The Sky Is Bleeding
“It’s not Dark yet/
But it’s gettin’ there.”
Welcome back to WE RAN. I am sorry you have decided to do this to yourself. We now come to the *Beanie Feldstein from Lady Bird Voice* TIT-TU-LAR role! And probably one of my single favorite issues of comics of all time! Enough of my needless vamping. Let’s get the hell into it.
We open on a nine-panel grid! SEVERAL nine-panel grids in fact! Tom King, eat your fucking heart out.
But beyond that, we know Grant’s thoughts on the nine-panel grid. For those slightly out of the loop, he’s talked often about how it’s now a move that people ape to give them and their comics the appearance of formalism, but how it’s been used so often at this point, it’s been robbed of its power. Beyond his own words, which you can find with a few Googles and looking into his recent interviews about craft and production, I feel like Pax Americana, his Multiversity issue set on Earth-4 (The “Charlton Comics-Earth” and Earth closest to the beam junction between the Multiverse and Underworld which is…interesting enough to sustain its OWN column) is a better blueprint of his thoughts on the narrative device.
He even went so far as to pretty much mock it in that issue as well. Snipping out a panel on some pages, making his an EIGHT-panel grid, selling the unease and warped perspective of Earth-4 and then using multiples of 8 and 6 panels for most set pieces, all segmented and laid out in unique ways, breaking it further from the rigid formalism of Watchmen. Again, I could write forever about Pax Americana, but in summation, Grant doesn’t seem to be a fan.
But he and artist J.G. Jones uses it in a really interesting way here! First off, a lot of it just looks like a black boxed cage over just a normal establishing scene. It’s directly noticeable in the first set of panels depicting Frankenstien and his S.H.A.D.E. Support Troops taking a building with an ominous Omega above the door. It’s really just a sequence of Frank standing on the street, but it has such a fun perspective and look here as an opener.
The use becomes more apparent in the scene of Renee giving S.H.A.D.E. the Irish Goodbye out of a back door and into the street. Again, just a simple bit of character movement, with Renee slipping away and out onto the street, depicted in the panels forming a sort of inverted L shape cradling the four panels of the interiors inside of it. BUT IT LOOKS SO COOL and so clear in a completely different way than the “normal” nine-panel grids tend to be (which tend to be usually just tight closeups, stiff blocking, and not much branching out of out “realistic” layouts of the sequence).
But while Renee tries to slip into the night and Father Time and Frank confer over what they have found in the club, a star falls to the city streets below. A star from another Earth. The UberFraulein of Earth-X (ironically enough the closest Earth to Hell nearest it’s axis point). She CRASHES to the ground in another tightly packed nine-panel grid, bringing a warning from beyond reality before dying in front of Renee Montoya. Roughly translated: “The Sky is Bleeding. The Hell is Here”. The Crisis is spreading.
Spreading across Bludhaven, which is now revealed at the explicit location of the Command-D bunker (AKA Darkseid’s new cradle). It’s a quick little bit of world building, but I’ve always thought it was so cool that the place that apparently survives the end of the world (and provides Kamandi his refuge from the apocalypse) serves as the birthing suite of the Tiger-Force That Beats in the Heart of All. ONLY MORRISON, y’all.
But this darkness is also spreading across the heart and mind of the newly mortal Nix Uotan, who is still struggling to explain his new flesh existence. I can’t imagine how hard it has to be, going from a being of pure thought to being just another schlubby dildo like the rest of us. But beyond the choice sadness at play here, we get a very different version of the nine panel grid.
And a more effective one I think too! For one thing, it again allows a greater range of story motion and expression from Jones. We get to see some direct blocking in the top two rows of panels, taking the “realism” of Gibbons and then spreading it across the “staging” of the scene in a really neat section of expressionism from Nix and his long-suffering Big Belly Burger manager. I am a pretty easy lay when it comes to this kind of obvious “blocking” in comics, especially when it’s done well and feels somewhat natural and I think this scene has both in spades.
It is also nicely supported by the slightly longer panels at the bottom of the page. They are a touch more decompressed when it comes to their point of view shifting, starting as a vista inside the store, then shifting to right outside the window as Nix looks inward, and then again further out of the window as he walks away. But I really like it a lot. I think it’s a lot more effective than some of the more obvious aping we have seen of the nine-panel grid, which are usually just either static “confessional” shots of heroes or just frustratingly stiff action. Lookin’ at Y’ALL, Heroes in Crisis and Doomsday Clock.
