There is one thing that is irrevocable in comics, and it's not death although it's closely related. That's murder. Death is a tragedy, but murder is a crime and a sin. When a character commits murder, that act is forever on his record and there is little that can be done to redeem the act in the eyes of the readership. Even if the victim turned up alive and well, or someone goes back in time and prevents the murder from happening, this doesn't change the fact that the character was willing to commit murder.
The late '80s and early '90s saw a rare period in comic books when the editors at DC were willing to do irrevocable things to their characters in the interest of sparking controversy and making the characters interesting. The obvious downside to such daring and bravery on the behalf of the editors is that, if this isn't done wisely and done well, you've ruined a character permanently.
This isn't to pooh-pooh creativity and inventiveness. Writers are usually able to cancel out a previous writer's different "take" if their version is accepted by current readers. One writer will show The Riddler possessed by a demon, torturing children and animating corpses. Another has him as a whimsical character living at a junkyard full of giant props and remembering the days of the 1960s camp Batman show. For another writer, the Riddler is a third-rate villain, a joke who is easily defeated and mocked. Yet another portrays him as a serious foe, a cunning and devious mastermind. Such variety in the writing is normal and can be left behind if it doesn't fly.
BUT, let a writer show the Riddler, oh, say, sodomizing a goat and readers won't forget. Every time he appeared, the readers would say, "Oh, that goat-buggerer I can't stand to look at him." And so a bad choice by a single writer eliminates one of the biggies of the DCU.
Now, that's a bit of an extreme example but it's not a far cry from the wreckage left by the legend-meddlers who ran rampant just a few years ago. They ruined Adam Strange (until a bit of recent redemption), trashed the Metal Men, turned Hawkman's history and character into spaghetti, and killed off Ice but all of those aren't as bad as the two cases we'll examine today. That's the case of the characters who were turned into cold-blooded murderers.
The Toyman wasn't a major league baddie, but he was interesting and fun in a murderous sort of way. Warren Schott was a lover of old-fashioned, hand-crafted toys who rebelled against big toy corporations by using violent toys to commit assassinations. His love of children, wanting only what's best for them (while killing innocent adults), was an essential part of his character. But in Superman #84, he suddenly appeared (with no explanation) as a black-robed, bald psycho who sleeps in a crib and is totally removed from the real world. He kidnaps Catherine Grant's son Adam and, worrying that Adam will ruin the little toy world he has created for the other children, kills him. This transformation from lovable criminal to child-slayer made Toyman an ugly character, unused for most of the 1990s. We'll be looking at the recent "Batman-Toyman" mini-series.
Our other case, Hal Jordan, shouldn't need much introduction. He was not only forced out of the comic book bearing his name in order to make way for a younger and hipper Green Lantern, but was turned into an insane murderer in a badly-concocted and totally out-of-character story in which he mutilates and kills most of the friends he has left without being forced to do so. (All of this is well-documented elsewhere; read Fanzing #6 for more) After a major appearance as a villain in which he killed more people, the fan outcry finally prompted DC to try to redeem Hal. In Final Night, Hal Jordan sacrifices his life to re-ignite our dying sun. Some fans accepted this as redemption, but it didn't satisfy those who noticed that Hal never directly accepts responsibility for his actions beyond more of a "mistakes were made" comment by Hal. Thus, Hal was brought back in the recent "Day of Judgment" storyline.
Batman-Toyman #1-4 is a mish-mash, with good and bad and incomprehensible parts. The story follows Batman as he hunts the Toyman, who has come to Gotham to commit a criminal plot. It begins when Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya investigate the murder of an Internet porn actress. They find the woman's deaf/mute nephew, Tyler, hiding under the sink, where he witnessed the murder. Bullock remembers Tyler from an earlier case. Tyler and his parents left a theater, only to get caught between a cops-robbers shootout; the parents were both killed, and Tyler was rendered deaf by the gunshots. Batman, noting the familiar tragedy of the young lad, takes an interest in the case and deduces that Toyman killed the boy's aunt.
