2004 is gone, and I’m glad to see it go. Comic-wise, it hasn’t been the best year, although there certainly have been some bright spots.
Let’s start with the worst of all:
2004 was the year of Identity Crisis and Batman: Wargames. In a nutshell, it’s when a lot of good characters were killed or destroyed for shock value in the service of plots that didn’t really work.
SPOILER WARNING: Skip the next rant if you don’t know who the killer was.
In the case of Identity Crisis, the plot doesn’t make any sense at all. Jean Loring’s motivation has to be chalked up to that useful catch-all of “insanity” because any kind of logical explanation fails to hold water. Sue Dibny’s death is accidental, though what she originally intended to do isn’t explained. The “microscopic murder evidence” doesn’t work because Jean enlarged to full size and would have left some traces. Speaking of traces, how come the blood pouring from Sue’s ear (indicating a brain injury) was never detected by Ralph, Batman, or The Atom? In issue #1, Clark Kent clearly hasn’t told his own parents about Batman’s secret identity, but Jean somehow knows who Robin is despite the fact Tim Drake didn’t become Robin until years after Ray and Jean’s divorce? Ray should be keeping mum about secret identities with his wife anyway, unless the hero chooses to reveal it to her personally…but we are now forced to accept that Ray Palmer sought out his lying, cheating ex-wife to dish on the latest goings-on in the superhero world, such as the real name of the new Robin. She also somehow manages to make contact with The Calculator, a supervillain, and hires another supervillain to attack the Drake home which could have blown Tim Drake’s cover even if all went according to plan. She’s given Calculator, an info broker, the means to figure out who Batman is. And in the end, The Atom chooses to imprison Jean Loring, a woman who clearly knows the real identities of all the JLA members, in with the Arkham Asylum inmates who will torture her for that info. And if only writer Brad Meltzer had thought to include a scene where they wipe Jean’s memory before her imprisonment, it could have managed to tie-in the mindwipe plotline which is now nothing but a red herring.
Oh, and how about that whole mind-wipe thing about Sue’s rape? Frankly, I grew up when Green Lantern was willy-nilly mindwiping anyone who found out his identity. He even mind-wiped Elongated Man, of all people, when the detective asked him to (because Elongated Man wanted to figure out Green Lantern’s secret ID on his own). But Brad Meltzer turns mind-wiping into some secret scandal. This leads into a meaningless confrontation with Deathstroke (whose supergenius strategy seems to be that if he beats up the JLA they’ll leave Dr. Light alone — does that make any sense at all?) without ever explaining how it is that Dr. Light somehow knows that the JLA is after him. He must share the same e.s.p. powers that Dr. Mid-Nite has, since the doctor somehow CLEARS Light of being a suspect simply because Sue wasn’t killed by fire.
Oh yeah! That leads into the brilliant detective work that comes into play all throughout the series. Superheroes hassle anyone who has the abilities that may have been utilized in Sue’s death, regardless of any inclinations as to who would want to do it and completely ignoring the fact that fires can be started by pretty much anyone. They don’t go after Sonar, who was in love with Sue and hates her for overthrowing his country, playing with his emotions and helping to defeat his attempt at global domination. Naw, couldn’t be him. It must be Heat Wave, the reformed supervillain who has no reason to kill her.
If anyone had bothered to check Sue Dibny’s phone records, the case would have been solved before her funeral. Oh, not by us, of course, since we were never shown Sue Dibny receiving a phone call. We saw her hearing a thump…which never has been explained. For six issues, I told everyone that if Brad Meltzer was a writer of mysteries than he certainly would have shown us what we needed to know to solve the mystery.
Folks…I could have even tolerated the ruination of Ralph and Sue Dibny if it was for a good story. I mean, in June of 2004 I got socked by this book much harder than anyone else in the country, given that this wiped out stories that I’d been working on pitching to DC for years. Other fans were merely sad to see the only good lasting marriage in comics gone…but it altered my entire career path, for God’s sake! But after a few hellish weeks in June, I decided that I would stick with this book, because it was going to get really good. I mean, we’d been told that Elongated Man would be the lead character in this story as he tried to bring the killer to justice. The murder of Sue would make for one last great Elongated Man story, and I looked forward to the intense confrontation that would result when he figured out who her killer was.
