This past week finds the end of a couple of anthology series started up for One Year Later. They had mixed success, and one part of them I liked very much.
Tales of the Unexpected 8 – I’ve long been a fan of the Spectre, but I’ve grown weary of DC bouncing about his human host. I’m not sure if there was an overall plan after Jim Corrigan was allowed to go on to his just reward; even though it made a nice conclusion to the history of Corrigan, it brought the Spectre himself to a complete stop. Of course, this was supposed to be tied into Hal Jordan not really dying, or dying but not really being gone, and a series with Jordan as the host for Spectre had some potential, that just wasn’t met by the actual writing. Short version, nobody has handled the Spectre recently better than John Ostrander.
Just what do you with the most powerful character in the DC Universe inhabiting someone’s body? At least with Ostrander, there was a sort of maturation process for the length of the series, as the reader learned the history of the Spectre as Corrigan began to fully explore and comprehend his possibilities. And there is the potential for some dramatic irony here, as the reader knows more about the Spectre than the host it inhabits, which in turn could add up to unhappy fans since they know that the situation a host may be in could be avoided (and perhaps has been avoided in the past).
David Lapham recognizes the awesome power of the Spectre in his half of Tales of the Unexpected but does nothing with it. After Infinite Crisis, there was a six-issue mini-series about the Spectre’s new host, Crispus Allen. The story in Tales of the Unexpected doesn’t move the arc of the Spectre any further than where the previous story ended. The Spectre must avenge the horrible death of the landlord of a tenement, and nearly every issue is filled with Crispus Allen being appalled at the methods the Spectre uses to deliver his judgment. But the “mystery” part of the story, determining who is responsible for the landlord’s death, moves at a glacial pace. It’s no help that the solution to the mystery is either stunningly obvious or impossible to solve, depending on how you handle such things. This final issue should have been the big reveal, when the murderer is exposed, but instead it’s just a tedious cycle of little reveal and Spectre-ific gorefest.
And when the cycle is complete, we realize that nothing of any importance has really happened; Crispus Allen is just as unhappy as the Spectre’s host as he always has been and neither half of the Spectre has grown towards the other. Crispus can’t control the Spectre and the Spectre won’t be controlled. The last panel sums up the whole story’s futility with the hope that eventually the Spectre can be contained. But it also serves as a reminder that we’ve just spent eight months hoping with very little to show for it.
On the other hand, the back-up story of Doctor 13 was a fun metatextual romp through C- and D-list DC characters and the effect yet another universe-changing storyline has on them. Brian Azzarello finishes it all up nicely as our goofy cast of characters confront the Architects, those people responsible for their displacement from the universe they know and their threatened deaths. In some ways, the one-note characters of this story are more fully rounded than the no-note characters in the Spectre story.
And there really is no surprise that Doctor 13 triumphs over the Architects, using his sole power of disbelief. There is a hint that these characters could show up again, and given the range of possibilities in the new multiverse, I suppose they can. But I’m not sure that they should; to me the moral of Doctor 13’s story is that universe-changing storylines are not necessary in the face of good ideas, even if they are forgotten good ideas. And metatextuality is a short-term gag; I don’t know that an entire series could be written with the characters commenting on the machinations of the writers of their series. The occasional breaking of the fourth wall, like in She-Hulk, seems to be sufficient in the long run. Admittedly, as Countdown continues for the next year, it might be amusing for the uber Monitors, trying to maintain continuity between the parallel universes, to actually meet Doctor 13 who doesn’t believe in them or their universes nor in the very concept of continuity (unless it’s his own personal continuity).
Mystery in Space 8 – Another mixed bag, this time with two interweaving stories that I desperately wish had never been entwined. On the one hand was the Heavy Metal-style Captain Comet story, where the character is literally resurrected with mostly the same powers as before but with some additional twists. Newly named Comet, the character fights the Eternal Light Corporation, an extrapolation of today’s corporate-style megachurches, as they try to take over the space colony where he lives. Jim Starlin writes Comet deftly, going through the natural progression of the “amnesiac hero” trope, first rediscovering who he is, then rediscovering his friends and support, and finally confronting the danger that threatens his home. Captain Comet has always been an underused character, and Starlin uses this series to flesh out his personality as well as to show the potential for Comet or any other space-faring hero in the DC multiverse.
The Weird, on the other hand, may have some potential but spends for too much time talking to himself to be very effective. Because the rebirth of Comet is tied to the rebirth of the Weird, it makes sense that we have some story with the Weird. But for most of the eight issues, the Weird’s story is subject to the worst of Heavy Metal-type science fiction—never-ending internal monologue, two-page spreads with psychedelic art for no really good reason, and general malaise. Unlike the positive arc of Comet, the Weird spends eight issues questioning himself or being misled upon his awakening. Eventually, by the end of the eight issues, Comet and the Weird are able to work together to thwart the Eternal Light Corporation, but Comet is by far the dominant and more interesting character. I would like to see more of him, if he is written in this same vein.