Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Survivors (DC comics)
Infinite Crisis #2 When: January 2006
Why: Geoff Johns How: Phil Jiminez

The story so far...
Long ago there was a crisis that threatened existence across dimensions. The champions of the multiple Earths opposed the existential threat, and through their triumph came a rebirth of reality, and a merged existence.

A select few survivors from worlds before the crisis were able to escape to a life exclusive to the redefined reality that was unfolding, some infiltrating the new central Earth with no memory of all that once was.

They were the likes of Powergirl and Psycho-Pirate, and they integrated into their new lives well, but such was not so for the refugees in non-space. Trapped in the crystaline universe they had made for themselves, they were forced to watch as life evolved in a very different, darker way, and their ideals were betrayed. Able to take it no more, these super forces take full advantage of unfolding instabilities, and reemerge to shape the worlds again...

Previous Form:
The Society [#20]: The Society represented an army of villains united, led by Lex Luthor, who used the fate of Dr. Light as a scaremongering motivator.
Powergirl: Making her overdue debut in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Yes. I am trying to provoke a response.Strength: Mr. Atom 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Giganta 5 (Professor)
Speed: Powergirl 5 (Super Speed)
Stamina: Powergirl 6 (Generator)
Agility: Clayface 7 (Infinite)
Fighting Ability: Powergirl 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Powergirl 5 (Lasers)

- This particular collective representing The Society includes; Psycho-Pirate in a leading role as a core member of the villainous cartel, with the muscle-bound team of Clayface, Giganta, Mister Atom and Girder assigned to capture Powergirl.

- While the majority of the team represent super strength, Psycho-Pirate is a much less offensive character. His powers revolve around the Medusa Mask, which can influence and amplify the emotional state of most targets.
Rare exceptions of exceptional will-power have been shown to resist the effects of the mask, such as Black Adam. [Infinite Crisis #6]

- Infinite Crisis served to clear away a garbled history, reinstating Powergirl's origins as a Kryptonian from the universe once identified by Earth-2. As such, Powergirl exibits powers closely resembling Superman, including; super strength, speed, invulnerability, heat-vision.

- A refugee from a world before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Powergirl is apparently immune to the effects of Kryptonite from the contemporary DC Universe. In this respect, she is potentially more effective than her cousin.

The Math: Powergirl (Average) The Society (Total)
The Pick: The Society

What went down...
Somewhere in a city on Earth, a building shudders as Powergirl bursts through one of it's stone walls at the behest of a rampaging force of nature. Mud animate Clayface extends like a plank from the building, carrying Powergirl into a hard descent into the road below.

Psycho-Pirate emerges at street-level, reassuring Powergirl that she need not be worried, given that Luthor has expressed a requirement to have her alive.
It comes as little consolation as the Pirate's accompanying quartet of Society thugs loom over the street, Girder lamenting on the possibility of roughing her up.

Powergirl meets the challenge head-on, defiantly blasting her way through Clayface's swirling muddy mass with focused beams of heat-vision.

Mr. Atom, the robot that challenged Captain Marvel to his very limits, steps up to the plate, taking flight to knock the airborne Powergirl down with a super swing of his robotic fist. PG's descent brings her into the clutches of Giganta.

Just as Girder steps up to insinuate more harm for Powergirl, the storming clouds over Metropolis part, giving way to the bathing warm glow of Earth's yellow sun.

Something streaks by faster than a speeding bullet, clipping across Giganta's face to shake her grip, and free Powergirl from her enormous clutches.

More powerful than a locomotive, the same red and blue streak charges through the battlescene once more, achieving the impossible to rip through the super-durable frame of the robotic Mister Atom!

For Psycho-Pirate the writing is on the wall, but Powergirl can barely believe her eyes. There, hovering above the wrecked bodies of the Society's muscle, is someone familiar yet alien to Powergirl, soaking up the life-giving energy of the yellow sun that embues her.

With greying temples, there flies Superman.
"It's been a long time, cousin. Too long."

The hammer...
Coming in at the crucial moment to score a decisive win is Superman, from Earth-2, of course. Not that his Earth is Earth-2 now that we have fifty-two very specific Earths courtesy of Mr. Mind, and a megaverse revamp by Grant Morrison and the team.

Y'know, I very nearly defaulted to one of my pre-scanned stand-by issues of Wolverine, but I didn't want to let the Marvel/DC imbalance get away from me again, and despite Wolverine's relevance, the justice discussion has thus far hovered around the icons of the DC Universe, so we're following suit.

This was also a great opportunity to initiate Powergirl into the Infinite Wars, which is something I've wanted to do for quite some time, and this issue was on the hitlist, having been sitting on top of a pile for quite a while now.

What makes this issue such a great segue, apart from what's listed above, is that Powergirl was right at the centre of the Infinite Crisis mini-series as a crucial part of the underlying discussion of the nature of justice.
For the refugees of former Earths, their own desire for familiarity is largely defined by the methods of justice employed by heroes of their respective universes. We then, through the conclusion, see a divergence of justice, with characters like Superboy-prime and Alexander Luthor each following paths of what could be interpreted as villainy.

