Countdown Breakdown: #50A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: John Hays
Start spreadin’ the news! Yes, that’s right, the Empire State Building in New York City. You know, every time I see it, regardless of the media, I have to think of Sleepless in Seattle. It’s not even that I thought the movie was terrific; it’s just a permanent mental link for me. Regardless, the setting is New York City. That’s right, not Metropolis or Gotham. Speaking of Gotham, before Detective Comics #48, Batman’s crime fighting adventures actually took place in New York City itself. Gotham was modeled after New York City, and Metropolis is also often known as a fictional mirror of New York City (some say Metropolis is New York by day while Gotham is New York by night), so it’s fascinating to me that DC actually includes a New York City in its universe. New York happens to be both the home of DC Comics itself, as well as one of its oldest and most popular teams, the Justice Society of America. In fact, the old Fleischer Superman cartoons even based Superman in New York City. Countdown to Infinite Crisis still places Metropolis in New York State.
However, this is most definitely NOT Metropolis, and Jimmy Olsen is really out of his element here. In fact, with the way Jimmy’s been portrayed lately, I’m surprised he was able to make it to New York City on his own. Strike that…big Blue is obviously assisting him…at least for now. (By the way, how great is Supes’ line there: ”Good luck with the story.” It’s almost like he’s really talking about Jimmy’s Countdown story, not his newspaper one…very fourth wall!)
I’ve already discussed Jason Todd, but I do feel the need to mention something more about him here, or rather about Jimmy Olsen in relation to Jason Todd. Jimmy appears to know not only WHO Jason Todd is, but also that Dick Grayson is Nightwing. How does this not translate into Jimmy figuring out that Batman is Bruce Wayne? This seems like a dangerous slippery slope, and I hope the writers know what they’re doing here.
Now then, on to Jimmy Olsen. I obviously have a certain affinity for the character. I am told I bear a resemblance; my primary personal email address is simply "firstname.lastname@example.org" and has been for over ten years; it’s to the point that I had professors calling me Mr. Olsen from time to time in college. However, this isn’t about me, it’s about Jimmy. Did you catch him saying he’d been around New Gods? That’s because Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen stories were where the New Gods were prominently featured back in the day. Yes, Jimmy Olsen had a heyday; in fact, he had more than one. My own experiences with Jimmy peaked around the time he was getting into wild adventures in Superman’s various post-Crisis titles. It was the late 80s, early 90s, and Jimmy was his own man, not just a bumbling kid. Sure, he was young and impetuous, but he had an adventurous spirit and got into all kinds of fun trouble. Plus, believe it or not, he was actually trendy. He wore shirts with current band names on them, went to rock concerts, had flings with the bands’ lead singers (who were sometimes vampires or demons, but hey, it’s Jimmy we’re talking about here, plus it led to a really cool teamup with Robin in one instance). He even found out that his dad was some kind of government agent trapped in another realm (I’m vague on the details; it’s been a while, but it was a good story). Of course, in pre-Crisis times, Jimmy developed all sorts of weird powers from time to time. A nod to this was given post-Crisis when Superman, after returning from a self-imposed exile in space, accidentally infected Jimmy with a virus, causing his body to become elastic (one of Jimmy’s pre-Crisis identities was Elastic Lad). However, in this case it was extremely painful and eventually cured, but it strained Jimmy’s relationship with Superman for a time. I personally would love to see Jimmy return to being portrayed in this manner, instead of the rather out of date suit and bowtie look that he’s recently been returned to. I just think it would be more realistic (which is pretty wild coming from me, since I rarely preach realism in comics). If you think about it, the reader IS Jimmy Olsen: a regular guy who’d love to have Superman as a best friend, so why not portray him with a bit more confidence and style?
