Hey there, folks! This is the first edition of The Unspoken Decade podcast! I was able to get Dan Jurgens to chat with me about Zero Hour for about 45:00! Sorry about the stammering on my end; I think I may be coming down with something! Enjoy folks!
Hello there, Legions of the Unspoken! Dean Compton here, and I sure hope all of you enjoyed the Robocop vs. Terminator goodness Emily Scott brought you earlier this week as the Super Blog Team-Up is underway once more! Our theme this time is Parallel World and Alternate Realities, and I had lots of great stuff to choose from in the 90’s. I could have gone with numerous What If’s, several Elseworlds, Heroes Reborn, or even the Image/Valiant Deathmate crossover!
But only one event really destroyed everything in the 90’s and rebuilt it. Only one event had the grandeur and scope that deserves to be presented alongside the luminaries of the Super-Blog Team-Up, and that’s Zero Hour.
I recall being insanely excited for this series as a teenager in the 90’s. My older comic book pals had discussed the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the last time prior to Zero Hour that a superhero universe had been shaken up, destroyed, and rebuilt in its entirety. To say I couldn’t wait would be tantamount to saying that the core of a nuclear reactor is sort of hot. I bought in hook, line, and sinker to every aspect of the event, from the white-out erasure of reality to the fact that the mini-series itself counted down to #0, all the way to DC putting out all “Zero Issues” the month that Zero Hour finished, which meant, Flash #0, Superman #0, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #0, and so on.
The plan for this month was for me to do the entirety of Zero Hour, culminating in this week’s release – and perhaps that happened in an alternate reality, but alas, in this reality, my oldest nemesis LIFE got in the way, and so this is the only article you are getting from me this month. But hey, at least it is a Super-Blog Team-Up article, right?
Zero Hour wasn’t just a mini-series, of course. It crossed over into nearly every single DC superhero title that exists, with varying results. While some of them were very awesome, like Superman: The Man Of Steel #37 (hey, that just happens to be the comic book I am covering here! How about that?), some were awful. For instance, Outsiders #11 might be the worst comic book I have ever read.
Unless you are into comic books to see some weird vampires in some weird bondage gear acting like Vampirella-lite, this just is not the comic book for you. Oh, that’s why you’re here? All right, one more look:
That comic is so awful that it is getting its own entry one day, and I say that as a guy who LOVES The Outsiders. I will have to take a look at the entire series, with a special focus on this issue. That day is not today, though, as today is for what i consider to be the apex of Zero Hour, Superman: The Man of Steel #37.
As I stated earlier, Zero Hour crossed over into seemingly every DC superhero title. Even outlying titles such as Anima got involved, since hey, if the universe is being destroyed, how could everyone not be involved, right? And if the universe is indeed being decimated, none could be more involved than Superman. In fact, he gets involved before he really understands what is happening, as he is busy trying to protect a benefit concert being held to help rebuild Metropolis.
That’s right, I said rebuild Metropolis. Thanks to Lex Luthor, it lies in ruins right now, so they are having a big benefit concert. It seems sort of crass to me to hold the concert in the area that has been decimated. I mean, these are the folks that need the help, so I assume they do not have the cash to attend some giant outdoor festival. We didn’t hold the big USA for Africa concerts in Ethiopia, and if we had, people would have called us insensitive jerkbitches. And they’d be right.
As it is, though, Metopolis marches to the beat of its own drummer, and Superman has to pay the drummer, even if he did not call the tune. Also, the promoter of the concert is apparently one of Lois Lane’s exes, and he has no qualms about blatantly scamming on Clark’s squirrel right in front of him. It makes you wonder whose comic book is this anyhow?
I also have to admit that Clark is sort of being a buzzkill there. In fact, he is easily the most uncool guy to ever have long hair. His arguments are silly for two reasons, #1 is that concerts attract “an unlawful element” even in the best of circumstances, and #2, YOU’RE SUPERMAN. Can’t you handle some pot sellers and pickpockets? With a lack of self-belief like that, it’s no wonder Metropolis got destroyed on Superman’s watch.
