussed the problematic nature of the Judas narrative… the key problem being that the texts themselves claim both that Judas’s actions are necessary in order for Jesus to fulfill his mission as the messiah, and will nonetheless leave him damned. This is the kind of contradiction you’re left with if you take a story like this literally, and try to draw ethical and metaphysical conclusions from a character who was very probably inserted into the narrative as a literary device.

    As far as literary treatments of Judas go, my favorite remains Jorge Luis Borges’s “Three Versions of Judas.”

  22. Moose, one can argue about whether the accounts of Judas’ death can be reconciled, just as one can argue about whether one can reconcile the Easter morning accounts in terms of who was present (which women and how many angels), but my point was that the New Testament is clear enough that Judas died, just as it is clear enough that Jesus rose from the grave.

    You write, “the key problem [is] that the texts themselves claim both that Judas’s actions are necessary in order for Jesus to fulfill his mission as the messiah, and will nonetheless leave him damned.”

    I’m reminded of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:5-9.

    “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

    “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

    Here we see the same supposed problem, both strands of the dilemma set side by side, albeit in generalized terms: the existence of temptations to sin is “necessary,” but woe to those who produce temptations to others, because they are presumably under judgment.

    The solution is to recognize that these sins are necessary to God’s overarching plan but NOT therefore coerced — they’re anticipated. God accounts for the freely chosen bad decisions by man, incorporates those decisions into His grand plan, and even makes those decisions essential links in the causal chain, but that points to His omniscience, not necessarily to any lack of free will on our parts.

    And, to conclude that Judas was “very probably inserted into the narrative as a literary device,” one would have to conclude that the initial claim in Luke’s gospel is a deliberate fabrication, that the writer carefully researched and compiled an orderly account so that the reader could be confident about his beliefs — and one would likewise have to dismiss John’s claim late in his gospel, that he’s bearing witness to what he saw and that his testimony is reliable.

  23. @Bubba

    “And, to conclude that Judas was “very probably inserted into the narrative as a literary device,” one would have to conclude that the initial claim in Luke’s gospel is a deliberate fabrication…[.]”

    Or one could have read a lot of books on the historical Jesus and concluded most of the New Testament is suspect at best. Dude, I was raised by a mother that loves Jesus like he’s family, so I have a lot of respect for Christians, but if you ever read up on the historical Jesus, the New Testament will look kind of incomplete.

    I think the best teaching we can take from the New Testament’s Jesus is compassion for other people. That compassion will lead to forgiveness of everyone…even Dan Didio for writing a crappy story.

  24. “Redeeming Judas” is a fairly distasteful Plot…

    So, I guess someone hasn’t been paying attention in sunday school……

    Also a very good book on the subject:
    Last Temptation of Christ.

  25. @Bubba

    I wrote my last comment at the end of a very long day. I probably should have said the Bible, used as the only source on the life of Jesus, is incomplete (i.e. my terrible “suspect at best” phrasing). I hope I didn’t offend as it was not my intention.

  26. Now if only Phamton Stranger had Mohamed as a character that would be a book I’d put on my pull list.

  27. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Mohammed is too hard to draw consistantly. If he had a costume redesign, maybe.

  28. “…it feels like the kind of idea come up with at 3 in the morning, the night before your solicitation copy is due, when someone panics and points out that someone counted wrong, and you only have 51 books in the third wave.”

    That was pretty funny.

  29. Does that mean we’re on the brink of Judas vs. O.M.A.C?
    Aw, yeah! You KNOW!

    I guess PhantStrang doesn’t do the whole spookily mysterious “I..am…a…stranger.” business anymore then? I guess now he just goes, “Hi, I’m Judas, betrayer of the Nazarene, and I’ll be helping you out for the forseeable future.” Which should mean the bulk of the issue consists of the person in question trying to turn him down because of the whole Jesus thing and PhanStrang explaining how it was all very “complicated” and there were “reasons” before losing his rag and yelling about how they should have paid attention in Sunday School instead of daydreaming about B.B. guns and Grit or whatever! Then he tells them to “just help themselves” and flounces off into the next issue while God laughs his Divine ass off.

    It sounds terrible anyway, thanks for the warning!

  30. “Worlds Finest” issue 0 was much more satisfying that “Earth 2″ issue 0; in fact, the Superman and Batman written in that book were the most appealing I’ve seen them in a very long time- the same for the 6th hero of that universe. The New Look Helena, while different that the Classic Earth 2 character, was engaging, and this version of Supergirl was the best in decades – mysteries and all.

    It’s a shame that we can’t read more about these people, as they run rings around most of what DC is publishing, and are just more interesting than what’s been happening in ‘Earth 2″.

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