Jul
28

Ambush Bug: Year None Annotations: Part None

Posted by on Monday, July 28th, 2008 at 01:00:46 AM

When I was a young man, my two favorite creators were probably Grant Morrison and Keith Giffen, and their most personal works, The Invisibles and Ambush Bug were definitely two of my favorite comic books ever. A few years ago, a comic called Identity Crisis came out, which was definitely not one of my favorite comics. People have used a whole lot of words to describe why it wasn’t a very good comic — I’ve done it myself — and this week, Ambush Bug Year None even gets in on the fun.

I’ll be putting up nerdy annotations about all the obscure junk in AB:YN later this week, but before that I want to post something even more incredibly nerdy and self-indulgent than Ambush Bug annotations. Nearly four years ago, there was a thread on The Something Awful Forums about Identity Crisis which became a communal effort to “solve the mystery”. It’s probably blocked off from public view at this point, but it was a big sprawling conversation that ended up spawning a separate message board, and it was the site where half of Funnybook Babylon made each others’ acquaintance. Everyone had their pet theory about Identity Crisis, and mine was derided as the most crackpot of them all. Well, I might have gotten a few details off, but four years later, all I can say is I AM VINDICATED. Excerpts below.

For historical context, it should be noted that Identity Crisis contained a number of red herrings suggested that the killings were connected to the Suicide Squad, which is why I keep harping on that. Also, it was widely believed at the time that Keith Giffen was upset by the death/rape of Sue Dibny, and was pulling his Formerly Known as the Justice League sequel as a result. This turned out to be totally false.

September 19, 2004 – I start to complain about the book
Weird sidebar: Doctor Light (the one in Identity Crisis) was killed (on Apokalips, no less!) in Suicide Squad. Bolt (as seen being killed in issue 1) was also apparently killed in the Giffen revamp of Suicide Squad. Captain Boomerang died in Underworld Unleashed along with the rest of the Rogues, then came back to life months later. Chronos died some time around Zero Hour but is apparently back now in Identity Crisis. The villains discuss whether or not Donna Troy is really dead, Green Arrow’s asking Hal when he’ll come back from the dead, half the other major players in the book (Green Arrow, Superman, Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Flash) have been dead-but-came-back…

This seems like an exceedingly odd thing to have as a recurring plot point in a “murder mystery” comic book, especially one with such pains being taken to make the deaths seem “real” and “important”. Some of this could be unwitting meta-commentary on superheroes in general (half the DCU has died and come back) but there’s been attention drawn to it, whether by the (so far) uneventful appearances of explicitly-back-from-the-dead Chronos, the (so far) non-sequiter “Is Donna Troy really dead?” conversation, and even Ollie’s “we’ve been at this too long, when are you really coming back?” question… why keep on pointing out “DEATH IS MEANINGLESS IN SUPERHERO COMICS” if you’re doing a murder mystery?

September 21, 2004 – Someone else suggests Grant Morrison as the killer
Oh man, this would be the most brilliant parody story ever… Grant Morrison (WHO WAS A MEMBER OF THE SUICIDE SQUAD! AND DIED!!!!!) comes back and wants to kill all of the superheroes’ pets… but the only ones he can find are super-powered, so then he reads Women in Refrigerators and remembers that sometimes humans have attachment to other humans. And so he sets about killing loved ones. How can he do it? He’s writing the story! He can do whatever he wants! Also, this is why all the dead characters are back! IT’S JUST A STORY!

[another person jokingly suggests Ambush Bug]

And who else, besides Grant Morrison (and possibly Psycho Pirate) knows that he’s in a comic book? THAT’S RIGHT

Ambush Bug did murder people in his first appearance, and at one point he volunteered for Suicide Squad rather than reveal his origin.

IT’S ALL FALLING INTO PLACE

ambush-british

September 21, 2004 – I decide to run with this theory after someone confuses Ambush Bug for Animal Man, who he claims is dead
Animal Man was in Identity Crisis #1, alongside the Metal Men… all characters supposedly DEAD who leapt at this big crossover as an opportunity to escape Comic Limbo… if only the Green Team or the Gay Ghost could’ve followed them!

