Jun
11

Salvation Run and Gotham Underground: Letters from the Edge of Failure

Posted by on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 at 07:13:47 PM

Today saw the end of the DCU-villains-are-mysteriously missing plot line that has been running since around the quarter mark of Countdown. Both of these stories were promised as major status quo modifications for the cadre of villains that DC has, of late, become increasingly enamored with. Both of these stories were, supposedly, born out of the planning sessions that led to the lead-up that led to Final Crisis, and the creative process behind these books must have been as circuitous as this sentence.

Salvation Run is like some sort of paragon of editorial mandate, the sum total of all unnecessary top-down plotting that, invariably, falls flat on its ass in the end. This is the end, and damn, has it fallen flat. Looking at Salvation Run as a project on its own merits, it started out as a decade-old Elseworlds pitch proposed by fantasy writer and geek paragon George R.R. Martin. His original plan was a long-term look at a society founded by the DCU’s villains on a sort of cosmic Australia. This pitch sat in DC’s “maybe we’ll use this shit sometime” files until it was inexplicably dragged out as part of the lead-up to Final Crisis. Of course, there’s one major problem with adapting the premise for this purpose: If it takes place before Final, and it’s in continuity, the villains sort of have to get back at some point. And if the villains get back, then they can’t do any of the long-term sociological view. And if they can’t do that, then what the fuck is the point of the book?

This was likely similar to Martin’s thought process, because he quietly (before its announcement, even) dropped out of writing the final product due to the fact that, well, they took out all the interesting parts. Now it’s just supervillains on a planet, and eventually, they leave the planet. Okay. So now we’re going from Sid Meier’s Lexilization to TV’s Lost, With Even More Assholes. It’s a different kind of book, but there’s still a lot of opportunity to engage in character analysis through such a radical change of scenery.

Then, they give the book to Bill Willingham, best known for Fables and other sort of high-fantasy-inspired comics, likely because of similar attitudes to Martin. Willingham got off to an alright start – it didn’t feature a Joker characterization I was especially fond of, and in all honesty Will Pfeifer’s Catwoman tie-in issues did a better job of putting forward the premise, but it was a passable comic. Then, Willingham had health problems, and was replaced by his friend and Jack of Fables co-writer Matthew Sturges. Obviously, by this point in the process, it’s clear that the book was “written” more by DC’s editorial department than by Willingham and Sturges, especially with respect to the book’s overall broad strokes; however, people generally expected it to have a conclusion that was necessary to set up Morrison’s epic.

Well, today, I read the seventh issue, and (SPOILER WARNING): Luthor takes everyone home. That’s it. There’s no big surprise; the parademons are beaten by the planet’s defense mechanism, Luthor sells out a bunch of poor bastards to power the teleporter, and they leave the Martian Manhunter behind on a planet of rubble, presumably to be picked up by a boom tube three weeks ago in Justice League of America #21 and then impaled on Libra’s staff two weeks ago in Final Crisis #1.

The problem with this is the huge number of questions left unanswered, like, why did Darkseid attack the villains with Parademons? Why did Darkseid send the villains to that planet? What did Desaad have to do with it? And, most importantly, what the fuck did any of this have to actually do with Final Crisis? I mean, other than leaving J’onn behind, but that could have happened at any point. I’m utterly unclear as to what Salvation Run contributed to the tapestry of the DC Universe – it didn’t even really resolve anything other than getting the villains home, which they were to begin with. So why were they telling this story? It didn’t really reveal anything about any of the principals involved; Luthor’s an arrogant douchebag who thinks he’s a hero, Joker’s insane (and totally out of sync with his brilliant portrayal in Morrison’s Batman), and Grodd likes to eat people. Each character is played at the most stereotypical level possible, and now, bereft of a plot that matters – especially since the infamous recent Morrison Newsarama interview basically showed that he didn’t come up with any of this shit and doesn’t want anything to do with it, no thank you. So we might not get answers, unless Geoff Johns loses a bet or something.

This leaves us with a “major event” that leaves almost everything back where it found it, doesn’t lead up to the story it claims to lead up to, and fails to provide great insight into any of the main characters. I know that DC is doing everything it can to distance itself at this point from Countdown and its legacy, but it’s going to be a very difficult era to live down.

As for Gotham Underground #9, all I really have to say about this is: when it started, nobody in editorial knew who was controlling Gotham, and Batman frequently hit the Penguin up for information. Now, Intergang’s running Gotham (at least until the next book where that gets reversed – remember Face The Face and the Great White Shark’s reign of terror?) and Batman frequently hits the Penguin up for information. And I guess now Mannheim’s working with some kind of fish-obsessed Kingpin and a shitty DC version of Jigsaw. (Is Tieri’s Marvel background obvious enough yet?)

So, yeah. DC, please, for the love of God, tell me my hope isn’t in vain that you learned from this and won’t promise a false bill of goods to the fans again, because basically nothing you promised happened, the books didn’t really sell, and they weren’t even that critically received. (Except I guess for the Batfans who liked GU because Morrison’s Batman is too complicated or cerebral. And Hannibal Tabu liked Salvation Run, but shit, man, that’s Hannibal Tabu.) Final Crisis‘s tie-ins, and the approach taken to Trinity, certainly seem to give off that vibe – let’s hope they don’t fall into this trap again.

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