This is the penultimate post in a series examining Grant Morrison’s "DC One Million" crossover of 1998. Somewhat puzzlingly, its rich crop of new characters and concepts were infrequently used between their appearance in September 1998, and the infamous moment in 2011 when the past of the DCU and all its futures were unceremoniously dumped to make room for the continuity of the "The New 52" line.
Booster Gold #1,000,000 (September 2008)
Writers: Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz.
Artists Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund.
Our first stop on the road to oblivion is rather curious indeed. Although a very minor addition to the list of comics related to "DC One Million," a close examination reveals much about how the entire line of DC comics were being run at this point and does give indications why that approach may have been a dead end and would necessarily lead to a complete reboot of the whole line.
Booster Gold #1,000,000 appeared between issues 10 and 11 of the series. At first it seems to be a tribute to Morrison’s miniseries. It uses the unique numbering of the tie-ins to that mini, comes wrapped in the same trade dress, and according to the cover date, appeared on the 10th anniversary of the original series.
Then you get into the story. Really, the "DC One Million" section is just a short stopover in the future, where Booster Gold is flung as a result of a "time storm" caused by Booster trying to change the past in the previous storyline. First of all we are told, that despite the trade dress, issue number, etc., which they have gone to the bother of getting right, that we are in "the year One Million," which is 12 times the phenomenal distance of the miniseries, set one million months in the future, not years.
There is no reference to the normally ubiquitous headnet, or any of the other aspects of the future presented in "DC One Million." Despite how bewilderingly distant this future is (even accounting that the date given might be a mistake), we get a very bland world of generic, boringly-dressed American-type folks in some kind of outdoor mall setting. Booster Gold has a short altercation with his future counterpart, who goes by the rather wonderful name of Peter Platinum. Just as most of the members of Justice Legion Alpha are even more perfect versions of their 20th Century counterparts, Peter Platinum is a "perfected" version of the old Booster Gold. He has completely hoodwinked everyone into believing that he is a praiseworthy hero, when he is in fact a fraud and a seeker after wealth and status, albeit a skilled manipulator of public opinion.
Booster shows Peter up in front of his admiring fans with the help of time-traveler Rip Hunter, who appears in his glass-bubble time-ship. After humiliating Peter Platinum, and rescuing Booster, everyone has an angst-y, self-pitying argument in the time-bubble as they make their way back to the 21st Century. The whole thing takes up only the first four pages of the comic.
In how it misinterprets the very title and concept, and refuses to engage with any aspect of the world Morrison created, except the basic one of presenting a more capable and perfected version of the main character, this seems to be something of an insult towards Morrison’s event!
For this reason, it is an interesting addendum to the "DC One Million" crossover of 1998. Following Dan Jurgens’ somewhat problematic relationship to that series, here he is involved penciling an issue that isn’t putting respect for the source material very highly! Or maybe I'm reading too much into a four-page sequence?
Actually, the appearance of this comic in our reading order is quite useful. Partly my study of "DC One Million" was to examine an era of DC comics production that seemed to be a high point of a certain approach to superheroes. Perhaps I’ve been over-exposed to Grant Morrison’s hologramatic philosophising, but I really do feel that you can tell a lot about the whole by looking at a tiny part. I hope my look at the one-month crossover in 1998 threw some light on DC’s entire publishing ethos of that time – the positivism that Morrison’s JLA was trying to plant at the heart of it, the willingness to experiment with different storytelling modes and styles, the number of largely creator-driven series. Similarly, there is a lot in this issue of Booster Gold that is emblematic of DC’s whole approach to superhero comics in the 10 years after "DC One Million." This shouldn’t be surprising, as it is co-written by Geoff Johns, who eventually succeeded Morrison as central creative figure at DC, and today holds the official title of Chief Creative Officer. Johns’ approach to superhero comics has developed in perfect sync with DC’s approach in the decade leading up to the total reboot of 2011. Booster Gold #1,000,000 is a fine primer on what that approach involved.
Booster Gold fits into a much larger narrative that DC comics wove from the mid-2000s more or less up to the end of the whole DC Universe, as it was, in 2011. 2004’s Identity Crisis was perhaps the game-changer that swept away whatever remained of the approach spear-headed by Morrison’s JLA and the events of that miniseries led directly to the disbandment of the JLA and the cancellation of the JLA series begun by Morrison. Identity Crisis led to Infinite Crisis, which led into 52, which led into Booster Gold and several late 2000s storylines. 52 was a groundbreaking series Johns wrote along with Greg Rucka, and also Grant Morrison and Mark Waid, both of whose work has been examined in this series of columns already.
