Tag Archives: Waverider

No Such Thing as Monsters (Part 2)

What’s that? Where have I been? Well, there’s an interesting answer to that question. You see…..it’s a boy! No, no. There’s no need for you Unspokenites to send me blue bubblegum cigars or Superman onesies. You see, he’s nearly eighteen years old. Now, before you write in, questioning as to why Mrs. Symbifan and I have adopted a nearly grown man, let me explain. My son from my previous marriage has been living with us part-time while his room at his mother’s house is being remodeled. And since this is the longest length of time I’ve had the opportunity to spend with my only son, I’ve been taking full advantage before he’s too old to want to spend so much time with his “geeky” father. So, cease calling the FBI and lets return to the second part of this fantastic three part epic…..

Waverider sits in silent contemplation at a desk within one of the silent rooms in the place he calls home. But though the home itself appears fairly plain, it is the emptiness that surrounds it that is awe-inspiring. For this dwelling exists in a place that is quite literally out of time itself. It is known as the Vanishing Point. It is here that he considers breaking his one and only rule. A rule to never intervene in the timeline of the universe, no matter how small his involvement or how noble his cause. He studies photographs depicting the death of the hero, Superman, at the hands of the monster Doomsday. And, though the Man of Steel did find a way to return from the dead, it is a process that cannot be repeated. If the kryptonian dies this time, it is forever. Even now, as Waverider weighs his options, Superman faces that same monstrosity once again on the planet Apokolips. (So, he watches events unfold but has vowed to never intervene? Sounds like a certain Marvel character, huh folks? Though Waverider far surpasseses the Watcher in raw sex appeal…..What? A straight man can’t say that? You guys need to grow up! Moving on…..)

A battered Man of Steel stands amidst the rubble and amassed corpses left in Doomsday’s wake. As he attempts to think strategically about his next course of action, his enhanced hearing picks up a stirring behind him. He turns and sees Darkseid himself! But before many words can be exchanged, the evil New God suddenly drops face first next to Superman’s feet! (You ever fall face first after a night of drinking? Man, do I have some teenage years stories to tell! I actually remember holding with all of my might to handfuls of grass, thinking I was going to fall off of the planet! Talk about quick thinking on my part! What was I talking about?) At this time, within Darkseid’s stronghold, the Cyborg Superman amuses himself by throwing Desaad around like a ragdoll. This, however, is interrupted as the dreaded one spies a battalion of Darkseid’s elite Parademons approaching upon a viewing screen. Amused, he transfigures his robotic arm and uses it to hack into the planet’s defense systems. Using this, he amplifies the transmissions they’re using to stay in contact, and literally melts their brains! They fall from the skies like sprayed insects.

Meanwhile, Superman carries Darkseid’s near-lifeless body over his shoulder. He discovers a slab of metal amongst the debris and places the New Gods’ still form upon it. After examining the evil one’s injuries and listening to his slowing heartbeat, Superman realizes that Darkseid will soon die if something is not done quickly. But does he really want to save this monster? Darkseid is responsible for the deaths of countless victims in his long life. A dictator and genocidal madman of the highest order. Superman considers letting him die. But instead, he tears the Motherbox from his arm and places it upon Darkseid’s chest. If there is any hope at all of reviving this villain, the Motherbox is that hope. (You see, this is why it’s a good thing I wasn’t granted superpowers. I’d have let Darkseid die. Let’s say I was Peter Parker, holding my dying Uncle Ben in my arms as he drones on about power and responsibility. I’d agree and swear an oath to him, wait for the old dude to die, and then completely go the opposite way. Kneel before Spider-Man! Um…..I think I went a smidge off topic there…..I am in therapy.) Superman turns to leave the sentient computer to do its work but is surprised by the sudden appearance of Waverider as he descends from the smoke-filled skies!