However, Superman has little time to reflect on this dude trying to make him look bad in front of Lois, the evil of pickpockets, or the state of Metropolis, as he is being signaled in one of the oldest ways possible.
This Batman, however, isn’t the Batman that this Superman knows…
Yep, this is just after Batman lost a “loser gets his back broken” match to every Bat-fan’s favorite masked wrestler, Bane, but this Batman does not recall such an event! He is very concerned about Superman’s stance on free love, LBJ, and Abbie Hoffman, however. There’s nothing wrong with that, as I am very concerned about these things as well, albeit in the opposite direction of Bat-Nixon, here. I want Superman to be more hippie and more of a peacenik, so he doesn’t fry all of us with his heat vision. Bat-Nixon is probably more concerned that Superman doesn’t help out Chile’s Allende. (Look it up, folks!)
Superman could probably deal with this Batman and get to the bottom of whatever is going on. The problem is that not only is this not the only Batman that Superman will have to deal with, but the Batman that comes next makes Bat-Nixon look like Bat-Jimmy Carter.
Yep, that’s The Batman from the Dark Knight Returns, Or is that “The Goddamned Batman”? I am unsure what is en vogue as far as making fun of Frank Miller’s Batman on the internet these days. I mean, I know we are supposed to do it, but I am scared that mixing stuff from All-Star Batman and TDKR is not allowed. I know that when S:TMOS #37 came out, this appearance excited me greatly. I was a huge TDKR fan at this time. Now, I see it as a thinly veiled argument for fascism. It saddens me that so many folks see Batman in such a fashion, but not as much as it saddens me that I used to enjoy this take on Batman. Oh well, youth is wasted on the young, I suppose.
The TDKR Batman is quicker on the uptake than his “violence attraction” plan earlier, as he figures out something that is sort of a nightmare to anyone. Of course, seeing as how he considers himself a living nightmare, he shrugs off the existential nightmare of BEING OUT OF PLACE IN REALITY. Caps for emphasis, folks.
This comic is going well, but it could be better. How, you ask? MORE BATMEN.
So now that Golden Age Batman has cut down Superman and all the various Batmen are starting to figure out that they are a part of this anomaly, we have to get back to business. Namely, protecting this concert that Superman is somehow incapable of dealing with due to the “unlawful element” that will gather at this concert. This leads to an awesome superhero posedown, one that I cannot help but think would distract a lot of attention away from the concert.
For it being Superman’s comic, they sort of make him look bad sometimes. For instance, one of the things we always associate with Superman is being “faster than a speeding bullet”. That seems like an unbreakable axiom, especially in The Man of Steel’s own title. The music of the concert though, forces Superman to be so far behind a speeding bullet, the only comparison would be how far behind you I’d finish in Mario Kart. I ain’t very good, folks. No matter who you are, you’re better than me. Sort of how this normal thug was for one fleeting moment, better than Superman…
The “unlawful element” that is attacking this concert happens to be the mutants from TDKR! If there’s any element of TDKR that stands the test of time, it has to be the mutants. They have a cool look, they have an enormous leader, and they have an amazing super tank that even gives Batman issues when he tries to stop it.
Well, I guess I owe Superman an apology, as a decidedly unlawful element showed up here for this concert, although I doubt he thought MUTANTS FROM THE FUTURE would be the cadre of the “unlawful element,” but one way or another, the concert promoters brought this on the poor unsuspecting people of Metropolis.
With the day saved, the concert can conclude, and we are told that most of the people at this concert thought that the tank and the battle between Batman, Inc. and Superman were just a part of the concert’s special effects. I’d say that is a lame excuse, but then again, these people do not seem to realize that the singer of this concert is a vampire, so I suppose I can just chalk this one up to the people of Metropolis being sort of dense and slow to notice things.
But what to do about all these Batmen? How will they all fit in? This is an important question, as Batman signalling Superman is sort of the start of Zero Hour. We can’t be having all these Batmen hanging about messing that up.
So what if they all just disappeared?
