Slugfest Special - Infinite Crisis #4

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Michael Bailey, Kevin T. Brown, Chubax Chuidian, Kelvin Green, Shawn Hill, Jason Sacks

Michael Bailey

I thought of starting this review by making a bad pun involving Geoff starting this comic off with a bang, but I decided against it. You can thank me later.

In terms of advancing the story and keeping the reader entertained and engaged, Infinite Crisis #4 succeeded in both areas. While the pacing was a little off this time out, this was still a great comic that continued to tie up a lot of the events that have occurred throughout the DC Universe over the past year. The revelations Alexander made to Power Girl answered nearly all of the questions I had in regards to how the four prelude mini-series were going to fit into Infinite Crisis. What I found interesting is what Alexander was directly responsible for and what was just a fortuitous set of circumstances. Forming the Society to gather the beings he needed for his machine, giving Jean Loring the black Eclipso diamond which served to drive the Spectre in his war on magic, giving Brother Eye sentience and Superboy Prime’s role in the problems at the center of the universe (so to speak) work. If Johns revealed that Alexander was also responsible for the Big Three “breaking up,” I would have been disappointed. It would have been too much. Johns (and crew) knew where to draw the line and the story definitely benefited from that.

Watching Alexander manipulate his comrades was interesting as well. When Kal-L came back from his chat with Batman, his resolve wavered a little. As soon as this happened, Alexander was quick to shove the sickly Lois in his face to distract him from what is really going on. The only thing keeping Kal-L from doing anything is his Lois, and I am curious to find out what would happen if the return of Earth-2 isn’t the cure-all that Alexander promised. Of course, I am also curious to find out what will happen when Kal-L finds out that he has been used, considering the fact that the Earth-2 Superman always had a meaner streak than his current counterpart.

There were a lot of little scenes in this issue that had me intrigued. Booster Gold meeting the new Blue Beetle was fun mainly because of Skeet’s dialogue. I’m a bit miffed over the identity of the new Spectre but that has a lot to do with the fact that I really liked Detective Allen. It’s an interesting concept, and I look forward to seeing where this leads. The scenes between Bruce and Dick were also a highlight, and it served to further the developments from the previous issue.

The main event from this issue, though, was the battle between Superboy Prime and Conner. I’ve made passing mention in my previous reviews for this series that Superboy Prime might harbor a great deal of resentment over the fact that he never got his shot at being Superman. He discovered his true heritage and then suddenly his world was literally taken away from him. Watching the way the new reality unfolded probably upset him a great deal. He was supposed to be Superboy. He was supposed to grow and be Superman. Who were these supposed heroes who obviously wasted their abilities and were flawed right from the start? What right did they have to steal his destiny?

Superboy Prime was putty in Alexander’s hands.

It was interesting to witness Superboy Prime’s breakdown. I honestly believe he wanted simply to talk to Conner and confirm that he had really given up the mantle of Superboy. Something happened, though. I don’t know if Psycho-Pirate is messing with his already fragile mind or what but he just freaking lost it. I don’t think Conner ever really stood a chance on his own. It always seemed to me that Superboy Prime was just as strong as the Earth-1 Superman, so the clone of Superman probably didn’t have the raw strength to stop him. Conner needed help, so he reached out to the Titans.

After that, things went downhill in a hurry.

The sad thing is that Superboy Prime really didn’t understand why they were attacking him, which reinforces my theory that his envy was being heightened by the Psycho-Pirate. Even after he started killing people, he wouldn’t accept the fact that it was his fault. He blamed the Titans and their world for his actions. The scene was violent. Really violent, but I think the violence was meant to be disturbing and show just how far gone Superboy Prime was.

Then the scene with the Flashes happens. Despite some great writing and even better art, I still had to read through this sequence several times to take it in fully. In all honesty, I’m still not sure what happened, but it was interesting. Johns really made Bart shine here and the fact that Linda and the kids chose to go with Wally was a nice departure from what usually happens in this type of crisis. Having Barry Allen, Max Mercury and Johnny Quick arrive to help was a great addition to the scene and like the Spectre sub-plot, I'm wondering where this is going as far as who is going to be the Flash come “One Year Later.”

The ending was unexpected, at least for me. A lot of fans have been speculating that the multiverse was returning, and I didn’t agree. I still don’t, and I believe that this is just part of the story. This series strikes me as a look at the past before moving forward, and reinstating the multiverse doesn’t seem the way to go if that is DC’s aim. Still, it made for a great cliffhanger ending, something Geoff Johns excels at.

