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Across the DC Universe #11

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This week I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. To spend much time analyzing the contents of Ambush Bug: Year None in a feature that celebrates continuity does seem to kind of miss the point of the Bug and his world. Still, there are a number of more obscure characters whose appearances in that issue may have newer DC readers perplexedly scratching their heads as to who they are and what the joke is.

I’ve elected then to cover AB:YN as we would any other issue. If he knew the Bug would probably acerbically belittle us with a biting putdown, but it can be our little secret. After all Across the DC Universe is the haven for middle-aged fanboys everywhere. We’re loud and proud and unashamedly bagged and boarded here.

And for more on the publishing history of Ambush Bug check out my colleague William Gatevackes’ feature from earlier this week here.

Spoiler Warning: Read no further if you’ve not had your DC fix this week and don’t want to read about key story elements.

Across the Universe
(A rundown of the week’s releases)

Who killed continuity cop Jonni DC? The Bug’s investigation takes him to the obscurest corners of the DCU in Ambush Bug: Year None #1.

Witness the most monstrous incarnation of Clayface you’ve ever seen in Batman: Gotham After Midnight #3.

Nightwing and Hawkman team-up to save Deadman, Green Arrow and the mystical city of Nanda Parbat in The Brave and the Bold #15.

Can the GLC stop Mongul reforming the Sinestro Corps? Green Lantern Corps #26 holds the answer.

In Joker’s Asylum: Scarecrow #1 Jonathan Crane gatecrashes a teenage slumber party with horrifying consequences.

It’s the League versus Amazo and just what is up with Vixen’s powers? Find out in Justice League of America #23.

The Legion defend Ultra Boy from the Science Police in Legion of Super-Heroes #44 and just what did happen to Karate Kid and Triplicate Girl on Velmar V?

Batman R.I.P. envelops Tim Drake’s world in Robin #175 as the Boy Wonder searches for his mentor.

How did Atlas arrive in the current DCU? The Kirby-tastic Superman #678 fills us in...

Trinity #8 sees the villains plans proceed as the significance of Krona’s cosmic egg becomes more apparent.

The early days of Harvey Dent are revisited in the Prestige Format Two-Face: Year One #1.

And over on Earth-50 – hey they weren’t kidding, the WildStorm Universe really won’t ever be the same again. Witness the destructive conclusion in Number of the Beast #8. Also out this week is The Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor #5.

And finally Vertigo’s Madame Xanadu #2 focuses on a very significant era of DCU history...

The Bigger Picture
(All the developments, hints, clues and teasers for the overarching storylines)

The Tenth Age of Magic – Vixen’s recent problems with her powers are of a mystical origin. Zatanna discovers a powerful entity is behind both Mari McCabe and Animal Man’s difficulties in accessing their powers. From future DC solicitations we know this to be the Spider-God Anansi. Surprisingly, perhaps, Amazo proves able to duplicate Zatanna’s magic-wielding abilities in combat. (Justice League of America #23)

Fearing that the Dragon-Priest Siva Anuttara could use his ghost assassins to take control of Earth’s metahuman population, Dick Grayson sends the world’s super-heroes on a wild goose chase to another dimension. Side by side with Deadman, Green Arrow and Hawkman, Nightwing frees Rama Kushna from Annutara’s imprisonment, wresting Nanda Parbat from the villain’s mystical control. (The Brave and the Bold #15)

In Blackest Night... – With the aid of Mother Mercy the Green Lantern Corps defeat Mongul, stopping his plans (for the moment?) for the Sinestro Corps. In the course of the battle Green Lantern Bzzd and Yellow Lantern Duel are killed while Mongul is trapped in the heart of the Black Mercy planet. Mother Mercy’s unique existence means she is a suitable candidate for both the GLC and the Sinestro Corps but she chooses the Green Lantern ring. (Green Lantern Corps #26)

The Mystery of the Legion – Invisible Kid states that when Karate Kid and Triplicate Girl vanished in a "flash of light" last issue Karate Kid said "I have faith in them they’re heroes". Invisible Kid assumes he meant his fellow Legionnaires but I would suspect it is more likely KK was actually referring to the mysterious visitors they disappeared with. He leaves the message "OKKK" to reassure his team-mates. Whether this is a lead-in to Final Crisis: The Legion of Three Worlds remains to be seen. (Legion of Super-Heroes #44)

Batman R.I.P. – Tim Drake enlists the aid of the Spoiler in finding Bruce after his disappearance following events in the main Batman title. Worried about the Dark Knight’s mental stability Robin vows that he will "take him down" if necessary. (Robin #175)

The Trinity – The Dark Trinity, to whom future solicitations may be referring to as the Troika, have control of Krona’s Cosmic Egg. They seek to use the Egg to reorder reality.The Trinity are the keystone of Earth which is the keystone to this Universe which, in turn, is the keystone to the Multiverse. Reality orders itself around the Trinity and the Troika plot to usurp their roles and make themselves the center of all. (Trinity #8)