At the GCPD station, the boy is revealed to be a computer whiz. Hacking into a game site, he engages in a fight with Toyman and Stilleto. He is losing until Batman also appears as a computer character and defeats the others. (It's a cute moment, although why Batman is also on the computer game site this early into the mystery is not discussed. Sometimes, writers take this "World's Greatest Detective" thing too far, thinking that it allows them to show Batman solving a case without anything to go on.) Suddenly, Toyman attacks the police station. Considering how he was on the computer ten seconds earlier, I must say he was pretty swift at tracing the hacker!
Stiletto captures the kid and runs from the station. She's supposed to terminate the hacker, but, seeing it's only a kid, she can't do it. So she and Toyman escape in a "toy" car filled with gimmicks and gadgets. They lead the Batmobile on a chase through Gotham's streets. Arriving at a toy warehouse, Batman fights the two criminals and is wounded. Batman and Tyler escape into a sewer, where Batman must get the lad to sew up his wound. Batman comforts him by telling Tyler about his parents' death.
Batman and Tyler commandeer a drug pusher's car, cell phone and laptop. Tyler hacks into Toyman's system once again and they trace Toyman to a video game expo where thousands of kids will be. Toyman's plan? Toyman's rigged the game terminals so that when a kid loses, his VR podium explodes. (Of course, you might well ask if kids are so stupid that they'd keep playing after the first two or three explosions go off.) Stiletto, upset that Toyman's plans include killing children, turns against Toyman.
Finally, as Batman is hanging from a girder in the ceiling of the auditorium, saving Toyman from a deadly fall, Stiletto appears with Tyler and says that Tyler is under the impression that Batman is going to adopt him. Batman, his stitches popping and death only inches away, DOESN'T say that now isn't the time to discuss it. NOOOOOO, as sweat drips down his face and he's blacking out from the pain, Batman begins a little explanation about his inability to commit to raising a child at this juncture. Spurned, Tyler leaves with Stiletto. End. That's right, end.
I think Hama just didn't plan out this story well and had to rush his surprise ending in such a way that it just seems to come out of nowhere and then leave us, like the Toyman, hanging. Also, Hama seems to ignore time factors which lead to gaping plot holes, such as when Tyler hacks into Toyman's system and Toyman is suddenly right outside the GCPD station house with a plan for capturing the hacker.
An even more glaring example is at the end of issue 4. Stiletto, Batman and Toyman are all fighting in the catwalks of the building. Stiletto suddenly finds Tyler and intercepts a bullet from Toyman's gun in order to save Tyler's life. Toyman pulls a grenade and throws it to the floor of the auditorium. Stiletto deflects the grenade back up to Toyman. It explodes and Toyman falls from the catwalk. Batman grabs him and both hang from the catwalk. Now, all of this intense, absorbing action would have taken about 20-30 seconds, and Stiletto's been in the thick of it up until the very last moment. SUDDENLY, Stiletto appears with Tyler and says, "Tyler seems to be under the impression that you're going to adopt him, Batman. Just what did you tell him down in that sewer, anyway?"
Um WHEN exactly did Stiletto find the time to have a conversation with the deaf/mute kid about his future options and what his expectations of Batman were? (Does she even KNOW sign language?) Were they having this discussion while the Toyman was shooting at them or when the grenade went off about 30 feet away?
And this isn't clear, but doesn't Tyler know that Stiletto was one of the people who murdered his aunt just a few hours earlier? Didn't he see some of this murder happening? Is he REALLY going to go with her just because Batman can't adopt him?
Oh, I haven't mentioned the oh-so original technique Hama uses between these four issues: a different narrator tells each one. Harvey Bullock tells part one. Part two is narrated by Toyman, showing Batman as an exaggerated, cartoonish enemy. Part three is told from the perspective of Tyler, so there is no sound or dialogue. Batman narrates part four. This gimmick isn't always effective. Issue two in particular seems like a strain, as Toyman seems to visualize himself as crazy; that doesn't make sense!