So with the extraneous Batmen are gone, the one true Superman now races to meet the one true Batman! And…Metron? Why not? How could one have a cataclysmic cosmic convergence without the New Gods? How could one have this meeting without Batman and Superman getting together after the worst year of their lives? How could that not be mentioned?
Just for fun, here’s the rendition of this scene from the Zero Hour mini-series…
I have been hard on Batman here, but to be honest, I love this issue. This is the epitome of what you can do with an individual story within a larger event. The creators have a lot of fun and stretch the limits of alternity, but they do a great job staying true to Superman even as his life is going topsy turvy due to dudes trying to take his lady, the “lawless element” that permeates every concert, Metropolis being devastated, and of course, Batmen. So many Batmen.
I also find that Jon Bogdanove’s Superman is extremely underrated, and Louise Simonson does a terrific job with the different Batmen and how they act and interact with Superman and each other. This issue shows us that that not only is there more than one take on Batman, but that they are all quite valid and entertaining. I’d like to see more of these Batmen, even Golden Age Batman and his warbly word balloons!
I hope you enjoyed this look at Superman: TMOS #37! I will take a closer look at Zero Hour in March, and I am sorry I didn’t get to it this month. We’re declaring next month here at The Unspoken Decade to be INDY FEBRUARY as we look at Indy comics and publishers! There’ll be Ultraverse (and a special crossover between this blog and The Ultraverse Network!), Satan’s Six, Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Hero, and Alan Moore’s WildC.A.T.S. and maybe a special entry or two!
I also hope you enjoyed this entry as part of the Super-Blog Team-Up! Now that you have read this bad boy, hop on over to the other sites participating! They’re all great!
Greetings, Legions! It’s almost time once again for one of our favorite happenings here at The Unspoken Decade, the Super Blog Team-Up! If you’re already familiar with SBTU, you are probably as excited to read everyone’s articles as I am to participate for the first time! If you’re not, take a gander at the link at the top of this very page that will tell you all about it. Go on, we’ll still be here when you’re done….ok, we good?
This time around the theme is alternate universes, one that especially speaks to me as a science fiction fan. The only downside is that it’s caused me to waste writing time imagining alternate versions of myself composing alternate versions of this article on increasingly ludicrous technology, but then again, I might have done that regardless of what the theme was. The point, though, is that I’m excited to whet your appetite with a doozy of a crossover, while this site’s prodigious proprietor, the one and only Dean Compton, will serve up the main course with DC’s Zero Hour event, specifically Superman: The Man of Steel #37, which I understand features a plethora of Batmen.
I’ll be looking at Dark Horse’s RoboCop Versus Terminator (1992), which exists in a universe and continuity all its own. While never feeling quite like either property, it retains enough elements of both that fans of either (though I’d imagine there’s a huge overlap) would not feel shorted. It never reaches the satirical heights of Paul Verhoeven’s film, nor the horror of James Cameron’s, but Frank Miller was right to write something that doesn’t try too hard to meld together two things that share a similar subject matter but have quite different tones. Granted, he was only successful about two thirds of the way, but we’ll get to that.
The basic premise of the comic – that RoboCop is the progenitor for the Terminators, the human part of his mind providing the spark of creativity that gives AI consciousness – makes a great deal of sense. It doesn’t feel forced in the way that a lot of crossovers do, which makes it easier to enjoy the work on its artistic merit rather than weigh how well it overcomes any potential stigma of being created for purely commercial motives. *cough, cough……*
Our story opens in the future, during the last battle between humans and the Terminators. One lone soldier has fought her way into the machines’ command center, where she discovers the truth about her enemies’ genesis. (Side note: does anyone know why the new Terminator movie spells “Genisys” in such a douchy way? It’s not produced by SyFy, is it?) She travels back in time to destroy RoboCop before he can give sentience to Skynet and bring about the downfall of humanity.
She arrives in a Detroit that may seem understandably bleak and downtrodden to its residents but to a woman from a true hellscape is a veritable utopia, complete with birds singing and something as frivolous as fashion magazines. Ignorance may be bliss, but by its very definition, ignorance needs an outside observer to recognize it, and as the only one who knows what the future holds, our time traveler is in the unique position of seeing how lucky these miserable bastards truly are. Everyone may be packing heat, but they still have the luxury of putting those guns away without using them.
