Thursday, September 26, 2013

Trinity War's Successes and Failures, a Crossover Recap and Review

(Note: The following is adapted from a very long forum post I made to io9's Observation Deck forum.)

Trinity War was the big summer event that was supposed to feature the three Justice Leagues (the Justice League, the JLA, and the Justice League Dark) fighting each other over the mysterious artifact Pandora's Box. Pandora, The (Nu) Question, and The Phantom Stranger make up the "Trinity of Sin," who also feature heavily in it. Including tie-ins it was 11 issues long, and about four of those were worthwhile.

So here's the rundown (spoilers, obviously). As you may have heard, Superman and Wonder Woman are dating now. Well, the United States government decides that they don't like the fact that the two most powerful beings on the planet are now dating, and decide to create their own Justice League under (skinny) Amanda Waller, led by Steve Trevor.

The Justice League of America's goal was supposedly the same as the regular Justice League's, truth, justice, the American way, all that. Secretly (as in, even the members of the JLA don't know it, only Waller, Trevor, and a select few others do), they picks were specifically chosen to take down the Justice League should the need arise. The JLA was made up of Martian Manhunter (to counter Superman), Katana (to counter Wonder Woman), Hawkman (to counter Aquaman), Vibe (to counter The Flash), Stargirl (to counter Cyborg), Green Lantern (to counter... Well, to counter Green Lantern), and Catwoman (to counter Batman). Green Arrow eventually gets added to the team too, because he really wants to be on a Justice League, you guys.

Some of the picks were dodgy, but I actually thought the first five issues of the Nu52 JLA were pretty good. They featured the new JLA squaring off against a secret society that's recruiting various supervillains to their cause, led by a mysterious figure called The Outsider. It's recommended reading for Trinity War, because The Outsider and the Secret Society are the main baddies in that event. They end up taking down Professor Ivo, but The Outsider gets away (but not before some incredibly awesome foreshadowing about his identity. Basically he has a map of the Batcave, and he knows who Batman is).

Also during this time Waller has a certain scientist working for her, Dr. Arthur Light, examine a thingymabobber that the Secret Society hid. It explodes, and he's transformed into Dr. Light, who, in the Nu 52, is now a good guy! Oh yeah, and the Atom (a member of the Justice League) is actually a double agent for the JLA.

So Pandora's Box. Pandora #1, billed as "a prequel to Trinity War," gives background on Pandora herself. She is one of the members of the Trinity of Sin, the three greatest sinners in history, Pandora, Judas (The Phantom Stranger), and The Question, whose identity was erased from history, who were all sentenced to the curse of immortality by the council of eternity. Pandora (accidentally) unleashed the original evil into the world waaaay back when, and now she has Pandora's Box, and she's convinced that if either the person with a completely pure, or completely evil heart touches it, evil will be removed from the world (as well as the Seven Sins, who are actual physical monsters). So, in part one of Trinity War, she takes the box to Superman. Turns out even Superman has some evil in his heart, because when he touches it, it briefly turns him evil. Wonder Woman knocks the box from his hands, and he's back to normal... OR IS HE?! (He is.)

I'm not even going to get into the why, because this recap is already super long, but at this time Shazam (yeah, he's called that now) decides to take an urn of Black Adam's ashes, and spread them among the sands of his homeland, because even villains deserve an honorable burial, yada yada yada. The problem is that Kahndaq, Black Adam's homeland, is basically desert North Korea, and absolutely off limits to Americans. Shazam says it'll be fine though, because Wonder Woman and Superman went there themselves, disregarding the laws of the country, just a few weeks prior to free some hostages. Considering he's like, ten, I'll allow it.

The Justice League detects Shazam heading for Kahndaq, and decide they need to go get him out of there before it leads to an international incident. The JLA sees the entire Justice League headed there, and they decide that must be the Justice League finally deciding to overthrow the Khandaqi government, or something, and head after them in turn. The Justice League Dark is actually like barely in this comic, so they don't do anything.

So Shazam, the Justice League, and the JLA all arrive at Khandaq at the same time, and all start yelling at each other. Once they're there though, Doctor Light's powers start going haywire because he's next to the most powerful solar battery in the world, Superman, and he accidentally zaps Wonder Woman, and Superman gets really really angry, and, well...

