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Infinite Crisis: The Adventures of Superman – Lightning Strikes Twice (Review)

This month I’m taking a look at DC’s massive “Infinite Crisis” Event. Although it was all published in one massive omnibus, I’ll be breaking down the lead-in to the series to tackle each thread individually, culminating in a review of the event itself. Check back for more.

I think it’s quite nice that DC went to the effort to collect the vast majority of tie-ins to Infinite Crisis inside this gigantic omnibus, even when the book didn’t necessarily get its own miniseries like Villains United or The O.M.A.C. Project. Like Sacrifice, Lightning Strikes Twice was a crossover between the Superman books leading into the events of one of the lead-in miniseries. In this case, writer Judd Winick was setting up the events of Day of Vengeance, the magic-themed crossover designed to tidy up and reenergise the mystical side of the DC Universe.

Super-punch!

While Winick certainly movies the pieces into play – most specifically by moving the villain Elipso into the body of Jean Loring – he also does a rather excellent job playing into the themes of Infinite Crisis. While, so far, the storylines themselves have occasionally been too scattered and disconnected, there is a very clear thematic line running through the whole Infinite Crisis event that I think DC editorial actually did a pretty consistent job of managing.

Winick creates the impression of a superheroic society that is very much on the verge of collapse, as he breaks a couple of the “unspoken” rules of the genre. It’s been a recurring thematic device running through these stories. The O.M.A.C. Project explored what might happen if the unspoken bond of trust between heroes were to break down. Sacrifice explored what might push Superman to kill, suggesting that the Man of Steel has allowed the force he uses to escalate in response to other threats. Villains United wondered what might happen if the heroes crossed a line that caused the villains to effectively unionise.

Is it a bird, is it plane? No, it’s Eclipso!

Lightning Strikes Twice visits a frequently used superhero plot device, but explores its implications. The “sadistic choice” is a fairly standard superhero convention. Even those who don’t read comics are familiar with the dilemma from movies like Spider-Man or Batman Forever. The villain can’t cause the hero direct physical harm, so they instead settle for exploiting the hero’s emotional weaknesses, putting civilians in danger as a way of causing the hero to suffer. (It actually comes close to working in The Dark Knight.)

It’s a plot device that is frequently used to create tension, specifically with a big invincible hero like Superman. After all, it’s very hard to really cause a lot of physical trouble for a guy who can break the sound barrier and bend steel with his bare hands. And so, logically, threatening an innocent provides an effective way of creating a sense of peril within a comic. Can Superman save the random stranger in time? Will he catch Lois Lane? Tune in, same super time, same super channel!

Thunderstruck…

Lightning Strikes Twice takes that plot device, and actually examines what it means. After all, it’s the kinda thing the bad guy does at the climax of the story to generate a bit of suspense. What if the foe didn’t hold it in reserve? What if a bad guy realised that threatening innocent lives represented a pretty convenient way to deal with their adversary? Eclipso does that here, determining that a superhero’s morality is a weak spot to be targeted.

“He killed three people to get to me,” Clark tells Lois, as Eclipso tries to mentally wear him down. Later on, during a confrontation with Captain Marvel, Ecilpso throws a ship into orbit to force the superhero to cooperate. “You will give me possession of your being willingly,” he advises the Big Cheese. “If not… we can just wait until the body count gets high enough that you reconsider.”Of course, logically, it’s a no-brainer. The amount of harm Eclipso could cause in Captain Marvel’s body is unimaginable, so there really is no choice. But that doesn’t mean that Marvel won’t feel guilty about it.

A flyin’ fightin’ finish…

There is something quite appropriate about the fact that Eclipso’s exploitational and cynical tactics find himself up against Captain Marvel. While Superman is the “Big Blue Boy Scout”, Captain Marvel is really the most idealistic superhero in the DC Universe. He literally possesses a child’s morality – there’s no ambiguity on his moral compass, just clear right and wrong. So Eclipso places the character in what appears to be a no-win situation. Marvel can either capitulate, allow the innocent to suffer, or kill Superman. Even Superman concedes that there is one “less wrong” answer to that dilemma. “Kill me,” he pleads. Even in this most cynical and calculated situation, Marvel refuses to compromise. “Never!” he vows. “I don’t kill!”

Aside from exploring the implications of this situation that is frequently used as a convenient plot device, Winick plays with other genre conventions. Some of these ideas are admittedly classic deconstructionist ideas, such as Lois’ editorial that attacks superheroes for inspiring the villains they face. “It begs the question of who is the bigger threat,” she writes. “The villains that seek to do harm, or the supposed heroes who act as lightning rods to this insanity.” It’s hardly the most original argument against superheroes, but it’s nice that Winick weaves it in. Infinite Crisisseems to be about the shared DC Universe basically deconstructing itself as a prelude to a massive reconstruction.

Total Eclipso of the heart…

Winick also, with the help of artist Ian Churchill, does an exceptional job illustrating the scale of a superhero conflict, as Marvel and Superman literally knock one another through mountains and cause sonic booms. Again, it’s nowhere near the most brutal evisceration of the superhero conflict (Alan Moore’s Miracle Man is still the gold standard), but it fits will with the themes of the crossover.

Ian Churchill provides the artwork here, and it’s pretty impressive. His fight sequences look great, and his figure work is solid. That said, for some reason I’m never quite comfortable with cheesecake depictions of Lois Lane. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve grown accustomed to revealing superheroine outfits or not, but I find it quite weird to look at hyper-sexualised depictions of Lois Lane. Here we get gratuitous cleavage and some awkward ass shots – the kind that even Frank Miller would describe as “shameless.”

Mountain problems…

I freely admit that’s a massive double-standard here, in that I’ve perhaps grown quite comfortable with such objectification of superheroines prancing around in pseudo-lingerie. I’ll concede that I definitely need to be a bit more aware of that, and perhaps I haven’t been as critical as I should have when it comes to representations of Wonder Woman and Supergirl as cheesecake. It just feels a little weird to see Lois presented as such, without even the framework of a revealing superhero outfit to provide an excuse for the emphasis on her physical attributes.

Still, I have to admit that I quite enjoyed Lightning Strikes Twice as a lead-in to Day of Vengeance. That said, I do have some issues with the use of Jean Loring in the crossover, but that’s probably a discussion best saved for discussing the Day of Vengeance crossover itself.

You might be interested in our other reviews relating to Infinite Crisis:

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