Armageddon 2001 – A Story So Good They Had To Screw It Up

Jordan Smith

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda...

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda…

Preposterously and against long odds I am an unabashed fan of the DC Comics event ARMAGEDDON 2001.  Way, way, back in the halcyon days of 90-91 Archie Goodwin wrote, what I believe to be, a very clean, direct, and fantastic single issue.  That I think it stands shoulder to shoulder on the myth-making stage with some of the classics is my cross to bear.

 

Armageddon 2001 #1 sets up a great sci-fi tale. A great superhero story.  A fantastic what-if.  A solid mystery within a mystery.  A believable protagonist.  A tragic, yet menacing antagonist.  What’s more, depending on your perspective, this series even laid out a tolerable and enjoyable format for event comics that might have saved us all a crap load of money and at the same time continued to help retailers sell a ton of books.

Therefore, it is a special tragedy of note that all this fine work would later be undermined and driven into a shallow grave for no less a sin than being a story well told.

Yep, that’s a real problem.  Tell your story too well.

Let me ask, when you set out to tell the story of the fall of a hero what’s the harm in the reader figuring it out slightly before the final reveal?  Doesn’t that point to a story that “makes sense” and “comes together rationally?”

Well, Instead of sticking to that plan and turning a B list (at best) hero into a fantastic modern villain operating from an untouchable fortress in the future DC decided to deliver a useless and complete anticlimax in the hopes that it might “surprise” readers.  So, for those keeping track, instead of giving readers a nice pat on the hind parts for figuring it out and telling the story you set out to tell DC flipped out – changed the ending to a HUGE story – and sabotaged all their plans for the future.

 

DERP

 

DERP

 

DERP

 

But, through the miracle of the internet and my stupid obsession I’m going to throw up a bunch of content on it and see if you think my radical views have merit.  Why?  Hell, why not?

First, Goodwin’s script is amazing.  This kind of 12 words a page stuff coupled with wide, almost epic panel choices, really only works when you’ve got the annual format to show off with.  The problem with a lot of this stuff is that they try this kind of end run around – I don’t know – WRITING with less than half that page count.  Heroes that behave like it – challenges – choices.  He really knew his way around the format.

Second, The annual format would persist through the entire crossover in giving the 56 page treatment to the bookend issues and the selected characters (those who had annuals – sometimes multiples).  I can’t stress this enough.  EACH issue gave creators the time and space to tell satisfying and full stories.  Because of the unique device of WAVERIDER  each annual was a self-contained exploration of a possible future. Meaning the story could wrap up but the ongoing mystery narrative could proceed unabated.

Third, Jurgens art was at its peak.  This was the pinnacle of late 80’s house style.  Clean, direct, representative of a very specific look and feel.  His renderings had the authority of precision and defined boundaries.  He also had tricks and combined with Goodwin’s script delivered on many panel plays (repeating threes, widescreen a decade before The Authority would swoop in and claim credit, descending grids to show focus, etc…)

But, let me show you a little of what I mean…

(Page 1)

THOUGHTS.

TAKES SO LONG FOR THEM TO COME TOGETHER.

ETERNITIES.

BUT THEN…

…I HAVE TIME.

 

(2)

EVEN AS I THINK IT, I SENSE I’M WRONG

I DON’T HAVE TIME.

TIME HAS ME.

DON’T WORRY, SON.

THOUGHTS.

I’M A LITTLE BOY AGAIN…TRAPPED IN DARKNESS. BURIED BEYOND SAVING.

THEN SUDDENLY…

…BLINDED BY LIGHT

DON’T WORRY –

–IT’S GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT.

BEYOND SAVING BY ANY ORDINARY MEANS.

 

(3)

 

A Strong Hand

 

PAINED EYES TEARING, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE AS I’M LIFTED UP.

IT WAS AN EARTHQUAKE, WASN’T IT? THE BUILDING…THE WHOLE BUILDING FELL!  I THOUGHT NOTHING COULD HELP…!

SOMETIMES IT SEEMS THAT WAY –

WHICH IS WHY SOMEONE SHOULD BE THERE TO TRY.

