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Breaking down “Event” comics, Part Three: Day of Vengeance; or, DC editorial policy as metaphor

by  in Comic News Comment
Breaking down “Event” comics, Part Three: <i>Day of Vengeance</i>; or, DC editorial policy as metaphor

Part One: Identity Crisis!

Part Two: Countdown to Infinite Crisis!

After the large pile of doggy doo-doo that was Countdown to Infinite Crisis, I had high hopes for the four (!) mini-series that Dan DiDio and DC felt were necessary to lead into Infinite Crisis.  Well, okay, not really “high hopes,” but at least hopes that, freed from the narrow focus of Countdown (the point of which was to advertise said four mini-series), the talent would be allowed some free rein to write some good stories.  I suppose I should have known better.

As opposed to Identity Crisis, which was supposed to be a stand-alone mini-series, Day of Vengeance is NOT supposed to be a stand-alone mini-series.  It is part of the whole tapestry that leads into Infinite Crisis, and because of that, this is a wholly unsatisfying mini-series.  It leads back into the crossover mentality of DC and Marvel these days, something I hope to look at increasingly as I read through these books.  I don’t mean to harp on price, but back in the day, you could have company-wide crossovers and expect your customers to buy at least most of the titles.  But this mini-series cost 15 dollars.  And what did we get out of it?  Very little.

I’m not going to go into the story too much, because it’s far too simplistic.  The Spectre is seduced by Eclipso, inhabiting the body of Jean Loring, into destroying all magic in the world.  DC’s magicians show up to stop him.  Sounds good, right?  Well, sure – for a two-issue story.  However, Bill Willingham, who writes one of my favorite books, Fables, has to spread this out over six issues, and that’s where the series falls apart.  The padding of what is essentially a couple of big fight scenes makes what should be a pretty slam-bang kind of story a dull read.  And that’s too bad.

DC continues to puzzle me with the way they portray their characters.  This series, and the entire crossover, is for supergeeks who are supposed to know everything about DC characters, and that’s fine.  We get no introduction to our heroes - the Nightmaster, the Enchantress, the Detective Chimp, Nightshade, Ragman, and Blue Devil – beside perfunctory ones, and that’s fine.  Willingham does a decent job incorporating who they are into the narrative, and although I don’t know everything about the characters – the last time I saw Jim Rook was in Millar’s Swamp Thing, the last time I saw Enchantress and Nightshade was in Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, the last time I saw Ragman was in Moench’s Batman, and the last time I saw Blue Devil Robinson was killing him in Starman -  we learn enough about them to get a good handle on them.  The problem isn’t with the stars of the series, it’s with the ancillary characters – Captain Marvel, Shazam, and Black Alice – and with the villains.  Let’s break it down!

  • The Spectre is the wrath, the wrath I say, of God.  The absolute best series about the Spectre is Ostrander and Mandrake’s 60-odd issue run, which explained the Spectre better than anyone in a six-issue mini-series could.  Willingham misses the point of the Spectre completely.  I get that he is no longer bound by a human host, and is therefore quite evil.  However, Ostrander explained very well that he just can’t do what he does in this series.  God wouldn’t allow it.  He exists to avenge evil, not simply destroy what he sees as evil.  Yes, Eclipso seduces him, but what he is doing ought to be impossible.  And I suppose that the series with the Spectre in it since then have done different things with his power, but this idea that he is going to go around destroying magic is dumb.  The Spectre is the wrath of God.  God should not allow what he is doing.
  • Of course, the timeline is a bit screwed up.  In issue #2, Eclipso/Jean seduces the Spectre and tells him he has to destroy magic.  But he’s been doing that the entire first issue, before, apparently, he meets Eclipso.  So what’s the deal?
  • Willingham doesn’t do a terribly good job telling us who, or what, Eclipso is.  Jean Loring gets treated badly yet again, as one of those black diamonds shows up in her cell at Arkham and she turns into Eclipso.  Another cool part of Ostrander’s series about the Spectre is that Eclipso was the wrath of God before the Spectre, but he lost his job because he was too nuts.  That’s a pretty decent idea, but no matter what he status quo is these days, a first-time reader would have no idea what’s going on.  What happens to Jean Loring?  What is she promised?  We find out that direct sunlight can hurt her, but what the hell else is her deal?
  • Speaking of Jean, she can’t catch a break, can she?  Back in the day, when Eclipso was the focus of another big DC crossover, the heroes figured out how to de-Eclipso everyone possessed by the black diamond.  Nightshade doesn’t even bother with that – she teleports her into orbit around the sun.  Poor Jean Loring.  DC enjoys shitting all over her.
  • Why don’t comic book artists spend some time with actual teenagers?  Black Alice, who is a marginally interesting character, dresses like a slut.  First, we’re supposed to believe she’s some kind of Gothic chick, but a Goth who dresses like a slut.  I taught high school for close to four years, and there were girls in my class who fit the definition of “slut.”  They had babies to prove it!  Very few of them – very few – dressed like Black Alice.  And certainly no Goths.  I suppose it’s fine for comic book artists to make women dress like sluts – I don’t like it, but it’s the world we live in – but I assume she’s supposed to be 16 or 17.  Drawing her like that is just icky.

