Maybe this means it's real!

*Heads Shaking in Northampton Dept: You’ll recall I flipped through that Seven Soldiers trade yesterday, chatting a bit about the contents. I did not, however, get to look at the new DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore omnibus, since it was already all sold out by the time I got there. It’s no big deal - I wasn’t planning to buy it, since I already have all of that stuff, though I’d certainly have wanted to see what kind of presentation was mounted.

Well, as Mike Sterling reveals, there’s apparently quite a big presentational issue at hand regarding Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? - the famous introductory narration, surely one of the most oft-quoted in superhero comics, concluding with the classic “This is an IMAGINARY STORY... aren’t they all?” is nowhere to be found. The original pamphlets in which the story appeared had the text directly on the first page, while the collected edition had moved it onto its own page prior to the proper start of the story - it is hypothesized that DC omitted this page while utilizing the collected materials in the creation of this new book.

It’s rare that introductory text proves to be this important; one might hypothetically presume that a lead-in to a story describing its premise might be among the more easily excisable bits of the work. But this was far and away the worst introduction to leave out, having attained a seminal stature among superhero writing. Surely a nasty situation.

Desolation Jones #5

As expected, the book remains nice and solid, though there’s really not all that outstanding happening in this particular chapter. It starts out as one of those tantalizing partial flashbacks to an important event that are clearly meant to whet the appetite and foster reader interest beyond the confines of the immediate storyline. It then moves into a sort of taking stock of the storyline thus far, before cruising into a bit of action meant to lead us into a conclusion. Kind of marking time, appetizing us on both short and long-range levels. At least it succeeds at its tempting.

Probably nobody working at DC today is more adept at visualizing a dreamstate than artist J.H. Williams III, and the opening flashback to the infamous Desolation Test only bolsters that status - panels seem to swim downward, in what one could imagine would be a rather standard grid format were the entire array not distinctly woozy, as if the confines of the page are remaining solid while the art itself has begun to melt. All of the visuals in these panels are thus warped and blurry, though characters appear in the solid, ultra-realist mode of Williams and colorist Jose Villarrubia’s later issues of Promethea - it’s an effective trick, forcing their most representational style through the dream filter, especially for Promethea readers who’re used to seeing such sights as indicative of the higher truths possible only through encountering the end of the world. Still, revelations occur for Jones anyway. Beautiful touch with the non-woozy, ultra-realist wires snaking around the white space left on the page by the spilling art, finally interacting with the art itself at the final moment, the realities of cold metal pain bursting through the ominous reverie. Excellent, as always.

The rest of the issue follows the visual/color schema set up by Williams and Villarrubia set up in earlier chapters - all is filtered through Jones’ perspective, color and density molding themselves with the lead character’s mood. It’s not possible to pick up some fascinating visual connections - the angels Jones occasionally sees are rendered in the same form as his dreams, though in warm, solidified Promethean color rather than icy, blurry black and white. Dreaming while he’s awake then (as he was awake for that full year!). Also, white continues to represent pain or destruction (great car crash - the all-consuming white of a man being struck literally sinking into the red of blood as the reality of death sinks in), which makes the similar use of such visual technique in the character line-up as the story is summarized all the more telling - Jones doesn’t like any of these people, and the comic uses their lack of color to convey the pain he experiences in merely thinking about the fiends.

Script-wise, writer Warren Ellis does a nice job with the characters, enough so that the teasing of this issue doesn’t register as an irritant, but rather a tantalization. Of course, Jones is firmly plugged into that stories line of Ellis protagonists, but his slightly more desperate, more clinging-to-sanity outlook responds remarkably well to the visual flux at work - it’s quite a great one-issue argument for cohesion between script and art. When those hard white memory squares dot the LA landscape of setting sun as Jones staggers around, leans against a car, almost imperceptibly falls to the ground, then slips into non-summary memory babble, you know it could have just been padding, a water-treading plot summary as easily handled in an inside front cover paragraph of text, but it comes off as something genuinely telling, and it’s all due to every element of the book working in unison.

It’s also a nice genre thing to have the detective work the plot out for the reader. We’re still very much in the land of sudden betrayal and double-crosses and the missing items case exploding into something deeper, darker. I’d hope that Ellis is prepared to revisit the dialogues between working, damaged people that have become the writerly hallmark of this title. Maybe Jones will talk with his fists - I’d expect that. But I’d also expect that it does a bit more, working beyond the level of straightforward presentation of plot points and events, as the book continues to do week in and week out. That’s maybe the difference between good genre works and superior ones.