In the end, I really liked this issue of Infinite Crisis. The story is moving along nicely and the fight between Superboy Prime and, well, everybody was just freaking awesome. The story continues to take unexpected turns, and I honestly can't say for sure what I think is going to happen next. The George Perez cover for the next issue promises a fight between the two Supermen, which has me pretty psyched. Geoff Johns and crew continue to deliver a fun series, and I can only hope that the next three issues will be just as good.

Kevin T. Brown

“We're home.” Never have 2 words hit as hard as those. The sheer emotional impact was unexpected to be sure, but it’s that impact I would suspect Geoff Johns was hoping to get. And I say it was “unexpected” because I’m supposed to be a jaded comics fan, right? Seen it all before, blah, blah, blah…. Trust me, with this issue, you have no idea what to expect.

Okay, how much story can you put into 30 pages? Let’s just say if you’re a fan of decompressed story telling, you may want to steer clear of this title. This title is jam-packed with everything but the kitchen sink, though I think it may have made an appearance around page 12 or so. Let’s go down the list of what happened in this issue. So if you don’t wish to be spoiled, you may want to scroll past this part of the review.

The list:
Superboy vs. Superboy, with a little bit of Krypto thrown in.
Blüdhaven destroyed.
Alex Luthor’s plan revealed, to a degree.
A nicely done emotional moment between Batman and Nightwing.
New Blue Beetle introduced.
Superboy-Prime vs. the Teen Titans, et al, including a surprise appearance of a certain speedster.
A new host for the Spectre is found.
Earth-2 returns.

Now I definitely left a few things out of that list, but every single thing occurs within these 30 pages. And not once does it feel like it's too much or rushed. It all flows very well. If anyone ever had any doubts whatsoever about Geoff Johns’s ability to tell a story, they’ll be erased once they read this issue. Johns has this incredible knack of zigging when you expect him to zag. I know this, but dammit he still can surprise me.

Though so much occurs, I definitely want to focus on just two aspects of the story: Superboy-Prime and the original Superman. Superboy-Prime, or SBP as he’s been nicknamed on the message boards, is truly a sad case. He was thrown into the original Crisis after just discovering his powers. He was then unceremoniously taken away to live in limbo with Superman, Lois Lane and Alex Luthor. The exact amount of time is unknown, but it’s safe to say it was too long. Something like that would obviously mess you up emotionally. The kid’s not evil, he’s unstable. Something that Luthor uses to his benefit, though I would think not to the devastating degree that it turned out to be. While I doubt this will happen, I hope there’ll be some sort of redemption for him down the road.

As for the original Superman, Kal-L, he’s a man of high moral standing. It hurts him to the core when he sees all the darkness that’s enveloped the current DCU. To him, paradise is Earth-2, and all he wants is to go home. To that end, Luthor is going to help him. Unfortunately, there’s far more to Luthor’s plan than Kal-L’s aware of at this point. Which brings us to those two special words I opened my review with: “We're home.” He finally gets his wish. But to what end…?

So while one hero gets his fondest wish, another get his ripped away with one punch.

The artwork in this issue was essentially a “jam issue” of three pencillers and seven inkers. And not once was it overtly noticeable. It flows extremely well. It really wasn’t until I hit the credits that I went back to really look that I saw the slight differences. Overall, it was still a high quality job put in by one and all. One of my favorite parts of the story are the five pages starring all of the Flashes and their handling of Superboy-Prime, especially that nice little surprise with who helps. There are no weaknesses in this artwork.

So how much story can you put into 30 pages? Enough to keep the reader on the edge of his seat; enough to have the reader wanting it to not end; and, most of all, enough to have the reader emotionally involved with it. And believe me, you will run through the gamut of emotions by the time you hit page 30. Then you’ll go back and read it again. This story’s not just good, it’s damn good.

Chubax Chuidian

What Happens: As with the first three issues of this epic series, a lot of stuff happens here. First of all, something happens to Bludhaven that turns Nightwing inside-out. This event is also the launch pad of the confrontation between Bruce and Dick, which I won’t really spoil, but let me just say that it’s far from what DC’s been hyping up for this issue. Alexander Luthor also goes on about how he and his Superboy have been manipulating the whole universe. Next comes one of the most amazing action sequences I’ve seen in comics. Superboy vs Conner. Everybody kind of knew this was coming, but I’m sure nobody expected it to be so kick ass. From Conner finally getting pissed to the Flashes ending it, everything was just spectacular. There’s also a page or two about the kid who found the Blue Beetle and Spectre finally getting a host. However, these scenes took a back seat in the issue and were really just there to move the story along. The end wasn’t really anything surprising since Kal-L said it in issue 2 or was it 3?

