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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Infinite Mortality

Here's some thoughts on INFINITE CRISIS #5. If you haven't read it yet, and don't like spoilers, don't hit that expansion link:


Lois Lane is dead.

To the vast majority of DC's current audience, this won't mean much -- the Lois Lane who dies in INFINITE CRISIS #5 is, after all, not the 'real' Lois Lane to them; she's some wrinkled old crone with white-streaked blue hair wearing a gramma dress. It will never occur to most of these readers that, in point of fact, the current, Modern Day Lois Lane, who is young and hip and happening, whose dark hair is brown, not black, because John Byrne got tired of 'blue hair' jokes, and who bears more than a passing resemblance to a Terri Hatcher somewhat younger than the one who is currently appearing in DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, is, in fact, little more than a pallid, modern day reincarnation of the true Lois Lane.

The true Lois Lane -- this is the Lois Lane that has become part of our modern day mythology, the Lois Lane mentioned in countless passing pop culture references, the Lois Lane who starred in her own series of often absurdly idiotic but always endearingly goofy comic book adventures from 1957 through the end of the Silver Age in 1985, the Lois who competed constantly with Lana Lang for Superman's affections, who launched countless hairbrained schemes intended to trick Superman into marrying her, or confirming her suspicions that he was really Clark Kent, who gained various different superhuman powers dozens if not hundreds of times and who underwent dozens if not hundreds of bizarre transformations due to magic, alien science, futuristic technology, or some even more indescribable plot device.

The true Lois Lane -- to call her a seminal character is so profound an understatement as to border on irony. A character which has spawned over a dozen different incarnations in every entertainment media, from radio to TV to Broadway to theatrical film releases, and who has even spawned a version of herself who is an evil otherdimensional Superwoman (see the Modern Age Crime Syndicate of Amerika), Lois Lane is the icon of and the template for virtually every female romantic interest, intrepid girl reporter, and damsel in distress in modern heroic fiction.

Pick up any of literally thousands of National/DC comics published between 1938 and 1985 that have a character named Lois Lane appearing in them somewhere; this is the character I'm talking about. Listen to Charlie Sexton list a cavalcade of iconic romantic couples in his 80s power ballad I Am Not Impressed, his list ends with "Superman and Lois Lane". Lois Lane is who the viewpoint character is singing to in the Spin Doctors' Pocketful of Kryptonite. Lois Lane is who Superman was inevitably destined to marry and have children with, according to countless Silver Age Imaginary Stories.

Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane.

R.I.P.

Oddly enough, the death of this fundamental superheroic mythology icon doesn't reverberate anywhere near as much as it should in IC #5. It's probably impossible for this epoch-ending event to actually be depicted with the level of intensity and significance it actually has for superhero comics, since, as I've already noted, to the vast majority of contemporary readers, the character who dies in this story will not be anyone they have much emotional interest in. Even to me, this wrinkled old lady does not seem like the 'real' Lois Lane, any more than the original Superman, the Superman from the Golden Age, seems like the 'real' Superman. To me, the best I can do emotionally is to think of him and his Lois as being real alternate versions of the characters; to my mind, the real Lois, and the real Superman, are the Silver Age characters I grew up with, who seem to have mysteriously and without any explanation whatsoever simply vanished, victims of the weird temporal transformations wrought in the first CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. The original Golden Age Superman and Lois were saved out, and new Modern Age versions of Superman and Lois were created; somehow along the way, the Silver Age versions who were my childhood companions have just evaporated.

And if even I have trouble regarding this deceased old woman as the 'real' Lois Lane, it must be impossible for Modern Age readers to have any real understanding of what an essential, fundamental character comics has just lost. Given all of that, it's probably not likely that anyone could have written the sequence any better than Geoff Johns did... and yet, still... the death of the original Romantic Interest comes off kind of flat... something that probably isn't helped any by Johns tossing in yet another pointless but seemingly obligatory fight scene right after, as the Earth-2 Superman flies into a primal rage and takes out his grief, briefly, on the Modern Age Superman, who shows up originally to console him, and sticks around to punch his aging lights out.

IC #5 is the first issue of the series I've felt even vaguely disappointed in, and I cannot, as yet, narrow down specifically why. It may be simply that the previous 4 installments all ended on cliffhangers so well crafted as to leave me achingly anxious for the next chapter, while the ending to this issue, while certainly a cliffhanger, seems forced and arbitrary to me. Or it may be that in previous episodes it has seemed as if a great many things happened in each, with various bits of breathtaking brilliance studded like gems throughout a densely event-packed narrative, and in this one, virtually nothing happens at all, and the brilliant stuff boils down to little more than a half a dozen bits of good dialogue.

