Today, Patrick leads a discussion about Convergence 4, Action Comics 1, Blue Beetle 1, Booster Gold 1, Detective Comics 1, Infinity, Inc. 1, Justice Society 1, Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters 1, and World’s Finest 1.
“Can we please, for just one night, not talk about the damned dome?”
Lois Lane, Convergence: Action Comics 1
Patrick: As we head into the fourth week of convergence tie-ins, two things are becoming clear. The first is that everyone is sick of dealing with this dome — artists, writers, characters, LETTERERS PROBABLY. Previous weeks have gone into the inconvenience the dome represents, but this week seems united by a theme of dome-fatigue. Part of that may come from the fact that many of this week’s heroes hail from universes and continuities that are either far from classic or have been rebooted so many times as to make their timelessness a little dubious. There’s a freedom in that less-strict reliance on legacy, and many of this weeks tie-ins generate totally satisfying catharsis all on their own. They just always also have to deal with “the damned dome.”
Patrick: Telos is starting to feel more and more like a stand-in for a fickle reader, and the very first page of the weekly places his large liquid-metal hands in exactly the same position your hands are in as you hold the comic with your right hand and turn the page with your left. I think we’re actually meant to identify with Telos — after all, he’s just trying to make sense of all these continuities, and the only way he can seem to process that conflict is to force violence on his be-domed cities. Those scenes between Dick and Telos are actually sort of heartwarming, if still clunkily written. Dick actually says at one point “Forcing people to fight for their lives like this is wrong” which is just thuddingly stupid. I suppose (if anyone would) Dick would try to appeal to a robot’s heart instead of to its brain, but it’s still a childishly simple argument. Again, maybe that’s the point — Telos doesn’t quite have the emotional vocabulary to deal with the multiverse in any meaningful way that isn’t Battle Royale.
Meanwhile, in the underground-but-you-can-still-see-they-sky city of Skartaris, our Earth-2ers discover that they’re being played by Deimos, who wants to use the combined might of black magic and dudes from Vanishing Point to summon Brainiac. That part gets a little wonky for me — I’m not sure why all Vanishing Point tales need to incorporate some Masters of the Universe-style fantasy into them, but here it is again. Deimos does make kind of a cool observation about the Earth-2ers. He says “You are the Original Heroes reborn. The first, and now the last,” which helps sell the idea that Jay, Alan and the rest are somehow more important than the rest of the heroes stuck in this mess.
Spencer: I enjoyed many of the same things about this issue that you did, Patrick, and it’s certainly a vast improvement over last week’s effort, but I’ve still got a few minor issues with this book, and chief among them is the dialogue. These characters don’t really have voices of their own, and almost all the dialogue is straightforward exposition or characters bluntly admitting their emotions or opinions, often repeatedly. Convergence would benefit drastically from a little subtlety — it would also benefit drastically by foregoing scenes of characters arguing with Telos in the future. They go nowhere, and aren’t even entertaining, just frustrating.
Overall, I like the direction Convergence‘s story is heading, but on a technical level, it needs more tweaking. More often than not, Convergence is just bland or even dull, and that shouldn’t be the case in a big blockbuster summer event.
Action Comics 1
Patrick: Okay, first of all: that’s a great Amanda Conner cover — beautifully composed, with a Red Son / Pre-Crisis symmetry that I just can’t resist. That symmetry carries over into the meat of the story, as writer Justin Gray seems just as comfortable telling stories about the battle of egos raging between Lex Luthor, Pytor and Superman in the Red Son universe as he does exploring the newly defined family dynamic of the de-powered Kryptonians in Metropolis. Taking a page from Mark Millar’s original Red Son, the Moskow side of the story casts Luthor as our hero, with Superman and Wonder Woman as tools of the government (albeit, benevolent tools). There’s a sense of fun, even to the perpetual winter of communist Russia. Much of that tone is conveyed by artist Claude St. Aubin, who masterfully pulls off this invisible jet joke with a totally straight face.
Boop! it’s just there! Drew how did you like revising Red Son? (Also, I know you’re going to have something to compare it to when you discuss Detective Comics a few paragraphs south of here.) And what about that claim that Superman and Lois Lane is the best love story ever told? That’s a loaded proclamation, right?