SO THAT HAPPENS. About two pages later though, The Outsider is like "lol, just kidding, it was really me." I guess Kotaku didn't read that far into the issue when they wrote their article.

And that's part one. Here's where the problems with Trinity War actually start. Hardly anything happens between parts one and five, including tie-ins. It's a bunch of the Justice Leagues starting to fight... and then not actually getting into an all out brawl.

So in part two the Justice League and the JLA start fighting each other, but right as they start Superman yells "STOP!" and tells the JLA to take him into custody, and that he can't believe he lost control like that.

Wonder Woman decides very logically that the BOX THAT TURNED SUPERMAN EVIL might have something to do with WHY SUPERMAN TURNED EVIL (it doesn't). She decides to go after Pandora. Batman says that there was a mind controlling supervillain hiding in Khandaq at the time, so it was probably him that did it. The Justice League and the JLA start working together to figure out why Superman killed that guy, and Amanda Waller is like "oooh, hey, Firestorm, make me some kryptonite, because I'm definitely not evil or anything."

In Pandora #2 (Tie-in 2) Pandora goes and talks to Vandal Savage, and it turns out he can't use Pandora's Box either, because it turns him into a crying regretful mess when he does.

In part three Wonder Woman takes Pandora's Box to Hephaestus, who tells her that the greek gods don't actually know anything about it, they just took credit for it. Wonder Woman decides that to find Pandora, she needs the help of the Justice League Dark so halfway through the series they finally start showing up in a meaningful way (there's a bit with the Secret Society kidnapping Madame Xanadu, it doesn't actually matter). The Justice League and the JLA go after Wonder Woman, and for some reason don't want her to go after the box that looks like the most likely cause for Superman turning evil ("it's too dangerous," I think). Anyways, she basically says "no, I'm going to find Pandora anyways," and takes some of the heroes (Stargirl, Hawkman, Frankenstein, Aquaman) with her. The Phantom Stranger shows up and says "Hey Batman, I'll take you to Heaven so we can just ask Dr. Light who killed him." So Batman takes Katana and a couple others with him, and they go off into tie-in number two. Constantine, meanwhile, tells Shazam that he has some really nice candy in a windowless van parked out behind the House of Mystery, and they walk off to go chill in tie-in number three. The Question shows up and tells Superman he knows that he's innocent, and that he wants to help Superman prove his innocence. Superman (who's looking super sickly now, by the way) follows him and they break out, because reasons (remember that Superman believes that he is guilty at this point). Oh, and the Outsider mentions to the reader the minor detail that he has a mole planted in the Justice League.

Anyway, tie-in two, Constantine tricks Shazam into switching bodies with him because NuConstantine is a douchebag, and Shazam tricks him right back. That's... Basically the whole issue.

Tie-in three is actually a solid issue of the Phantom Stranger, but has almost no impact on the plot of Trinity War (which, I suppose, it could be argued that tie-ins shouldn't. I'll leave that debate for another day, especially since I really liked this issue). Batman, Katana, Deadman, and The Phantom Stranger go to heaven, freak out about how nice everything is there and how they'd love to just stay there forever, get over it, and then find Dr. Light. Dr. Light is in a heaven coma and it could be bad to wake him up, for heaven reasons, but Batman is like "Clark is my bro, I don't care about harming this innocent man! WAKE UP!" Aaaand Dr. Light knows absolutely bugger all. The Phantom Stranger is erased from existence because of stuff that's happening in his solo series.

Part four! Remember the mind controlling baddie who was in Khandaq? Yeah, they find him. It wasn't him. Superman shows up. The Atom admits that she's been a spy for the JLA all along, which increases tensions between the group. They decide that maybe Waller is behind Superman killing Dr. Light, since she wanted to replace the Justice League with the JLA, and destroying public confidence in them is a big first step. Not long after they get to the JLA headquarters however, it turns out that The Outsider planted a bomb in Doctor Light's body, or something, and he blows the JLA headquarters to smithereens.

Pandora takes the box to Lex Luthor, since she's looking for someone evil, and Wonder Woman shows up to get the box from her. Like an idiot, Wonder Woman grabs the box, and BOOM, it turns her evil. OK, bear with me here, this is where Trinity War actually starts being kind of good again.