Superman is usually the voice of reason for more violent heroes, their conscience given form. But in this instance, he’s plainly had enough. When Waverider tries to explain his vow of non-interference, the Man of Steel simply states that if he’s not going to be of any help, he needs to leave now. (Wow! Supes is definitely not the superhero I’d want to make mad at me! Dude may seem like a boyscout, but he has the power to rip off both of your arms before you know what happened, and make you check your own prostate for colon cancer! -Shudder!) Waverider makes up his mind in that instant. He reaches out to Superman, placing a hand on his chest. It’s then that Superman witnesses the origins of Doomsday as if he were there in person!

It began 250,000 years ago, on a distant and barbarous world. An alien to this planet, a gray-skinned creature called Bertron, and a few other human-looking scientists, began an experiment that would one day give birth to Doomsday. They used a newborn baby in these ghastly tests. The child would be shot to the surface of the planet, where the savage and bestial denizens would rip the baby to shreds upon the opening of the capsule! After this carnage, what was left would be brought back and a new child cloned from the remaining tissue. This would go on for ten years until the baby began to change on a genetic level in order to survive! Bertron called this new being “The Ultimate”. (Bertron? What’s his partner’s name, Ernieus? Hahaha! Sorry. A Sesame Street joke was uncalled for.)

Even more time would pass until only Bertron himself was the only original scientist. It had been two years since the child had been seen. In that amount of time, the population of creatures had dwindled to nothing. That was when the Ultimate came home! Using the boney spikes that had grown upon its body and it’s superior strength, this now unkillable monstrosity had returned to pay back those who had hurt him so many times! You see, somehow he remembered! The Ultimate made short work of Bertron and his colleagues and then waited upon this now lifeless planet until he would stow away upon a returning supply ship and leave the place behind forever. It would terrorize many more worlds in the coming years until coming to the planet Calton. Here it would meet defeat at long last! (Damn! And I had assumed he was returning with a Father’s Day card! Hmmm. Live and learn.)

The technologically advanced world of Calton lasted for a mere three years under the creature’s onslaught until only the capitol city remained. It was within the great hall of this city that a plan was put into action. The king and his family concentrated their very lifeforces into concentrated energy! This energy then took the form of a single, powerful entity, the Radiant! The Radiant wasted little time in throwing himself into combat against Doomsday! Doomsday had never before faced a being composed of pure energy and therefore couldn’t evolve his body quick enough! This clash of the titans would still last for a solid week until the Radiant shot Doomsday with a blast so mighty, the monster at last fell! Doomsday’s body was suited and shackled before being fired into the void of space, customary of these people as a sign of no honor. This craft would later crash land to the Earth, where Doomsday would reawaken to cause yet more destruction! (Damn Caltonians and their stupid burial rites! They could have ended the threat of Doomsday right there, while he was technically dead! But at least they covered up the creature’s…..um…..you know. Can you imagine how monstrous Doomsday is “down below”? Talk about scary!)

Just as Superman’s mind returns to present day, there is sudden movement behind he and Waverider. Turning, they see that Darkseid has awoken! At this moment however, the Cyborg Superman has decided that, since he has now eliminated all real threats to his rule of Apokolips, he will now make the common folk here fear him, beg him for his leadership. To do this, he fires warheads at the planet’s food silos! Superman takes flight immediately towards the missiles! But when he arrives, the Man of Steel realizes that he is too late! The warheads are too close to impact and their armor too dense to break! That’s when the unthinkable happens, powerful lazers hit the missiles, destroying them before they can touch down! Superman knows these lazers all to well. They are the signature attack of Darkseid himself, his Omega Beams! The evilest of all of the New Gods has just saved his people from certain starvation! (Awww! That’s sweet. Nevermind the untold deaths and torture that has been perpetrated by this sadistic monarch. This single act of heroism totally redeems him in my eyes. I did mention I was in therapy, right?) Superman doesn’t miss a step. He crashes through Darkseid’s citadel wall, straight toward a certain horrified, half-robotic supervillain!