STILL BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, I FIT ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES TO THAT VOICE…

BUT THE MOMENT NEVER CHANGES.

 

(4)

NOT EVEN HERE.

TRAPPED.

WITH TIME.

TIME AND…

THOUGHTS.

IN MY MIND, THEY ARE GIANTS.

AND WHOEVER SAVED ME THAT DAY…

…WAS ONE OF THEM.

 

(5)

GIANTS.  THEY GREW THAT WAY IN MY THOUGHTS…

…EVEN WHEN IT WAS SAFER THEY NOT BE THERE AT ALL.

NOT THAT THEY WERE PERFECT.

THEY HAD THEIR FAILINGS.  THEY HAD THEIR DIFFERENCES.

I LEARNED THAT.

 

(6)

Human Weakness

LIKE US, THEIR EMOTIONS COULD RUN WILD…

…SEEMINGLY BEYOND CONTROL.

AND YET…

 

(7)

…SELDOM BEYOND REASON.

howeverdeeply

…THE NEED TO SERVE A GREATER CAUSE RAN DEEPER.

THIS MADE THEM GIANTS.

THIS UNITED THEM.

IN SPITE OF ALL RISKS…

 

(8)

darkseid

HEROES.

PART OF MY CONSCIOUSNESS STILL STIRS UNEASILY AT THINKING THE WORD…

 

(9)

…BUT THAT IS THE NAME FOR THEM.

WHATEVER THEIR OWN FEARS OR INNER FURIES…

…THEY ROSE TO THE TEST.

THEY DID WHAT HAD TO BE DONE.

AND ULTIMATELY, DESPITE OBSTACLES AND SETBACKS…

THEY DID IT IN TRIUMPH.

theday

 

(10)

IN THE END, WHAT REALLY HAPPENED MAY NEVER BE KNOWN.  EXCEPT…

intheend

IN THE END, IT WAS ONE OF THEIR OWN.

WHAT TRIGGERED IT?

MADNESS? OR COLD CALCULATION?

YEARS OF DECEPTION?

ONE SUDDEN DARK URGE?

 

(11)

HOWEVER IT HAPPENED, HOWEVER I PLAY IT IN MY MIND…

…THEY WERE TAKEN BY SURPRISE, CAUGHT UNPREPARED.

HOW ELSE TO EXPLAIN…

…ITS SUCCEEDING SO WELL?

 

(12)

theyear2001

ONE THAT WOULD STRETCH OUT…

…TO GRIP A WORLD.

MY WORLD.

MY TIME.

 

DARKTIME

 

WRITER – ARCHIE GOODWIN

PENCILLER – DAN JURGENS

INKER – DICK GIORDANO

LETTERER – ALBERT DE GUZMAN

COLORIST – ANTHONY TOLLIN

ASST. EDITOR – KELLEY PUCKETT

EDITOR – DENNIS O’NEIL

 

So, that’s the first 12 pages of Armageddon 2001 #1

The whole series, neatly laid out.  Who is the mysterious point of view character?  Who saved him?  Who is the devastating Monarch?  What prompts this awful change and does this new figure have a chance of stopping this from happening?  What follows in the remaining 44 pages will be fodder for next time.  I hope you’ll come along, share your memories and feelings on the series – good and bad, of course – and throw in some suggestions on modern stories that deliver the vibe for yourselves that this series delivered for me.

13 Responses to “ Armageddon 2001 – A Story So Good They Had To Screw It Up ”

  1. I am very on board with this. Armageddon 2001 was a heartbreaking disappointment only because it started off so very strong. Excited to read this retrospective.

  2. Good idea for a series! I remember when this book came out I was in love with it and all excited to see how it played out. Then, the villain ended up being the hero of a book I loved and it all felt very, very wrong. Back then, with no Internet to read and no idea of the editorial shenanigans, I knew something screwy was up because it just made no sense. This series was like finding out Santa Claus wasn’t real; the magic of superhero comics was gone for me. I’ve probably read that first issue 50 times just to marvel at all the lost potential.