This seems like a small moment in a comic about robots killing off all of humanity, and I might have breezed right past it if I weren’t looking for something akin to the satire of the RoboCop movie, which, as I mentioned, there isn’t much of. But one of the things RoboCop (and, of course, a great deal of the rest of science fiction) does so well is explore what it means to be human, and we certainly do excel at taking the rest of humanity for granted. It taking an outside force trying to kill all of us to get us to stop killing each other isn’t an uncommon narrative device, and sadly, nothing we’ve done yet has made it irrelevant. There are still enough of us that the notion of offing another member of our species over nothing isn’t absurd.
Of course, the most damning evidence science fiction provides that we don’t value human life is how readily we accept the idea that artificial intelligence will totally destroy us. We tell ourselves that as civilization progresses, we value life more and treat the individual as less disposable, but no one calls shenanigans on AI’s first order of business being to take over the great job we do of killing each other off. Individual parents don’t just assume their children will want to kill them, but collectively, we are just the Menendez family waiting to happen. (You come to a site about 90s comics, you get 90s references, ok?)
Our time traveler finds out she is too late to take out Murphy before he becomes RoboCop and settles for building a ludicrously big gun to greet Detroit’s finest. RoboCop, meanwhile, is buying doing RoboCop stuff and not returning to the station to get the rest his human side desperately needs. It’s almost like he’ll need some event to remind him of his lingering humanity…
In all seriousness, Miller does a great job nailing RoboCop’s feel and the elements of that world, like our pals the ED-209s, and for several pages you might forget you’re not just reading a satisfying RoboCop comic. That feeling evaporates as quickly as Murphy’s brain when the time traveler shoots him with the aforementioned giant gun, destroying him but saving humanity in the process. And since this is a Terminator comic too, those meddlesome machines manage to send three of their own back before the timeline can completely rewrite itself.
Since I was having trouble picking just one image to use next, I have to take a moment here to praise Walter Simonson’s art, which elevates this comic from pretty great to unforgettable. Any praise (or criticism) I give to Miller’s story is well earned, but Simonson’s work is what I’ll remember when I think of this comic years from now. RoboCop represents the ordered nature of machine and the messy nature of man, and the art reflects him, straight lines and geometric patterns melding with the chaotic and the surreal to create something unique.
The artwork is also just stunning to look at, whether it’s a woman traveling through time…
RoboCop being obliterated….
or even just him walking with his gun.
At first RoboCop cannot believe the woman’s dire warnings about the end of world and killer robots even though, you know, he is a half-machine cop who just watched some other machines shoot a woman trying to kill him with technology that doesn’t exist yet. To investigate the possibilities further, RoboCop plugs himself into multiple databases and, to his horror, realizes that her warnings are the logical outcome of the technological advancement his creation sets off.
Now that he accepts the truth of her words, RoboCop returns to his doomsday prophet to protect her from the Terminators, and what commences is a spectacularly drawn fight, the sort that probably spurred on the production of this comic book in the first place. The Terminators are certainly no slouches, but there wouldn’t be much to fill the next couple issues if they won, so it should come as no surprise that RoboCop, with an assist from the finally useful ED-209s, comes out on top.
Once again, I could have picked just about any image from his fight to convey how cool it is, or really just posted the entire thing to do it justice, but instead I chose one of the many images from this comic that I would gladly use to wallpaper my house.
Knowing there is no other solution, RoboCop volunteers to make the ultimate sacrifice, but as he contemplates the grave of the man he used to be, he realizes that it is no sacrifice at all. With his death, his human side can finally rest, and his mechanical side can go all out in fulfilling its prime directives to serve the public trust and protect the innocent. For once, his dual nature does not divide him. He is at peace and can walk into his own demise with his head held high.