The Cyborg Superman and the true Man of Steel now begin what’s expected to be a long, titanic battle. But instead, Darkseid fires his Omega Beams once more! Superman quickly snatches the Cyborg up and places him straight in their destructive paths! Cyborg Superman seems to disintegrate completely! But this victory is short-lived. The villainous one reforms his body using the surrounding electronics and attacks! Superman reacts on instinct. He throws the Cyborg through a wall, nearly destroying his body once again! But once more, he reforms! This time he creates a body similar to a spider-like tank! Darkseid has grown tired of these games. He unleashes the full fury of his Omega Beams, annihilating all that remains of the Cyborg Superman! Superman then lands. He spies Desaad not too far away and demands Doomsday’s whereabouts. Cowardly Desaad immediately responds that he teleported the monster to the planet Calton. The people there dealt with the creature once afterall. Waverider proclaims that this was done so long ago that Doomsday has definitely evolved past the point of being harmed by the attack that was used last time. Superman then steps forward with authority. He vows that this ends now. He will stop Doomsday once and for all!

To be concluded…..

This article is dedicated to the newest member of the Symbifan family, Eden Love Miller, my great-niece. May your life be long and full of happiness. And though this family is not kryptonian, know that our power to love one another makes us truly invincible.

Because NO ONE Demanded it! – “Armageddon 2001” and the Adolescence of the DCU

“Don’t be sad, Kal-El. Please. Earth raised you, but you’ve grown too big for it now. It’s time you took your place in a larger universe.” – Maxima

This August the Unspoken Decade is looking back at some of our favorite Alternate Realities. The most enjoyable DC crossover event of that period is probably 1989’s Invasion! by Keith Giffen, Bill Mantlo, and, at least for a little bit (as is his modus operandi) Todd McFarlane, but that is outside the purview of our endeavor so I would like to turn your attention to the much maligned, but equally informative, Armageddon 2001 from 1991.

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A House Ad for the series and the final page of the first issue. Was anyone going to be that upset if Monarch turned out to be “Hawkworld” era Hawkman?

Invasion! is in many ways the ideal crossover. Several different, established extraterrestrial militaries decide that Earth is no good. These obvious aggressors are then repelled by the vastly outnumbered, far more likable heroes of Earth. Panel space is even given to the everyday people of the world who rally behind them. It is cut and dry, a Grade School retelling of World War II and not the nuanced socio-political wartime drama of A Song of Fire and Ice.

Armageddon had narrator Waverider taking readers on a magic journey through a dozen or so “What If?” scenarios featuring the popular heroes of the day. He looked into each of their possible future to see which of them (he was sure that it had to be one of them) would kill all of their friends and conquer the world in the time between 1991 and 2001. Waverider is never revealed to be an unreliable narrator so this really is the story of a superhero who will murder the world.

Scripts are courtesy of Archie Goodwin and Denny O’Neil, the Old Guard. These are the guys the industry knew and who helped shape it during the preceding decades. It is penciller, and possible co-plotter Dan Jurgens (he usually receives credit for co-creating Waverider, golden-hued time travelers being his thing) who deserves special attention.

Not necessarily a newcomer (he had nearly a decade of professional experience at that point) Jurgens would act as one of the architects of the following year’s The Death of Superman story and penciled the comic you just imagined when reading the words “death of Superman.” It was a big deal and Jurgens was never shy about taking the reins of something he was passionate about.

Not saying that any of this was intentional but with phrasing such as that how can Jurgens not have subsequently turned Jimmy’s photographing Superman’s lifeless corpse into a plot point a year later?
Not saying that any of this was intentional but with phrasing such as that how can Jurgens not have subsequently turned Jimmy’s photographing Superman’s lifeless corpse into a plot point a year later?

Armageddon is a strange beast. It shows us sides of established characters that had to be, up until that time, considered out of character. There is a sense of hopelessness permeating our heroes’ potential futures. A mystery story (the identity of arch-MacGuffin villain “Monarch”) frames a series of “Imaginary Stories,” similar to the book-length ones from back in the day. Some are tragedies, some are triumphs, all are never mentioned again.

This series has a special place in my heart, it is the first crossover that I have any memory of. These annuals were the first I saw on the newsstand back when “2001” was closer to the present than it is now. It was a shock to find out, years later, that Waverider was not already an established superhero, peer of Superman and whoever it was they were calling the Titans at the time. I will be focusing on the three Superman annuals. Not to slight the others, but Superman was the only triple-dipper and considering that this was his last hurrah before the rest of the nineties, which were what could charitably be called “unkind” to him, maybe he deserves it.