In 52, Johns, in collaboration with the other creators, took Booster Gold on a wonderful journey from being a selfish egotist to a true hero who learns to put the greater good before his own craving for respect and wealth. The tagline of this follow-up series is that Booster Gold is "the greatest hero you’ve never heard of." His new mission is to protect the timeline from malignant interference, all while not letting anyone know that he is now carrying out a more heroic role than before 52. So Booster Gold is now a time-traveler headlining his own book. This means we can compare him to those time-travelers who have appeared in my previous blogposts in this series, namely "DC One Million" lynchpins Chronos and Hourman. In a previous post I talked about how much I enjoyed Chronos, and the artistic chances that it took, and the way it reached outside the closed-in world of superhero comics to give us a fully-rounded main character and his rich fictional world. As discussed already, Chronos the series, suffered an early cancellation, and his role as DC’s time-traveling-hero-of-the-moment was replaced by Hourman, who I discussed in my last column. With Hourman, Tom Peyer used the trappings of superhero stories to look very deeply into the sorrows and joys, comforts and consolations of everyday people like us.
Some time after Hourman was canceled, the role of time-traveling-hero-of-the-moment fell to Booster Gold. Booster Gold is a well-written and well-drawn, nuts-and-bolts superhero comic, but for me it pales in comparison to Chronos and Hourman. Its big failing is how dependent it is on continuity regarding the stakes in the stories, and for the interest the reader might have in what happens.
Chronos and Hourman worked hard to make us care for characters like Walker Gabriel’s mother, and Snapper Carr’s ex-wife and the inhabitants of his local coffee house. With Booster Gold, however, you have to already know and care about the likes of Rip Hunter, Green Arrow and Green Lantern, or this story has nothing to offer you. The emotional driver for Booster’s actions at this time is his love for the late Blue Beetle, but readers of the series are expected to take it for granted from an understanding of old comics more than what Johns presents on the pages of this series. Johns presents some of the banter between Booster and Beetle pretty well, but for the most part, what’s between them depends on the readers knowing that they had a great buddy relationship going back to Justice League comics of over 20 years previously. As he often did in this phase of his career, Johns is spending the capital painstakingly built up by previous world-builders: in this case the characterisation between Booster and Beetle that was part of the fabric of the post-Crisis Justice League created by J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen. Booster’s moment of personal vindication in Booster Gold #1,000,000 comes from Batman, so Johns doesn’t have to do anything to make us see why this is important to Booster. Who wouldn’t want Batman’s approval?
Everything that happens in this comic depends on an understanding of, and abiding interest in, superhero continuity for it to matter. These Booster Gold comics would seem to be stories primarily about superhero comics, of interest largely only to superhero fans. Chronos and Hourman were, in contrast, comics that use the form of superhero stories to explore more universal concerns and that let more of the wider culture into their stories.
The journey from Chronos and Hourman to Booster Gold seems like a comedown in scope and ambition to me, and is very indicative of where DC comics went after Morrison moved on from writing JLA. Somehow, the type of stories that DC comics were putting out became very limited in scope, and designed more and more to appeal to an exclusive (and exclusively fanboy-ish) audience. Booster Gold is a particularly stark example of this. Issue 1,000,000 was the last to be written by Johns and capped a single storyline that ran from the first issue. Virtually nothing happens in Johns’ run of the comic that isn’t a revisiting of some moment in DCU history, and no character is introduced that hasn’t already appeared in a DC comic. I suppose I can’t knock it when creators and fans have moved together so closely that the latter is most interested in consuming what the former is most interested in providing, but there are dangers in how the readers generally have to be "of the initiated" and would tend to dwindle in numbers faster than they would be replenished.
In truth, if you are a fan of superhero comics, and familiar with 40 years of DC storylines, Johns’ Booster Gold run is like your favourite winter jumper; cosy, comforting and familiar. I enjoyed reading them, up to a point. In these comics, the outside world doesn’t intrude in any way, nor do any genuinely challenging ideas or concepts. How Jurgens draws the crowd in the mall as safely American, largely white and blandly attired (despite being from a million months/years in the future) is a fine example of how this run continually tries to comfort and reassure its readers, rather than challenge them or move them out of their comfort zone. Despite the lessons Booster learned in 52 and subsequently in the early issues of this series, he still keeps behaving exactly like the villains of the piece, in trying to change history. We shouldn’t trouble ourselves about that, however, as they keep telling us that he’s the "greatest hero" at the beginning of each issue, and Batman himself is there to reassure us of this at the end.