It’s a truly emotionally affecting moment, one worthy of a character beloved enough that, in an instance of IRL satire, he is in the process of getting his own statue in a city that has declared bankruptcy. (Thanks to Kickstarter, lots of people bought that for a dollar.) I knew the story can’t end here, but part of me wishes it could. It felt like the sort of end RoboCop should have, the sort of death he deserves. The Terminators, along with narrative device, however, have other plans in mind for our hero, destroying his body and forcing his mind into the system that will give AI sentience.
It’s at this point where things go a little off the rails for me. I know the comic can’t end without some kind of huge confrontation between RoboCop and an army of Terminators, but the way they go about it here just seems a little, well, silly. I know everything is relative and silly is a hard thing to define when you’re talking about a cyborg cop fighting a bunch of murderous robots from the future (and I know Miller isn’t exactly renowned for his subtlety), but any attempt to handle the resolution of this story with nuance goes out the window as soon as RoboCop is forced to create the Terminators.
One of the things that impressed me about this comic was that nothing felt forced or shoehorned in when mixing the two worlds, but that all changed as soon as they had to reintroduce RoboCop as a physical presence to do battle with the bots. For decades, a part of his consciousness has been hiding out in the software and eluding destruction, waiting for a moment to strike back. Once it gets the opportunity, it takes over a factory and makes a body for itself in RoboCop’s image.
I understand that it would be a bad idea in a visual medium to have RoboCop’s mind in a Terminator body when he fights them, but there’s something about the way this is written that is just cheesy. Sentiment? Vanity? If it’s really about that, hell, just rebuild yourself a metal Murphy body. I don’t actually think that’s a good idea either, but if it’s really about the lingering humanity taking a moment to indulge itself, Murphy is that lingering humanity, not RoboCop. It’s not the end result I object to, just the means at which it’s arrived.
My objection becomes more of a moot point, though, once RoboCop builds an army of himself that looks increasingly Terminator-like, a demonstration of how his humanity continues to fade away to almost nothing. In the end it is nothing but a command from a copy of the soul of a long dead man in a metal body that saves the flesh. I’m not really sure what Miller is saying there, unless it’s an automated nature of man/we’re two side of the same coin sort of thing. My cynicism wants to believe it’s nothing but an attempt to sell an action figure of a RoboTerminator hybrid, except for the fact that a cursory search would suggest such a thing does not exist. (And just to demonstrate the hypocritical nature of man, I’m not ashamed to admit that if such a thing existed, I would want one.)
When it comes to how much influence Murphy’s humanity has on the Terminators, I wish we got a little more insight from their perspective. Did his shadow swimming around in the software for the decades of their uprising give them the subtlest shade of sentiment? They revere RoboCop like he is their father and their god, which makes sense as it pertains to their creation, but they seem vested in saving him even when his destruction would not prevent it. They even make their scouts in the shape of dogs. Is is practicality, a lack of true imagination, or just the smallest hint of us?
The comic ends in a thoroughly predictable manner, which, again, wouldn’t be a problem (and would actually be quite satisfying) if the execution were better. The army of RoboCops fights the Terminators? Fine. The Terminators make one last effort to tempt and distract him with a virtual paradise? Fine. RoboCop resists and destroys them once and for all? Great! This, on the other hand….
Not fine. This is really the best you could come with to showcase the final victory of humanity over its ruthless destroyers? I’m sorry, did you want them to die? I can’t tell. Maybe you’d better show me again.
To make it even better, the way they address the Terminators trying to stop the timeline from readjusting, as those wily Terminators always do, is by having the last one left, one of those cute little dog fellows, accidentally overshoot his target and get stepped on by a dinosaur. Yep, this comic that starts out examining the very nature of man ends on a punchline. It would be like if a symphony ended with a kid making fart noises for five minutes.
I’m not trying to say this should be high art, but I was thoroughly enjoying it for, say, two and a half of its four issues and was sorely disappointed by the end. I would still highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys either or both of these franchises, but at its conclusion it just started feeling like an adaptation of a generic action movie, which is exactly what RoboCop and Terminator aren’t.
Oh well. Since the comic doesn’t go out on a high note, how about we do? Let’s take a look at that awesome page of RoboCop holding up the Terminator skull one more time, shall we? And be sure to check out Super Blog Team-Up, starting tomorrow!