With ONE YEAR LATER issues already available for a few titles at comics shops now, and two more issues of INFINITY CRISIS still unpublished, it could also be that this series is already feeling drawn out and old hat. With various new, much anticipated series like SECRET SIX, SHADOWPACT, CHECKMATE, a new BLUE BEETLE, and a new SPECTRE due out in May, one even has to wonder if IC's final issue will have appeared by then.

Lastly, it could just be that the spectacularly annoying placement of ads in this issue has directly contributed to just how little an emotional impact it seems to have had on me. We get four pages of story and then a full page facing ad; on the other side of that ad is another page of story, followed by another full page ad. Then we get three more pages of story and another full page ad. Then we get a big 8 uninterrupted pages; just enough to let us think maybe we can finally settle into the narrative flow without rude interruptions, but then -- oh no! DC has to kick us in the nuts their damned selves by interrupting the story yet AGAIN for a goddam house ad for a frickin' goddam Batman and Robin All Star Ceramic Statue, for Christ's sake. Then seven more pages of story, turn the page, and -- AUGH! it's another house ad, this time for a new Red Sonja and Claw the Conqueror comic debuting in March; the last thing on God's Earth anyone reading INFINITE CRISIS cares about. Then we get one page of a great many Earths apparently appearing out of the very empty ether, followed by another house ad, this one featuring an appallingly rendered Batman and Joker visual by Sam Kieth, who should still be serving time for the horrors he inflicted on SANDMAN back in the 80s, but who has apparently been paroled.

Then we get another seven pages of story, again, just enough to let us start to relax once more -- and then, we turn a page and get smacked with yet another house ad, this one for more merchanise; goddam action figures based on some out of continuity Alex Ross mini-series. Then we get the last page of the issue's story -- followed by NINE MORE PAGES OF HOUSE ADS and self promotion, enough to make nearly any reader wonder "gee, for the $4 per issue I'm paying for this thing, couldn't they have maybe given me a couple more pages of story instead of all these fucking commercials?"

Out of 48 pages between the actual covers, 16 pages are ads. Counting the covers themselves, 19 pages out of 52 are ads. This may not seem like such a high ratio, but to those of us who grew up with Silver Age DC comics, when the ads were thoughtfully spaced in such a way that they were printed back to back, and could be torn out of the comics without in any way harming the story, this is just aggravating -- and given that the ad placement seems to be calculated to interrupt the story at points of maximum attention, it also seems to be almost cruelly counterproductive in terms of the actual storytelling artform.

I generally don't bother to buy the inevitable trade paperback collections of series I've bought in the original issues, but when INFINITE CRISIS comes out as such, I may make an exception, simply because the narrative flow of the story has been so badly damaged by the ubiquitous ad placement in it.

I'm not at all sure whether I'll be sticking around for many, or any, DC comics after INFINITE CRISIS is over. With Geoff Johns apparently teaming up with Kurt Busiek on SUPERMAN, a character I've had no interest in whatsoever since the first CRISIS, well, DC's biggest continuing drawing point for me may not be retaining my interest much longer. And I'm already seeing signs that Johns' work is starting to slip somewhat in quality. And while it's good to see DC striving to expand their target demographic with new, minority versions of their older characters, well, clearly I'm not part of that new target demographic, and blatant tokenism has never really appealed to me much, anyway.

Still, I've come this far with the series, I guess I'll stick around for the finish. I just hope this issue is a momentary downturn in quality, and the next one picks things back up again. I'd hate to see a story as promising as this one is just fizzle out.

2 Comments:

At 1:14 PM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

I can't read this one yet because IC #5 isn't in my hands yet. This is a five-shipment comics month so at the moment I don't know if I'm going to receive the first two weeks bundled at the end of this week or the first three weeks on the 17th. If it's going to be this week I'll receive a shipment notice by Tuesday night.

 
At 2:13 AM , Anonymous Asshole said...

Crisis, and all the re-boots and rewrites and 'new' old characters in comics, I see as merely a symptom of a larger disease: the death of creativity in modern media entertainment.

Sequel this, prequel that. Remake this, re-release that with 'special features'. Whatever happened to writing your own damn stories and scripts?

Art is dead.

 

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