Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: Justice League #44 ("The Darkseid War" Pt. 4)

Note the people being cut in half, which is usually a pretty  good clue as to who wrote this particular DC superhero comic book.

Previously, in "The Darkseid War"...

Justice League #41 ("The Darkseid War" Pt.1)

Justice League #42 ("The Darkseid War" Pt. 2)

Justice League #43 ("The Darkseid War" Pt. 3)

THE COVER

Bad news? This is by far Fabok's worst cover for the story arc to date. Good news? This is also his last issue as cover artist and interior artist...at least for the solicitable future. A crowded image dedicated to showing Darkseid and The Anti-Monitor–the two sides of the titular war–in combat and squeezing in (almost) every other player, it doesn't have the same sense of design as the previous issue's cover.

So, what do we have? Well, Darkseid slugging it out with The Anti-Monitor just in front of the book's logo, while an explosion of lifhgt and clouds of dust and a busted-up, off-scale tank help hid their feet. In the next tier, we see the bust of Kanto, a full-body shot of Grail, and the bust of Myrina Black in profile. She's facing the giant head of Wonder Woman, which looks off into the distance.

Along the bottom, we have Superman–sporting a new, photo negative-inspired look after having re-charged his cells with the solar energy of Apokolips' fire pits–punching Lex Luthor, New 52 Mister Miracle on his flying discs and, behind his cape, Cyborg, Captain Marvel Shazam and The Flash, standing there looking tough.

PAGE 1
The beginning of this issue is in very sharp contrast to the previous ones in this story arc, which all featured a stack of "widescreen" horizontal panels gradually zooming in on something. Here, we have a nine-panel grid, the imagery showing a weird, somewhat arty parallel between The Joker, of all characters, and Batman, while Wonder Woman, the arc's on-again, off-again narrator, talks about Gelos, the Greek god of laughter.

The first panel begins with a picture of an angrily smiling Joker, and the "camera" gradually zooms in on his green eye, and then the black of its pupil. THen we get a close up of Batman's now glowing white eye, and slowly zoom out of that to reveal the grim, unshaven Batman, in his current, New New God look.

Wonder Woman's narration talks about the fact that Gelos was the god her mother hated "above all others," not because she hated laughter, but because he would follow her "like a shadow across teh battlefields...laughing at those in pain."

The parallel couldn't be more obvious, of course, although it's a little odd that The Joker is given such a prime place in this particular story arc, as he has had little to nothing to do with the Justice League or in Justice League so far (although he did co-opt them as part of his ultimate attack against Batman and Gotham City in "Endgame," which takes place after the events of "Darkseid War.")

You'll recall that the second question Batman asked the Mobius chair upon gaining access to it and all of the information it stored was the true identity of The Joker. Seeing him reappear at this point, and being equated with an evil god just as Batman has ascended to a form of limited godhood himself suggests that Geoff Johns does indeed intend to follow up on that tidbit from earlier in the arc.

PAGES 2-3

Batman and Green Lantern Hal Jordan begin their investigation into The Anti-Monitor's past, with Batman's new chair Boom Tube-ing them first to "The Crime Syndicate's Earth." That would be Earth-3, which we learned during the course of Justice League writer Geoff Johns' Forever Evil was pretty thoroughly destroyed by The Anti-Monitor.

When Hal wonders aloud if they should really be spending their timelooking for clues to the Anti-Monitor's origins instead of fighting him with the others, Batman tells him off, saying that he and Metron's Mobius chair both know that "You're not the hero, Jordan. The ring is the hero."

Hal is uncharacteristically mature in the face of the insult, not even attempting to slug Batmetron.

PAGES 4-5

A double-page splash, as Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor both punch eachother simultaneously, like this was a Dragonball Z fight. The force of their punches send their Shadow Demons and Parademons falling out of the sky, while Steve Trevor, Mister Miracle and the various Justice Leaguers all reel backwards. Only Diana seems more-or-less unaffected, as she narrates about the nature of war, and being a warrior for peace.

"My name is Diana," she reminds us. "Daughter of the Amazons. And I will die before I let them"–meaning Darkseid and The Anti-Monitor–"destroy our world."