I would also be remiss if I moved on and DIDN’T mention the Cave Carson cameo. Which is a far better Cave Carson cameo than the one deployed before in Infinite Crisis. If only because we get to SEE Cave and the gang on panel. It also seems as if they have discovered Anthro’s drawings of Metron’s symbols in their recent discoveries. To quote Connor Ratliff’s incredible George Lucas impression, “It’s like poetry. It rhymes.”. I feel like at this point, EVERY DC comic event should be judged by if it has a decent Cave Carson cameo. For instance, FINAL CRISIS “Fucks” by this metric with aforementioned good Cave Carson cameo while on the other side of the spectrum Death Metal “Does Not Fuck” in that there has been NO Cave Carson at all. Very simple really.
But really, this scene is the beating heart of #3. The three generations of Flash. Probably one of my favorite sequences in ALL OF COMICS. Hyperbole aside, there are several layers as to why this is good.
First of which is Jones’ interpretation of the scene itself. Though intercut with bolting flash(heh)backs of the Flight of the Flashes, Jones is absolutely nailing just plaintive emotion as Jay Garrick recounts his story to Iris and Linda and the rest of the Flash Family. I know a lot of people don’t come to superhero comics for “plaintive emoting”, but even just on an objective level, you have to admit that there is a real expressionism and life to this scene, sliced through with Speed Force hijinks that he’s ALSO nailing along with the zooming and keen edged colors of Alex Sinclair.
There is also the fun plot developments we get during this scene. Mainly being that Wally’s theory of a bullet fired backwards through time isn’t just a theory. It’s cosmic fact! One proven by them rushing past the death moments of Orion, who was also punctured by the radon god-bullet, weakened by his final death-throes with Darkseid. It’s very timey-wimey, which Morrison even doubles down on with Jay’s dialogue about “just making tonight before his knee gave out” and the odd way basically ALL Flashes talk about time. BUT it’s juicy stuff and is left a bit vague as to be capitalized on by this issue’s cliffhanger and later elements of the event overall.
There is also the little matter of this tall drink of cosmic hell.
The Black Racer! AKA DEATH AS INEVITABILITY!
Introduced in 1971 in New Gods #3, Sgt William “Willie” Walker was a paralyzed and stupefied by the horror of the Vietnam conflict. But after a contact with The Source during one of Darkseid’s first wars on earth, Walker was transmogrified into a living, racing, and constantly hungering harbinger of Death itself. Doomed to ferry souls across The Source into the void and eternal rest.
Since then, he’s often been used either to portend a death or in relation to the Flashes and/or the Speed Force thanks to an idle comment Morrison plants in Final Crisis #6, whose coattails were fully ridden until the fucking wheels came off them by Geoff Johns during his Flash stuff by explicitizing that the Black Flash and the Black Racer were one in the same.
Neil Gaiman also apparently took umbrage with the idea that the Black Racer was the supreme personification of Death in the DCU, stating that Death of the Endless is ACTUALLY the REAL and ONLY Death of the Multiverse (despite dozens of titles like Captain Atom, Kingdom Come, and Death of the New Gods, and ya know, JACK FUCKING KIRBY stating otherwise).
But we know better, don’t we, Dear Readers? As we have already seen this new redesigned Black Racer, looming over the broken corpse of Orion and then, almost in the same MOMENT as detailed by this issue, sprinting after the Flashes in their attempt to stop the god-bullet before it can hit it’s target in the past. I really, really love the Black Racer’s inclusion here, and even without all the context, both Morrison and Jones up to this point have visually telegraphed how and why the Black Racer fits into their scope here to at least be enigmatic enough to tickle the fancy of an outside reader. I know it certainly did me when I first discovered these holy tomes.
Hell, Morrison even goes and NAMES the Black Racer “death” in Jay’s incredible line that “death can’t travel at the speed of light, but Wally can.” so at least by now you have SOME semblance into why and how he is there. Super, cosmic skis, y’all. Only in comics.
MEANWHILE! AT THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE LEGION OF DOOM!
It isn’t…great, but plot-wise Morrsion and company are providing us some more texture as to the new Libra-led Secret Society of Super-Villains. As well as the introduction to the “Reformation Helmets” (which is what I THINK they end up being called). It’s a nice bait and switch, as the decidedly un-woke Human Flame thinks he’s being gifted the Challenge of the SuperFriends staple set and a brand new snazzy uniform. Only for Libra to call him a little shit and then stuff his brains into the Helmet, which beams the Anti-Life Equation directly into your cerebellum, adding your flesh to Boss Dark Side’s hordes.
