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Grumpy Old Fan | ‘Trinity War,’ the worst of both worlds?

by  in Comic News Comment

Honestly, the post title is a little misleading. Overall, I liked “Trinity War.” It was paced well, the creative teams did a good job wrangling all the characters and (for the most part) keeping them in character, and both story and art were top-notch. Basically, it felt like an old-school Justice League/Justice Society team-up, and for this grizzled veteran of the crossover wars, that’s high praise.

Nevertheless, its conclusion frustrates me, and I can’t talk about it without a massive spoiler warning. About the only thing I can say without reservation is that this week’s Justice League #23 featured the conclusion of “Trinity War.” To reveal much more about it would spoil the last page of the issue.

This is a terribly ironic situation, because DC Comics has made no secret about the setup for the sequel miniseries, the seven-issue Forever Evil. However, in the interests of preserving at least a nominal sense of fair play, I can’t really talk about that either. It all makes me feel very cynical, just when I was feeling good.

Anyway, if you’ve read the issue — or if you don’t mind knowing absolutely everything that happens, including the usual history lessons and ill-informed speculation — let’s talk.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD

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OK, so thanks to writer Geoff Johns, everyone knew the Crime Syndicate was coming. Similarly, just about everyone seemed to have deduced the Outsider was the Earth-3 version of Alfred Pennyworth. As Johns told CBR, “some [readers] have pieced it together, but not everything, which I like. They’re on the right road, but it’s not quite correct.”

Indeed, in JL #23, Johns seems almost more eager to explain everything than to bring the current story to a natural conclusion. The issue ends with the various Leaguers down but not out, and the Crime Syndicate charging toward them. Johns has been saying all along that the bad guys win, but this is just the bad guys showing up.

To be sure, “Trinity War” started with a tone of tragic inevitability, and made a credible case that the three Leagues could actually work together, before falling back into a hopeless spiral toward the end of Part 4. JL #23 kicks the decline into high gear, revealing not just that the Atom put a Kryptonite sliver into Superman’s brain, which she then used to poke his heat-vision nerve, but also that Cyborg had been co-opted by a “sentient computer virus” called Grid. Now Superman’s still dying, Victor Stone’s on life-support after Grid separated him from his electronic parts, and Pandora’s skull-box is from Earth-3, “the birthplace of Evil.” (I presume it’s capital-E.)

For what it’s worth, those revelations were each handled very skillfully. Johns, penciler Ivan Reis and whoever among Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, and/or Eber Ferreira inked the Atom’s diabolical exposition, especially did fine work. (Talk about being good at being bad!) The bit about the “birthplace of Evil” is intriguing as well, given Johns’ use of the Emotional Spectrum in Green Lantern, and the larger cosmological aspirations of Blackest Night (which, of course, spun out of GL). We can even slot Volthoom, the “First Lantern” from Johns’ final GL arcs, into the larger picture, assuming he’s meant to be a version of the entity fueling the weapon of Earth-3’s GL counterpart Power Ring.

Unfortunately, “Trinity War’s” non-ending also recalls the set-’em-up, knock-’em-down nature of Johns’ last few GL arcs. There, one arc led directly into another, with only the story titles and the specific threats distinguishing them. In that light, “Trinity War” now feels like mere setup, with Forever Evil representing a long, hard slog ‘til April. You review the story as it is, not as you want it to be, but I was hoping for a little more movement on the “Justice Leagues Are Dead” front. Even a page of “Coming Soon in Forever Evil” teasers would have been good. Not to be ghoulish, but if JL #23 had been a flash-forward, showing the Crime Syndicate ruling over a decimated DC-Earth (we can’t call it Earth-1, that’s for those hardcovers) and giving a few quick shots of how they dispatched our heroes, that might have given the overall story some closure. On the other hand, it might have prompted unwanted comparisons to Marvel’s Age of Ultron.