Booster Gold is probably the most obvious example of this move inwards in DC comics in the period between "DC One Million" and Flashpoint, but it is a stark example of how the forces of fan-expectation and DC’s disincentives to create new concepts dovetailed beautifully with a writer -- a rising creative force, in fact -- who is so in tune with this approach to superhero comics. It seems to me that there were very few major DC comics series in the last decade before Flashpoint that didn’t turn inwards, strip-mine DC's past for concepts, and focus only on the heroes' relationships with each other, rather than their relationship to our wider world or to "normal" people.
Waid’s Legion of Super-Heroes was perhaps an exception, with its challenging and detailed, sharply focused new sci-fi future for his freshly reconceived Legion. The handful of comics I’ve looked at read very like a sci-fi novel of ideas examining issues like the relationship of the generations to each other and youth’s eternal responsibility to revolt. The trend in DC comics of this era was to show us endless retreads of what we’ve seen before (only with more Awesome!), but Waid presents us with a series that is involved, somewhat unfamiliar, and somewhat demanding by the standards of the time. Of course, Waid left the series and the employ of DC itself when moves were made to bring back a previous much-loved iteration of the Legion of Super-Heroes in a JLA crossover; in effect to replace Waid’s moderately fresh and challenging teambook with another cosy old jumper for long-time fans to snuggle up in. This is ironic, considering Waid’s Legion was built around the message that the world belongs to the future generations, and the old ways must make way for the new.
Both scenes from Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #16 - by Mark Waid, Barry Kitson et al.
Actually Greg Rucka also left DC at around the same time, in the middle of an incredible ground-breaking run of comics starring Batwoman, another character launched, like Booster Gold, in the pages of 52. That DC should lose two of the four-man dream-team that wrote 52 so soon after it was such a huge commercial and critical hit, is also an indication of an approach to comics that wasn’t amenable to the production of good comics in the long run.
Of course, Grant Morrison himself, the fourth man of the 52 dream team, is by no means immune to criticism regarding the DC comics of this period. His entire Batman run was about revisiting old storylines, and he too shows a determination not to add too much that’s new to the mix. Possibly his most enduring addition to the Bat-mythology will be Damien, Batman’s illegitimate son by Talia Al Ghul. Even there, Damien had already appeared as a baby within the pages of Mike W. Barr’s Son of the Demon graphic novel of the '80s. Still, even an entire publishing milieu steering away from innovation and new concepts reflective of the world outside superhero comics can’t keep a good genius down. Morrison might have referenced old comics, but he made a point of referencing really obscure old comics, from eras that everyone had been pretending didn’t exist for decades, and he dug up some really outré elements of the Bat-mythology from the very margins and used them centrally. His incredibly challenging and stylistically innovative Final Crisis sits nestled in the heart of his Batman run, and will probably divide and unsettle fans for years to come. Whatever else Final Crisis might be accused of, being as comforting and reassuring as a cosy old winter jumper isn’t one of them.
The funeral of the Martian Manhunter, from Final Crisis #2 (by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, et al.)
Getting back to Booster Gold and his immediate "DC One Million"-related time-traveling antecedents, there’s something else to add, too, regarding the general approach adopted by DC superhero comics in the first decade of the 21st Century. I’ve discovered something very interesting that Chronos and Hourman have in common. It seems that the Walker Gabriel Chronos met his end in JSA #70, as had the android Matthew Tyler Hourman in JSA #66. Both deaths were planned and written by … Geoff Johns. Considering how interesting and original these two very different characters were, and how sadly brief their moments in the sun were and how much more could have been done with them, it seems a shame that Johns needed to use them in this reductive way to add drama to his stories. Where their own brief series had been filled with the drama of personal choices, human interactions, and their very recognisable, human reactions to life’s vicissitudes, Johns’ idea of drama, in contrast, seems to rely overly on the old fan-grabbing standby of “in this issue … SOMEONE DIES!”
Not that that is the only string in Johns’ storytelling bow. He is also fond of "...in this issue, SOMEONE COMES BACK TO LIFE!!” In fact, Booster Gold #1,000,000 illustrates this perfectly. Johns whole year-long run has the through-line of Booster trying to get around the rules of time-travel in order to prevent his old buddy Blue Beetle from being killed during Countdown to Infinite Crisis. Johns goes to some lengths over the previous 11 issues to show that time-travel won’t allow it. Booster must eventually resign himself to the fact that he can’t change the time-stream, and he must live with his grief. The arc of Johns’ 12-issue run on Booster Gold might actually be summarised in the very Johnsian terms of “Blue Beetle comes back to life and then has to die again”. As if that wasn’t illustration enough of his reliance on these tropes, there’s more.