Drew: And I think it’s very much meant to be. Lois acts flattered — perhaps because the praise she receives is virtually independent of the dome — but Superman is having an identity crisis. He doesn’t feel like the heroic figure folks think of him as. That’s an intriguing problem for a superhero to face, and Gray cleverly finds a number of perspectives on the issue of identity. Kara’s is very tied up in how she looks, where Luthor’s is all about what he can figure out. Gray even finds time to scrutinize Stalin’s insecurities, as well as the aspirations of his son. All of this may speak to Gray’s own insecurities at tackling pre-Crisis Earth-Two — the famous bastion of Golden Age DC heroes. Are these the weaker, flabbier, more tarnished versions of those heroes, or do their core characteristics survive even after so much time on the shelf?
Blue Beetle 1
Patrick: Every now and then, a comic comes out on the heels of some real world event and we have a hard time divorcing the images we see in the news from the images we see on the page. I remember our writer Ethan had a hard time with some of the Age of Ultron tie-ins, because the city-disaster porn was just too similar to what we were seeing coming out of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Blue Beetle has the dubious honor of opening on a stand-off between an over-militarized police force and some poor demonstrators who start off only demanding to “be heard.” Given the events this week in Baltimore, it’s hard to view Nate “Captain Atom” Adams’ actions through the not-that-big-of-a-deal lens the issue tries to present them as. He fires a bazooka into a crowd of people. That whole opening scene is just way more intense that it should have been, and the creative team didn’t have the necessary interest to address this issue in the slightest.
That’s an unfortunate blip in the issue, however, as I really liked seeing the Charleston characters bouncing off of each other — particularly as Dr. Spectro can’t understand why you’d expect a supervillain not to be offensive. Plus, there’s that intriguing tease about Booster Gold temporarily appearing within the confines of the dome. And lastly, Scott Lobdell has to be the only writer that invented a unique way for a city to receive the Telos monologue: via gigantic, stone Telos.
Drew: Not to dwell too much on that opening scene, which really only exists to establish the tone of Hub City under the dome (and Adams’ role in it), but I don’t think the parallels to recent acts of police brutality are particularly strong. Indeed, I don’t think they’re as strong as Lobdell intends them to be. Adams is supposed to be the monster here — all of his friends comment on it, even if they never take any action beyond that — but it’s important to note that this group aren’t protesters, demonstrators, or even rioters: they’re an organized group actively menacing the police with guns. Patrick painted the scene as being “between an over-militarized police force and some poor demonstrators who only start off demanding to ‘be heard,'” but the image he included makes it look a lot more like a straight-up Mexican standoff. That doesn’t necessarily justify shooting first, but it does act to separate the scene from the all-too-familiar narrative of unarmed protesters getting steamrolled by overzealous riot police. For me, that distinction robs the portrait of Adams of any teeth, which feels like a missed opportunity, given how easy it would be to have the Question (or the Peacemaker) really dig into Adams’ actions there.
Booster Gold 1
Michael: The structure of Convergence tie-ins goes as such: we are (re)introduced to our main players, see how they’ve been dealing with life under the dome, the dome raises and the stakes do too. Convergence: Booster Gold 1 abandons all of that and instead focuses on a plot element of the main Convergence series: the time travelers Telos has imprisoned in Skartaris. Booster and Skeets join forces with pre-Flashpoint Rip Hunter on a mission to rescue pre-Flashpoint Booster Gold and his sister Michelle. Also, Michelle is Rip’s aunt and the Booster he’s looking for is his father…right. New 52 Booster and Rip fight the Legion of Superheroes and pre-Flashpoint Booster is rescued by his old (dead) buddy Ted Kord: The Blue Beetle.
Writer Dan Jurgens created Booster Gold, and has had a lot of input on his direction to this day. Besides the moments and teases that get reported on all of the comic news sites, I don’t really know much about Booster Gold’s New 52 life. This issue did a lot of referencing outside events (Futures End, Justice League International etc.), making it a bit of a challenge for me to follow. I’ve always liked Booster as the showboating underdog with a heart of gold, and here Jurgens positioned the older Booster as a full-on hero. It’s a brief exchange, but the scene where old Booster reassures New 52 Booster of his importance was the best of the whole book. Alvaro Martinez gives old Booster a seasoned smile of pride that gave me the warm and fuzzies. Two panels however, he had a chronal episode and disappeared into the time stream. I don’t think this was executed terribly well, as I didn’t really understand he had gone; maybe that one’s on me. Patrick, what do you make of this very different Convergence tale?
