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Grumpy Old Fan | Events’ End, Part 2: The un-endings

by  in Comic News Comment
Grumpy Old Fan | Events’ End, Part 2: The un-endings

Those of us who follow DC Comics’ superhero line have been waiting for this week for a long time. One year ago, Batman Eternal kicked off what became a trio of weekly series, with the other two apparently set to transform DC’s shared universe. Last week I talked about the next-to-last installments of each of those series, plus the next-to-last issue of Multiversity, which covered some of the same conceptual ground. I was hoping Multiversity would end this week as well, but since it didn’t come out, that just gives me a future topic.

Regardless, this week not only sees the conclusions of Batman Eternal, Futures End, and Earth 2: World’s End, but the start of Convergence, yet another (albeit shorter) weekly series running through the end of May. Today we’ll look at how the first three wrapped up, and whether Convergence #0 had a successful start.

SPOILERS, OBVIOUSLY

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As was the case last week, we begin with Batman Eternal #52, a deceptively simple coda that spends more than one-third of its 38 pages on epilogues and denouement. Issue 51 left off with three main problems: a city in flames, a tired Batman at the mercy of Owlman, and the justification for Owlman as the series’ villainous mastermind. This issue tackles each with surprising efficiency, folding Owlman’s involvement into the series’ larger theme of the Bat-folk “reconciling” — for lack of a better term — with Gotham itself.

The actual fight with Owlman takes up a total of 11 pages, but these include two double-page layouts and a few other pages which are basically one or two big panels with smaller insets. Compare that to the fourteen-page “one week later” sequence which closes out the issue. The latter is a series of one- to three-page vignettes, but the combination of their narrative linkage (in other words, they’re all endings) and their higher storytelling density (i.e., more panels and dialogue) gives the sequence greater weight than the Owlman fight has. For a series which is already slated to return, it’s ironic that Batman Eternal devotes so much time to closure, even if some of the vignettes serve series like Gotham By Midnight and Catwoman.

Back to Owlman for a bit, though, because this issue reveals that it wasn’t so much his plan as it was his backing. The four-page flashback which begins this issue shows Cluemaster seeking out the Court of Owls on the “Night of the Owls,” and finding a willing sugar daddy in Lincoln “Owlman” March. Like Jason Bard, Cluemaster’s hatred of Batman comes from feeling diminished by him, but as he monologues about how he can help the Owls, he regains the agency he lost last issue. The sequence re-frames Owlman, exposing him as an opportunist, even as it uses him to connect with the malevolent “Old Gotham” the Owls symbolize.

Accordingly, while Owlman boasts that Batman’s defeat will make both the hero and Bruce Wayne historical footnotes, James Gordon works to rally Gothamites, using a series of ad hoc Bat-Signals to inspire various acts of civic heroism. For one night, Gordon proclaims, everyone needs to “be Batman” — i.e., looking out for each other and (one presumes) administering beatdowns where applicable. Naturally, this is not a new tactic — we’ve seen heroic vigilante-aligned mobs in stories as different as The Dark Knight Returns and the return of Oliver Queen on Arrow — but in the specific context of “Batman vs. Gotham” which has been writer Scott Snyder’s hallmark, it takes on deeper meaning. The Owls were a secret society, but the Bat-clan uses giant personalized searchlights. The Owls are still around (in some form or another), but the general public has chosen the Bats. Although I’m not sure this makes Batman “eternal,” it is an important milestone in his current relationship with Gotham.

This issue’s success comes largely from its return to that relationship. Indeed, Batman Eternal’s weekly format probably worked against its narrative flow over the course of the past year. While Eternal was humming along happily, the Bat-franchise transformed, adding books like Gotham Academy and refurbishing books like Batgirl; but those books couldn’t do much with the Eternal subplots without threatening to spoil the latter. Thus, Eternal reflects Batgirl’s changes but doesn’t address them; and as far as I can tell it’s completely silent on Damian Wayne’s revival. On the upside, someone’s going to have fun putting together an Eternal timeline.

Regardless, I’m happy with the way Batman Eternal turned out. It probably didn’t need to be 52 issues, and it certainly drifted off around the middle, but it complements the rest of the New 52 Bat-books nicely.