    But Unity, from Valiant, was the crossover I loved. That crossover is just page after page of perfection.

  3. I loved this when it came out. Very fond memories of the superman/action, batman/detective and flash annuals.

    Have you come up with a reading order that fixes the ending? I know it’s not ideal but what about reading battle for bludhaven right after the JLE annual? It leaves the story open ended but atleast the person who was supposed to be Monarch is Monarch in the end…

  4. Hey, hey! OOh! You suckered me there! I thought you’d written that stuff. I was all, That talented &*^%! I shall have to kill him as he can write and write well and he can make doughnuts! But it was Archie Goodwin! Good stuff too, Archie Goodwin! Rest in peace!

    “The problem with a lot of this stuff is that they try this kind of end run around – I don’t know – WRITING”

    THIS was the KEY for me. It’s (ssemingly)reached the point now where (mainstream genre Big Two) comics don’t actually require WRITING. I know they still call themselves writers but the trend is to do precious little writing. Writing as a clownish layman like myself understands it. Plenty of planning and chart making, self aggrandising, post-it noting and dialoguing(sp?) but a smurf’s cock amount of real writing seems to be going on.

    The greatest trick The Devil ever pulled was convincing readers that comics were more sophisticated (ptui!) without narrative text. What they are is easier and quicker to produce for the writer (in italics). Because the artist is doing all the actual ‘WRITING’ in place of that tricky text stuff. It’s no wonder some of these wonders can spurt out six books a month. The real wonder is why they are still bad. Self comparing to The Coen Brothers? Please, more like The Chuckle Brothers.

    Sure now and it’s no surprise they steer clear from writing though, at least one of these wildly succesful folks writes prose that makes you feel like someone has been sick directly into your head. I mean, I’m aware my English is pitiful but, y’know, I’m not a commercial author.

    I don’t know, I may be wrong but (very basically) words and pictures = COMICS!!! There are exceptions, sure but mostly I’d say, bring back the words!

    I haven’t read this comic but it sounds good. Also, you are bang on about it not really mattering if the ending was guessed beforehand. What matters is good story well told. I know exactly what happens in WATCHMEN/AMERICAN FLAGG!/ENIGMA but I still re-read ‘em again and again. And it isn’t because I’m so senile I keep forgetting how they end. In contrast I will never read HOUSE OF M again. Unless lives are at stake. And then I’d have to think about it first.

    Man, this heat sure doesn’t agree with me.

    Thanks!

  5. I meant you fooled me by appearing to be able to write COMICS!!! as well as Archie Goodwin. Obviously you can write well generally. That’s beyond doubt. I apologise for the seeming slur. This heat, I tellya it melts my brain. Look I like your writing! I said I was sorry!

  6. @matt and @chris

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m looking forward to it as well. The first issue is going to be unpacked pretty thoroughly so we can all hold on to the joy for as long as possible. Is Unity the one that starts with the BWS Solar mini?

    @george Absolutely. Those Superman / Batman annuals are some of the “can’t give them away” pieces of my collection. Grummet and Jurgens are such paragons of “my” Superman they’re indispensable. Also, thoses annuals had guys like Dusty Abell and Tom Grindberg who were just really, really good stylists. The Grindberg issue of Detective, for me, was like a wonderful Adams / Aparo mash-up that told the last Batman story.

    As to a reading order I never really took it beyond the original. After that harrowing Captain Atom passage in 2001 #2 I couldn’t believe anyone else could be Monarch. I think my mind just pulled a rudimentary photoshop job – cut out everything Hawk and Dove related – and just substituted current Cap fighting his future self who was…ah, but I’ve said too much. Let’s save it for the series. Thanks!

    @JKUK You are a silver tongued devil, sir. No wonder your prose blossoms in THE HEAT! I too, very often, wonder if it’s the BIG ALL OVER for my beloved comics but then I read Ennis on Punisher, or Vaughn on Saga. Morrison on All Star. Mieville on Dial H. And I think that the volume of material and opinion is just tilting the room. There is GOOD in you yet comics…I can feel it. And, for the record, if it’s you and I in a room with a collected edition of House of M betwixt…I say, let there be a reckoning.