My Thoughts: Hot DAMN! I can’t really express how much I loved this issue. The first time I read it, my mouth was half way to the floor. Everything is just nicely done. Some people may think that the pacing is too fast or that there are too many things happening, but I disagree. All the storylines that are starting to converge just add to Crisis’s epicness and I have to say Johns is handling it well. Before getting my hands on this issue, I was afraid of how Johns would write Bruce and Dick’s so-called confrontation, but it turns out really nice and sweet. However, as I was discussing it with a friend of mine, the recent events have led us to believe one thing (now this is not a spoiler because this is just our opinion and not based on statement from DC): that Dick Grayson will not live to see past the Crisis. Everything is just pointing in that direction, from the first two pages of this issue to Bruce and Dick’s conversations. I’d hate to see it happen as Nightwing is one of my favorite characters, but if Johns does it well, I’ll accept it. Just don’t bring him back if he does die because that would really suck. Then again, this is just my opinion, and I have been wrong quite a lot of times. Also I have to say that the Superboy vs. Conner was really great. The art was top notch, especially the scenes with the Flashes. First time I read it, I had to flip back quite a lot on those pages because there’s quite a lot of details to see and because it was just heaven for the eyes. As many have said, each issue in this series has been better than the last and this is no different, and I hope that next issue will continue to up the ante.

My Final Word: If you aren’t having a Crisis, something must be wrong with you!

Kelvin Green

It’s largely business as usual for Infinite Crisis, although there is some improvement with this issue, most notably in the art. Perhaps because he was so rushed (as evidenced by the lateness of the book, the arrival of Ivan Reis on co-pencilling duties, and a legion of inkers), Jiminez doesn't get the chance to over-render the art this time around. Not only have the figures largely lost their weather-beaten and wrinkly appearance (although you can still tell the difference with Reis’ cleaner style), but storytelling in general has improved, and the vaguely defined visuals of the previous issue have largely gone, with only a couple of head-scratchingly confusing pages on show here; the Speed Force sequence is a little unclear, and the conversation between Batman and Nightwing lacks a sense of location, appearing almost as if it's occurring in the "outside place" that Alex Luthor and company once occupied.
However, tthe general sense of improvement in the art is marred by more lacklustre writing from Johns. To give him credit, the fight between Superboy-Prime and pretty much everyone else is quite well-handled (although it does seem to be borrowed from Moore’s Miracleman), and there’s a palpable sense of tension throughout the sequence, but it’s very much the highlight of a haphazard writing job.
The pacing of the story is still rather choppy, with too much going on at once and Johns proving unable to properly pick and choose his moments; Blüdhaven, for example, gets blown up in a nuclear conflagration, yet we only see a couple of pages of the event and its aftermath before being shunted off elsewhere. Johns is hitting us over the head with big events and epic imagery, but he's not giving it time to sink in, and any effect becomes muted at best. This approach also leads to a detached and confused feeling as plot threads get introduced and abandoned as Johns furiously tries to keep up with his own story; are we going to find out what that interlude with the Joker was all about a couple of issues ago? Is the Other Luthor going to make any more appearances? Why did the Spectre get shunted off stage in between issues? This chaotic storytelling brings two questions to mind; why aren’t DC using footnotes to explain things like why the Spectre goes from destroying Atlantis in one issue to being stuck in a man’s chest in another, and if this stuff is being resolved in other titles, then what is the point of including pages of it here? Johns was happy to spend/waste pages of this series recapping the events of the Power Girl arc from JSA: Classified, so why doesn’t the Spectre, presumably a character with an important role in this series, get the same treatment? A further unfortunate consequence of this frantic and confused storytelling style is that Johns drops a page or two of gratuitous infodump on us each issue; this issue’s example is perhaps the worst yet, with the panels squeezed down to the size of postage stamps in order to make room for the vast caption boxes needed to explain the plot that Johns hasn’t left enough room for.
Johns has also overdone things with his “villains”, Alex Luthor and Superboy. They originally came across as misguided but ultimately good-natured people, setting up a fascinating conflict between the heroes who want to restore their forgotten world and heroes who want to stop them because it means the end of theirs. However, they have now, Luthor particularly, slid into outright villainy; with Superboy literally (albeit accidentally) punching the heads off of minor Teen Titans, and Luthor deceiving Superman (and perhaps poisoning Lois) and making his creepy sex face as he gleefully reshapes the cosmos, their position is no longer as sympathetic as it once was, and the series as a whole becomes a good deal less interesting as a result.
All that said, the biggest flaw for me is Johns’ over-reliance on shock effect rather than craft, as if the writer is throwing tidbits to long term fans to, in effect, bribe them into overlooking any duff notes; for instance, having a Flash save the day by randomly turning up to pull Superboy into the Speed Force would be considered an indulgence in deus ex machina storytelling, but having *Barry Allen* save the day by randomly turning up to pull Superboy into the Speed Force is an "iconic moment" and as such is acceptable. Now, I’m not a DC fan, so I’m not likely to respond to the bones Johns is throwing to the fanboys, but it still strikes me as a cheat, and Johns does it again and again. I’ll not be swayed into ignoring the book’s flaws by the appearances of much-loved guest stars, and Johns should be ashamed for relying on such a disingenuous storytelling tactic.
I’ve been told many times that DC have higher standards of quality than Marvel, and that they truly respect their fans, but I’m not getting that impression from this series at all. Rather, I get the feeling that they know how best to manipulate their fans, and that providing a good quality product comes second to that. Were this a simple monthly ongoing title, I’d still consider it to be flawed, but as the centrepiece of DC’s publishing plans, it’s inexcusably bad.

