Saturday, May 3, 2008

Tell Me What You Remember, Mr. Savage

Given that DC Comics’ miniseries Final Crisis starts at the end of this month, here’s a mind-breaking question about the prior “Crisis” events for nerd readers to argue endlessly about in the Responses below — the question that DC editors and writers endlessly dodge or give contradictory, off-the-cuff answers to, lacking the Nietzschean courage to stare directly into the abyss for fear of going mad:

In New Earth history (that is, the history of the main world as it was remade in DC Comics’ Infinite Crisis miniseries and 52 in 2005-2007), was the big Crisis of a few years earlier, the one involving the Anti-Monitor’s shadow demons and the death of Barry Allen, a Crisis on Infinite Earths (as the title of the original mini-series called it back in 1985) or merely a Crisis on 52 Earths (since New Earth exists in a finite multiverse, unlike the infinite one in which DC Comics stories used to take place, back in the days when the Anti-Monitor’s first appearance was actually published) — or was it perhaps even a Crisis on One Earth (the New one, whose inhabitants arguably only recently became aware of alternate Earths)? What did the people now living see during the big Crisis, and what did the surviving heroes think about the state of the multiverse when that Crisis ended? And if you answer, please specify which multiverse.

I notice that many fans — some with an enviable naivete that spares them even having to get headaches about this stuff — will readily and confidently answer such questions merely by reference to publication history, that is, by saying, much as the useless Donna Troy might, that “there were Infinite Earths, then they got destroyed, then there was one Earth, then fifty-one others got created,” as if it’s as simple as recounting World War I being succeeded by the inter-war years being succeeded by World War II, but obviously each successive transformation hinted at in that quote was meant, thanks to time travel-type stuff, to be retroactive to the dawn of creation, so it’s genuinely unclear, I would contend, what “now” is supposed to have happened back in Barry’s final days. If it were a simple question, I wouldn’t ask. (From New Earth, can you watch multiverses live and die while your own history proceeds forward normally, like an island of temporal safety in a larger changing sea, or did New Earth know only the 52, or perhaps only itself, until recently?)

BONUS QUESTION (perhaps to be clarified in July’s Justice Society of America annual): What does Power Girl now remember her life being like in the time between her apparent arrival as a costumed young adult on New Earth (back in the days before, say, the New Teen Titans arose) and, say, the Crisis on Infinite/52 Earths? Did she walk around wondering where she was and being asked where she’d come from prior to arriving on the JSA’s doorstep? Did a confusing conversation about multiple versions of Superman and the JSA ensue when she met the JSA, or did everyone at that point think she fit seamlessly into New Earth events, only learning recently that she’s anomalous?

Again, I’m not asking what the comics showed at the time — I know what the comics have shown — I’m asking if we can correctly deduce what must have happened in New Earth history, which remains technically undepicted. I’m inclined to think, implausible as it sounds physics-wise, that she arrived on New Earth from (the new) Earth-2 and promptly had her mind subtly refashioned by the universe itself so that she “fit into” it, believing herself a cousin of the New Earth Superman for a couple years — perhaps even telling him so — before being told by Arion that that was false and that she was actually an Atlantean, leading her to believe that for a few years, before having her memories of the new Earth-2 restored during Infinite Crisis.

She should not remember the old Earth-2 even though the Power Girl we read about in the actual pages of Infinite Crisis in 2005 did — but again, those pages (at least the first several issues) weren’t in “New Earth” history, merely pre-52 “clutter Earth” history, and now Power Girl presumably fits into the history of the current multiverse, living one Earth away from where her childhood occurred, not being a complete outsider to the whole current multiverse. She’s not quite as anomalous as she used to be from our perspective, you might say.

NOTE ON DONNA TROY: As for Donna Troy, there’s really no good reason (in the sense of being shunted from one Earth to another or one multiverse to another, given her current history) for her having a special awareness of such temporal anomalies other than it being a sort of happenstance superpower she has — “knowing about the multiverse and its history” (because of things “she” went through in versions of history other than the current one). That’s slightly annoying in a way similar to those endings where something was all a dream but leaves one small artifact in the dreamer’s pocket (reality shouldn’t be half-assed, we continuity-nerds implicitly believe). It might be simplest if the writers just had that awareness of hers fade and let her get back to be a perfectly normal magical twin sister of Wonder Woman — but then, she’s supposed to be meta-monitoring the multiversal Monitors now, I gather, so the temptation to involve her in time-weirdness may prove irresistible to future writers. Who Does Donna Troy Think She Is, Anyway?

PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE? Perhaps the easiest thing to do to prevent future mistakes (or rather, third-easiest, the two easiest solutions being [a] start over from scratch with one universe or [b] just declare time/history completely malleable, as was attempted briefly with DC’s now-abandoned “Hypertime” concept) would be to make the situation on New Earth approximate as closely as possible the reader’s experience of history by declaring New Earth even more vaunted relative to other Earths than it currently appears, such that from it one can see not only other universes but whole multiverses rising and falling — or at least becoming “accessible” and “inaccessible” from the main timeline — over the course of New Earth history. Then — despite history restarting from the Big Bang within each of the other, lesser universes — from the privileged vantage point of New Earth heroes it might well appear that there was an “old multiverse” unveiled to most of them a few years ago (fictional time), around the time of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which destroyed that multiverse, then a period of seeming temporal unity, then a period of Hypertime, then an Infinite Crisis that unveiled a “new multiverse” the New Earthers hadn’t seen before.

The downside of this plan would be having to keep track, forever more, of the fact that when New Earth characters say, for instance, “Earth-2,” they need to specify whether they’re referring to the old one or the new one — instead of just being blissfully ignorant of the old one or assuming their old experiences have been revised to incorporate contact with the new/only Earth-2.

THE MYSTERY: The starkest way of putting the whole question may be: Do our heroes remember talking about the multiverse prior to Infinite Crisis (in the same straightforward, non-privileged-by-time-travel way they remember, say, watching Welcome Back, Kotter, sharing those memories with members of the general public in a completely normal fashion)? If they remember talking about the multiverse in the past, how did they describe that multiverse in those old conversations? We still haven’t really been told. Glossing over it works only so long as certain sorts of flashback/history stories are ruthlessly avoided (and for the past few years, they pretty much have been, a rather high price to pay for progress, though perhaps worth it).

There have, of course, been the grand historical overviews provided by Donna Troy and the Monitors, but those overviews are utterly useless for answering these sorts of questions for precisely the reason that those characters speak from a privileged perspective more akin to the all-knowing reader’s than to ordinary human perspectives “within” the current version of normal history. And it is that normal history fans want to know and understand, despite DC’s shameful, irresponsible obfuscation over the past twenty-two years, indicative of their own internal slap-dash confusion and apathy.

The question, in short, is not what some God’s-eye character like Darkseid remembers but what a hundred-year-old, non-superpowered human historian would remember, having observed New Earth history for the past seven decades in the conventional fashion. Didio? Johns? Morrison? Hilty? Anyone at DC have a real answer for the first time in twenty-two years?


Jacob T. Levy said...

During the post-COIE and pre-IC years there was at least a possibility of a coherent answer and the aspiration to find one. Constant energy was poured into Hawkmen and Legions and Valors trying to work out a coherent unified timeline (or rather one pre-ZH and one post-ZH timeline). We had a Secret Origins patch for what the Crisis was that killed the Flash, and so on. Now I don’t think there are even possible answers, since we don’t even know what the life story of Superman and Wonder Woman look like.

Todd Seavey said...

On the bright side, the new issue (#864) of _Action Comics_, as both you and Michael Malice told me, does a nice job not only of setting up the impending _Final Crisis_ companion miniseries _Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds_ but does a very good job of showing the kind of creepiness and ominous confusion that can result from time being periodically rewritten (specifically, the three versions of the Legion — with the dark-Giffen and SW6 versions circa 1990 falling through the cracks, for good or ill).

The most amazing thing about the issue may be that it actually followed up on two major developments from the awful, weekly, year-long series _Countdown to Final Crisis_, the events of which played so little role in this week’s _DC Universe: Zero_ one-shot that I thought for sure a consensus had been quietly reached among fans and creators alike to just never speak of _Countdown…_ again (for the most part, we still won’t, I’m guessing).

The most confusing thing about the issue, though, is Lightning Lad: Is the “main” one that we see throughout the issue actually consistent with the way they’ve been depicting the grown-up quasi-pre-Crisis-on-Infinite-Earths Lightning Lad in recent stories (which I didn’t read)? He doesn’t remind _me_ of the Lightning Lad I remember from pre-1985 — but he clearly mourns fallen quasi-pre-Crisis comrades, so I’ll assume he’s not supposed to be a “fourth” version of LL unless you tell me otherwise.

Todd Seavey said...

Oh, and I won’t give it away here, but it is also nice to see a character I’ve twice praised on this site reappearing at the end, further confirming that there are some people who think like me (or rather my demo/psych-profile) in charge at DC lately.

Jacob T. Levy said...