Batman Eternal #52 was written by Scott Snyder (story) and James Tynion IV (story and script), with Ray Fawkes, Kyle Higgins, & Tim Seeley (consulting writers). It was penciled by Fawkes, Seeley, Eduardo Pansica, Robson Rocha, and David LaFuente, and inked by Fawkes, Seeley, LaFuente, Julio Ferreira, and Guillermo Ortego. The colorists were Allen Passalaqua, Gabe Eltaeb, John Kalisz, and John Rauch, and the letterer was Steve Wands. Dave Wielgosz was the assistant editor, Chris Conroy the editor, and Mark Doyle the group editor.

* * *

By its nature, the Earth 2: World’s End miniseries was always going to be a gap-filler, explaining what happened between the events of the Earth 2 ongoing series (now cancelled) and the start of Futures End’s backstory. As such, a reader might have expected E2:WE to end with the Earth-2 refugees jumping across the vibrational barrier to Universe Designate Zero, aka the main DC-Earth. However, last week’s Futures End issue 47 showed Tim Drake and Brother Eye changing the past so that the Earth-2 ships never got Brother Eye’s beacon, and therefore never made it to DC-Earth.

That seemed to set up an explanation in this week’s final E2:WE, but it’s more like a choose-your-own-adventure ending. On page 37 of 39, Terry Sloane tells Mr. Terrific (Michael Holt) that the fleet of refugees has “no destination,” which I take to mean that the Brother Eye beacon was never activated. However, it’s ambiguous enough that it could also mean they haven’t detected the Brother Eye beacon. At any rate, E2:WE ends with some of the proto-Justice Society aboard the refugee fleet, and the others (including Green Lantern, Flash, Superman, and Batman) missing in action and waiting for next week’s Convergence #1. The miniseries which started off as a supplement ends as a lead-in.

Otherwise, this issue is concerned mostly with Green Lantern (who gets 17 of its 39 pages) and Darkseid (who gets 18). Indeed, the fight between the two takes a total of nine pages, including a few double-page layouts. The rest is true to form for this miniseries: lots of running, screaming, panic, and destruction. Although the refugee fleet escapes, Darkseid ends up conquering-slash-consuming Earth-2 itself, which I suppose was implicit not just in the miniseries’ title but in the Futures End flashbacks.

On the bright side, one could theorize that this title demonstrates DC’s commitment to the New 52-style Earth-2 characters, since it could have simply cancelled the two Earth-2 books and let Futures End address their fates. They’ll be front and center in Convergence, and the upcoming Earth 2: Society series can’t help but be more optimistic by comparison. Still, I don’t think this was a story served well by the weekly format, and it definitely didn’t need to last this long. Even if its various subplots are meant to pay off in Society, here they’re just piling on. There’s been plenty of tragedy and carnage in E2:WE, and without a few more moments of uplift to balance things out, the miniseries still ends on a few downbeat moments. Add in the lack of resolution and it’s not a very satisfying reading experience.

I will say that the small army of professionals involved in this series have done yeoman’s work trying to make everything coherent and consistent. This issue was written by Daniel H. Wilson (story and script) and Marguerite Bennett, Mike Johnson & Cullen Bunn (script); pencilled by Eddy Barrows, Eduardo Pansica, R.B. Silva, Tyler Kirkham, Scott Cohn, Pascal Alixe, and Juan Jose Ryp; inked by Eber Ferreira, Julio Ferreira, Marc Deering, Jorge Jiminez, Walden Wong, Pascal Alixe, and Paulo Siqueira; colored by Hi-Fi, Andrew Dalhouse,and Ulises Arreola; and lettered by Corey Brown. The assistant editor was Jeremy Bent, the editor was Mike Cotton, and the group editor was Eddie Berganza. They juggled a sizable cast and no doubt had to coordinate with the Futures End and Convergence creative teams. However, Earth 2: World’s End got frustrating early on, and ended that way as well.

* * *

And here is the final Futures Index for this week’s Issue 48.

