(Sorry about the delay in getting this post up. It was all finalized and scheduled, and set to go earlier today; and then … well, I dunno. I lost half of it and the other half was missing all its quotation marks and apostrophes; and when you played it backwards it said “kill your parents.” All better now, I hope.)
There’s a fine line between characters who are self-aware and those who are simply the writer’s mouthpieces. I thought this issue was a good example of the former. Tarot, Wonder Woman, and Superman had a lot of obvious things to say, but the issue flowed together well and the conversation wasn’t terribly expositional. Sometimes it’s good to have the characters pause and sound things out for themselves, even without the benefits of card tables or pastries.
Besides, there were a number of annotation-worthy references, so let’s dive right in!
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“Truth, Justice & The American Way,” written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert, colored by Pete Pantazis, lettered by Pat Brosseau; Elisabeth V. Gehrlein, assistant editor; Mike Carlin, editor.
In Brief: Tarot and Wonder Woman offer separate, but interconnected, primers on the Trinitarian theme.
– “Trinities, over and over again:” indeed, Rita herself is part of a trinity, although I suspect not all of its members have been identified. I don’t think it includes Gangbuster, despite him being a Batman-type hero with connections to Superman. Maybe she’ll hook up with Konvikt and Graak? (Okay, maybe not.)
– I believe this is the first mention of the cards for the Sun, the Moon, and the World. Once again, we turn to Tarotpedia … which, actually, is pretty silent on the subject of the Sun. For the Moon it says
There is a sense of wildness to The Moon — somehow it brings us in contact with the subconscious and with our instincts and hidden fears. We all know how different things look at night in the moonlight, so this card may indicate mystery, secrets or even a time of confusion. With this card around, nothing is exactly as it seems and emotions may be running high.
Its entry on the World is thin too, but apparently the card does refer to an individual’s connection to the world (or even the universe), and perhaps the extent to which the individual triumphs over the world. In any event, the cards seem to refer not only to the Trinitarians, but also to Rita’s particular situation.
– The Emperor, the High Priestess, and the Magician were seen last issue; and Justice, Strength, and the Devil were seen there and in issue #1 (thanks to that repeated page).
– Visible cards include the Six of Swords, the Hermit, the Emperor, the Magician, the Hanged Man, the Star, the Sun, the Ace of Swords (the one where Batman’s sword intersects a decorated crown — check out page 13/1 of issue #3), and one where Wonder Woman is a winged figure in front of a sun.
– Some armchair interpretation of those cards, with help again from Tarotpedia: The Six of Swords can signify a journey of awakening, a new perspective, or simply traveling. The Ace of Swords refers to “clarity of thought.” The Hanged Man likewise deals with new perspectives and spiritual revelations. The Hermit deals with finding truth through solitude, contemplation, and thought. The Star provides guidance and orientation for those who feel lost. Finally, the Emperor stands for strategies and long-term thinking. All of those deal, at least superficially, with Rita’s personal journey, and might reassure her if she were paying attention.
– Naturally, I can’t think of the Hanged Man without being reminded of Astro City, and especially “The Nearness Of You.” Man, that was a great story.
– “Truth, Justice and the American Way” was the closing phrase of the “Adventures of Superman” TV series’ opening narration. The TV show expanded on the radio series’ “faster than a speeding bullet/look, up in the sky” litany; and the opening narration for many of the Fleischer Studios’ Superman cartoons also referred to “a never ending battle for truth and justice.” The TV series premiered in syndication on September 19, 1952. All together now — you know the words….
Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
Look — up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! IT’S SUPERMAN!
[cue the music]
Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers — bend steel in his bare hands — and who, disguised as Clark Kent (mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper) fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!
From time to time the phrase has been amended so that Superman doesn’t appear so nationalistic. (Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man referred rather clumsily to the “truth, justice, and the Terran way.”) Still, when Frank Langella’s Perry White omitted the American way part of the phrase in 2006′s Superman Returns, it set off a brief round of tut-tutting in the mainstream press about whether Superman’s priorities had changed.