You didn’t read the Johns-written Action issues with the Legion, I take it. What we have is a Legion roughly consistent with the Levitz Legion through Crisis that hung out with Clark Kent (not Superboy) from Smallville. But then there was a divergence from the published storyline at some indeterminate time after Crisis but before the great LSH-LSV war when Karate Kid was killed. The Legion we’ve seen everywhere except the LSH book for the last two years has been that one– supposedly the Levitz Legion that, instead of the LSV plotline and everything that came after, lived through a xenophobic anti-alien takeover of earth led by a Duplicate Boy knockoff who kidnapped Sun Boy, had the sun turned red, etc. The Legion had to go underground, and the mildly-dystopic future they were living in meant that some of their personalities became more extreme than we remember from Levitz days. (The plotline had lots of elements that were vaguely like the Giffen 5 years later era– earth vs. the UP, for example– but the Giffen stuff is definitely not in their continuity.) Lightning Lad was certainly a short-fuse hothead sometimes in the Levitz era; now he’s moreso.

The big difficulty with reconciling the whole thing with the Levitz era up through Crisis is the coexistence of Karate Kid and Sensor Girl.

T.A.B. said...

This whole conversation gives me a headache.

Todd Seavey said...

I didn’t read those stories, but I think I read somewhere that Karate Kid says at some point (perhaps elsewhere) that he _did_ die, presumably in the LSH-LSV war, then came back (only to die again in _Countdown…_). That may reconcile your Sensor Girl problem, though they never promised you the new continuity would exactly match the old (even said explicitly it wouldn’t in fact) — and I’ve said ever since 1985 that I don’t mind change as long as we end up somewhere that’s _internally_ consistent.

Truth be told, I also don’t even mind them saying “certain events and characters are just inherently weird and difficult to pin down, like something out of quantum mechanics, due to the time travel stuff involved” — but simply dodging the questions is not the same thing as pleading Hypertime.

Jacob T. Levy said...

You read that in a monologue from Starman,whose schizophrenia seems linked to an awareness of multiple timelines and earths. I don’t think anyone else has referred to KK’s original death.

Anyway, I don’t think internal consistency is particularly possible at this point. The present Superman and Wonder Woman seem to have both their pre-Crisis and post-Crisis histories in their heads, more or less, and while it’s ok for Power Girl to be a hard case, giving up o the continuity of those two is a way of giving up on the whole history-fixing enterprise. Now there’s just a nostalgia well that contains any published stories Geoff Johns wants to make reference to.

Todd Seavey said...

I suppose if this (Earth-1?) version of the LoSH had its history start deviating from what’s on record right after Crisis on Infinite Earths, there’s a certain logic to that — does that work?

Todd Seavey said...

The e-mail exchange below (read bottom-up) is pretty good evidence that nerdism has its price in lost knowledge of other areas of the pop spectrum, by the way:

On May 6, 2008, at 7:31 AM, Todd Seavey wrote:

Ah, so _that’s_ where the line in the comic book _Countdown to Final Crisis_, uttered by Wonder Woman’s sister, “I’m Donna Troy, bitch!” came from. Now the DC Universe makes sense to me. A lot of things make sense to me now.

On May 5, 2008, at 11:32 PM, Nybakken Scott wrote:

Todd, it falls to me to point out that this episode first aired *five years ago*, and was an instant media sensation, spawning a catchphrase (“I’m Rick James, bitch!”) that was repeated by every male between the ages of 18-35 for *two solid years*, and has so thoroughly entrenched itself into American pop culture that when Dave Chappelle discontinued work on the third season of the show, it was national news for weeks. As always, Wikipedia has more:’s_Show


On 5/4/08 8:02 PM, “Todd Seavey” wrote:

I don’t know if this is typical of his show (I’m not even sure I’m spelling his name correctly), but last night for the first time I watched a whole _Chapelle’s Show_ episode, and though it wasn’t all that funny, I found it fascinating just because it was a narrative structure you genuinely don’t see on TV very often: a non-fiction framing sequence with heavily fictionalized flashback sequences — specifically, Eddie Murphy’s older brother Charlie, who seemed fairly dumb but likable in an Eddie-like way, telling true stories about all the times he had to beat up Rick James to punish him for misbehavior, with Chapelle playing Rick James in exaggerated fashion in the flashbacks, which were all barbarously simple, such as the time Eddie and Charles beat on James’s legs to punish him for grinding his mud-covered boots into Eddie’s couch, due to all the cocaine he had consumed. That’s television.

Jacob T. Levy said...

that’s very funny.

Ali Kokmen said...

Regarding that e-mail exchange tracing the etymology of the “I’m X, bitch” catchphrase:

Even if one was so isolated as to totally miss the whole David Chapelle/Rick James thing, surely any good nerd would recognize the iteration “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch” from the last X-Men movie, which line was stuck in there as a nod to an earlier viral video/YouTube meme that itself was wildly popular.

Regardless, that nerdism implies a lack of awareness of other pop culture phenomena is an interesting concept. But it don’t gotta be that way, honest…