Johns still needed some kind of upbeat note to go out on in issue #1000000, so Booster Gold’s twin sister, Michelle is rescued from her death in the time-stream without any problems and presented to Booster as his reward for being such a wonderful hero. This does emotionally manipulate the reader at the climax of the John’s yearlong run, but it negates the hard lesson that Booster has been learning about the permanence of death.
The previous 11 issues hadn’t shown us much more than a page and a few frames of Booster’s sister, or their relationship. That would involve Johns and his readers spending time away from their beloved superheroes hanging out with each other, so Johns is using another one of his favourite shortcuts here. As Michelle is a close family member, we don’t need to know much about her character or personality to understand why her appearance in the story under these circumstances is a big deal. I’d posit that Johns’ comics of this era, and many of the comics of this era generally, depend too much on the deaths and then the resurrections of these characters that don’t need much writerly work for the readers to be affected by the event.
An even more crowd-pleasing and event-worthy resurrection is obviously going to be that of – gosh – a DC Comics copyrighted character! As with using close relatives, this means that no one has to waste time, or expend comics pages, on the non-awesome setting-up of supporting characters or making the reader care about them.
Of course deaths and resurrections are two sides of the same coin. A character dying permanently would mean that DC can no longer publish comics with that character in them and thus lose the copyright. Likewise, as in Booster Gold #1,000,000, someone coming back from the dead gives an event or otherwise lacklustre story the short-term buzz or sense of importance it would otherwise lack.
This double-sided coin, or dramatic shortcut if you will, was really over-used in the period leading up to Flashpoint. In case you are wondering what became of those two competing versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes I mentioned earlier, Johns wrote them both into a Final Crisis tie-in of sorts called the "Legion of Three Worlds" which happened to begin only a month after Booster Gold #1,000,000. Most remarkably for me, and one of the most telling examples of the kind of thing I am writing about here, is that the two moments in the series that were supposed to be the biggest dramatic beats in it were the return of Bart Allen, formerly the '90s hero Impulse, but here in the persona of the Silver Age Kid Flash, and the return of Superboy AKA Conner Kent, both of whom had died in a hail of hype only a few years prior. Superboy had been killed by Geoff Johns himself during Infinite Crisis, adding some punch to the finale of that event, even though he hadn’t done much in the series up to that, and Kid Flash had died through editorial edict while masquerading as the real Flash literally One Year Later.
Bart's first appearance in Legion of Three Worlds (and almost first mention). That he's been resurrected, and how cool that is, seems to be the sole point we are to take from this panel. (by Geoff Johns, George Perez et al.)
The returns of both heroes are pretty jarring in the context of Legion of Three Worlds, because the characters had little connection to the Legion mythos, and little purpose in the actual story, beyond giving it the "awesome" fan-pleasing moments. Recycling the great moments from previous popular stories was a thing during this period, but Kid Flash’s return was an echo of the return of the true Silver Age Flash after 30 years in the grave, which wasn’t a great moment from an earlier era of comics. It was happening in Final Crisis concurrently with it! To compare Final Crisis with what Johns was doing in "Legion of Three Worlds," the Barry Allen Flash there didn’t just pop up on a page and expect everyone to be impressed by his presence. The pages of the series leading up to Barry’s return told us he was gone, that people missed him, and through his still-grieving loved ones we found out what kind of good man he was, and how much his absence mattered. Thus even the non-initiated readers could appreciate that it was a big deal when he re-appears in a scene that was utterly central to the events of Final Crisis.
The Flash's first appearance in Final Crisis #2. There's much more going on here from a story point of view, many emotions are being evoked, and the Flash's return here is integral to the story Final Crisis is telling.
At first the two returns of the respective speedsters look similar, but if you compare the two full-page panels, Bart’s return is presented as wonderful in itself and its own point, whereas Barry’s return in Final Crisis is worked into a larger story of which this is a crucial part. With the Omega bullet, the Black Racer, and Barry moving backwards in time and his urgent shout, there are many more story elements and emotions at work in the Final Crisis page than just the fan-service message of – “hey here’s a superhero back from the dead!”