  • Story pages: 20
  • “New future” pages: 6
  • “I failed” pages: 3
  • Tim/Madison reunion pages: 4
  • Team Terrifitech vs. Eye-Zombie pages: 7
  • Pages on which the Eye-Zombies just stop and let the main characters talk or react: 4

NOTES: Well, that was a disappointment. It seems to frame the upcoming Batman Beyond series as a direct sequel to Futures End, which not only robs Futures End of any meaningful closure — since Brother Eye’s still in control, just not as much as before — but also makes BB more dependent on FE’s complicated history. Now Tim’s not just a time-traveler from 30 years in the past who’s replacing someone from a nightmare future, he himself is stuck in a slightly different version of that nightmare future. See if you can spot the differences!

Furthermore, while my concerns about Brother Eye surviving seem to have been borne out, the issue still doesn’t explain how Michael “Mr. Terrific” Holt made it from Earth-2 to the main DC-Earth in the changed timeline. Did Brother Eye just whip up a dimension door and bring him over later? All the Atom says is that “Terrifitech was a constant … protected by the Eye.” That’s just vague enough to be annoying.

What’s more annoying, though, is the realization that Tim’s victory was only a matter of degrees. Indeed, it’s arguably worse: Futures End issue 0 opened with the Flash and Captain Cold fighting off Eye-Zombies, but this issue makes a point to show both of them assimilated. I’m not saying the miniseries was a total waste of time, because it did have some good moments, including the Terry/Plastique and Lana/Fifty Sue subplots. However, last issue ended with the possibility that Tim had sacrificed himself (by shoving off into the timestream) to prevent Brother Eye from conquering the world — but here we learn that Brother Eye still conquered the world, just under slightly different circumstances. Earth 2: World’s End was frustrating in its issue-to-issue sameness, but this issue makes all of Futures End seem rather futile.

That said, here are some numbers for the series as a whole.

  • Story pages: 980
  • Stormguard origin pages: 4
  • “Green Arrow is dead” pages: 6
  • Brainiac-Bot pages: 8
  • “New future” pages: 8
  • “Constantine’s journey” pages: 13
  • “Lois investigates” pages: 19
  • “35 years later” pages: 35
  • Grifter pages: 35
  • Faraday/Las Vegas pages: 37
  • “Frankenstein’s quest” pages: 39
  • “Cal Corcoran” pages: 42
  • Masked Superman pages: 43
  • Fifty Sue/Lana Lang pages: 47
  • Mr. Terrific & Brother Eye pages: 48
  • Fighting Big Brainiac pages: 48
  • “Superman returns” pages: 49
  • Plastique pages (including Coil and Key, but not Terry): 53
  • Cadmus Island pages: 63
  • Barda/Team Arrow pages: 66
  • Batman Beyond vs. Brother Eye pages: 94
  • Stormwatch/SHADE pages: 98
  • Firestorm pages: 124

The above generally represent 22 semi-distinct subplots Futures End followed over its forty-nine issues. The numbers aren’t meant to be exact, because some subplots wove into and out of others, and in some cases yielded to others. For example, the “Brainiac-Bot” (which I thought looked like the Parasite) got a total of eight pages wreaking havoc, but it facilitated both the “Constantine’s journey” and “Superman returns” subplots. Likewise, the “Cadmus Island” total reflects general goings-on, not Fifty Sue’s relationships or Team Arrow’s assault. Speaking of which, the “Green Arrow is dead” plot point informed both the Firestorm and Team Arrow threads, but on its own turned out to be a blip in the first couple of issues.

In that regard, it becomes easier to see in hindsight why FE spent so much time on Firestorm, and gave that subplot more dedicated focus than even the Batman Beyond thread. Its 124 pages (which didn’t include the “Madison and Cal” subplot) even out when Batman Beyond’s 94 pages are combined with “Cal Corcoran’s” 42 pages and the “new future’s” 8 pages. I know page counts aren’t the best metric, but when you’re dealing with this sort of labyrinthine story, they’re good for compartmentalizing. Besides, considering that much of Futures End boiled down to Tim + Madison 4Ever, it’s helpful to see how much of the series actually laid that foundation. In hindsight a more graphic representation might have been better. I could have called it “Fu-Chart’s End.”