    Best to you all.
    -j

  7. @J_Smitty Oh, man was it the Superman annual that had that Art Adams-esque Dusty Abell work? I LOVED that one as a kid. And getting to see Maguire come back for another JLA story. And some early Waid Flash…. Man.

  8. That Jurgens/Abell issue is the only one I really remember, besides the bookend series, but I too was a huge fan of the two characters who were irrevocably damaged (until retcons years later) by this story. I don’t even remember how it became such a big deal that the identity of the villain was guessed… this was before the internet, was it mainly bbs boards or something?

    The format worked, I think, largely because of the Elseworlds nature of the stories, allowing the annuals to stand alone. IIRC, DC did a bunch of these crossovers like this, as did Marvel, where the annuals were the crossover, sometimes with bookends, sometimes without, to varying degrees of success; I’m curious, what did this series do to revolutionize that? Serpent Crown, Atlantis Attacks, etc. all predate this, right? And I think they went back to the bookend/annual format with Eclipso (which I also fondly remember, if only for the Captain Marvel vs. Superman fight).

    This whole upcoming villains DC thing would have worked much better as annuals (and indeed, with a lot of them having increased prices, gimmick covers and alternate creative teams, seem like annuals of old), but of course in this day and age it wouldn’t sell as well.

  9. @fujishig

    You’re not going to believe this but I read that it was largely due to the Monarch reveal being put out on a 1-900 number kinda comics news thing. Talk about jumping at shadows. In ’91 I can’t even imagine a statistically relevant number of people would have been involved in such a thing.

    As to why I think it was a little revolutionary that’s for future installments!

    Thanks for reading!

  10. My local comic shop published a monthly newsletter that basically told us what books were coming out that month and they strongly implied that we should buy the final issue of CAPTAIN ATOM because “rumors” were he’d end up being Monarch. Which I thought was fantastic. Of course I knew it wasn’t going to be an A-Lister, but Captain Atom was in the Justice League (he even led Justice League Europe), had his own book and was powerful enough to take on any hero. His being Monarch was about as good a reveal as we could get and I certainly didn’t mind it being spoiled just because it was so cool.

  11. I think it was because of this exact story that Brad Meltzer went with the villain he did in IDENTITY CRISIS; he knew if he picked someone without means or motive and that all logic would dictate couldn’t possibly be the killer to be the killer, no one would see the ending coming.

  12. A 1-900 number? Geez. I guess that’s just as ridiculous in hindsight as having Jason Todd’s life voted on via phone.

    It’s not just that the ending didn’t make sense after they changed it, it’s that they completely ruled that person out, and then the whole scenario where he “becomes” Monarch is so monumentally stupid and out of character that… ugh, need to stop ranting.

    But hey, I liked the Team Titans for a while, until they made them into X-Force and reintroduced Monarch as the mastermind behind… argh, ranting again.

    On a side note, Venture Bros. has made it really hard for me to take anyone named “the Monarch” seriously as a villain.

  13. My favorites out of the bunch was the Flash annual, the Justice League Europe Annual, and the The New Teen Titans annual. I loved the Flash Annual because, if I read it correctly, the girl that the Flash was fated to marry was killed because Waverider Intervened. That was a pretty horrific way to end a story that, for all intents, was a nice story about the hero that becomes a hero “One Last Time.”

    The Justice League Europe was so much fun because we had Blue Jay getting rejected by the LSH because all he could do is shrink and fly (two things Shrinking Violet could do and it didn’t look embarrassing).

    The New Teen Titans annual is so much fun for me. It interjects the X-men-style stuff into the Titans and made me want to pick up all the stuff that came after it. Of course, all the stuff that came after it wasn’t that good, but they really got me with the Team Titans. That group is still my favorite group of Titans today with a Captain America-style Nightwing and a Robin that had real wings. There’s just something so appeal about a teenage anarchist group from the future traveling into the past at different points in time to destroy a future where, if they are successful, they will never be apart of. It has Punk and Grunge and Generation X written all over it.

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