But no, I wasn’t talking about talking about Ambush Bug, who:

  • was (kind of) once a member of Suicide Squad! (Secret Origins#48)
  • has died and come back! (repeatedly)
  • has had loved ones die! Repeatedly! (REST IN PEACE, CHEEKS)
  • is capable of murder (DC Comics Presents#51)
  • is looking for work wherever he can get it, could be working for Calculator or whoever else the mastermind is (Ambush Bug Nothing Special)
  • knows Superman’s ID! Probably knows other people’s, since he reads their comic books!

Clearly Grant Morrison and Ambush Bug have formed an unholy alliance. And the next victim is going to be… MIKE CARLIN!

Mike Carlin once told me Ambush Bug would appear again “over [his] dead body”! Grant Morrison’s proposal for Superman got nixed by Mike Carlin, leading Morrison to promise he’d never write for DC again.

FIRST CONTACT WITH FICTIONAL REALITY HAS BEEN ACHIEVED

THE CHICKENS ARE COMING HOME TO ROOST AT 666 5TH AVENUE

September 21, 2004 – I am entirely too pleased with myself.
TIMELINE:

  1. DC nixes Superman proposal from Morrison, Waid, Peyer and Millar. In this [dead] link, Morrison gives his “polite” explanation of why he jumps to Marvel Boy rather than doing some of his proposed post-JLA DC projects.
  2. In an interview apparently from Wizard #102, Morrison claims to be quitting comics forever once he finishes up JLA and The Invisibles. He claims DC treats their creators like “bacteria”. He also, though I cannot find a copy of the article online, claims that the entire Superman issue left him “with the taste of shit in his mouth” about dealing with DC.
  3. Morrison’s “sabbatical” from comics is retconned, and less than a year later he’s working for Marvel on Marvel Boy, New X-Men and other titles. He engages somewhat in Jemas and Quesada’s DC-baiting, most often using the “DC would never give me and my friends the ‘keys to the family car’, and Marvel offers me X-Men. Of course I like them better.” tactic.4. He wraps up his X-Men run and re-signs with DC for an exclusive contract. ANOTHER RETCON! Or is it because DC literally owns him after his little stunt in Animal Man?

Either way, this is serious business. I should also point out that from all accounts at the DC offices, Mike Carlin is alive and well, editing comics. And yet, DC published Lobo Unbound last year, featuring Ambush Bug appearances. …”over his dead body”?

COULD APPEARANCES BE DECEIVING?

After all, DC has gone to great lengths in recent months to memorialize editor and “goodwill ambassador” Julius Schwartz, who “died” earlier this year. Grant Morrison even participated. And yet… Julius Schwartz was explicitly shown to be still alive in the 30th Century in Ambush Bug Nothing Special.

Could this be another “switcheroo”?

And who is the latest creator to swear that he’ll never work for DC ever again? Could it be… no… not Ambush Bug’s creator… KEITH GIFFEN?

MORE AS THIS STORY DEVELOPS

September 22, 2004 – I seek textual support
1.1: Ralph narrates the opening: “Life is a mystery. But it isn’t. Everyone knows how it ends. It’s just a question of when. In a novel, it’s different. There, you start worrying about the main character’s safety almost immediately.” PEOPLE COME BACK FROM THE DEAD ALL THE TIME IN YOUR LIFE, RALPH! YOU WOULD BE INSANE TO HOLD THIS PHILOSOPHY! And gee, why would anyone in this story be comparing their life to a work of fiction?

1.4: “Green Arrow has a bald spot, that’s why he wears the hat.” Oh, this is that old “feet of clay” humanizing bit about the superheroes. Green Arrow doesn’t wear the hat because it make him look like a jaunty archer of justice, he wears it because he’s bald. Just like normal folks! Humanizing heroes is the fatal flaw. The killing blow, if you will. Plus, Green Arrow just came back from the dead (de-aged) a couple years ago!

1.31: “She was one of us.” And in this one line, the entire premise of the issue, perhaps the entire series as most people understand it is shattered. Sure, Green Arrow and Superman and Hawkman and Flash and Aquaman and Green Lantern and Metamorpho and everyone else dies and comes back to life, and they can make reference to that here, but that’s different.