Superman Annual, Action Comics Annual, and The Adventures of Superman Annual all had tie-ins for their third issues. The fourth “shield” book, Superman: The Man of Steel, (which would effectively make Superman a weekly character) was not yet around. All three stories deal with the inevitable death of Lois Lane, then fiancée to Clark Kent, and/or the Man of Tomorrow ruling the world. Apparently Superman is constantly walking a tightrope of not just doing everything for us regardless of the ethical or moral implications. Injustice was right! Who knew?

One of my oldest compatriots is dead? He deserved it! Anyone else getting a Howard Chaykin vibe from this art?
“One of my oldest compatriots is dead? He deserved it!” Also, anyone else getting a Howard Chaykin vibe from this art?

Waverider and Monarch are two bits of the story that were added to the canon of the DCU. You may have heard that Monarch was supposed to be one hero and ended up being another and that a few decades later DC editorial tried to repair that. None of this matters because honestly I would not recommend reading the core narrative. I am sure you can find a version of this story, which amounts to 1984: DCU, done better other places but the tie-ins are not without their charm. For a major crossover the first issue is surprisingly devoid of action or big name supercharacters. The story of a family man dealing with a government he does not care for is not quite the status quo changing shake-up that you would expect from a comic with a cover using that much shiny silver ink.

Matt Ryder (see what they did there?) is a salaryman with two grown daughters, a wife he loves, and the only spine left in his totalitarian, freedomless future. Because this is 2030 and not Apokolips this makes him the only man who can help the ruler of the world and not, for some reason, the first one gunned down in a hail of generic energy blasts. Matt has apparently cracked time travel and regardless of the fact that he is constantly hinted at having “anti-social” tendencies he is assigned the project leader to get Monarch what he wants.

None of this matters because as Waverider all Matt does is watch and wait. He does not interact with the world nor team with the Justice League (such as it was in the days before Grant Morrison) to deal with the threat before it arises. Part of this is because he does not know who to trust. This is an interesting angle as it was expressly within the text that one of our beloved heroes was going to become bad, and stay that way.

Waverider is essentially the main character from the movie
Waverider is essentially the main character from the movie “Brazil” except super-science makes his daydreams real. I think this may mean that Terry Gilliam should be appointed Executive Editor of DC.

This is an odd instance of growing pains that the superhero genre went through back then. Heroes and villains had routinely switched sides but here we have a Possible World where a good person, a hero, will eventually ruin things for everyone because if the world of the future is heroless then the King of High-Collars must have murdered them all. The identity of Monarch is eventually revealed to be Hawk. It was not Captain Atom, the already military themed, wound-too tight super solider who not only had experience time traveling but was constantly shown to be one more bad day away from just wiping out all bureaucracy, beginning with you.

Both Hawk & Dove and Captain Atom were created by Steve Ditko. Even Ryder has a similar name to Ditko character “The Creeper,” Jack Ryder. The villain of Armageddon is called “Monarch,” which is pretty close to “King.” Ditko was one of the founding fathers of Marvel along with Jack Kirby. Kirby adapted the film 2001: A Space Odyssey into a successful comic that spawned Machine Man. The identity of which hero turns out to be Monarch is unimportant because I imagine “Sturdy Steve” wearing him as a fiction-suit just so that he can beat the snot out of all the DC characters he never cared for. Kirby was the basis for most of the characters that have remained fan favorites while most of the time I have trouble separating the Question from his creator.

Monarch’s war, his crusade, to rid the world of other superpowered people is not only wildly successful (I always thought that he contributed more than a little bit to Mark Waid’s Empire especially the look of the primary antagonist) but it takes place during the 1990s. The story may be set in 1991 but by 2001 the world as we know it will be unrecognizable. A major part of the ensuing Superman stories would revolve around the, at the time, fictional 2000 US Presidential election (no, Lex Luthor is not shown to be a candidate, that was probably considered too outlandish).