Morrison also engages in some fun bantering between Libra and Lex, who, naturally, wants to put a bullet in Libra’s skull and take back over the Secret Society control. Grant also provides us a little veggies along with the dessert of the dialogue. Superman hasn’t answered an emergency call for over 18 hours, an eternity for someone like him and precisely the kind of thing that Luthor would have noticed. Obviously the explosive cliffhanger of the last issue (which found Clayface infiltrating and BLOWING UP the Daily Planet, injuring Lois Lane in the process) worked and Libra takes it as proof of his divine mission, foretold in the Bible of Crime.
Luthor takes it as a threat to his survival and tries to intervene, with one Mercy Graves (please step on me, also WHERE IS she nowadays, I reckon?) at his side. But Libra is part of something much bigger now, just like pathetic little Human Flame is, thanks to Anti-Life and their new, one-size-fits-all delivery system. He offers Lex a choice once again. His last and final offer. Join them and swear their lives upon the Bible of Crime or get the bucket. That SURELY won’t come up later, right, he typed sarcastically.
But once again Grant just doubles down on the information he’s already provided in hints, cutting immediately with the art team to Metropolis Memorial Hospital. Dirk Armstrong has lost a leg. Perry White is on life support. And Clark Kent sits at the bedside of his wife, who hasn’t regained consciousness yet. Superman hasn’t been seen in nearly 20 hours because Superman has problems of his own. It’s a wonderful and kinda low-key horrible version of the “man/superman” push and pull writers have been struggling with for years.
What GOOD is a Superman that can’t protect his loved ones? What GOOD is a secret identity when it keeps you from acting within the moment? Obviously, this is just me projecting what I think is cool and engaging about Superman as a character, but I don’t think I am by MUCH. This whole idea stems from the actual line of dialogue Grant doles out to a tear-stained Jimmy from Clark, so I have to believe some germ of this idea is in the text in order for me to extrapolate the reading from it.
But just even on the surface it’s GUT-WRENCHING stuff, played to the hilt by the art team and sparse dotting of the lettering by Rob Leigh. We even get a white hot bolt of Silver Age pulp when a newcomer enters the scene, claiming to know how to save Lois Lane and that they know everything about Clark Kent. Including that he is this Earth’s Superman! And trust me, y’all, we are gonna TALK ALL ABOUT THIS…later on in another column (sorry love youuuuuu).
Because now we have to know that NO ONE ESCAPES THE ALPHA LANTERNS. Namely, Hal Jordan didn’t escape the Alpha Lanterns and is being hauled off-world to face trial on Oa in front of the Guardians. Admittedly, a lot of these middle sections kinda drag and finds Grant Morrison having to lay out a LOT of shoe leather about why more of the “big guns” for the League are MIA and getting the title ready for Article X. It definitely undercuts the grandiosity of the event for sure, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t into seeing Alan Scott, Wonder Woman, and Black Lightning all hanging out and talking strategy.
He is also having to cut VERY fast and VERY loosely around all the new players he wants to bring in too. Pinging from the “mysterious new Aquaman” (I think Arthur was dead before this event spun up, but don’t quote me), to Freddie Freeman and Talky Tawney, to Supergirl (giving Streaks some scritches) and then to Dinah and Ollie in VERY rapid succession. It isn’t the most formed of sequences, nor is it particularly exciting, as they all are engaged in conversations basically EXPLAINING Article X and how it “drafts” meta-humans and costumed adventurers into a larger, government backed peace-keeping force.
That said, hearing Ollie “The Hot Lefty” Queen pissing and moaning about “this authoritarian, militaristic crap” while he dresses, culminating in this tremendous single page splash…
S’pretty good. Fucking RAGMAN is there, fam. RAGMAN. Plus the whole of the JSA, Buddy Baker, Cass Cain, AND most of the Teen Titans. Comics, y’all. Sometimes they are pretty goddamn good.
But now Grant REALLY gotta move as we check in on last issue’s breakout stars Sonny Sumo and Shiloh Norman, Mister Miracle II. This sequence has a LOT of pep and I truly love that Morrison is just picking up mid-conversation about Shiloh and Sonny’s shared experience with BEING BROUGHT BACK FROM THE FUCKING DEAD, as if it is just the most normal thing in the world to be talking about. I also like that he’s really starting to turn up the heat as to the amount of the Anti-Life forces that have already spread throughout the world, not localized to any one section of Earth-Prime.
As Orion said, they are already here and they are already blowing the absolute hell out of Mister Miracle II’s private jet, cutting him and Sonny off to the outside world of the A-List heroes. But who needs the Super Family when you have the SUPER YOUNG TEAM, who sweep in with this bravura page capped sequence where they sweep in and add them to the ragtag numbers drafted into service by Article X. How could you not love this?