Where in the HELL was THAT story? Why did DC’s second greatest detective spend most of the book crying in his apartment while other superheroes used deductive syllogisms (“Jean was attacked by someone who can tie one of the world’s most common knots. HEY! Slipknot ties knots!”) and beatings to try to find Sue’s killer? Clearly, the advance hype was just a misdirection.
The worst part? I almost think I caused this. I know Brad Meltzer read my Elongated Man web site, since he put my Dibny Dirt e-mail address on his mailing list in the months before Identity Crisis came out. You know, the site where I talk about how great it is that Ralph and Sue are just classic enough that it would be disrespectful to kill either of them off and they’re not prominent enough to meddle with? I guess I invited this.
I just wish someone else had put out an Atom web site where they made it clear that Ray was still carrying a torch for Jean and would have probably taken her back if she’d only asked.
What were the other bad comic events in 2004?
Even as DC killed off most of my reasons to ever work there, one of the alternatives had made its final farewell. CrossGen went bye-bye, taking with it some of the most stunningly beautiful and compelling comics to have hit the stands. I still wish El Cazador was coming out.
Superman and Batman’s books both continue to need new direction and new blood. Oddly enough, a separate book featuring both of them is the only title from either line to generate buzz, excitement and happy readers.
Devin Grayson killed off the entire supporting cast, most of the rogues gallery and a large portion of the audience of Nightwing.
Chuck Dixon’s American Power, which was to be CrossGen’s Free Comic Book Day comic, was canceled after a cover showing an American agent in a black hood slugging Osama bin Laden on the cover drew too much controversy. CrossGen tried to spin it that it wasn’t due to public reaction; merely that the new moneymen at the company didn’t want to support it. I don’t know what’s worse: that the book is constantly referenced by the online comic community left as an example of right-wing comic books, despite the obvious fact that they don’t know what was inside the book…or that CrossGen could have stood by American Power and it would never have reached stands anyway because they’d be out of business by the time FCBD 2004 rolled around!
NOW..on to: Was there anything good in 2004?
You bet there was:
Two of the greatest superhero movies ever, Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles, were released in the same year. Which one is the best of 2004? Heck, which one is the best, ever? I’ll leave that up to you. The Incredibles is my favorite only because I’m not the biggest Marvel fan and because I don’t like movies where women ditch their grooms at the altar (the only sour note in that whole movie).
PvP went monthly!
Geoff Johns continued to establish himself as a modern King Midas (without all the inter-family alchemy) with Identity Crisis tie-ins that were head-and-shoulders better than the story they were tied-into, a can’t-miss-it Teen Titans, a JSA book that could be a textbook example of how to mine continuity and DC history as a source for compelling modern adventures…and just in time for the end of 2004, a means to undo the desecration of Hal Jordan’s character via a rational explanation that not only works but enhances the Green Lantern universe. Wow. Just, wow.
DC, the New Frontier was way too expensive (it’s one of those books where if you thought about the total amount you’d spend on it you’d wait for the trade), but I loved the way it recaptured the thrill of being a test pilot.
Andy Diggle’s Adam Strange is proving to be an exciting romp through the list of DC’s space opera characters, and I hope you’re all buying it. Yeah, I’m still a stickler for the rules of the zeta beam that no one else follows anymore, but that’s just me. I put aside my nitpickery when a story is good…and this one is GEEEWWWD.
Finally…on a personal note/2004 was when Phil Meadows and I won the First Annual Small Press Idol for our comic “Metro Med.” The first 8-page story from the contest entry will be published next month, and following that we have big plans for this comic. (e also got rave reviews for our story in Shooting Star Comics Anthology #4.) We couldn’t have won the contest without all of you, and it was definitely the highlight of my year.
As you can probably tell…2005 is going to be a great year.