Sunday, April 19, 2009

If One is Good, are Three Better?

Pops being out of town and all, I'm starting this one with a rant. More of a policy proposal. This was stimulated by some inane teaser for some TV "news" story on the increasing violence of the drug cartels in Mexico and the bleeding of that violence across the US border. The channel asks the question "What can the US do about it?"

Here's a novel idea. Stop creating legislation that's based on religious dogma. Try thinking about a problem or issue and coming up with a possible solution that doesn't find its basis in some book written a couple of milenia or more ago.

Let's look at the drug issue, for one. Why are marijuana, heroin and cocaine illegal? Because we don't want people using them. Why don't we want people using them? On the one hand, it's claimed to be because it's bad for the user's health and bad for society because they're less productive and more dangerous to the rest of us. Ok, those are pretty good reasons. Except that banning the use or sale of the drugs does nothing to further the goal of having people stop using the drugs. It does mean that the drugs are more dangerous because no one is monitoring what's in them or at what strength they can be safely (in the sense of not killing the user) taken. And, as with all things banned but wanted by a substantial number of people, there's a huge profit in the selling. Scarcity births profit, whether it's from a limited number of paintings done by an artist, the limited ecological resources of ores or jewels, or government created scarcity. And in this case, the prohibition on the drugs is based in punitive bans present in biblical and quranic texts, whithout regard to the consequences of that decision.

In my opinion, the writers of the Bible, Torah, Quran, and their followers today, want drugs banned because takers of the drugs are less likely to do what those writers wanted. Some drug addled person is not going to hop to it to convert more people to the faith, in a nice peaceful view of the religions, or go out and kill infidels, in a less charitable view of the the religions. Of course, drugs can be used by "religious" leaders to make the followers engage in acts the might otherwise be resisted, such as with the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. But that's the exception more than the rule. The major faiths want their followers sober as far as drugs and alcohol are concerned, but quite high in the ecstacy of religious ferver. A different form of dependence, but a dependence nonetheless. One that more people are susceptible to than drugs or alcohol, too.

A reasoned policy, without the religious overlay, would be to legalize and tax. Government control over quality and content means less risk of overdose death. The savings in law enforcement and the revenue from tax make it considerably more possible to have sufficient treatment programs to help the addicted wean themselves from their addiction. And if they don't want to be weaned? Well, then, that's their problem, but at least they won't have to worry about being shot while trying to buy a fix, sold a more potent batch that kills them, or otherwise engage in violent activity. Because it's not the use of the drugs that is the root of the violence problem in the drug trade. Users are generally too under the influence to muster a lot of violent behavior. The violence is begat by the illegality of the trade. The sellers fight for power and territory. The sellers kill their rivals, their rivals' families, and law enforcemtent officials who don't look the other way. In fact, endemic corruption in Mexico and other Latin countries could well lose almost its entire impetus if the drug trade were not the profit machine it currently is.
Same goes for prostitution, too.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

One good Crisis deserves another. And you thought our title was going to be about group sex. Ha! You wish. All you can look forward to here are semi-scholarly dissections of comics. Since I did Crisis on Infinite Earths last week, I thought I'd follow up with its two sequels, even if they were within the last 4 years, which is more recent than my usual writing topics.

Infinite Crisis, written by Geoff Johns, and mostly pencilled by Phil Jimenez, but with assits by George Perez, Joe Ordway, Ivan Reis and Joe Bennett ran 7 issues from December '05 through June '06. No one can say DC rushed into this sequel, coming 20 years later as it did. It shows, too. This one was extremely well written. The art was great, even with so many contributors. And the production values improved significantly from 1985. No more losing text to bleeding black background. A lot more big splash pages, too.

This is a much more straightforward tale than the original Crisis, but jumps off from that story. Whatever happened to the Earth 2 Superman and Lois Lane, the Superboy of Earth Prime and Alex Luthor of Earth 3, who had gone off into some pocket dimension that Luthor was able to create out of his own person at the end of Crisis? No one had seen them in the 20 years since. Turns out they were watching the new, solo Earth and weren't too happy with how things had progressed. The new Earth was in the crapper. Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord, who had killed Blue Beetle. Batman was a paranoic with a satellite network to spy on everyone. Hal Jordan had become Parallax and killed millions. The Green Lanterns were wrapped up in their own drama. Supeman was kind of effete in not fixing it all. What were these 4, who had sacrificed their own lives to create this Earth, to do?
Turns out they all had different ideas, but Alex Luthor was the smartest of the bunch (not as smart as Lex Luthor, in the end) and manipulated the others. Superman and Lois Lane, who was dying, thought they were going to replace the current Earth with their Earth 2. Superboy thought he would show the world what Superboy should be, rather than the Conner Kent clone, who vacilated constantly about his role in the world. Alex Luthor, though, had the grand plan. He'd recreate the infinite multiverse, then take elements from each that he wanted to see in Earth, and destroy all the rest that weren't necessary.