In all, this mini-series wasn't worth the $9. It has some good scenes, particularly in issues 1 and 4, but issues 3 and 4 are woefully padded chase/fight scenes.
This story should have been really good, as Toyman makes a much better enemy for Batman than for Superman. However, it doesn't really do anything with the character of Toyman and it has a real downer ending that seems very forced.
Toyman used to be mad at the world and the toy companies for what they're doing to children. This motivation for the post-Crisis Toyman was one of the very cool ideas from John Byrne. It is touching at the same time that it's shocking. We all discuss the modern world's effects on children and the loss of innocence at younger and younger ages, and here's a character who'd like nothing more than to give children a world of toys and fantasies, uncorrupted by violent games and mass-manufactured plastic. Even while using violence and assassination to achieve those goals, his heart was in the right place. But all that's gone now, as Schott is now just a psycho with a toy affectation and no clear goals. Now he's transferred his hatred to the little video game-loving brats themselves, and there doesn't seem to be any motivation beyond a "he's insane" level. I'd hoped this book would add more depth to Toyman, undoing or explaining the transformation or at the very least, giving him a good look beyond the rather blah bald head and reflective shades but it just seems to ramble on to a shocking but unrealistic ending.
Day of Judgment 1-5
DoJ, as it's referred to, is without a doubt one of the best crossovers of the last decade. And the primary reason is not the whole "Hal Jordan becomes the Spectre" thing (the secret which was no secret). This series really rocks because it uses several minor if not forgotten characters and manages to put them to very good use. DC has re-established JLA as the Big 7 of the DCU, and I'm glad but in the last few years, it's seemed as though DC decided that no one besides the JLA was of any importance! Thus, it's nice to see the new team called "The Sentinels of Magic", particularly Faust. We also have Atom, Firestorm, Mr. Miracle (who actually picks the locks on the gates of Heaven!), Nebiros, Blue Devil, S.T.R.I.P.E., Katana, Captain Marvel, Starfire and Enchantress! All of them get a decent showing in this series, while the JLAers still feature prominently in the mini-series.
A quick recap of the plot, although I'm sure almost everyone has read it: Asmodel, the fallen angel, takes control of The Spectre (whose mortal host, Jim Corrigan, had gone on to Heaven). He and the Demon Etrigan leave Hell to attack Earth and then Heaven, where they will overthrow God (always referred to as "the Presence"; despite an ironclad affirmation that heaven, hell, angels and devils exist, no one ever talks about God. Odd, that.). The Spectre and the demons run amok. Numerous superheroes, including the Sentinels of Magic, gather in New York City to fight the Spectre. It's decided to split into teams. One team will go to Hell, restarting the fires of Hell to make it home to the demons again. Another team voyages into space to retrieve the Spear of Destiny, the magic artifact which can contain the Spectre. A third team goes to Heaven to bring back Jim Corrigan to become the Spectre again.
The space-bound team (Captain Marvel, S.T.R.I.P.E. and Starfire) encounters the corpses of an abandoned team of Russian cosmonauts who try to stop them from retrieving the spear. When they do, they find that it has an evil pull on its owner. Only Captain Marvel is able to carry it. (My typical pet peeve: even if Captain Marvel and Starfire can survive in space, how can they communicate without radios?)
The Hell-bound team (Superman, Atom, Firestorm, Green Lantern, Zatanna, Deadman, Enchantress and Faust) gets to hell without any trouble. This is rather ridiculous, as it thinks of hell as a physical place at the center of the planet, without any spiritual way to get there. (That's even MORE silly than treating the fires of hell as chemical in nature) While Superman is fighting Nebiros (the demon creature from the old Blue Devil series), Faust dumps out the bones of Blue Devil which he's been carrying and reanimates Blue Devil again. (Unfortunately, he's still got the golden armored look, but we can't have everything.) Firestorm and Atom (who helps Ronnie with his chemical compositions, now that Firestorm doesn't have the innate knowledge of physicist Professor Stein) try to re-light the flames of Hell. Faust reveals that his soul was sold to Nebiros by his father, Felix Faust. When Nebiros is killed by Firestorm, Faust gets his soul back. However, to re-light the fiery pits, Faust commits a mortal sin: he murders Enchantress in cold blood. The team returns to Earth, although Superman is behaving oddly.