Patrick: I mean, it wouldn’t be a Booster Gold story if it made sense, right? When it comes to time travel and parallel universes, ol’ Boosty doesn’t really play by the rules. He’s one of the few characters who just sort of existed through Flashpoint, aware of everything before, during and after. In fact, Booster’s greatest acts of heroism have to take place between realities. Jurgens knows this and he’s more than game to dump Booster (and another Booster, because why not?) into a nonsense story that rejects all the rules. I love that these characters don’t really have a home-time or a home-universe, so that grants them immunity to traverse Convergence. I mean, it all kinda fades to nothing when the dome falls, but what a wacky set of ideas.
Crime Syndicate 1
Detective Comics 1
Drew: It would be difficult to overstate the impact Crisis on Infinite Earths had on the DC Universe. Comics have changed a great deal from that time, but COIE set an unprecedented model for what modern comics — at least from publishers that maintain massive continuities — should look like. Which is to say: a post-Crisis comic is entirely different from a pre-Crisis comic, which leaves a lot of wiggle room as to how to approach a modern story spun out of pre-Crisis continuity.
Len Wein and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Convergence: Detective Comics 1 falls decidedly on the throwback side of things, relying on thought balloons and omniscient narration that feels quaint by today’s standards. I think those affectations work to the advantage of this issue, though, where exposition and characterization may feel thin otherwise. In fact, I think that this feels like a pre-Crisis story may be more important to this issue than anything that actually happens within it. I can’t confess to being particularly invested in the exploits of Earth-Two Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne — both of whom died (or would have died) during COIE — and Wein doesn’t quite dig deep enough into the politics that made Superman: Red Son so engaging, which leaves this issue as a kind of case study in pre-Crisis style. That’s Wein playing to his strengths right there, and while I enjoyed the exercise, I wonder if it makes for a particularly fun reading experience — especially to the modern comics fan.
Michael: I’m right with you there Drew: this issue is decidedly a meld of Bronze Age and Modern Era comics. Initially, I was thinking that the script was a little heavy-handed, but then I remembered what era most of these characters were originally written in. I was totally on board with the style that Wein and Sienkiewicz were tapping into; I think the modern comics fan would appreciate it too with this in mind. What I liked about this issue was the decision to try to flesh out more than one of the cities that would be clashing in Telos’ little game. Most other tie-ins I’ve read have been solely about one city and once the dome drops we get little introduction to the heroes that they will be facing. The downside of splitting pages between Helena and Dick and Soviet Supes is less character development, as Drew noted. I only know the broad strokes of pre-Crisis Earth 2, but I’ve gotta say that I love the flamboyant design of Robin’s costume, depicted here by Denys Cowan. Cowan’s more modern pencils combined with the darker palette of colorists Chris Sotomayor and Felix Serrano make for a unique juxtaposition with the Bronze era narration and dialogue. I question the brash decisions that Huntress makes at the end of the issue. True, we weren’t exactly presented with a clear characterization of Helena but attacking Superman unprovoked and fleeing from him seemed like a supremely stupid move any way you look at it.
Infinity, Inc 1
Shane: It can be incredibly difficult to stand in somebody’s shadow, and for the members of Infinity Inc., they have that and more to deal with. They’re the children of their earth’s greatest heroes—the Justice Society. And for a brief moment, they were attempting to carve out their own legacy as their own superhero team, to live up to their parents example…and they were even succeeding! They helped save the world during Crisis on Infinite Earths…and then they were snatched up, stripped of their powers, and forced to live normal lives once more. And although the Convergence setup remains everpresent, as the former superheroes try to escape their prison, Jerry Ordway wisely uses the comic to continue the more personal struggles of the team at this point in their publishing history. Jade and Obsidian are still trying to process the fact that their long-lost dad is Green Lantern, while Brainwave Jr. faces a society that believes him to be as evil as his own father. Ordway even hints at a few developments that wouldn’t occur until later in the character’s lives, such as Obsidian’s struggle with his sexuality. It’s smart writing, and I love when smart writing is paired with smart art. I’ve been a huge fan of Ben Caldwell ever since his work on Wednesday Comics, and this issue is no exception, with one panel in particular that I LOVED.