PAGES 6-7

In the first panel, Cyborg tells Wonder Woman that the two titans either didn't even notice the Justice League was there, or didn't even care. What's the plan? It was unclear what Diana was hoping to do here last issue, as she lead the League in a vague charge in the direction of the two bad guys. She narrated about Odysseus having to choose between Scylla and Charybdis and how, ultimately, it didn't matter which he chose, as people would die either way.

Grail and Kalibak know what side they're each on. Grail somehow chops a couple of Parademons in half with her tiny, weird shaped axe and jumps at the much larger Kalibak. He catches her, throws her down, and talks trash.

She shoots eye-beams that apparently blind him, and his "AARGHHHHH!!! causes Darkseid to look away from The Anti-Monitor, who then sucker-blasts him.

Diana is the first Leaguer to enter the fray. She chooses as her opponent...Grail...?

Wonder Woman's plan to stop The Anti-Monitor and Darkseid from destroying the Earth by fighting on it is to break up the fight between their two top lieutenants.

Huh.

Man, the League needs Batman back, pronto!

PAGES 8-9

On Apokolips, the newly transformed Superman destroys the flock of Parademons that was pursuing he and Luthor, and demonstrates that he's got a new personality to go along with his new look and new dialogue balloon design. He's kind of an a-hole.

PAGES 10-11

Back on Earth: Fighting! Wonder Woman fights Grail! Mister Miracle fights Steppenwolf! And, when the guy with the wisdom of Solomon asks Steve Trevor (the least wise character in the DC Universe) what they should do and Trevor responds "Try to push them apart?" (Batman! Hurry back!)

Shazam, who, in addition to that wisdom of Solomon also possesses the strength of Hercules, the power of Zeus and the stamina of Atlas responds, "Who's going to volunteer to get between them?"

I always thought that the courage of Achilles was supposed to be a good thing? Was Achilles a coward or something?

Anyway, the League's most powerful member doesn't want to get between the bad guys, and their second most powerful member on the scene is busy fighting a mini-boss, so Power Ring volunteers.
Power Ring is, of course, the Earth-0 legacy version of the Earth-3 villain of the same name; she inherited his ring after the events of Forever Evil, and has been working with the League since. She basically has all of Green Lantern's powers, only her ring is an evil asshole that's always giving her shit.

She pushes it to the limit, and out shoots a big, scary ring construct, a knot of thorns, tentacles and dragon-heads, which pushes The Anti-Monitor and Darkseid apart.

The big D has had enough of this comic book, and wants to bring the conflict to the end. So he says "ENOUGH" and gives a black power salute.
Myrina and Grail both smile. "Yes, my old lover," the former says, "call him."

"Darkseid is summoning him," the latter says.

Who are they talking about?

Why, it's...

PAGES 12
The Black Racer!

That is The Black Racer, right? I mean, it says his name in a big black box right next to him.

Well, he looks...different. In fact, while all of Jack Kirby's designs for the New Gods characters have been rather radically screwed around with in the course of this story, The Black Racer may be the most radical redesign.

You may recall the original:
Death, in the world of Kirby's New Gods, was a black guy on a pair of flying skies and a suit of primary colored armor. The design has been tinkered with over the years, depending on the artist, of course, but rather than just making The Black Racer wear, say, black, now he looks like a weird droid version of Kirby's Destoryer design from Thor, with scythes instead of ski poles.

He/It proceeds to horribly wound The Anti-Monitor, slicing open his side and spilling his...pink...energy...stuff...?

PAGES 13-15

The narrative is now speeding up, and jumping back and forth between Qward, where Green Lantern and Batmetron are tracing The Anti-Monitor's origin, and the battle between The Anti-Monitor, the Apokolpytians and the Justice Leaguers.

Batmetron and his chair realize that The Anti-Monitor was once known as Mobius, and it was he that built the chair, and it was here on Qward in search of something forbidden, which cursed him.

On Earth, Darkseid has The Anti-Monitor/Mobius on the ropes. He rips off The Anti-Monitor's mask, Omega Beams him in the chest and then directs The Black Racer at him for the coup de grace.