The heavenward team (Alan Scott, Mr. Miracle, Zauriel, Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Raven) arrives at the gates of Heaven, where they are not allowed past the gate. Several JSA members come out to say hello, and then Jim Corrigan appears but refuses to go with them. He says that his time as the Spectre is done. The angel at the gate points them to limbo (which seems to be used interchangeably with "purgatory"), where they can find other fallen heroes who may be willing to help. There, the team finds Vigilante II, Rick Flagg, Sargon the Sorcerer, Peacemaker, Jason Todd and Hal Jordan. Most of the team is not sure of whether they should use Jordan, but Alan Scott is a bit too gung-ho dead set on the idea. They don't have much choice, as a cadre of angels arrive to stop the heroes. The other dead spirits fight off the angels while the others escape.
Hal arrives on Earth, much to Batman's chagrin. Batman is not very convinced that Hal is trustworthy (and let's face it: what reason does Batman have to believe otherwise?). Hal immediately goofs up by charging the Spectre and getting shattered into pieces. The new Dr. Fate arrives and reassembles Hal's soul.
In what is probably the most thrilling scene in the series, the Sentinels give Hal enough power to bring back the spirits of the Green Lantern Corps (including Salaak, who was alive and attending Hal's funeral last I heard!). Hal tries to explain himself to Kilowog, the Green Lantern he needlessly slew in cold blood, but Kilowog says, "Save it, Poozer. I got nuttin' to say." That was refreshing, as it shows that redemption for Hal won't come easy. When it comes time for Hal to join with the Spectre, Kilowog says, "Get in there and take yer medicine."
I LOVE that part!
Superman and the others arrive from Hell, and it's revealed that the devil Neron was hitching a ride in Superman's body. Neron, Asmodel and Hal all try to control the Spectre but when Hal finally admits that he's not worthy of such power and only deserves punishment, the Spectre chooses him. Hal restores the city to normal and flies away.
In all, I loved this series. Zatanna, Firestorm, Atom, Faust and the others all shine, and I could see several of them having successful appearances in the future. Firestorm seems to adopt Atom as his new mentor, and Atom has a partner akin to his old team-ups in Hawkman, so we may see them together now that Ron has decided to attend Ivy University.
One major quibble is that, like War of the Gods and Genesis before it, it deals with the physical existence of gods and theology, yet none of the heroes seem freaked out by this. Told that heaven is frozen over, demons are overrunning Earth and God could be overthrown, they treat all this like it's a riot at Blackgate prison. No one says, "You mean God really exists?" or "So, um, could we get a final decision as to which religion we should be believing in?" or "Boy, we should be videotaping this for all the atheists, don't you think?" All theological meaning to this book seems wasted. I'm not advocating that the book preach or anything but IF you're going to expose your characters to Heaven and Hell and give them concrete proof of the existence of God and Satan, they should occasionally ponder such things. Doing otherwise just seems a mite unbelieveable.
And in all further online discussion about religion, such as "Does Batman believe in God?" how could he really believe otherwise, given what he's seen here?
By the way, I would NOT recommend the DoJ Secret Files, if you haven't already bought it. It's slightly interesting but most of it is padding. There is a one-page scene showing that Faust didn't kill June Moone, only her Enchantress persona but it seems like it was supposed to run in DoJ #5 and I don't really like it, since it diminishes Faust's sacrifice to only kill the evil spirit of the Enchantress.
My vote: 8 out of 10
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Michael Hutchison.
The scanned covers are © 1999 DC Comics.
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