I’m a huge fan of working sound effects into the art, and placing the sounds of her knuckles cracking right on her hands—almost like tattoos—worked so well for me. I know it’s such a small thing, but it’s just one example of why this issue was so much fun for me—even though I’ve never read any of the original run on Infinity Inc., I feel like I know the characters pretty well now. How about you, Spencer—I know we’ve both read more modern JSA stories, which may be why you wanted to talk about this issue too, but how do you feel about this walk down a memory lane that isn’t ours?
Spencer: I’m with you when it comes to Caldwell’s art, Shane — I especially enjoy the playful, stylish way he reintroduces all the characters and their abilities once the dome falls.
That’s some effective character work there, that’s for sure. That character work may be what I appreciate most here; Ordway finds time to delve into how each character deals with losing their powers and facing their future, and the sheer size of the team allows for plenty of variety among their responses. Infinity Inc. meant something different to each of these characters, and each has unique relationships with each other, so there’s no space for things to get drawn out and boring — there’s simply too much ground to cover. Ordway also remembers that these characters are young — something that could be easy to forget when dealing with a book from the 80s — and keeps the dialogue appropriately sharp and snappy. It’s fun, but still has real stakes, plus it’s got Jonah Hex hanging out in Georgia in the future, cause why not? Sounds like a winning issue to me.
Justice Society of America 1
Spencer: Time tends to stand still — or at least move at a snail’s pace — in the DC Universe, which makes the Justice Society of America’s status as elder statesmen all the more rare and special. The JLA will always be our contemporary heroes, but the JSA was allowed to reach old age — this eventually led to them becoming the cornerstone of DC’s legacy heroes, but there was a good while where DC had noidea what to do with the JSA, when they didn’t think audiences would connect with stories featuring older heroes. Dan Abnett and Tom Derenick’s Convergence: Justice Society of America 1 explores that dilemma a bit, following four powerless JSA heroes under the dome as old age ravages them. As the dome falls and the Qwardians attack, they regain their youth, but with the eventual cost of their life. What’s the message here? That only the young can be effective heroes? Or is it that nothing lasts forever, and part of being the elder statesmen is realizing when your time has passed and facing it with dignity? I’m not sure yet, though I look forward to seeing if issue 2 expounds on this. In the meantime, Derenick’s bombastic battle scenes and lovingly rendered destruction make this issue a joy to look at, and he even gives us perhaps the most badass page in all of Convergence thus far:
That makes me so pumped to see the JSA again, even if it may be the last time ever. Mark, how about you?
Mark: Absolutely, Spencer. So many of these Convergence issues featuring characters from Crisis on Infinite Earths feel like a final send-off, but for me this is hands down the most successful one. The formula of the tie-ins can become tiresome (see life before the dome, see life with the dome, dome falls), but it works here. Seeing the JSA settled in as aged old men makes their transformation at the end all the more exciting.
And I don’t know if this is the message of the issue, but is there something to the idea that these are heroes through-and-through? Almost no hesitation, basically no doubt, just at the end of the day they’re itching to get out there and willing to expedite their deaths in order to protect the world. In the modern age we see a lot of superheroes wrestling with the weight of their responsibilities, but how fun is it to see pure, unquestioning heroism?
Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters 1
Patrick: I think there’s a reason there’s no “Deadpool in the Holocaust” stories out there. Look, I’m all for jamming together fourth-wall-breaking humor and depictions of ultra-violence, but something about anchoring it all with Nazi imagery just feels icky, no matter how many layers of fantasy there are on top of it. So there’s some several tonal whiplash when Plas turns to the camera and tells us he’ll get around to explaining why he’s being HANGED AT THE HANDS OF THE NAZIS in just a second. It might just be that there’s too much stuffed into this one dome: it’s an isolated New York, under Nazi rule, and populated by former superheroes who have lost their powers. The conceit of the dome is too much for this world. Writer Simon Oliver brings out the kitchen sink, but it’s artist John McCrea that makes any sense of it. McCrea actually does a phenomenal job staging panels with multiple iconic images working against each other at once. Consider the title page — the Statue of Liberty, covered in swastikas and holding a copy of Mein Kampf. Or how about this juxtaposition:
Plas kinda gets lost in the noise here. Like, when the Freedom Fighters got their powers back in the final pages, I had sorta forgotten who was telling me this story.