Rounding up... A shadowy villain is pulling Atlas’s strings: a military figure who wants to see the Man of Steel’s destruction. (Superman #678)

Earthwatch

Earth-6 – At the risk of being seen as taking this all a little too seriously, according to Ambush Bug Earth-6 is the world where it’s always the swinging Sixties, home of the villain Go-Go Chex. Yes I know it’s a parody but if I don’t mention it someone’s bound to e-mail me and ask why... Besides which I much prefer this Earth-6 to the DC/Quality/Charlton mish-mash world introduced in Countdown: Arena #2! Thinks of it as the spiritual home of this year's Teen Titans: The Lost Annual #1. (Ambush Bug: Year None #1)

Earth-50 – Events in the WildStorm Universe this week see Earth-50 devastated with 90% of its population dead, the moon destroyed and the planet knocked off its axis. With the WildStorm books relaunching yet again this is, at least, a far more novel way to begin a new era without yet another continuity reboot. (Number of the Beast #8)

Continuity Corner
(The whys and wherefores of some of this week's characters and events)

Madame Xanadu #2: The Fall of Camelot

Matt Wagner’s Vertigo series Madame Xanadu has some unavoidable links to DC history this week reminding me of the good old days when Vertigo’s precursor titles happily gave a Mature Readers slant on DCU events. Set just after the fall of Camelot it features appearances by DC Universe stalwarts the Phantom Stranger and the Demon. Etrigan has been summoned by Merlin to fight against the forces of Morgana Le Fey, herself an earlier incarnation of Morgaine Le Fey from Trinity.

An interesting sidenote here is that, if Nimue/Madame Xanadu is Morgaine’s sister then she would surely be interested in Le Fey’s high-profile activity in the current day DCU? Let's not hold our breath waiting for a follow-up there however. Also appearing in Madame Xanadu #2 is Merlin, Nimue’s lover, who she punishes by entrapping in a hawthorn bush for eternity. Astute readers will remember Matt Wagner’s 1987 The Demon miniseries touching on some of the same events and lore, making Madame Xanadu #2 a thematic prequel of sorts to that book some 20+ years later.

Camelot’s fall was established by Grant Morrison in Shining Knight #1 as an event that has been cyclically repeating itself for millennia. Indeed it was Ystin’s escape from that version of Camelot that led to her fall through time and "membership" of the Seven Soldiers. This is certainly not the first perspective on the fall of the Camelot featured in Madame Xanadu #2. You can see more on that in The Demon #1 (Aug-Sep 1972), Superman #55 (May 1991) and Swamp Thing #87 (June 1989). Both Superman and Vertigo’s Muck-Monster, in his DCU days, time-travelled to that key point in history.

And, yes, I am gleefully turning a blind eye to the Vertigo/DC divide here…

Number of the Beast #8: Apocalypse Now

As the inhabitants of the WildStorm Universe, or Earth-50 of the DCU, come to terms with their post-apocalyptic future it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time DC-related characters have had to come to terms with life after Armageddon.

The fondly-remembered, and endearingly naïve, Atomic Knights series followed the adventures of a group of armor-clad, giant-dalmation riding heroes in a 1990s post-nuclear war America. This group debuted in Strange Adventures #117 (June 1960) and versions exist on Earth-17 of the new Multiverse as well as in Blüdhaven on New Earth. The latter were recently seen briefly in Final Crisis #2 and more fully in The Battle for Blüdhaven miniseries.

DC Western hero Jonah Hex was transported to the 21st Century in the final issue of his book, Jonah Hex #92. This was the prologue to the short-lived Hex series which ran for 18 issues between 1985 and 1987. Trapped in a Mad Max-style future, once again after a nuclear war had devastated the planet, Jonah met a mix of future warriors, alien invaders, the Batman of 2050 and even almost encountered, in the briefest of cameos, the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Widely derided at the time, this book is actually far more entertaining than legend would have you believe and the last page of its final issue goes down as the most quietly chilling moment ever in Jonah Hex history for this fan. On the down side this was, for a while, the canonical future of the DC Universe, back when there was only one timeline, which was a little depressing. It was shown in Crisis On Infinite Earths #12 as the merged Earth’s fate, was also visited by Rip Hunter’s team in the 1990 Time Masters miniseries and was finally revealed as the effect of a Superboy punch in Infinite Crisis Secret Files and Origins #1.

And, of course, there were also the short stories in The Day After Doomsday series that appeared in DC’s mystery line beginning in the 1970s. The bulk of these post-apocalyptic chillers were to be found in Weird War Tales.

Ambush Bug Year None #1: Wanted: One Continuity Cop

Ambush Bug’s detective work, as he searches for the killer of DC continuity cop Jonni DC, leads us to a variety of long-missing DC characters whose appearances here are in typical irreverent Bug style. Yankee Poodle from Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew has just recovered from a serious "habit", ‘Mazing Man is on Death Row, Ace the Bathound is an alcoholic, Sugar & Spike have had a rather final falling out and Bette "Bat-Girl" Kane has some serious parental issues. Three of the featured creations here I will confess a certain degree of fondness for...