Because they’re part of the big epic superhero life, and the little people don’t come back, because they’re part of real life. But this is a fallen world, and there’s no longer any decent differentiation. Sue Dibny was a member of the Justice League. She faced world-conquering other-dimensional foes with equal or greater aplomb than Booster Gold, who died and came back at some point. (and did so again a couple years later) She was one of them! So why should this death be treated with any more finality and garment-rending than any of the superheroes? Come on, with the (possible) exception of her uncle, EVERY ONE OF SUE DIBNY’S PALL BEARERS HAS DIED AND COME BACK FROM THE DEAD. So has the woman giving the eulogy.

That’s got to mess up the dynamics of a funeral. Any pretense of “this is different, this is REAL” is further shattered by the presence of the funeral, amongst the DOZEN PLUS other Undead, of Buddy “Animal Man” Baker’s wife and daughter – who looks about fifteen years too old… hmmm… Buddy’s family are just like Sue. Normal, everyday folks. Who died and came back from the dead.

Clearly, death is transient and meaningless in these characters’ worlds. And yet someone is putting the screws to them, trying to teach them empathy. One man has a solid track record for that sort of thing. That’s right. Grant Morrison.

Once you realize this, seeing the trail he leaves is easy. He’s tapped into some sort of chaos magick and hijacked Brad Meltzer’s fictionspace for his own purposes.

  • Why else mention so many resurrections, particularly having the whole Baker family attending the funeral so prominently?
  • Why else set the Hal/Ollie scene in the JLA Memorial Statue Cemetery, first used by Grant Morrison, back when it prominently featured a statue of Oliver Queen?
  • Why else have the villains hang out the old Injustice Gang satellite, last seen in Grant Morrison’s JLA?
  • Why else would the only person who seems to be enjoying the whole thing be Mirror Master, a veteran of Morrison’s JLA and Animal Man runs? He’s just along for the ride, he knows the score!
  • Why else would Ralph narrate to himself ominously about how his wife is gonna die and how life is like a novel, before she actually died? Or for that matter, why does Merlyn seem to enjoy painting miniature soldiers? Does he realize he and everyone he knows is just a plaything in the hands of someone else?

Grant Morrison’s first professional comic work was for Zoids, where he wrote a story about the grand and mighty Zoid warriors being spurred into battle by what they saw as inscrutable Gods, but were in fact simply children playing with their Zoid toys. Some would say this theme informs his work as much as anything about dead pets. And if there’s one person who knows a lot about playing with a toy and being very upset when it dies, it’s AMBUSH BUG, with his long sad relationship with Cheeks the Toy Wonder.

So Grant Morrison gets wind of Meltzer’s plans to “toughen up” the DC Universe through Identity Crisis, and realizes that Meltzer must be stopped at all costs. He knows the best bet would be to infiltrate the actual fictional world, and while he was killed within the DC Universe in Suicide Squad #58, he correctly assumed that most people had forgotten completely. Once he was back “in”, he set about rewriting Identity Crisis, leaving a trail of resurrections, continuity gaffes and references to the Suicide Squad in his wake.

He needed an ally, and so he called Ambush Bug. He knew there was little Ambush Bug was not willing to do, and he knew that AB would be sympathetic, as his creator Keith Giffen had — as Morrison had done not so long ago — sworn never to work for DC again. Left rudderless, Ambush Bug would seek revenge on Meltzer. All of the references to time:

  • The amount of time it takes for people to respond to the death of Sue
  • The fact that in issue two Wally threatens to get Superman and Batman on the scene “in a second. Literally.”
  • The fact that Superman flies from Kansas to the moon in the time it takes Green Arrow to finish his sentence in issue four.
  • Even Chronos wandering around making time-related comments

All of this is nothing to the Ambush Bug. He can teleport instantaneously, not only through space but also through the book itself. He’s even teleported into the pages of other comic books. All bets are off, and any discrepancies can be explained away by this uncanny talent.