Most Excellent, INDEED, GRANT.
We return now to Bludhaven, where there has been no escape. Wonder Woman is finally on the scene, intending to deal with the “local warlord” that has stationed themselves in the Command-D bunker. Backed by the Atomic Knights, Wondy plans to lead a sortie behind the outer walls, in order to suss out exactly what and who has gone wrong in this “fallen” city. It is a neat use of Diana, and you can kind of start to see the germs of WW: Earth One (a book I do not love much, DO NOT @ me) starting here. There is a real urgency to her here that I like to see, as well as her taking a leadership role in the active “soldering” that’s happening in this event.
Grant also takes the time to let HER take the time to get to know some of the “Atomic Knights” that march alongside her and it’s a welcome change of pace from the weirdly cold and stand-offish stuff we get from some modern runs. It’s nice seeing her just RELATE to people, as well as showing a more rawer side to her outlook on being a superhero. Like this exchange.
I know people tend to like their Diana a little more “badass” and deified, but for my money, THIS is the real sweet spot for Wonder Woman as the lead of a comic. It isn’t to last, however, as another wonderful woman makes the scene, but not how we are used to seeing her.
Namely one Mary Marvel.
Lampshaded by the earlier Freddie Freeman and Talky Tawney scene, wherein Freddie reveals that both Mary and Billy Batson have been “missing”, Mary Marvel makes her return to the pages of DC, but in a new Anti-Life-But-Even-MORE-Fetishy costume and temperament. These scenes caught some flak at the time of release, and it’s easy to see why. The “gee, golly” voice for Mary is a bit grating at times and reads flatter than Grant intends beyond the shock of her initial introduction.
But unlike those critics and forum pundits in the past, who quarreled with the “listful” and “ slowly rendered” fight scene, I quite think the sequence is fairly brutal and a pretty rousing example of how uniquely awful it has to be to fight as and around superheroes.
For one thing, the way those first three panels are laid out is nothing short of HARROWING. Grant, Jones, and Sinclair, aided in large kind by Rob Leigh’s precise lettering, detail a dreadful speed and ferocity to Mary’s opening leap, selling just how hard and fucking FAST Mary is hitting now, forcing Wondy into INSTANT action aganist a foe aiming for nothing short of ultra-violence. And then, just for some kinetic OMPH to pack into the next page, the creative team render two CRUSHING blows from Diana, then backdropped by the horrific fallout of Mary’s attack on the “mortals” scattering this grand playing field.
Because, trust me, Dear Readers, this is a GRAND game Darkseid is playing. And now Wonder Woman is smack dab into the middle of the board. Right where The Tiger Force That BEATS At The Heart of Everything wants her. Suckered into close combat by Mary, Wonder Woman is infected with a germified version of Anti-Life care of the “Flesh Farms of Command-D”. They are already here and The Darkness can take many forms, as Grant has told us MULTIPLE times now. Wonder Woman then becomes a new kind of ambassador. One of Anti-Life.
Then Mokkari ends the world with an e-mail.
Admittedly, pretty much all of this is hokum and buckles under the weight of “realistic” comic scrutiny. How can Mokkari send an email to the entire planet at once? How was the Anti-Life Equation boiled down into a virus compound? How could Oracle hope to “kill the net”? But at this point, the creative team is expecting a sort of meeting them halfway with some of these more broader elements and, to me, is no crazier than half the shit that happened in Blackest Night or any other “world shattered” event comic.
But with that, Grant offers one helluva aperitif. Emerging from their Speed Force Flight, Wally West and Barry Allen are spat out back on Earth-Prime. Sans the Black Racer but with gained red skies and the realization that they could have NEVER saved Orion. As the Doctor would tell our intrepid speedsters, his death is a “fixed point”, having already happened even BEFORE the radon bullet was shot, thus solidifying his death in the fabric of time (also in accordance with Hypertime, the comic theory that all comic history can and does exist along its own overlapping and underflowing timeline). Basically just more GREAT Flash bullshit, leading me to wonder just WHY Grant hasn’t had a major run on the The Flash just yet, aside from those few issues with Mark Millar (*audibly gags*).
What have they done to the world, Barry Allen? Introduced them to Darkness, of course. They now Know and they wish for you to Know too. You and the rest of the Multiverse.
Not everything is Dark yet, but they’re gettin’ there.
PS: as always, Fuck Eddie Berganza.
NEXT TIME!: Something a Little Different. A New Title. A New Format. And The First of Our Very Special Guests.