Naturally, it didn't work out. Lois Lane died anyway. Earth 2 Superman, after intitially blaming Superman, came around to realize their plan was flawed and there was no such thing as a perfect Earth. Not if it needed a Superman. Alex Luthor failed to account for the ability of the fueding heroes to band together when necessary and to bring some villians in to help, too. But the most interesting thing this story did was make Superboy into an interesting character. Not Conner Kent. He was inherently a dud. That was resolved by him ending up dead. The interesting Superboy turned out to be the Earth Prime uber Boy Scout.

Turns out watching another Superboy come around, one who was not committed to the cause of fighting for good, was enough to turn Prime into a psychotic, murderous machine. In his quest to prove he's the one true Superboy, the one who will be the wonderful Superman, he beats Conner Kent to death and kills off several minor heroes I didn't recognize or care about. He also turns out to be the main threat to the universe when he decides none of the beings in it should be allowed to live because they don't recognize his greatness. He tries to destroy Oa but ends up imprisoned by the Oans and the Green Lantern Corps, at the sacrifice of Earth 2 Superman and the loss of Superman's powers.

There was a countdown to Infinite Crisis that ran through a lot of books, but there was no need to read any of that. I didn't. This was a coherent story unto itself. It ended with set up for more stories but there was nothing to say a reader had to read those stories. The DCU went into its One Year Later jump, which allowed for the telling of 52, but you didn't have to read any of that to enjoy this story or to get into the One Year Later stories. I skipped 52 until it was out in trades and got right on board with those DC titles I wanted to read without any problem. Excellent work all around.

Final Crisis was written by Grant Morrison, with art by J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Doug Mahnke, Marco Rudy, and Christian Alamy. This felt forced. Rushed. Incomplete. This one simply cannot be read alone. The various ancillary Final Crisis tie in books are necessary, especially the 3D mess with Superman and the Legion of Superheroes tie. And as far as I know, the Legion story hasn't even finished publication, even though the main book did last month (actually, February when it arrived on the stands). Beyond those two tie-ins, you had to know who these Monitor beings are. Me, I don't. The Monitor in Crisis on Infiinite Earths was only 2 guys, Monitor and Anti-Monitor. There was no race of them. Somehow, now there is. In fact, one of them is some kind of galactic vampire and a main villain player in this story. Which is funny, since he doesn't show up in the main book until the end.

Another major problem with the story is that that heavy throughout most of it is Darkseid. Jack Kriby or no, I have never found the New Gods and Darkseid to be very interesting. They're too removed from humanity. They're too much paragons of certain characteristics. None of them add up to a complete person. They're just extremis. In total they make up a person, so I'd characterize them as a split personality universe. But they've never made for very interesting stories to me, whether told just within their corner of the universe or interacting with the wider DCU. And the Anti-Life Equation that's used to take over the world is just so much ex machina. Once it's in the computer system there's no drama to it. It takes over almost all of the world, with a few pockets of resistance. Those pockets are supposed to be the drama, as is Dan Turpin's resistance to being taken over by Darkseid, but there's a certain inevitability to the story that leaves me cold.

In Crisis the big surprise and drama was how the multiverse would be made into a universe and what elements of the multiverse would make up the universe. In Infinite Crisis, the drama was how Alex Luthor's machinations would alter the universe, plus the big surprise of how Superboy was changed. In Final Crisis, you know the 52 universes aren't going to be eliminated. They were just created in 52. There's too much story to be told with them still. You know that Darkseid's going to lose, because he always does. You end up with Batman dead at the end, maybe, but I don't believe that's going to last, even if Bruce Wayne was actually killed. I don't believe the Martian Manhunter will stay dead, either, but I also don't think he was a key character in the DCU. Making the Question into some sort of global peace agent is new, but not very interesting. Probably bad for the character, too. The Question and global dilemmas just don't go together. It's not that sort of character. It's like Spider-man in the Avengers. It's forcing an inherently solo character into a group function.

But I digrress. The biggest problem with Final Crisis is its lack of cohesion. In fact, reading Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis together only shows the strengths of the former and the weaknesses of the latter. Where Johns tells a cosmic, self contained story, despite its DCU wide repercussions, Morrison leaves the reader asking where's all the stuff I missed in reading what's here? I don't have a complete story in Final Crisis. I have parts of a story. And I don't have anything of great significance told here. Infinite Crisis was worth the buy in. Final Crisis was not.

Two out of three's pretty good, if it's a baseball game. But maybe Final Crisis was just a bridge too far. Let's hope it lives up to its name, at least.

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