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Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics [Blu-ray]
THE JOKER, LEX LUTHOR, CATWOMAN, DOOMSDAY, BANE. What makes them so thrillingly watchable? So terribly wonderful? So extremely vital to our super heroes and their worlds? This new feature-length documentary explores these questions across seven decades of DC Comics' hallowed Rogues' Gallery of infamous evildoers.
Cover date: December 2004
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Penciller: Rags Morales
Inker: Mike Bair
Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
The super heroes have split off into teams to go on the offensive against the bad guys, attempting to find out how pervasive the "Identity Crisis" is. The Satellite Leaguers go after Deadshot, Merlyn, and Monocole. The team of Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Green Arrow, and super-secret emergency weapon Superman quickly take out the villains, but don't seem to discover anything new about the killer's identity or how much the bad guys know about the heroes' secret identities.
Groups of heroes are shown all over doing the same thing as the League. The Titans. The Outsiders. The JLA Reserves. The JSA.
Firestorm, Captain Marvel, Vixen, and The Shining Knight are questioning the Shadow Thief. Shadow Thief grabs Sir Justin's enchanted sword and rips open the Nuclear Man. Firestorm realizes he is going to explode and Captain Marvel wisely tells him to fly away. As Firestorm flies away, he asks the remaining heroes to say goodbye to his father, the Professor (Martin Stein, the former other half of Firestorm), and his family. Firestorm explodes while the other heroes look on. He appears to be dead.
Meanwhile, Ray Palmer (the Atom) is attending to his ex-wife, Jean Loring, as she recuperates from her attack and the situation has drawn the two together as lovers again.
Captain Boomerang is teaching his son, Owen Mercer, how to throw trick boomerangs and Owen is taking to it pretty fast. When he throws a razor-rang at the Captain, he realizes his father's going to get a boomerang in the head. Instinctively, he runs to Captain Boomerang's aid and to both their surprises, Owen has super-speed. Owen surmises that the Golden Glider isn't really his mother and Boomerang admits that she isn't.
In Gotham City, Tim Drake (Robin) and his father Jack are talking while Tim is putting on his Robin costume. Each is clearly worried about the other, but Robin insists he has to go out into the night and help catch Sue Dibny's killer. Before he leaves, his father tells him he is proud of him.
Jack returns to his kitchen and finds a box and a note. The note says "Jack Drake" but the "R" in Drake is circled, like the "R" on Robin's costume. Opening the box, Jack finds a gun and another note, this one reads "Protect Yourself." Jack uses the JLA signal device that Tim left with him and calls Oracle. Jack is being watched by someone who receives a cellular telephone call.
Meanwhile, Dr. Midnite and Mr. Terrific are continuing with Sue Dibny's autopsy. Midnite reveals that Dr. Fate was able to determine that magic had nothing to do with Sue's death.
Oracle finds Robin in the Batmobile and urges him to get home immediately. Batman screeches on the brakes and guns the car toward Jack Drake's home. Oracle patches Robin's communicator through to Jack Drake. Horrifyingly, Batman and Robin listen in as Jack Drake prepares to be attacked.
At the same time, Owen receives an answering machine message from Captain Boomerang. Boomerang tells Owen he had a good time with him and that Owen should watch the news because Boomerang is going to make him proud and that he planned to leave their "calling card".
A panicked Jack Drake fires the gun and Boomerang is shot several times. As Boomerang succumbs to the gun-shots, he throws the razor-rang and it stabs Drake in the chest. Both lie still in pools of blood.
Story - 4: As a Superman fanatic, I must admit to feeling a bit cheated during the first read-through of this issue. We were promised attempts on Lois Lane's life at the end of last issue, which seemed to indicate this issue would be a Superman-centric one. It's not.
Then again, Meltzer made his position clear with the first issue. This story isn't about the characters that readers know will never be killed for good - like Supey, Bats, Wonder Woman, and the Sea Man. Lois Lane's cache is simply too high for a threat against her to be considered real anyway.
To the contrary, in the issue where Jean Loring was attacked, the biggest surprise wasn't the choice of the Atom's ex-wife as the second potential victim; the thrill was in truly not knowing if DC let Meltzer off Ms. Loring and the surprise was revealed the following issue that, lo and behold, she wasn't dead.
To similar effect, this month's cliffhanger with Robin's Dad and Captain Boomerang is as true a cliffhanger as one can get from comic book reading.
When Greg Rucka writes that Lois Lane has gotten shot over in "Adventures of Superman", nobody with half a brain thinks Lois is in any real danger of dying. No matter how good a writer DC and parent Time Warner think Rucka is he's not authorized to kill a marketable character who's been around as long as Superman. That's why, when Doomsday killed Superman in 1992, the creative team had to tell a good and compelling story afterward. No comic fan genuinely believed that Superman's death was anything other than a temporary plot device that would eventually be undone. The same cannot be said for Jack Drake or Captain Boomerang. In fact, their deaths appear to propel major stories forward for Robin and the Flash.