To begin with, Ambush Bug meets a couple of former members of The Green Team in Year None #1. This group first appeared in 1st Issue Special #2 in May 1975 and comprised film director Cecil Sunbeam, Commodore Murphy whose money came from shipping, cowboy hat-wearing oil tycoon J.P. Huston and Abdul Smith, a shoeshine boy whose fortune was the result of a bank error. Another of Joe Simon’s quirky DC creations these boy millionaires paid anyone who could provide them a suitably thrilling adventure - a premise which I’m surprised Keith Giffen didn’t make more of here!

After their opening story two further adventures exist as part of the legendary but widely unpublished Cancelled Comics Cavalcade after which they would not turn up again until Animal Man #25. In that issue Buddy Baker encountered them and a whole host of long-lost characters in comics Limbo. Adventures of Superman #549 (Aug 1997) was their next brief appearance in a story that also featured the Newsboy Legion and the Dingbats of Danger Street. And for the sake of completeness there’s a version of the group on Earth-9 as referenced in the backup story recently in Tangent: Superman’s Reign.

For anyone paying extra special attention ‘Mazing Man is a series I have listed as one of my all-time favorites on my Broken Frontier staff biography. A charming book from Bob Rozakis and Stephen DeStefano ‘Mazing Man followed the sitcom-style adventures of delusional community oddball and "pretend" super-hero Siegfried Horatio Hunch III, his inexplicably dog-faced pal Denton Fixx and their sprawling supporting cast of friends and family.

Running just twelve issues in 1986, and three Specials over the following years, this is the ultimate feelgood comic. Despite not being part of the DC Universe ‘Mazing Man also got a one-page origin in Secret Origins #16 (July 1987) and was seen as a member of the Justice League of Anarchy in a cameo in the 2001 Justice Leagues series of one-shots; the continuity complications of which are best left ignored. "In this crazy world we all need a friend like ‘Mazing Man..." said the book’s tagline and that just about sums up a title that was an absolute joy to read from beginning to end.

Finally Sugar and Spike were Sheldon Mayer’s mischievous toddlers who appeared in their own Sugar & Spike book for 98 issues between 1956 and 1971. A number of books in DC's Digest range in the 70s/80s would later also feature S&S material. The unpublished "99th" issue appeared as part of DC’s Silver Age Classics series in 1992. This was another wonderful humor strip that followed the misadventures of its titular stars from their unique child’s eye view of the world. Sadly their appearance in Ambush Bug: Year None #1 is not really in the spirit of their creator’s oft-repeated desire that no-one but he should chronicle their exploits.

Rounding up... Searching for Batman Robin enlists the Penguin’s aid. The prior arrangement that Oswald Cobblepot mentions here is the deal that he struck with Batman in Gotham Underground #9 to use his clubs to gather information for the Dark Knight. (Robin #175)

The mysterious military figure pulling Atlas’s strings apparently has access to Prof. Hyatt’s Time Pool from Silver Age Atom stories and used that to bring Atlas forward to our time. Back in the past this temporal abduction was aided by the actions of Chagra, Atlas’s mentor. Chagra had become tired of his charge’s tyrannical behavior and struck a deal for his exile with "The Three Who Are One", who appear to be the Three Witches from DC’s 1960s/1970s anthology horror title The Witching Hour. Atlas's appearance in the current day DCU is a mix then of  both science and sorcery. Vertigo fans may remember the Three Witches from the two Witchcraft miniseries, which James Robinson also wrote in 1994 and 1998. (Superman #678)

Harvey Dent’s origin is being weaved around the events of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween. (Two-Face: Year One #1)

Trading Places

As far as dystopic futures go we’re still waiting for the release of Showcase Presents: The Great Disaster that was set to reprint the adventures of the Atomic Knights, Hercules Unbound and the various The Day After Doomsday shorts. For a brief look at the world of Hex check out the Time Masters trade. You can catch up with events on Earth-50 by reading the two precursor series to Number of the Beast in trade as both WildStorm: Armageddon and WildStorm: Revelations are out now.

The Kirby The Demon collection is another one we’re still waiting for. Those desperate enough for a blink and you’ll miss it appearance of the Green Team can always flick through the Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina trade in their LCS. James Robinson’s Witchcraft  is also available from Vertigo. And we really need a ‘Mazing Man collection! And a Sugar & Spike Archive!

Fanboy Moment of the Week

In an issue crowded with long-forgotten DC creations it's impossible to pick out just one but, as we covered many of the other characters above, let's not forget Space Cabby's return in Ambush Bug: Year None #1. He may be one of the silliest of DC's space characters (I really can't call him a cosmic character in the circumstances!) but Space Cabby is nonetheless an endearingly engaging bit of Silver Age nonsense.

That's it for another week. Until then feel free to post corrections, criticisms and commentary on the Broken Frontier ATDCU message board thread here. Unless you're Irwin Schwab of course... See you in seven days and thanks for reading!

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