I will not argue that August 2008 is the greatest month in the history of American literature. And yet…
It is largely this month that has drawn me back — very briefly — to comic book reading after about a year’s hiatus, intended to be permanent. And how could I resist?
As a younger person — always more of a sci-fi fan than a superhero fan at heart — I was happiest when comics delved into relatively highbrow concepts like time travel, parallel universes, reality-altering, and the nature of the cosmos. The first superhero comic book story I remember reading, in 1976, was drawn by George Perez and featured multiple universes (I was mainly into comics about Godzilla, Star Wars, dinosaurs, and Micronauts around that time, though — and Rom: Spaceknight, of course).
The first DC Comics comic I regularly collected was Legion of Super-Heroes, a sci-fi-ish series set a thousand years in the future, occasionally featuring the time-warping villainy of the Time Trapper. The series that started my shift toward complete DC fanhood, away from Marvel Comics, was the Perez-drawn parallel-universes saga Crisis on Infinite Earths. I retained my love for Jack Kirby throughout, though, having savored all nine issues of his late-Marvel series Devil Dinosaur but also his New Gods stories for DC, featuring the evil god Darkseid. My comics reading would start tapering off somewhat around the mid-90s, when DC depicted the hypothetical final adventure of its present-day heroes in the miniseries Kingdom Come.
But I would go on to write a few comic book stories for DC myself, one featuring the old character Krona, depicted in Crisis on Infinite Earths as the person responsible for the fractured multiverse of parallel universes coming into existence in the first place. Throughout it all, I’d remain fascinated by the continuity implications of revising reality and having multiple versions of characters.
So what’s happening, all at the same time, this month, thirty-two years after I developed this sick addiction?
This month alone, partly by accident and partly by design:
•Darkseid has conquered the Earth.
•He has done so in a series called Final Crisis by my favorite comics writer, Grant Morrison, which is a sequel to the aforementioned Crisis on Infinite Earths.
•George Perez is drawing the first issue of an affiliated five-issue miniseries featuring not one but three different versions (from parallel universes) of the aforementioned Legion of Super-Heroes up against Time Trapper (and a deranged doppelganger of Superboy left over from Crisis on Infinite Earths), called Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, written by a writer whose age and geek sensibilities are near-identical to my own, Geoff Johns (I hereby predict that today’s issue #1 of Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds will dwarf its own parent series in sales and indeed be the best-selling single issue of a comic book all year).
•Another affiliated series, the two-issue Final Crisis: Superman Beyond (again by Morrison), features godlike beings called the Monitors, derived from Crisis on Infinite Earths, dragging Superman across the multiverse in 3D, with actual 3D glasses included(!).
•Meanwhile, the aforementioned Johns is depicting the alarming present-day creation of Magog, the apocalyptic villain who caused the twilight of the superheroes in Kingdom Come, which may not be so hypothetical or far off anymore (and his creator, Gog, has brought the Justice Society into conflict with its Earth-2 counterparts, themselves seen for the first time in two decades).
•And another geek-turned-writer, Kurt Busiek, is doing a weekly series called Trinity in which Krona threatens to emerge from the cosmic egg in which he was imprisoned by a combined force of DC and Marvel superheroes, shattering reality in the process (I wish he’d use the Krona-worshipping characters I created, the so-called Hand of Krona).
•Plus, while all that’s going on, on the more negative but still intriguing side, a being called the Demiurge has revealed, in a blow to much established continuity, that Hawkman was never from ancient Egypt at all (that whole thread of reality was a cosmic fraud somehow tied to the Crisis on Infinite Earths) but instead hails from the planet Thanagar after all (I don’t know why they can’t just massage the conflicting stories a bit and say aliens built the pyramids and that it’s all connected, but I don’t write the damn things [often]).
Look, I want off the stuff as much as any addict, but all this happening in the same month is the sci-fi-leaning, continuity-obsessed, reality-warp-examining comic fanboy’s equivalent of delivering all the crack in the world to one crack addict’s doorstep in a single morning — and unlike the members of the Legion, I’m only human. It’ll all be over by year’s end, though.
And I hope it ends well, though the fact that ads for the penultimate issue of Final Crisis feature a villain called Mandrakk the Monitor, who sounds just a tad too much like some sick parody of reality-warping Mandrake the Magician, has me a little worried that (gonzo-inclined) Morrison is going to do something silly and postmodern involving a top hat that we’ll all regret. We shall see.
In the interim, you normals (if any of you are still reading this) can get a tiny, self-contained taste of some of the above by watching the eighth-or-so episode of the new season of Smallville (now entering its eighth year). That episode, which will be written by Johns, will feature the time-traveling Legion of Super-Heroes, portrayed by living, non-animated actors for the first time. And who knows? Maybe the geeky Johns will even put the Time Trapper in the episode.
(For people who are far too cool for comics: Trapper’s sort of like the Master on Doctor Who — you know, when the Master was all cloaked and decaying and mummy-like but still had time-travel powers.)
The truly amazing time-warping feat on Smallville, though, is going eight years without Clark Kent yet growing up, moving to Metropolis, and becoming Superman. Ratings can bend reality like nothing else.