The only death scene in the issue that lacked finality to this reader was the demise of Firestorm. It wasn't the matter-of-fact way in which Ronnie was just gone in a page that left me feeling I haven't seen the last of him; it's the fact that I dropped the new book featuring the new Firestorm after the dismal first issue. Like Oliver Queen, Carter Hall, and Hal Jordan before him, Ronnie Raymond will probably return when the next generation starts to feel pangs of nostalgia for the "original" Firestorm.
With that said, I really enjoyed this issue. I was beginning to think that this would not be a genuine mystery at all, but simply six issues of red herrings and a final issue that reveals the killer without tying the revelations of the series together. This issue has reminded me that Meltzer made the New York Times best-seller list because he writes compelling mysteries.
Suddenly, seemingly abstract and arbitrary storylines like Boomerang's son, the Calculator's role, and Jack Drake are not just coming together into a cohesive story. They are colliding into an emotional "big bang" not entirely dissimilar from the "big bang" at the heart of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which resulted in the death of the Multiverse and birth of a Universe.
I belong to a DCU email group that we've affectionately dubbed the "Absorbascon" and, among the dozen or so DCU nuts in the group are Meltzer (and no, he never EVER lets slip anything in the way of DCU spoilers and believe me I try!) and my best comic book buddy, Scipio Garling. Scip is the ultimate comic book skeptic and he has an ability to get to the heart of that which works and doesn't in the DCU. After he read the issue, Scip sent Brad an email with copies to the rest of the Absorbascon that I believe sums up my own feelings on this issue. So, without further adieu, here's Scipio:
"Thank you, Brad.
I wasn't feeling good about Identity Crisis. This week I am.
Oh, sure, it's still headed toward some silly, implausible ending ("It was.. Nightwing, under the influence of Abu Rabu Simbu Tu! Curse you, King Tut!") But now I have moments in it to treasure regardless.
Thank you for killing Marvel-escapee Ronnie Raymond (Firestorm I), for letting him die in action, and mostly for being brave/smart enough to let his death be stupid and clumsy, because (God love Ronnie) he was never very good at his job. Thank you for realizing that Captain Marvel would be wise enough to know what was going on and what to do. Thank you for what is a BRILLIANT redux with a new Capt[ain] Boomerang; the old one was always too hard to credit as a threat. You've certainly fixed that with the new one! Thank you for the horrible, terrible, HIDEOUS telephone scene between Tim and Jack. I always knew Tim was "Batman-to-be", even if he didn't. You're the man who's finally made it happen. Thank you for finally putting Batman on the case and letting the World's Greatest Detective solve it (painful though I suspect that will be). Thank you for showing that, even after all these years, Kyle is still Kyle more than he is Green Lantern. Thank you for something that many people are cursing you for: reminding us that killing someone is a gruesome, awful, disgusting thing.
Scipio Garling "
Thank you, Scipio, for summarizing my feelings so well I could just plagiarize your words.
Art - 4: We've seen our heroes toughen up under the fear. We've seen our heroes make mistakes under the fear. We've seen our heroes make really questionable choices under the fear. And this issue, we see heroes, their family members and the villains all out of control and reacting out of fear.
Nowhere has any artist a better opportunity to strut his stuff than in depicting a scared and out of control Batman. First up, it doesn't happen often. And, when Batman shows any emotion other than controlled anger, it can just look wrong and sometimes even goofy. But, when Batman's Robin practically begs Batman to help him save his father, and all Batman has to give back is the honestly empty look of cold helplessness, readers get in that one look the helpless and scared little boy that is at Batman's core.
Cover Art - 5: When I first saw this cover at Chicago Comics last week, I turned to the behind-the-counter guys and sarcastically wondered what could possibly be going on in this issue. But Tim's tragedy has been foretold for months so I like the implicit message of a cover that says "yes, we realize our readers are smart enough to figure the next twist in Robin's life was going to take place in Identity Crisis." And it isn't the surprise that really needs to be maintained, it is instead the dramatic severity of what is both gruesome and, yes, clumsy in its ultimate execution. In light of what takes place inside, Tim deserved the spotlight as he goes through what is tragically the last step in the "things that would need to happen for Tim Drake to be Batman's successor."
Side note to the cover artist - I really enjoy these abstract character covers. Too often, the impulse is there on a crossover event to include as many heroes as possible on a cover. But this Crisis is one of conscience, and these spotlight covers intended to capture the mood of the issue are perfect.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2004.