Finally, the three final covers of Identity Crisis reveal the increasingly overt manifestations of the GM-AB Conspiracy’s work. I will explain this in my next report.
September 22, 2004 – My Next Report
Let’s have a look at these last three covers, shall we?

identity crisis5

Issue five is the topic of hot speculation… that’s Robin, right? It’s certainly a caped hero in white silhouette, with a splattering of blood.

People are focusing on the blood (Realism! Gritty!) but ignoring the most striking element… the white silhouette. Who would make such a decision? Why? Could it be the Absolute, the white endpoint where ideas are ground into dust by Crisis on Infinite Earths, grim and gritty revamps, slavish devotion to continuity… the joy and wonder of comics is leaking out the drain at the bottom of the dark alley. When the lines between reality and fantasy and heroes and humanity are blurred to the point that they disappear, what’s to keep the heroes themselves from disappearing?

On a more prosaic level, there was a dangerous serial killer on the loose in the Ambush Bug Nothing Special. His weapon of choice: White-Out. Much like the giant pencil from Animal Man, this was the most catastrophic weapon imaginable, literally blotting the victim out of existence. In the end, the serial killer was revealed as none other than Julius Schwartz: Ambush Bug’s friend and editor, and Grant Morrison’s childhood hero. As per the previously-mentioned Schwartz/Carlin mindswap, it’s clear GM-AB is going to be recruiting in coming months.

A mastermind revealed (Ambush Bug Nothing Special, 1992)

Who benefits? Who benefits from making Batman sad? Well, we’ve already established that Morrison loves to make people cry, and he sees Identity Crisis as an opportunity to atone for one of his own sins: the deification of Batman. It was Morrison’s JLA that really awakened the modern-day “Batman as Unstoppable Supergenius” meme. It was Batman that pulled the rest of the JLA‘s fat out of the fire every time they were wiped out by an invasion from Mars or the 5th Dimension or Heaven. Just Batman, and his big ol’ brain. People have taken this and run with it since. Morrison knows that he can’t get to Batman just by killing Alfred or Dick or Tim. Batman’s been through all that.

Morrison tells us right in issue four what Batman’s weakness is:

People think it’s an obsession. A compulsion. As if there were an irresistible impulse to act. It’s never been like that. I chose this life. I know what I’m doing.

identity crisis6And yet… Batman did not choose this life. Julius Schwartz, Denny O’Neil, Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Brad Meltzer and a host of other writers have chosen exactly how Batman will live his life. Whether he’ll be an urban legend or a public figure speaking to the United Nations. Whether he’ll be able to walk or not, whether he will use a gun, whether he will feel like having sex in a given year. And the realization that it’s not a desire to avenge all the senseless death in his life — it’s not an innate sense of justice and moral outrage that informs the shape of his life — that it’s really all a ploy to sell tickets to Six Flags and some Underoos — will shatter Batman to the core. That’s the man you see on the cover to Identity Crisis #6.

But Grant won’t deliver the blow himself. Neither will Julie, they both like ol’ Bats too much. They’ll send Ambush Bug in as the hatchet man. Batman never laughed at his jokes.

I assume some of the remnants of Meltzer’s influence will still be felt by this point, but it will be rapidly falling away. Sure, Lex Luthor and Darkseid will probably spring out of a birthday cake and announce that they’ve reformed the Secret Society of Super Villains, and they killed Sue Dibny, but it won’t matter. They’re not in control anymore, and even their appearances can be explained away by whimsy on the part of one of our conspirators. The Lex Luthor clues make sense, AB was always fond of him, and Morrison had Earth-2 Luthor wearing that armor we saw in issue #1 in his JLA: Earth 2 hardcover… the Apokalips references can be traced to Ambush Bug’s burning (yet unfulfilled) desire to crossover with Darkseid in his first mini-series… and the mind-wiping is just another continuity-band-aid that will hurt more than it will help, something staunch anti-Crisis advocates like Grant and Ambush Bug would understand.

identity crisis7Finally, the seventh issue’s cover makes sense only if you accept that Brad Meltzer is no longer in control of the book. This cover represents the characters stripped bare, down to their signifiers. Everyone understands what Superman means at the level shown on this cover. Practically no one understands the byzantine web of retroactive, deleted, conflicting, multiplanar continuity that surrounds the characters. They love them in movies, they love them in cartoons, they love them at Six Flags and on their Underoos, but try getting them to read most of the comics on the shelf.