– This is the satellite headquarters of the Justice League of America, first seen in Justice League of America vol. 2 #7 (May 2007). Its design owes a lot to the space-based Watchtower in the “Justice League” cartoon (2001-2006). The first JLA Satellite appeared in Justice League of America vol. 1 #78 (February 1970), was abandoned by the League in JLofA v1 #230 (September 1984), and was destroyed in Crisis On Infinite Earths #8 (November 1985). The second was a starship belonging originally to the alien Overmaster. It first appeared as the League’s orbiting “refuge” in Justice League America #0 (October 1994) and was destroyed by the Hyperclan in JLA #1 (January 1997).
– As we can see later on page 8, Diana has taken off her breastplate (or whatever you call it) in order to dress her wound properly. Personally, it took me a while to realize that’s what had happened. I are slow.
– The scar looks like the Western astrological symbol for the planet Saturn … but it’s not. How do I know (without scrolling down to the link at the bottom of the page)? Well, because neither Wonder Woman nor Batman recognizes it.
– On the plus side, that means I don’t have to re-read War of the Gods, or note how Darkseid created the Roman deities.
– Diana almost sounds like an enthusiastic comic-book blogger….
– No annotations.
– Only in Rita’s vision of Superman do we see any of the characters’ familiar supporting casts, even in faceless-representation form.
– “Briefly been romantically attracted to each of you”: Diana’s infatuation with Superman began when she met him at the end of 1986′s Legends miniseries. Its first real expression was in Wonder Woman vol. 2 #15 (April 1988). Their first “date” (interrupted by Darkseid, of course) was in Action Comics #600 (May 1988). That experience taught them they’d be better off as friends. It ended the romance, for all practical purposes, although the two were romantically linked in a number of Elseworlds and imaginary stories.
– As for Batman, the idea of their romance began when he was critically injured on a mission to ancient Atlantis in JLA #72 (Late November 2002). Their relationship was explored in a series of imaginary-story vignettes in JLA #90 (January 2004); and that also demonstrated the extent to which such a relationship was a bad idea.
– In Panel 3, I’m not sure whether Bruce looks more like Wolverine or Sebastian Shaw. That’s one mighty big forehead.
– “Little left for ties beyond [the mission]”: whatever you say, Diana. Emotional ties aside, conventional wisdom holds that Batman has still managed to attract a small horde of protegés and associates (Alfred, Jim Gordon, Leslie Thompkins, four Robins, two Batgirls, a Batwoman, the Huntress, the Outsiders, Superman…).
– “Goddess of Truth”: it happened after Diana died in Wonder Woman vol. 2 #126 (October 1997), following a battle with the demon Neron. Because her soul had been preserved by the Greek deities, she ascended to Olympus while her mother Hippolyta became the “new original” Wonder Woman. (Yeah, I know.) Anyway, Diana was kicked out of the pantheon for trying to fix Donna Troy’s histo– I mean, for restoring Donna to a normal life. Diana went back to her own normal life in WW v2 #136 (August 1998).
– “Show us a better way”: anyone remember when I supposed that Wonder Woman was a more Messianic figure than Superman? No? Didn’t think so.
– No annotations.
– A couple of twists on the “faceless figure” motif here. First, the bad guys Batman’s after are “faceless by choice.” Second, except for his sparring partner (whose face isn’t seen clearly anyway), Bruce Wayne is the only faceless person in Rita’s vision. Probably a coincidence, but it helps reinforce the “Bruce is the real mask” theory.
– No annotations.
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“Almost,” plotted by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, scripted by Nicieza, pencilled by Scott McDaniel, inked by Andy Owens, colored by Allen Passalaqua, lettered by Ken Lopez; Elisabeth V. Gehrlein, assistant editor; Mike Carlin, editor.