Up next we have Madame Xanadu. Anyone else get the feeling that Mary’s story is going to be Ralph Dibney Round Two, in that it’s another tour of DC’s magical community? Not a bad thing, just saying. Madame Xanadu is someone I’m not overly familiar with. I’ve seen her during crisis situations, but never in an ongoing series. She apparently appeared in the Spectre series while Jim Corrigan controlled the Spirit of Vengeance. Her history’s actually pretty interesting. She started out casting spells on Merlin, who took away her magical ability so that she had to rely on outside elements. She then beat Death in a game of cards to win immortality (someone should tell Felix Faust it’s so easy). Her shop actually contains jars filled with the various evil spirits that her customers vanquish, so I guess if a villain raided her shop they could become quite powerful. In Day of Vengeance, the Spectre, while on a rampage to destroy all magic, blinded Madame Xanadu and prevented her from growing her eyes back. She’s still trying.
Karate Kid is up next. No, not the one from the movies. In fact, DC’s version came first, and they actually granted Columbia Pictures the right to use the name (great film trilogy, by the way, second only to Back To The Future for great 80s film trilogies). Now, the Legion has been rebooted a number of times, but I won’t go into all that. It’s not really relevant. The bottom line is, Val Armorr learned every type of martial art known in the 30th century, and even held his own against Superboy at one time. This gained him entrance into the Legion of Super Heroes where he met and fell in love with Princess Projectra, and eventually gave his life to save her planet from Nemesis Kid and the Legion of Super Villains. Current continuity actually has a Karate Kid in the Legion, but the one appearing here is much more similar to the pre-Crisis Karate Kid who perished. An interesting side note is that in JSA Classified, while Psycho Pirate is trying to drive Power Girl crazy, an illusion of Lightning Lad appears and talks about how time traveling was going to mess with her head just as it did with Karate Kid's. Pure illusion, but interesting, nonetheless.
More Flash rogue action follows. What’s odd about this particular scene is how judgmental Heatwave is, considering that he also worked for the government for a time. I guess since he didn’t buddy up with Flash, it doesn’t count.
Finally, The Joker. One of the most dangerous men on the planet, regardless of physical ability, or lack thereof. The Joker has been portrayed across the board from a trickster to a sociopath and killer. He’s responsible for Barbara Gordon being in a wheelchair as well as Jason Todd’s death. He’s been masterfully portrayed by Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and soon will be portrayed by Heath Ledger. He was conceived from the appearance of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs (it’s a silent film; I haven’t seen it, either). His second ever appearance was going to end with his death, but the editor decided against it because he saw the potential in the character. The Joker actually became like South Park’s Kenny, seemingly dying in every issue only to come back again. Harley Quinn is a recent addition to the Joker’s life, originally through the animated series; she is currently appearing as one of the Secret Six in Birds of Prey (appropriate since she was the villain in the TV series of the same name). As I mentioned in my first "Breakdown" column, one origin has The Joker masquerading as the Red Hood before getting dumped into the infamous vat of chemicals. He briefly obtained Mxyzptlk’s powers at one point and terrorized Superman with them, turning his world inside out in the "Emporer Joker" storyline. He also thought he was dying in a later storyline and jokerized many different DC villains, to varying degrees of entertainment. Nightwing actually beat the Joker to death after that, but Batman revived him. In recent developments in the Batman title, The Joker was shot in the face and had extensive surgery performed that left a permanent grin on him and also left him unable to speak coherently, so it should be interesting to see how this resolves with his appearance here. I think one of my favorite Joker moments occurs at the end of Alan Moore's Batman: The Killing Joke, where Batman, by all rights, should be just beating the Joker to death after what he’s done to Barbara and James Gordon, but instead they’re standing in the rain, and The Joker tells a joke:
“See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum…and one night, one night they decide they don’t like living in an asylum anymore. They decide they’re going to escape! So, like, they get up on to the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moonlight…stretching away to freedom.
"Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend daredn’t make the leap. Y’see…y’see, he’s afraid of falling. So then the first guy has an idea…He says 'Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!'
"B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says…he says 'Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You’d turn it off when I was half way across!'”
The Joker and Batman then both proceed to laugh together while the rain falls. Bizarre scene, but a great ending to the story.
So, we’ve arrived at the end again, my friends! Not quite as cosmic as the first issue, but I think the train’s still just leaving the station. I have high hopes that once it begins to pick up steam, we’ll hardly be able to hold on! See ya next week!