Typically I don't like to confuse an entry with images from unrelated sources, but I'm going to break format because, otherwise, we don't get to talk about this.
What I essentially want to do is try to add some depth to the theory of the totem of justice that has formed the spine of much of the discussion over the past month of Infinite Wars, and even abroad. [See; Infinite Crisis #1, Hawkman #23, JLA #118, Action Comics #824]

In trying to break down the degrees of force and intent in justice, I think I was able to break it down into eight levels, four representing the "light" and the "dark" of the matter. Obviously characters are known to fluctuate, and some of these examples build on my own personal inflections and ideas.

Level 1: No harm, no foul -- "Peachy keen"
There's an interesting resonance to placing a character like Captain Marvel at the top, just because Black Adam so clearly represents the other end of the scale.

This is the level representing heroes who exist on the greatest abstraction. For the most part they are entirely removed from the kinds of situations and scenarios that would bring them into moral conflicts, instead representing a wholesome simplicity. They fight monsters and aliens whose plans are reasonably transparent, and may even find themselves resolving battles with conversation. After school specials.

Level 2: Ideal Superhero -- "Best case scenario"
Writers have put Superman in positions that see him sliding up and down this scale, but on an idealistic level, he is closest to the child-friendly variety of vintage wholesome. What sets him apart is his connection to the human world, and specifically his inevitable confrontation and acknowledgment of elements much deeper on this list.

This is a hero who will do their best to resolve conflict through passive or defensive means, always reactionary, never pro-active. They are bound by a strict code of process, which sees a villain privvy to even the right to privacy.
He's the hero that exists in a world much more like the ideal compromise between freedom and injustice.

Level 3: Common superhero -- "Soft prevention"
Fairly typical of most superheroes, and maybe the defining quality of the Silver Age. These are heroes who will take preventitive measures wherever possible, but for the most part meet criminal activity with non-lethal force.

Much like a Superman, characters that fit into this category have probably seen darker times throughout their careers, but then, this isn't about defining a character like The Flash. This is about setting the paramaters by which characterization can be measured. This being around generic.

Level 4: Law enforcement -- "Extenuating circumstances"
This is a character who most resembles real-world law enforcement agents, such as police officers. Force is used where necessary, prevention through intelligence is a valued, and when situations dictate, lethal force may be reluctantly introduced.

There are a lot of characters who will resemble this scenario, and Superman is certainly one that comes to mind, with cases like the time he was forced to regrettably condemn criminals to the Phantom Zone.
Ultimately I think it's important to stress that these characters are not quick to use violence, even though it is a part of their arsenal. Mr. Terrific, on the merits of his current associated with Checkmate, is a positive example of this.

Level 5: Excessive force -- "On their terms"
This is the turning point, for me. Where the hero doesn't necessarily become more ambiguous, but his methods do. While his motivations may be pure, a Batman will meet characters with intimidation and force.

Batman makes a fantastic, vivid example because his code is very specifically against killing, even though he gladly endorses crippling force, broken bones, and severe psychological trauma.

Level 6: Longterm prevention -- "An eye for an eye"
Like a level 5, this is a heroic character still unwilling to take a life, but unlike Batman, much more content with exerting higher degrees of force. It is a much more primal force for justice, quite likely to react to a crime and deliver a punishment accordingly.

We saw Hawkman deliver just such a punishment in a recent entry, where he severed the arm of the Matter Master, when he threatened a gala with his matter-altering wand [Hawkman #23]. Cause meets effect for this type of character, and the ends justify the means, but death is still a reluctant and unnecessary extension of this brutal force.

Level 7: Longterm solution -- "A life for a life"
This is what we saw when Wonder Woman broke Maxwell Lord's neck and when the Justice League were attacked by Mongul [Infinite Crisis #1], and is where lethality is much more freely endorsed.

While all of the other levels would experience remorse or reluctance in taking a life, it's my opinion that this is the point in the justice scale where lethal force is a ready part of the arsenal the second this character opposes tyrrany. It does not necessarily entail wreckless behaviour, perhaps coming with good judgment, but is certainly a darker brand of good.

Level 8: Blanket wrath -- "Punishment and suffering"
This is where it gets decidedly old testament.
This is the realm of characters like The Spectre, or Black Adam, who readily dish out the most brutal and deadly kind of punishment.

It is typically a hero of unwavering character, with the potential to become so incorruptable they are blind to the lines of what is necessary, and what is not. This is the extreme that Level 7 would live in threat of, and perhaps even be personally fearful of.

It brings us full circle, distanced from common reality by an impossible position of judgment that deals with humanity in the same way Level 1 does not. It represents the darkest end of the scale, just as Marvel does the lightest.

There may very well be flaws in the deeper logic of some of this, and certainly the specifics of the examples may lead to some confusion, but to place some kind of structure on the rules of our recent discussions, this totem will suffice.

It is important to remember that it is ultimately a totem of justice, and while a character like Black Adam fell into a depiction more explicitly evil, that is not the focus of this list.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 5.5
[On the strength of her handling of Clayface, I'm going to give Powergirl a win stat here, even though her effect was minimal. Powergirl evaded me through my formative comic reading years, but through the efforts of creators like Geoff Johns, PG has not only earned a spot at the forefront of the DCU, but also the enjoyment of a reader who never paid much attention. And yes, I'm straight.]

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