One of two times Superman is underwater in these issues, but not the one where he uses sunken treasure to support the Gold Standard.
One of two times Superman is underwater in these issues, but not the one where he uses sunken treasure to support the Gold Standard.

The world may have been different if Ditko had donned super-armor and conquered the world but seeing as how the actual Presidential Election turned out in 2000 I am not sure we would have noticed. Armageddon would have little impact on the broader DCU but one thing it did do was introduce us to a major destructive force whose presence is continued to be felt today. Not Monarch, though. That guy does not make it through.

Dan Jurgens’ Zero Hour was DC’s defining, continuity rewriting event of the nineties. It had major implications up and down various timelines and features Hank “Hawk” Hall as the world’s most generic looking, nineties’ supervillain (Google “Extant” and tell me that he should not be fighting Ultraforce or Bloodstrike). He then wipes the Legion of Superheroes and the surviving members of the Justice Society of America from continuity. He takes the parts that do not belong and removes them from existence by absorbing Waverider into himself and acting as the Editor of the DCU publishing line.

When you consider this in the context of what was going on in the titles themselves (Reign of the Supermen, Knightfall, and the arrival of Ed Benes to name a few) it becomes apparent that whatever direction the people in charge at DC wanted for their comics was not what had come before. Much of this awkward, teenager-acting-out transition can be seen in Armageddon.

Superman needs a Hairy Chested Love-God phase. Blowing up entire starships with ease, closer to Sterling Archer than James Bond.
Superman needs a Hairy Chested Love-God phase. Blowing up entire starships with ease, closer to Sterling Archer than James Bond.

Goodwin and O’Neill’s names appear on many well-regarded classics and I cannot think of any horror stories I have read about them. They are not Frank Miller or John Byrne, they do not make you ashamed to enjoy and appreciate superhero comics. Even Waverider has an old school, ironic name. He has a family, he has built something that that has the trappings of a true tragedy waiting to happen. The fall of Captain Atom, or whoever it is that is “destined” to become Monarch, was never supposed to be about how it “cool” it would look if one superhero killed all the others. It is about the pressure put on each of our lives and how change is not only possible but inevitable.

Some of this is left is left unsaid as Hawk is revealed to be the Big Bad (a story I urge you to look up, imagine how impressive it was that such a colossal plot point was leaked in the days before the internet). Back to Superman, his three annuals, read in the order listed above, form a kind of single story, united by themes more than plot. Waverider continuously informs the reader (he is just thinking to himself but I prefer to imagine him more akin to Ambush Bug or Deadpool: He knows he is “fictional,” he just does not always know what that means) that no one should be able to remember the events he helps them see. Superman does. Twice.

Superman may not turn out to be Monarch (that name, really? I keep imagining pre-Hook Hand Aquaman going up against the Queen of England) but he proves that the rules do not define him, he defines them. Why is it so important that Superman be viewed three times as opposed to everyone else’s once? Because he is the greatest, most powerful, or overall best? Sure, but more than likely it was because he had three ongoing titles.

Ad from an issue of
Ad from an issue of “Armageddon.” Someone up the food chain knew the target demographic were old enough to be chain smokers.

Roger Stern writes the middle issue and it is the one I would recommend to you over the others. A former editor of mine, at a different site, steered me towards it many years ago and I never regretted picking it up. What would happen if Superman were elected President of the United States? Many weird things, apparently, including the world’s most tedious two page discussion of trade deficits. Reading these I had a better appreciation for why I would grow up believing this character to be so eminently uninteresting: He is constantly being portrayed as the only adult in the room.

In 1980 Stern scripted Captain America #250 where the character considers a run for office. It tells you as much about the modern national political system as it does Steve Rogers. This Superman issue could be considered its thematic successor except for the fact that here you see that maybe things actually would be better if an all-powerful alien being ruled over us. It goes to some strange places (Stern’s an Old Leftie and while Oliver Queen does not make an appearance there is a focus on international nuclear disarmament that swaps ICBMs for the Justice League of the World) but it helps me understand why Superman works, if and when he does.

Two other two? In one Superman bangs Maxima and in the other Batman murders him.