Part 5 of 6 (which is actually part 9 of 11, for those keeping score) finally has the heroes fighting. Basically, when Wonder Woman grabs the box it somehow activates, and everyone nearby starts fighting over it. It turns everyone nearby except for Pandora and John Constantine evil (Constantine says he's unaffected because you "can't spoil a pot that's already filthy"). The heroes at the JLA headquarters help people out of the rubble, and such, and realize that it probably wasn't Waller. The JLA realizes just how badly they've been being played by Waller though, which is why they're going to become the Justice League of Canada soon (that's not a joke). So, basically, this issue is a big fight scene, but it's a well done fight scene, so I can't complain.

Nothing of consequence to Trinity War happens in Pandora #3, and I dropped the title immediately after that issue since all the issues I read were just boring, so I won't mention it any further.

So, the big conclusion. Would you like to know how this series ends? Incredibly well!

Constantine takes the box to the Temple of Hephaestus, where it was originally discovered (except for the fact that Pandora #1 contradicts that). A bunch more heroes show up, and one by one they start fighting each other for control of the box. Superman collapses, since he's super sick at this point. Firestorm checks him out, and realizes what's causing his sickness; He has a microscopic piece of kryptonite in his brain (this is what caused him to melt Dr. Light's face). How did it get there, you ask? The Atom put it there.

Turns out The Atom and The Outsider have been working together from the very start. They've also uploaded a virus called GRID into Cyborg, so he's been a traitor too, without even knowing it (upon this revelation the metal parts of Cyborg eject the human parts and form a fully robot body calling itself GRID, Vic is currently being kept alive by the green lantern).

So, just who is The Outsider, who has been being hyped up since the sixth issue of Nu52 Justice League? Oh, that's simple, it's Alfred Pennyworth. Kind of.

Guess what the "Trinity" in "Trinity War" stands for. Is it for the typical "trinity" of superheroes, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman? Nope. Is it for the "Trinity of Sin," The Question, The Phantom Stranger, and Pandora? Nope. Is it for the trinity of Justice Leagues involved in it? Not that, either.

It's for Earth-3.

Holy mother of god was that an effective plot twist.

Earth-3, in case you aren't familiar, is the alternate Earth where all the Superheroes are Supervillains, and vice-versa. Turns out that in the New 52, Earth-3 is a desolate wasteland destroyed by the Crime Syndicate (the evil Justice League). Years ago Owlman sent his loyal servant (and the man who killed his parents) Alfred Pennyworth to a parallel universe, along with another member of the Crime Syndicate, Atomica, who took the identity of The Atom in our world.

Pandora's Box? That's basically an ancient Boom Tube, used to travel between Earth-1 and Earth-3.

This is, to say the least, an awesome reveal. The Justice Leagues have pretty much already beaten each other, so the Crime Syndicate steps out of the portal created by Pandora's Box, wipes the floor with the Justice Leagues, and then takes over the world. That's why DC has been doing Villains Month this September, and that's what Forever Evil is about. The Crime Syndicate is claiming that the Justice League is dead, and have taken over the world, as well as destroying a large part of it. Now Lex Luthor has decided no one is going to take over the world but him, and he's going to lead a group of supervillains to fight the Crime Syndicate. Forever Evil seems awesome so far, I highly recommend checking that one out since it seems much, much better. If you want to read that, start with Forever Evil #1, and Justice League #23.4 (which is The Outsider's origin story, and I would call required reading).

Trinity War wasn't the worst story ever, not by a long shot. The art was very good throughout, and it started and ended really, really strongly. The problem is that the middle was a bunch of running around talking to different people, and that the tie-ins were almost all super boring (I love The Phantom Stranger series that's going on right now, and that issue was no different). For a series which promised us the Justice Leagues fighting each other in an all out war, it really didn't deliver on that until the very end, and when it did it used the cop-out of mind control. I would have preferred to see a simpler story. The ending, and the reveal of what Pandora's Box actually was, left a lot of unanswered questions as well. Who originally created Pandora's Box, all those thousands of years ago? Why did the box make people turn evil (they do handwave this by saying that Earth-3 is the origin of all evil, but I'd like more of an answer than that)? How did the Crime Syndicate get their hands on the box?
...That said, there's still a lot of stuff that works, especially toward the beginning and ending. Trinity War was a disappointment to me overall, but it's still worth a read if only to see the lead in to the (in my opinion) much more compelling Forever Evil event. Still, I can't help but wish it had hit the mark just a little bit more.

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