Shane: I genuinely believe that there could be room for a mainstream DC superhero comic about a superhero resistance group fighting the Nazi occupation of Manhattan. That’s just good comics. And perhaps it’s telling that the part of this issue I most enjoyed was the backstory before the dome took the city. I agree with you, though, Patrick: mixing humor and Nazis still feels a little tasteless, even now. I actually appreciated the small bits about doomsday cults praising the dome: it’s a light touch on the issue, sure, but a nice moment portraying how a non-superhero might react to these circumstances. After all, for all they can tell, God essentially shut them off: why wouldn’t someone react as if a higher power was involved? But it quickly turns to uncomfortable territory as the Nazi presence embraces basic supervillain tropes, and the story structure shifts to something a little more uneven. There are plenty of strong points, like how Uncle Sam fades with the lack of American patriotism to power him, and Plastic Man’s desperate activities as his former criminal self, but I found it very difficult to follow the storyline as intended, because there was just enough uncomfortable subject matter to pull me out of the story. Hopefully, with everyone’s powers restored, next issue embraces a bit more superhero fare and brings the Freedom Fighters in all their glory back to the fore.
Check back on Wednesday, May 6th for Shane and Mark’s full conversation!
World’s Finest 1
Mark: One of my favorite parts of Convergence has been seeing previous writers and creators return to DC and explore these worlds at least one last time. Former DC Comics President Paul Levitz heads Convergence Worlds Finest this week, which features characters about as throwback as you can get. Starring The Seven Soldiers of Victory (the Shining Knight, the Vigilante, Green Arrow with his sidekick Speedy, and the Star-Spangled Kid with his sidekick Stripesy), these are some of the most retro characters in DC’s stable. Our guide through it all is newspaper cartoonist and upstart reporter Scribbly Jibbet.
I’m not deeply familiar with a lot of these characters, but it’s clear Levitz has a lot of affection for them, or at the very least for the Silver Age comics of his youth. It’s hard not to see Scribbly as an analog for Levitz— for a lot of comic book writers and artists, really. In the issue, Superman captures the imagination of Scribbly as a young boy, and from that moment on he’s determined to share his love of Superman with everyone. For better and for worse, these characters (save for Green Arrow) don’t really have a place in the moodier comics of today, but Convergence Worlds Finest is overall one of the more hopeful Convergence issues, and I’m happy to see this characters have a well-deserved last hurrah.
Michael: I had heard of a handful of the characters featured in World’s Finest, but the Metropolis presented here was mostly foreign to me. Doing some digging, I found that Scribbly Jibbet was created by Sheldon Mayer in his semi-autobiographical comic strip Scribbly, about the eponymous novice cartoonist. Like Scribbly, Mayer was inspired to create comics after being exposed to the adventures of Superman. Levitz himself seems to have been a Mayer protégé of sorts so it’s fitting that he assumes the voice of Scribbly as his own.
I like that Levitz/Scribbly gets to engage in some wish fulfillment by not only writing about super heroic exploits but by joining in the adventure himself. The inevitable arrival of “the “amned dome” makes Scribbly just as helpless as his super friends. I can’t help but see this as Levitz taking the opportunity to write about fate’s cruelty, watching the old guard of DC grow old and die just like Scribbly did with Shining Knight, Green Arrow and Speedy. Fun fact: did you know that Levitz became editor of Adventure Comics when he was 20? (Thanks Wikipedia!) Knowing Levitz’s background makes me appreciate this issue a hell of a lot more than I did the first time around. Convergence: Worlds Finest 1 does what I wish DC would do more often these days: embrace the wacky. A cartoonist named Scirbbly Jibbet? Sure, why not? A sidekick with the oh-so-simple moniker Stripesy? Absolutely.
This was a rare week where we had something to say about every single tie-in. In future weeks, expect a few more holes in our pull list — holes that you’re encouraged to fill with your comments. In the meantime, let’s keep talking about Convergence!