As I posted in this blog several days ago, I’ve been in the mood lately for long comic-book series or major events. Much of this has to do with the zeitgeist, all of the vibes in the air about DC’s New 52, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to go back and reread some of the not-so-distance narrative events in the DC Universe. I began with Identity Crisis,then moved on to Infinite Crisis, and then 52. I just finished rereading the 52 series this morning, and my reaction to it this time around is more or less the same as it was originally: it’s pretty good. There are parts of it that at times are slow and/or are not as well-developed, but overall I think it’s a solid narrative. One of the threads that I liked least in the series was Luthor’s Everyman Project and Infinity Inc. I know the members of Infinity Inc. are not supposed to be the most sympathetic group of folks, but at times they just annoyed the hell out of me to the point of it almost being a turn off. This was especially the case with Natasha Irons. I realize that she’s supposed to be cocky, whiny, and impatient at the beginning of the event–in other words, annoying–and that she’d framed that way so as to better accentuate her growth toward the end of the series, but there are nonetheless problems with her role in 52. First off, her change of heart in the last part of the series, when she finally realizes that her uncle John isn’t full of bullshit, seems rather abrupt, and as such, a stretch of believability. I’m not suggesting that she couldn’t change, it’s just that given her adamancy throughout the vast majority of the 52 issues, her sudden change of heart seems out of place. Along with that, the sheer length of time that Natasha resided in her annoying/cocky/angry mode left little space for character sympathy. Her change takes place so late in the series, and so abruptly, that there’s really no time to learn more about her and empathize with her situation. Honestly, I was more intrigued by the cannibalistic Hannibal Bates–an appropriate name if there ever was one–and his machinations, especially as they related to Natasha. Sure, his “habits” are unattractive, but at least there was something there (outside of eye-rolling irritation) to react to and piquing my interests, however perverse.
On the other side of the equation, two of the storylines that I thought were the strongest were those involving Renee Montoya and Ralph Dibny. Both of these were psychological growth narratives, and the writers (Johns, Morrison, Rucka, and Waid) really took their time in exploring these individuals. Dibny’s of course stems from his experiences in Identity Crisis and his loss of Sue. That story had the potential of turning into something schmalzy, but it doesn’t. We see Ralph thegrieving husband, Ralph the psychologically unstable man, Ralph the desperate hero, and Ralph the shrewd detective, all rolled up into one. And there’s something about stretching guys that I like in a superhero, which is perhaps why I love Plastic Man. Ralph’s days as Elongated Man are over, sure, but what made him such a great figure wasn’t his metahuman abilities as much as it was his skills as a detective (which is a reason I’m most partial to Batman of all superheroes). These were apparent throughout, especially at the end. And Renee Montoya (along with Charlie, The Question), is a similar kind of charcter: one whose attraction is found in her detecting abilities more than anything. (Although I do have to say, in all honesty, that another part of her attraction is physical as well as her past relationship with Kate Kane. Growl!) You know she’ll assume the Question mantel at the end, but it’s the process of her growth that’s so fascinating. And toward the end of the series, Montoya becomes less of a sexual image–e.g., fewer shots of her busty silhouette, of her penchant for other women, of her dressed skimpily–and more of a fleshed-out and dynamic character. Of course, it helps that she has to crawl out of a bottle and get over her self-loathing, since that’s what rounds her out and gives her believability. But by literally illustrating her on the same level as Charlie Szasz/Vic Sage, even dressing her in more masculine clothing, the writers make her a more heroic character. Of course, that raises another question: can a full-figured, attractive “typical” female superhero type become believable and serious hero? I think so, but not without having to clear the hurdle of being nothing more than eye candy. Ask yourself, comic fans, who as a crime fighter do you respect more: Renee Montoya as The Question, or the sexy orange Tamaranean, Starfire? And what’s happened with Starfire in the New 52 seems to make my point.
But back to the Old 52. Again, a good series. Glad I took the time to reread it. Now onto Countdown to Final Crisis, an event that was less than enthralled with the first time around. Let’s see if I change my mind this time.