On Qward, Batmetron is foreshadowing the hell out of what was at the center of the creation of the anti-matter universe, the opposite of free will, which was at the center of the creation of the, um, regular (?) universe.

The Anti-Monitor puts a whammy on The Flash, merging him with Death in order that he may bend it to his will.

And thus:

PAGE 16
Oh snap, The Flash is now The Black Racer!

He doesn't get skis or ski poles, but he does get a big, red scythe with a lightning bolt-shaped blade.

I think this would have been an infinitely more awesome moment if we hadn't already been introduced to a grim reaper version of The Flash back during Grant Morrison and Mark Millar's 1997-1998 run on The Flash, a character that Johns himself used during his 2009 The Flash: Rebirth miniseries.

This Black Racer/Flash mash-up bears more than a passing resemblance to The Black Flash, particularly in his color scheme.

PAGE 17

Five more panels of foreshadowing what happened to turn Mobius into The Anti-Monitor when he was in the anti-matter universe.

PAGES 18-19

Did you guess what it is yet? The two panels that fill these two pages, an awkward horizontal, splash-ish lay-out, will spoil it for you.

"THE ANTI-LIFE EQUATION IS IN MY VEINS!" The Anti-Monitor screams, while he blasts The Black Racer, Darkseid's greatest weapon, at and through the god of evil.

The Anti-Life Equation is, of course, the thing that Darkseid traditionally quested after. His interest in Earth was originally because he believed The Anti-Life Equation, which would give him complete control over sentient minds, could be found on Earth, locked away within the human subconscious.

Grant Morrison has had Darkseid find it repeatedly, in both his JLA arc "Rock of Ages," where in a far-flung future Darkseid has found it and used it to just about conquer everything, and in Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle and, most recently, in Final Crisis where Darkseid has conquered and enslaved Earth via the equation.

Morrison even once did the math. In Mister Miracle, the exact Equation was said to be this:
loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding × guilt × shame × failure × judgment n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side
Evan Dorkin, in his World's Funnest, offered his own solution to what the Anti-Life Equation might be, during a scene in which the warring imps destroy The Fourth World:
Well, the math in that version at least looks a lot easier.

Here, Johns suggests that it is the source of the creation of the Anti-Matter Universe, the opposite of the free will that was the source of the creation of the DC Universe, the "white light from where everything came...splintered into existence...gods and men."

The Equation, Johns has Batmetron explain, was discovered and unleashed by Mobius, transforming him into The Anti-Monitor promise. As to his precise beef with Darkseid, I suppose they'll get to that eventually, but he rants a bit about how Darkseid must be destroyed before Mobius can be renewed.

Is throwing The Flash-fused-with the personification of death through Darkseid enough to do the job?

Looks like.

PAGES 20-21

Another horizontal lay-out stretching across the two pages. There are nine slim, vertical panels, each stretching from the top of the page to the bottom: Darkseid screaming and venting pink energy and Kirby dots, Shazam screaming and venting lightning, Shazam saying "I can hear them fighting. They all want out...", Superman punching a prone Luthor in the jaw, Darkseid exploding in a flash of bright white light, Myrina Black saying something isnt' right, Kalibak shouting, WOnder WOman waxing poetic while shielding herself from the explosion and, finally, Wonder Woman looking shocked.

PAGE 22
Huh.

Well, he looks pretty dead to me. The title of the story appears on this last page, as it must, or else it would have spoiled the big event of the issue: "The Death of Darkseid."

So what, exactly, happens when Darkseid dies? Well, for starters, Justice League will get a new and better artist, and the various Leaguers will get a bunch of character-specific one-shots, as others join Batman and Superman in New New Godhood.

1 comment:

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

I kind of wish DC would make up its mind about what the Anti-Life equation actually is. I think Morrison's interpretation captures the spirit of Kirby the best: The Anti-Life equation is some kind of super-argument that can convince anyone who hears it to obey Darkseid (or whoever else is using it). The worst interpretation is Jim Starlin's where the ALE is just a big black monster.

Johns appears to be closer to Morrison than Starlin, but I'm getting the impression that he is treating the equation as if it emits power and energy in some way. I think it's better if the ALE has no power except for the power it exerts over the minds of the people who have read it.