Conversely, some story arcs have turned out to be dead ends. I suspect we’ll see more of King Faraday and the Command D bunker in Batman Beyond, but in terms of Futures End his subplot was more of an appendage to the pursuit of Fifty Sue, Lana, and Grifter. The Frankenstein/Amethyst subplot didn’t do much except give those characters some (unnecessary?) closure from their canceled New 52 series, and the revelations about SHADE’s Father Time didn’t really pay off either. (For one thing, I wondered why he had the same kind of Brainiac-esque three-eyed face as Despero and Pandora’s “Box.”) And speaking of Brainiac, his fate was just the precursor for Brother Eye’s takeover, which (absent Convergence) casts all of the 200-odd pages spent on his thread in a little different light. For instance, Futures End explains none of the “Multiversal echo” material.

We’ll get to that before too long, I’m sure. By way of wrapping up Futures End I’ll say that it started off with nihilism and ended with defiance. In between it got a little sloppy and repetitive (quick! What was Dr. Yamazake’s motivation?), and it wasn’t always careful with its details. Nevertheless, for the most part I thought it was engaging, if a little too in love with its dystopian underpinnings; and I’m glad I got to experience it in real time.

And now, lest you thought we were done doing backup features with cutesy names …

* * *

Here is CONVERBIAGE for this week’s Issue 0.

The first thing you need to know about this issue is that it’s not a direct sequel to either Futures End or World’s End. Instead, it takes place — from Superman’s perspective, at least — at the end of the Superman books’ “Doomed” crossover, when (spoilers for a comic from September) Brainiac caught a glimpse of the larger MultiverseConvergence #0 reveals that Superman was also drawn into this dimension, “outside time and space,” where an ur-Brainiac has been testing him dozens of times and he just doesn’t remember them. This Brainiac talks to Superman in terms which facilitate glimpses of previous realities — specifically, previous Super-deaths ranging from the Silver Age to 1992’s “Doomsday” and various Elseworlds. Brainiac takes turns as a giant, dwarfing Superman as they float in the vacuum; or a disembodied voice, taunting a chained Supes whose stubble marks the passage of time.

The spectacle of Superman searching for answers in various forms of wasteland, and being met by versions of Brainiac who speak virtually in riddles, reminded me most of “Duck Amuck,” with Supes in the Daffy role. He’s not turned into a flower-headed, flipper-footed creature with a flag for a tail (although that would make a fun Red Kryptonite story), but he does get something approaching a tour of Brainiac’s world, courtesy of Brainiac-avatars created by the world itself. (The world/personification thereof is called Telos, although not in this issue.)  At the end Supes goes back to his home universe, because the real Brainiac — who apparently was never part of this story — has gotten hung up there and was unable to retrieve a sample city. Whether this happened in “Doomed” or at the end of Futures End is never specified, but for now it doesn’t matter. The issue ends with Telos, the planet/avatar, deciding to “test” the various cities against each other.

Therefore, Convergence #0 is long on exposition and short on plot. It seems like Telos has been torturing Superman (time after time after time), but once Telos sees that this Supes doesn’t have a city stolen by Brainiac, he kicks Supes off the planet. To be sure, Telos (in Brainiac guises) still has time to show Supes images of the cities Brainiac’s collected and the realities he’s observed. Moreover, Convergence #0 also lists 41 separate realities — from DC One Million to Sugar & Spike — spread across eleven pages’ worth of text and art towards the end of the issue. WE ARE SO, SO SERIOUS ABOUT THE MULTIVERSE, is what Convergence #0 is saying.

Again, as a comic, it’s sort of like “Duck Amuck.” Writers Dan Jurgens and Tim King set out a very basic structure upon which is hung some fairly expository dialogue, although they do flavor their script with enough cosmic-style gravitas to make it appropriately creepy. Artist Ethan Van Sciver goes heavy on spectacle, with three different double-page spreads and a lot of fan-serving elements (seven different Deaths of Superman, various Metropolii, ten Brainiacs in one panel), but he and colorist Marcelo Maiolo convey Supes’ frustrations in Telos’ wasteland pretty effectively. I do note that Dan DiDio is listed as the book’s editor, along with David Piña, who was assistant editor on Futures End. That’s a rare credit for DiDio, and I suppose it speaks both to this book’s importance and the logistics of moving the rest of the editorial personnel.

All in all, Convergence #0 is a nice-looking, decently-executed issue which takes thirty pages to explain a sandlot-style premise. I don’t expect it to be representative of the rest of the miniseries, but for a $4.99 preview it’s not bad.

NEXT WEEK IN CONVERGENCE: The Injustice Earth, apparently!

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