The DC Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (Part 2): “Lightning Strikes Twice” by Judd Winick
In Part One, I gave an introduction to this series and discussed Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1 (it’s available on Comixology or in the trade paperback The OMAC Project). This second review is about the first three issues included in the trade paperback Day of Vengeance. These issues, by Judd Winick, tell the three-part “Lightning Strikes Twice” story from Action Comics #826, Adventures of Superman #639, and Superman #216. All three issues are available as single issues on Comixology and must be read in the order listed above.
If you buy the trade paperback instead of the individual issues, you’ll get a chance to read the excellent introductory essay “The Nature of Magic,” a summary of magical characters in the DC universe. It’s an overwhelming essay, but it’s a fun read. The first time I read it was when I was first getting into comics, and I couldn’t follow most of the references, except to Adam, Lilith, Eve, and other non-DC related religious and mythical figures. But as I’ve returned to this series several times over the past few years, I’ve caught more and more of the references to other DC titles and characters, from The Endless in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series to The Parliament of Trees in the Swamp Thing comic. Also included are characters as depicted by Gaiman in Sandman (Vol. 4): Seasons of Mist: Lucifer, Lord of Chaos, Lord of Order, and angels from the Silver City. Also explained is the timeline that starts with the Big Bang and The Word and leads up to the present. Along the way, we are told when the gods of Greek Mythology existed, as well as when the magic power of the Green Lanterns was harnessed. The role of Eclipso is defined, and the history of Shazam’s power is explained in relation to all these other powers. The fun of the essay is that even if you are new to the DC magical universe, you’ll feel as if there’s this rich background behind the stories you will be reading. And that’s because there is a rich background.
There are four main characters in “Lightning Strikes Twice”: Superman, Eclipso, Shazam, and the Spectre. All are characters of magic except Superman, who hates magic since he’s more vulnerable to magic than anything else other than Kryptonite. Here’s the basic story: Eclipso manages to take over Superman and wants to take over Shazam. The two are forced into a major battle that involves several major slug-fests by these two DC big hitters. I am usually more bored than excited by these kinds of scenes, and for that reason, this little story wasn’t one of my favorites because so many of the approximately 60 pages are taken up with fighting. However, as I began to think about what the author was telling us through these fight scenes, the more impressed I became with “Lightning Strikes Twice.” In other words, the reasons for the fighting and the addition of Eclipso, as well as the Spectre, add much depth to the story, even the violent scenes.
To understand why this violence is interesting, one must understand the origin of Eclipso, a character who is of particular interest to those who like to think about moral philosophy, or ethics. In the DC Universe, in the far distant pre-historical past, Eclipso was created as a replacement for Aztar: “As life manifested itself around the universe, so did the concepts of good and evil. Many races began to dedicate themselves to managing the balance between good and evil. One such being, picked by the Lord of Heaven, was Aztar, who was the first Wrath of God. Eons later, Aztar was replaced by Eclipso” (from “The Nature of Magic”). We find out in the course of “Lightning Strikes Twice” that Eclipso “did not behave according to its design. It was not tethered to a living host, so it sought out a vessel. It possessed creatures at the time of their weakness. When they were lost to rage. It fed off them. Eventually, Eclipso became trapped within a black diamond, the heart of darkness — corrupting only those that felt its touch.”
In “Lightning Strikes Twice,” via the character of Eclipso, we get a wonderful commentary on the nature of rage as a terrible weakness in human beings. Superman can be taken over by Eclipso only if he gets angry enough to become vulnerable. Therefore, the question author Judd Winick is asking is “How do you make Superman extremely angry?” To be honest, I’m not really interested in the answer to this question, but I am very interested in the question implied by this query about Superman: If most of us are not as kind-hearted and as good as Superman is, then what hope do we have if faced with the same kind of situation that makes him angry? Secondly, if anger and rage often are a product of feeling powerless, then we are all more likely to feel rage for this reason than a character such as Superman who has more power than we can ever imagine having. Winick did not have Eclipso try to take over Batman. That would have been easy. Superman is essential to the ethical questions Winick is getting us to think about in reading this story. Eclipso fails several times to take over Superman, but eventually Superman becomes a vessel for Eclipso. The spoiler isn’t always in the seemingly major plot point, as is sometimes thought; the spoiler is often in a scene that appears to be minor but actually is thematically major: “How did Superman become vulnerable?” The answer to that question is insightful, and Winick gives us an incredibly perceptive comment on human nature and rage: By showing in what way Superman is weak in giving into rage, Winick suggests that the rest of us will also be vulnerable in the exact same way since none of us can be as pure and good and perfect as an idealized fictional superhero. This part of the story, the entire thematic point of the three comics, automatically earns “The Lightning Strikes Twice” five stars.
Of course, there’s more to talk about: From a philosophical/theological standpoint, we should find the background of the Spectre interesting, as well as important since the Spectre puts in an appearance at the end of the story and will play a major part in the story I review next. When Eclipso failed to follow its purpose, “the universe responded as it always does, with another creation. The Spectre. Forever bound to living sentient hosts, the Spectre doles out vengeance from the great order of creation, but with the comprehension of compassion that can only come from living beings.” The Spectre is one of my all-time favorite characters in DC. He usually has a deceased human host, and the previous humanity of this host gives the Spectre direction and, most importantly, compassion. As we’ll see in my next review, there’s a major problem when the Spirit of Vengeance lacks compassion, as he does at this point in DC continuity.
The story “Lightning Strikes Twice” is a short one, but it has more depth than a quick read of the plot would suggest. In addition, it’s got a great ending that takes the reader completely by surprise. However, the ending’s impact makes sense only if you’ve already read Identity Crisis. So I must repeat that the single Identity Crisis trade paperback is an essential book to read before starting any of the comics I’m covering in this series of reviews. You should read Identity Crisis, anyway, since it’s on the same artistic level as Watchmen in my opinion.
In my third review, I will cover the rest of the issues included in the Day of Vengeance trade paperback. These issues are also available on Comixology as Day of Vengeance Issues #1-6. However, as confusing as this sounds, do not read the Day of Vengeance: Infinite Crisis Special, which is included in the Infinite Crisis Companion trade paperback or as a separate issue on Comixology. This “special” issue is meant to be read much later in this long crossover series. I’ll let you know when to read it in the appropriate review. Just stick with me! So far, I’ve covered only four issues total, but those issues are excellent ones and reading them will set you up to continue reading and enjoying a real masterpiece of American comics storytelling created by a team of fantastic writers and artists.
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