  • The series ends poorly, too.  Shazam’s rock of eternity explodes, and Jim Rook somehow knows what happens to individual shards.  Was it necessary for a “young girl” to be vaporized just to satisfy Dan DiDio’s bloodlust?  How does Jim Rook know all that stuff, anyway?  And the heroes fail.  I suppose there are two reasons for it: it’s “real,” and “reality” is what DC is all about these days, and it leads into Infinite Crisis.  Or maybe the one-shot special, which I haven’t read yet.  I’ll get to it, I promise!

The problem with this series, and, I fear, the other three mini-series that I haven’t read yet, is that it’s “means to an end” storytelling.  What did DC want to accomplish with this mini-series?  It certainly couldn’t have been that Willingham came to them with an idea, and they ran with it.  As we learned in Countdown to Infinite Crisis, Dan DiDio met with JoRucknick in a smoky room and planned out the future of DC like they were members of the Bavarian Illuminati or something.  And with regard to this, what they decided was: the wizard Shazam has to die.  That’s it, right?  I mean, that’s the whole point of the story.  Sure, it’s about the Spectre trying to destroy magic, but as Shazam points out, he can’t do that anyway, so we have to wonder why this series was published, and it appears that Dan DiDio and JoRucknick decided that Shazam had to die, and so they needed a series that would kill him.  At least, that’s how it seemed to me.

Another problem with this mini-series is Captain Marvel.  Not the character, but the way DC has always used him.  Once they incorporated the Marvel family into the DC Universe, it was doomed.  DC probably should have left him off in Fawcett City and made sure that the “Marvel” Universe, like the Wildstorm one, remained separate from their mainstream titles.  Captain Marvel is, after all, a child who turns into a man.  Therefore, his adventures have always been tinged with a kind of childlike innocence, which to jaded readers means “goofy.”  I have never been a big fan of Captain Marvel, but I recognize his huge potential – he could easily be a “gateway drug” for children into other superhero comics.  But DC didn’t want that – they wanted, in their infinite wisdom, to bring Captain Marvel into the “real” DCU, where he simply does not work.  He’s too naive and silly.  Now, apparently, one component of JoRucknick is writing him as just another angry superhero.  I may not enjoy the old Captain Marvel, but he was, at least unique.  I do not have high hopes for the new series.  Without the mysticism of Shazam (who will probably live again, and maybe already has, based on how far behind the curve I am) and the strangeness of the Marvel family, Captain Marvel isn’t interesting at all.  But at least he’s, you know, “real.”

The final point about DC’s big event so far is how obsessed with death these people are.  Identity Crisis, I know, was not really tied in with this, but the idea of DC having a death list (Marvel too, for that matter) is just disturbing.  Meltzer wanted to write a murder mystery, I assume, but what if this would have made a better story with a different victim?  Only he couldn’t do that because of editorial restraints?  And then, Countdown killed Ted Kord, and Day of Vengeance killed Shazam (alone with some others, but Shazam was the big kill).  As has become far too common in comic book writing these days, death = serious.  Well, no.  Death = laziness, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s easy to kill someone off and claim you’re taking comics seriously.  It’s far more difficult to examine superheroes and make them still heroic while exposing the fact that they are human.  The death of Sue Dibny led directly to Ray Palmer throwing Jean Loring into the worst place in the DCU without a trial, which led to Jean Loring becoming Eclipsed, which led to the Shadowpact acting unheroically and throwing Jean into orbit around the sun.  The rape of Sue Dibny led to the heroes wiping Batman’s memory, which presumably led to Batman creating those satellites.  All of this stems from simply killing off characters to shock readers instead of trying to write good stories.  Day of Vengeance is a mini-series created specifically to kill someone, just like Countdown was a one-shot created for the same purpose.  At least the Spectre, who should be wearing Dan DiDio’s face, got his wish: the magic has indeed been wiped away from the DC Universe.  Good job, DC!

Reviews of the series: a good one of issue #6, a good one of issue #1, Don McPherson is disappointed in issue #6, a lukewarm reaction to the series, and an interesting breakdown of the events.

Next time: OMAC wants you!

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