In any event, although there’s only a week until Forever Evil #1 presumably starts to supply some answers, I’m still not done asking questions:

  • What was the deal with Doctor Light? Was he just a red herring (remember, a DC-Earth villain would be a hero on Earth-3) to draw suspicion away from the real traitor?
  • Did the Question really see the Crime Syndicate coming, or was he heading down a different path? (And does that make the average DC reader smarter than the Question?) Will we have to wait until Forever Evil #7 — if not the sure-to-follow Question ongoing series — to learn his secret?
  • Why was Batman able to carry Pandora’s Box without much angst or other trouble? Was it “powering down” at that point, or is it just Because Batman?
  • Why show Sea King (the evil Aquaman) coming through the dimension door only to have him do a big face-plant? Am I missing some Geoff Johns/Aquaman meta-reference, like he loves classic Aquaman and hates all others?
  • Is Bruce Banner the Crime Syndicate’s hooded prisoner? (Actually, I’m betting it’s Earth-3’s Teth-Adam.)
  • How will the Crime Syndicate “kill” the Leaguers?
  • Perhaps most importantly, aren’t Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner and the rest of the entire freaking Green Lantern Corps available to help free DC-Earth from the Crime Syndicate?

Actually, one clue to Forever Evil — which, again, I thought would be revisited in JL #23 — comes from Madame Xanadu’s vision of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman surveying a ravaged landscape in JL #22. With what we know now, we might reasonably presume they’ll be trapped on Earth-3. That, in turn, suggests The Flash won’t be with them, as historically only the Flash(es) could travel between parallel Earths unaided. (It’s all about adjusting one’s internal vibrations to match the specific frequency of a particular universe. No big deal.)

Indeed, last week’s glimpse of Earth-2 in Justice League Dark #23 may be a not-so-subtle clue as to how the Leaguers could finally defeat the Syndicate next spring. We all know Johns loves DC history. The latest evidence is right before us, as flashbacks in JL #23 fondly revisit “untold” League battles against Starro (the team’s debut in the immortal The Brave and the Bold #28), the Weapons Master (B&B #30), and Professor Ivo (B&B #29). Heck, the Outsider’s observation that Earth-3’s actual geography is reversed is a callback to the Crime Syndicate’s first appearance; and the JLA/JSA team-ups themselves just celebrated their fiftieth anniversary (they started in August 1963’s Justice League of America Vol. 1 #21). The Crime Syndicate first appeared a year later, in the second JLA/JSA adventure from JLA issues 29-30 (August-September 1964), so they’ll be celebrating their fiftieth anniversary just about the time Forever Evil is wrapping up. What better way to send them off than to bring the greatest heroes of two worlds together again, for the first time? I hope Ivan Reis and Nicola Scott are up for it.

Get ready, because I’m about to set myself up for a big disappointment! Sure, Deadman made contact (of a sort) with Doctor Fate in JLD #23. Assuming they remember the cross-dimensional shenanigans of the current Batman/Superman arc, our World’s Finest know about Earth-2; and if not, the stars of Worlds’ Finest could re-enlighten them. And why limit this to the Justice League books and Earth 2? Maybe Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato could produce the “Flash of Two Worlds” remake/tie-in — because history demands Barry Allen discover Jay Garrick, even if the latter’s not his comic-book hero anymore. Can you hear my weary old nerd heart beat faster, ever faster?  Can you imagine the very, very long odds on any of these things ever coming to pass?

It’s almost enough to make me forget that “Trinity War” didn’t so much end as stop. On some level I knew this would happen, as it’s always a cliffhanger when the villains win; but I didn’t expect the fight itself to be postponed. I keep coming back to “The Best of Both Worlds,” the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation cliffhanger that wasn’t really advertised as such. I watched it as it happened, and as the time ticked away on that summer night in 1990, I knew Riker and the Enterprise crew would need to do something quickly! to rescue Picard so the season could end cleanly. When “To Be Continued” flashed on the screen, I joined the rest of assembled Trekdom in a collective Calculon-worthy groan of anguish. The last pages of “Trinity War” weren’t quite that suspenseful, but I was thinking hey, there aren’t a lot of pages left.

Of course, these days the real test of durability is how well the story reads in collected form. Once some time has passed, and “Trinity War” is seen more as a prelude than as an event unto itself, readers’ expectations may adjust appropriately. Right now, though, I have to say that Justice League #23 was kind of a downer, and not in a good way.

Hmm … maybe this should be continued next week as well?