Shawn Hill

Plot: Remember that infinite void sucking our heroes towards it like flotsam down a drain? Now there are two god-like hands forcing it wider, and it leads to only one place: Earth-2.

Comments: I want to enjoy this more than I am. While it’s using a pretty full range of DC heroes and joining them together in a rich plethora of bounty, it’s doing much what COIE did: bringing them back in order to kill them off. And unlike COIE, which had the good taste to have energy dissolving waves of anti-matter to efficiently silence the unworthy, Johns isn’t happy until bones are broken, limbs ripped asunder, and decapitations galore accumulate from laser vision eyebeams.

It’s gross. It’s crude. It’s loud. It’s noisy. It’s not unentertaining for all that, and it’s a little less busy than last issue, but it’s grim nonetheless. This crisis is but a showy shadow of scarier and darker fields of carnage-strewn dead from the eighties and nineties.

I mean, Earth-2 is back, right? We’re supposed to be happy about that, aren’t we? I was certainly happy to see glimpses of it a few months ago in JSA: Classified. All those familiar old friends; only now they’re misguided, duped or crazy or sick. They don’t just want to come back—they want to erase their doubles who are already here. It’s crude, and it’s also fluff. With foes so transparently villainous, there’s no real sense of tragedy, of anything being lost that can’t be rebooted back “one year later.” The blur of murders is so much distraction: what I’m left to sift through each issue looking for the really blatantly important developments, the mandated plot points that are going to lead to the new DC.

To wit: Chemo destroys Blüdhaven (big loss). Booster tracks down Beetle’s
legacy. The Spectre is bound unwillingly to a new host. The Speed Force is now off-limits like Paradise Island, and also apparently Heaven. And Alexander Luthor tries to undo one little corner of Crisis (albeit the cornerstone). The rest is just a colorful, distracting miasma of blood. Superboy-Prime is a non-entity masquerading as a plot device. And that full page of exposition (locking in all that the Countdown series hinted at) is inexcusably awkward, if totally mandated by overload of unexplained events flanking it.

Small consolations: What’s been helping me all along is Jimenez’s art; he loves a crowd scene, and he can turn on the gore like few others. He’s struggling to give emotional resonance to scenes run the gamut from anger to outrage. But even that pleasure is lost to deadline pressures by the end of the issue, unfortunately recalling lapses into fill-in art on many previous epics of this type.

This one’s remaking things, just like House of M remade Marvel. As usual, it tramples our memories underfoot to do it. When are we going to get to the point where our heroes act like it, and start to fend off the violent insanity?

Jason Sacks

It’s funny, no matter how much grandeur and excitement there is in a story, it’s the personal moments everyone remembers. “Luke, I am your father” is more interesting than all the space battles (and part of why the Star Wars prequels basically failed). “Frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a damn” is more memorable than the Civil War battles in Gone With the Wind. And in Crisis on Infinite Earths, people remember the deaths of Barry and Kara, and the spooky last page with the Psycho Pirate, more than the battle between the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor.

It feels like Geoff Johns is striving for much the same thing here. The Earth-Prime Superboy goes Kid Miracleman and ravages a whole slew of heroes (though, conveniently, nobody that fans really care about), but the most memorable thing in the scene, at least from me, is his statement to the current Superboy: “You fooled everyone into believing you were actually Superboy. You don’t even have a cape!” That Superboy is so naive that he believes all the trappings of the superhero are what’s important, instead of the hero within. Like many kids, he believes that surface matters instead of what’s inside.

There are a lot of nice moments in this issue. The chats between Batman and Nightwing - “The early years, I've forgotten if... they were good for you, weren’t you?” “The best.” Or Wally West, grabbing for his wife in a moment of stress. Or, for that matter, Barry Allen appearing in that same moment. Booster Gold being on a toothpaste box. On and on.

It’s a bit confusing around the edges, and I really do find it convenient that none of the big names were killed in the battle, but overall Johns does a nice job in this comic of combining the big with the small. And what an intriguiing ending!

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