At one point this is referred to as ‘battle armor.’ Almerac really is a strange, alien world.
At one point this is referred to as ‘battle armor.’ Almerac really is a strange, alien world.

Louise Simonson wrote the former, Jurgens the latter. The industry was only a few years out from The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Marvelman, and anything else you can name that “forever changed everything.” These stories are about raised stakes and the dark paths that have apparently always been open but never walked by our heroes. The first inkling that the mainstream companies paid attention to what the new kids were doing but maybe did not understand it.

Crossover events, such as Armageddon, are unique to the genre of superheroes. Until maybe Marvel’s the Avengers they were unique to the medium of comics as well. What are they really? An excuse to shake things up, plug some holes in a month with an extra Wednesday, and hopefully raise the profiles of a few intellectual properties. A crossover event is a cross section of a given publishing line at a specific time. It is not a capstone, most if not all of what we are shown will continue. Reading 2001 in 2015 I can see where the other titles were at the time.

Imagine a tree, a big redwood, lying on its side with its stump cut off. Each ring tells a story. Imagine a core sample pulled from deep within the Earth. Geology and archaeology and the way it all fits together. Crossovers offer that to us. My favorite is probably Civil War. That has reality television and too much Government oversight as major plot points. You can easily see what was affecting the writers who pulled it together. The original Secret Wars? Someone needs more action figures and we want to sell them to you! What does Armageddon tell us about DC at that time?

I will never tire of seeing Guy Gardner as the Right Wing’s version of Green Arrow.
I will never tire of seeing Guy Gardner as the Right Wing’s version of Green Arrow.

A version of Superman that is not as well-oiled and put together as we would have believed a decade before. He has let Lois in on the secret and they want to be together. Except now they worry about the logistics of having kids, growing old together, and Ma Kent’s potential Alzheimer’s. This is a 2000 AD version of the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes except without the extra level of satire. Creators making heroes less iconic and more as what we have in our world.

Waverider only wants to save his family and free the world. He is granted, as people in comics often are, unfathomable power to do just that. In his case, he is destined to fail. Even if Monarch does not come to power in 2001 he will become Extant and cause the Legion to still have continuity problems two and a half decades later. Extant was the Superboy-Prime of his day except he took responsibility for his actions and did not allow for the writer to just blame the people on message boards. Much of what would come later, both culturally and technically, begins with Armageddon.

We see assumptions made about what the Man of Tomorrow actually wants (a world that runs with the efficiency of a watch) and we see fan reaction drive the people behind the stories to make a rash decision that ultimately shoots backfires (changing the identity of the main villain halfway through). We see Jurgens emerge as a creative force. Stories and characters were sometimes billed as “not your parents X, anymore.” Those stories are not directed at children, who have no problem with escape or adults themselves who have realized that they will never escape the crushing monotony of their lives, but teenagers. People young enough to not have the responsibility to do anything more than reject what they perceive as beneath them. Stories that are dark for the sake of it display powerlessness.

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This is literally the fight from “The Dark Knight Return” that someone is having a dream about (notice the scale).

I am not against any particular type of storytelling but when a character goes the bulk of his career being successful by being a good person (even with occasional instances of Super-Dickery) it is disappointing to watch him be slowly forced into a mold where he is actually one bad day from taking over. Superman perished less than a year after this story wrapped. That story provided the type of high that certain parties would be chasing, to the industry’s detriment, for longer than they should have.

I am not saying that Armageddon caused any of the dark tragedies that came after but it is the first time we see a major story change the nature of a headline character in such a way. It would not be the last. Except instead of the fundamentally disposable Captain Atom they will use someone more well-known, and instead of avoiding the spoiler they will just bake it into the advertising. The rules changed, bit by bit, so that no one noticed until it was too late.

Crossovers are a great way to check in with the way things were at a particular time. This one shows us the effect of numerous, smaller, much darker stories coalescing into one large continuity jump. What opens with a quest to save the world ends, in a roundabout way, with someone in charge thinking that it was within the bounds of the character to turn Green Lantern into Parallax.

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