In Brief: A grumpy Hawkman foils Nocturna and runs into Gangbuster.
Page 13 (story page 1)
– Hawkman, a/k/a Carter Hall, was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville and first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940). His history is notoriously complicated, so in twenty-five words or less … he’s ancient Egypt’s Prince Khufu, reincarnated to fight evil using Thanagarian technology and the weapons of the past.
– (Wow, that was easier than I thought!)
– The real-life Khufu built the Great Pyramid.
– St. Roch, Louisiana first appeared in Hawkman vol. 4 #1 (May 2002). It’s adjacent to New Orleans and shares Orleans Parish with its real-world neighbor. The Stonechat Museum was introduced in the same issue.
– Nocturna (created by Doug Moench and Gene Colan) first appeared in Detective Comics #529 (August 1983). Natalia Knight was working at the Gotham City Observatory when an accident with a laser (frickin’ laser beams!) turned her skin white and rendered her sensitive to sunlight. She became a criminal in order to finance her medical treatments (frickin’ HMOs!). She does tend to favor hot-air balloons. A long-running subplot in the Bat-books of the time had her fighting Bruce Wayne for the custody of the recently-orphaned circus acrobat Jason Todd. In fact, Jason eventually thought of her as a surrogate mother. Nocturna was seen most recently in last year’s Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special and in Salvation Run.
– “Smells so … good…”: Batman also had some romantic feelings for Nocturna, but I don’t think they were entirely artificially induced.
– Khaf-Re (or “Khafra”) was a Fourth-dynasty pharaoh. Some say he was Khufu’s son; others merely one of Khufu’s successors. Anyway, he’s not too far removed.
– The Sceptre of Khaf-Re reminds me of the Ibis-Stick of Ibis the Invincible, since both are powerful Egyptian magic doodads.
– In her we-will-destroy-you speech, Nocturna mentions the Sun, the Moon, and the World.
– The term “Thanagarian Nth Metal” combines the mystical Nth Metal which allowed the Golden Age Hawkman to fly, and the Thanagarian science which did the same for the Silver Age Hawkman. Current continuity has melded the two origins: Khufu used technology from a crashed Thanagarian starship.
– “Chay-Ara” was Prince Khufu’s original beloved. Khufu and Chay-Ara have been reincarnated across the ages (she most recently as Kendra “Hawkgirl” Saunders), endlessly renewing their romance … except that the couple has broken up and their bond has been severed. Yeah, Hawkman says she’s gone forever, but in comics “forever” can be a relatively short time.
– Well, darn. I liked those “GANG/BUST” brass knuckles, and now Gangbuster isn’t wearing them.
– It took me a couple of readings to realize that the knife in Gangbuster’s sleeve came from Hawkman.
– In the old days, Hawkman’s skin had been specially treated to withstand the vacuum of space, so he could probably take a bullet to the abdomen.
– Of course, it helps to be shot with rubber bullets.
– Here’s the first on-panel appearance of Lois Lane in Trinity. As we know from Kurt Busiek’s latest Newsarama debriefing, Lois and José used to date.
– This is actually the second Killer Moth, introduced in Batman #562 (June 2006), written by James Robinson and pencilled by Don Kramer. The original was Drury Walker a/k/a Cameron Van Cleer, who first appeared in Batman #63 (February 1951). After making a deal with Neron (him again!), CVC was changed into the insectoid Charaxes in Underworld Unleashed #1 (November 1995). He died at the hands of Superboy-Prime in Infinite Crisis #7 (June 2006).
– No annotations.
– Hawkman is a member of the revived Justice Society of America, but apparently he also has access to the Justice League’s “dimension doors.”
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One thing about posting Friday evening — I get to link to the preview of next issue. You’ve probably read it already, but if not, there are a couple of items which should interest us obsessives.
As always, I welcome your comments, and I’ll be back next Thursday!