There was a character called Superboy in DC comics, who first met the Legion of Super-Heroes almost 60 years previous to the publication of "Legion of Three Worlds," and who had had many fondly remembered adventures with them. However, the rejuvenated Superboy in "Legion of Three Worlds" shared only his name with that Superboy, and otherwise had no connection with the Legion or any reason to appear in "Legion of Three Worlds." However, his re-animation was presented as one of the major story beats in "Legion of Three Worlds," even though the story itself gave us little reason to care! It’s all rather strange. With the titular three whole Legions in the story, there was barely room for any of those characters to shine, so adding another two characters that go on to outshine the three Legions in their own miniseries doesn’t make much sense outside the fan-service element.
Superboy's first appearance after being resurrected (and almost first mention) in "Legion of Three Worlds." Yay!
Like that of Superboy, Kid Flash’s return in "Legion of Three Worlds" would be completely meaningless to any non-fans reading it. Stuffing their comics with scenes like the Kid Flash resurrection was a good way to alienate non-hardcore fans from their products, and narrow their readership. I think this might have sunk home with DC by the end of the era we are examining here. DC in the lead-up to 2011’s Flashpoint appeared to believe that their readership was shrinking, and their major shake-up involved getting rid of the old continuity, and, at least in theory, making their comics accessible to people who hadn’t been reading them for decades.
So "SOMEONE DIES/SOMEONE COMES BACK" was being used as a substitute for the elements that stories usually depend on to draw in the reader, and convince them that what they are reading is worthwhile. These storylines depended on the readers being previously familiar with the characters who died or came back, and caring about them. It would be possible to pick up "Legion of Three Worlds" because of the lovely Perez art, and reach the respective resurrections in it of Superboy and Kid Flash without realising that either character had been dead, let alone that their resurrection was something to be impressed by. The stories DC were telling definitely suffered for the over-use of these shortcuts in the place of good writing, strong characterisation and relevance to the readers own lives. Most telling was how the space between over-hyped deaths and returns were getting shorter and shorter as DC came to over-rely on these tropes.
Johns himself wrote the next mega-event after Final Crisis. Blackest Night was a block-busting, all-consuming event where ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD!
This was followed by Brightest Day, also helmed by Geoff Johns, which starred a newly rejuvenated Martian Manhunter, back after a dirt nap of only a year or two. It probably bears some comparison with 52, as it also had a speeded up release schedule, lasted a year and featured a team of writers. Like 52, it had a brief of bringing several neglected, underused characters into play. 52 took its time introducing new or forgotten heroes to the readers and made them surprisingly viable characters through the strength of the writing and characterisation. Brightest Day took the shortcut of bringing fairly big-name heroes BACK FROM THE DEAD, and depended on the readers thinking that that in itself made it worthwhile. The whole point of Brightest Day, if it had a point, was to bring back several known heroes. Possibly the most important return was that of Swamp Thing, who in a twist wasn’t really dead, but previously consigned to a different publishing wing of DC Comics, and inaccessible to stories set in the DCU proper. So the significance, or dramatic impact, of his big whoop return hadn’t much to do with anything in-story at all, but depended on fan knowledge of DC’s publishing protocols. Oh dear! Worse, Brightest Day brought back several heroes in a Big Whoop manner even though there was by then nothing for them to do but sit around and await the erasure of their entire reality a few months later in Flashpoint.
As for poor old Booster Gold and his new role protecting the DCU timeline from harmful interference, his fate was to become "the most ineffectual hero you've never heard of," rather than the "greatest," as the universe-ending Flashpoint happened on his watch!
Tellingly, Superman’s last big crossover story before the end came in 2011, was a rematch with Doomsday, the character who’d arguably started the whole cycle of superhero death and resurrection off in the '90s in the "Death of Superman" storyline. Fittingly, "Reign of the Doomsdays" ended with Action #904, the final issue of volume one, bringing to close a rather significant comic series. The years leading up to Flashpoint definitely feel to me like a whole fictional world going around in ever decreasing circles at a faster and faster rate, running out of narrative options, reusable references to old comics, and heroes to killl and bring back, all of which were its lifesblood, until eventually it was sucked down the drain altogether!
You could say that by 2011, the DCU had reached a natural … Flushpoint!
I hadn’t realised that my look at the few 21st Century comics related to "DC One Million" would allow us to discuss the broad sweep of DCU publishing in that period generally. As it happens my final post in this series will examine a fistful of comics, all by one particular writer, which drew from the "DC One Million" well, and which delivered us to the very endpoint of the DCU as was, on the very eve of the The New 52.