Meltzer’s idea is to make them more human. Show they’ve got loved ones, real concerns, cute dialogues about relationships and realistic contingency plans. Introduce death and rape and treat it like it’s as real as the Evening News, which is transparent horseshit. It only muddies the pure signifiers. They’re even starting to retaliate — remember when Batman attacked Parliament? — but when GM-AB-JS are done with them, all that will be left are the shining, resonant signifiers. The Way It Should Be.

That is the Identity Crisis at hand — shall the Justice League continue to stagger into oblivion, muddied messes of “realistic” characterizations and labrythine backstories, or will they cast off these dull shells and emerge as radiant, simplified butterflies?

Look into your hearts. You know I’m right. GM-AB-JS are the triad behind the Identity Crisis, and they’re the biggest heroes the multiverse have ever seen. I claim my prize as Top Detective, and will shortly be establishing my own crime-fighting business somewhere in Opal City. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

You think I’m wrong?

So who benefits? Who benefits? Anyone who wants a concentrated burst of manic pop energy from a superhero comic book, rather than a cross-referenced mopefest. This is a demographic that includes me and that certainly includes GM-AB-JS. And it should include all of you, too. Kill a “realistic” plotline today!

September 23, 2004 – I do not know when to quit.
I can’t wait for the Lacanian Mirror Master spotlight in issue #6!

In Lacan’s model, selfhood may only be understood with the assistance of an outside object–i.e. one mirror. Lacan reflects on the destabilizing effect this discovery can have–realizing that identity is only definable with the aid of an outside object. This is the beginning of the new thoughts on embodiment. Philosophers rethought Descartes earlier mediation of the body and the mind, relating the two at varying degrees of interdependence, or of insurmountable burden. Foucault summarized the debate of the inherent relationship, in the question, “is the body the prison of the mind, or the mind the prison for the body?”

Puts the “switcheroo” bit and the cover to issue #7 in perspective, doesn’t it?

Furthermore, Grant Morrison even used this Descartes/Focault question as the basis of another “switcheroo” story, “The Soul of a New Machine” in Doom Patrol #34.

I’ll say this… if there’s any flaw in GM-AB-JS’s plan, it’s that they’re repeating themselves.

October 21, 2004 – I begin to implicate innocents
I have two (2) new pieces of evidence that will further implicate the ever-growing multiversal cabal led by the GM:AB Conspiracy:

1. What is the true parentage of Captain Boomerang’s kid? (I forget the eventual answer but it was only marginally better than my own theory)

Now, people seem to be of the mind that Barry Allen is Boomerflash’s real daddy. Some even speculate that this is Barry’s by-letter confession to Wally in the current issues of Flash. But I think this is a double-bluff! According to the DC timeline put forth in Zero Hour, Barry Allen became the Flash ten years before “Now” (Zero Hour). There have been about ten real years since Zero Hour, but given the fact that (for instance) Tim Drake was in high school at the time of Zero Hour and still shows no sign of graduating, one can assume no more than two, perhaps three years have passed since this timeline was set down. Therefore, Barry Allen only gained access to the Speed Force a maximum of thirteen years ago, and even if he knocked up some lady with Boomerflash the day after gaining his powers the kid couldn’t be more than about twelve years old.

