So, I was reading an Elseworlds book the other day, a three-part Justice League thing called Act of God, written Doug Moench and drawn by Dave Ross.
There are some very good Elseworlds books, but many of them suffer from a problem that is particularly common with the books that adopt the old What If… approach, where normal DC Universe continuity is disrupted by some decidedly non-canonical event — in this instance, every superpowered being losing said superpowers. It’s symptomatic for these books to feature familiar and well-established characters who go completely apeshit and start acting in ridiculous ways with no comprehensible incentive to do so whatsoever, and no one ever acknowledges that their behavior is uncharacteristic.
Those of you who don’t read comics may not be entirely with me here, but a comparable thing might be if, for example, in an episode of The Simpsons Marge ended up in a bad car accident caused by a drunk driver and, as a result, Homer immediately afterwards bought himself a gun and went all Paul Kersey on every drunk he could find without a single trace of humor or irony detectable anywhere in the episode. Treehouse of Horror or not, it’s going to be pretty fucking jarring.
Act of God is full of moments like that.
See, the basic premise is that a weird event, dubbed the Black Light, flashes across the world, and all superhuman powers disappear. They just go away, everyone turns into a normal human. The guys who depend on technology or are just otherwise real good at what they do are still good, but everyone else is screwed. (Bizarrely, though, Green Lantern also loses his powers, because the power ring stops working. Yeah, I guess that whole “only superpowers” thing is not so much a rule as a suggestion. And anyway, nobody seems to really care that it not only robs J’onn J’onzz of his natural abilities as a Martian and makes Aquaman unable to breathe underwater, even though these are — for them — completely natural abilities… but then again, let’s be fair, we’re deep in high concept country here so maybe we should just accept the premise.)
So Superman loses his powers, and he breaks down like a baby. (“PAIN!” he screams while being carried by a stream of water, “I’ve never FELT such pain!” Because, y’know, he’s never been hurt by kryptonite or killed by Doomsday or nothin’.) In the aftermath, Superman shows all the backbone of a blenderful of jellyfish. He sits around moping in his apartment, because he’s no longer Superman and now he feels all bad about it. Oh, he can’t even go out anymore, it’s just so awful.
Finally, after only a couple of weeks, Lois Lane hands back her wedding ring, because she “just can’t bear this anymore… can’t bear to be with you like this…” Not to be outdone by this sterling display of loyalty and love, Superman proves that he can be more pathetic than his bitch of a wife any day and and points out that it’s okay, he doesn’t deserve her love anyway.
Don’t cry, emo kid.
Then he goes out and porks Wonder Woman. Well, yeah. But it actually makes sense, kind of, because it turns out that she’s gone weak sister on us, too. They’re kindred spirits now. The Pathetic Pair. But first he sweet talks her a little, like only he can.
Boo fucking hoo. Do they try to figure out what’s happened to them? Do they try and make the best of the situation? Do they show an ounce of the kind of determination and willpower and heroism that supposedly makes them the crème de la crème of superherodom?
Nah. They just whine. Superman, in particular, literally hasn’t done anything except sit at home and mope in front of the TV until his wife gets tired of looking at his lazy ass — in a couple of weeks, and I honestly can’t tell whether that’s because she’s a completely disloyal bitch or because he’s just so infuriatingly limp — after which he instantly goes and finds another woman to support his moping around.
Not that this lasts very long, either:
Gee, I wonder why, Clark, you being so much fun to have around and all. I love it that she tries to get him to find a fucking job so she doesn’t have to pay for the privilege of having him around, and he responds by whining, and when she makes it clear that she’s sick of him doing that he switches tracks and starts to whine about how she’s sick of him whining.
But this is really nothing. I just had to stop reading for a while at the point where Wonder Woman, now powerless, is so freaked out by all this that she ends up in a church, praying to God. She’s got a cross and all!
Wonder Woman, whose whole fucking origin is immersed in Greek mythology made real, who literally hangs around with the actual Greek Pantheon of gods on a regular basis, whose magic golden lasso was a personal gift from said gods, decides that hey, how about I give this Christianity thing a try, and Zeus and gang don’t even get a mention?
The whole thing is a little weird. It has the smell of evangelism about it — or maybe I’m just feeling a little too sensitive to the whole thing, what with my being a confirmed atheist and all, but reading this stuff, I get the distinct feeling that I’m being proselytized at. Is that what Moench is doing? I don’t know, but I find it a little hard to believe that he would push some serious Christian imagery and devotion on Wonder Woman and ignore the whole backstory of the character, mired as she is in the Greek mythology, without it being a conscious choice. Unless he just, uh, fucked up there. I suppose it’s possible.
Anyway, Diana insists that this all must’ve happened for a reason and that God doesn’t play dice, and Clark isn’t having any of it, so he just storms out of the church and chugs down a cold one.
“Check out those sideburns, there’s nothing greater / You can tell that he’s no velvet Elvis imitator.” Terrific! He goes on to become a bum.
Meanwhile, some of the formerly superpowered heroes have been trained by Batman to be superheroes again. Batman has been driving them characteristically hard, but they’re finally ready. Hold on to your hats, folks, ’cause here comes… the Phoenix Group!
Here also comes some very mild and subtle, practically unnoticeable exposition, combined with the most natural dialogue you could possibly think of. Well, maybe not you, but apparently Doug Moench. Take it away, Mr. Moench:
(And I love the fact that she points out that she can see through the blindfold. What, really? No! What with the eyeholes and all?)
Anyway, once the Phoenix Group goes into action to beat up Lex Luthor and a bunch of bad guys, the book briefly degenerates into a series of weak puns. Flash encounters a steel grate? “Oh, great.” “Precisely.” But luckily, the Hand — lends a hand! And the Joker has a weapon strapped to his arm, and it’s hard to miss it because he’s wearing it on his sleeve! HAHAHA!
Doug Moench, ladies and gentlemen. He’ll be here all week.
Justice’s weapon is particularly ludicrous. It’s the scales of justice — only with spiked balls in place of the actual scales! Swinging that laughable contraption without braining yourself in the process is just a ridiculous idea. Even Dave Ross — who, it should be pointed out, is not doing a bad job with the art chores on the book — is in trouble with it, because he’s obviously finding it difficult to make it look like she’s a badass with that thing. I don’t blame him.
Anyway, they save the world and catch Lex Luthor and all is pretty much well in the world, so it’s a good time for Wonder Woman to consider suicide because, y’know, life is just so hard and apparently God just isn’t coming through for her. But Clark comes back to her (having been a bum for a while, after which he grew a full beard and split some logs in a cabin somewhere) and interrupts her whining. He admits that she was right in the church after all. Diana thinks this is just swell and says that now her prayers are answered, because Clark came back and now their child will have a father! Yes, she’s pregnant!
And their baby has super-powers, as we find out a couple of years later. As Doug Moench handily explains in the captions on the final page of the story: “There was indeed a reason for this, a purpose behind it all, and the reason is both simple and glorious. While the power of heroes may fade… it can never die.”
What… the… fuck?
No, seriously. What?
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