So the question becomes, why would Barry presumably perjure himself from beyond the grave, to protect someone else? What if this other speedster is still in the public eye, and has a reputation — nay, an IDENTITY to protect? But who could this other person be? Why, what if it were renowned cook and food author RICK BAYLESS, who has recently revealed his true colors!

i jusssssst wannnnnttomakeyou a betterrrrrrr cooooooooooook

One look at their fixed gaze shows you how much Rick and his wife love each other. And as an up-and-coming chef, tapping into the Speed Force was advantageous in the kitchen, but having a crazy toddler tearing things up at the speed of light was too much for Lanie to bear. So they arranged to have the kid sent into the fictive world, just like a certain GRANT MORRISON has done in the past, and has described thusly:


 

Inside the DCU, Rick asked Barry to take the fall if anything ever came up about his (now fictional) son. Barry was in the process of dying in Crisis on Infinite Earths, so he agreed, figuring “dying as a hero to save the Multiverse” would probably outweigh any posthumous revelations of bastard children. Over two decades later, Rick is an established culiary figure and he misses his kid. He hadn’t counted on the DC writers to so studiously ignore his child. So he got on the horn to Grant Morrison, who in turn contacted Calculator to set up Captain Boomerang (who Morrison knew was poised to play a role in Identity Crisis, and who must have annoyed GM during his brief Suicide Squad run) to “find” his son. In return, Rick agreed to kill Sue Dibny (IN THE KITCHEN!) But he was already feeling remorseful. You could tell from his wistful, “Goodbye, Sue.” So he decided to start warning the other victims on Morrison’s hitlist. The letter to Lois was easy enough to deliver using superspeed and ability to leap on and off the fictional page. Bayless left another “calling card” when the gun for Jack Drake was left… that’s right, IN THE KITCHEN.

December 13, 2004 – I come across perhaps my only valid point
Okay, I think I can avoid needing to use spoiler tags for this. I think I know the motive for the Identity Crisis killers. They just want to help. They’re the DC Universe equivalent of Extreme Makeover.

Think about it. Death’s obviously a revolving door in the DC Universe, something Meltzer hasn’t been shy about bringing up over and over in IC. People die all the time, and what’s one of the consistent things about their “return from the dead”?

They’re younger and better looking. Green Arrow came back from being dead for years and was significantly younger than he was when he died. Hal Jordan is apparently on his way back to life, and those graying temples he had at the time of his death are gone, baby. When Lex Luthor died, he came back in a clone body half his age. Raven recently came back as a teenager. The list goes on.

So let’s have a look at the ‘victims’ in Identity Crisis. First off, Sue Dibny. She’s not getting any younger. She’s got to compete in the looks department with an immortal like Wonder Woman, and her husband can use Gingold to hide his wrinkles. Whoever killed Sue was just doing her a favor, because they know she’s going to come back from the dead as a 5’9″ 38D super-model as drawn by Adam Hughes.

Ditto Jean Loring. Her husband got de-aged into a teenager after they got divorced. A TEENAGER! That’s got to make even a business-minded divorcee a little self-conscious. She’d come back as a stacked 21 year old model type too, probably within six months. The attempted murder on Jean was another favor, an attempt to keep a veteran superhero’s eye from wandering off to all these slutty new super-girls that show their underwear, like… well, Supergirl.

Captain Boomerang, I assume that he knew he was going to die. That’s why he left himself get so fat and bald and scuzzy. A couple bullets to the chest, a season in hell, and he’ll be back looking like Colin Farrell! And that will PUT HIM ON THE MAP. It’s possible Jack Drake was complicit in all of this too, as a younger, lither body would allow him to train with Lady Shiva and then fight crime alongside his son.

Look into your heart. You know this is how it went down.

WHICH BRINGS US TO TODAY: Four years later, and it turns out that in some small way, Ambush Bug really did spur on the murder of Sue Dibny. Donna Troy is back. Hal Jordan is back. Crisis on Infinite Earths is all but invalidated, with the return of the Multiverse, the Monitors, the Anti-Monitor and even Barry Allen. Sue Dibny (along with her more recently deceased husband) are “back” as ghost detectives able to possess whatever young supple bodies they wish. The revolving door of death continues to spin wildly, and the Grant Morrison penned funeral for the Martian Manhunter, presided over by the once-dead Superman flanked with resurrected heroes like Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen and Booster Gold explicitly acknowledges this, the eulogy ending with a prayer for resurrection.

Grant Morrison (and his creations) and Ambush Bug (and his creator) have taken hold of the DC Universe Multiverse. Maybe no one realized whose side Chronos was on, and he was right all along: “We already won.”

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