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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1

In the world of comics, alternate universes and various “what if” scenarios tend to be hit or miss. Some stories become more than simple thought experiments that plays with the malleable timelines and multiverses surrounding certain characters. A few even go onto become beloved and acclaimed. Stories like “Superman: Red Son” or “Age of Apocalypse” are shining examples of just how great these stories can be.

However, they’re the exception rather than the norm. Most scenarios that deal in alternate universes and “what if” scenarios tend to be either entirely forgettable or too absurd to take seriously. The stories that do set themselves apart usually succeed because the concept is strong and compelling.

By that standard, “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” has a lot going for it. The original “Death of Superman” story is one of the most iconic stories in the history of superhero comics. It raised the bar for how dramatic, impactful, and heartfelt a superhero comic can be. It showed just how great these characters can be, even in the face of tragedy.

This comic dares to flip the script. It explores a very different, very bleak scenario that shows how tragedy can bring out the worst in people. It dares to contemplate how even those who once championed the ideals of characters like Superman can become corrupt. That’s exactly what happens to Lois Lane in this story.

The idea, alone, is intriguing. Lois Lane isn’t just Superman’s iconic love interest. She’s someone who actively fights for truth, justice, and the American Way without the aid of other-wordly powers. Whether she’s a reporter or Superman’s lover, she personifies these values in ways that few characters can match. She’s the last person in the DC Universe that you would expect to be corrupted by tragedy.

However, in this world when the events of “Death of Superman” play out, that’s exactly what happens. Moreover, writer Jeff Loveness makes it feel entirely believable. As the story unfolds, we see a version of Lois Lane that isn’t just consumed by grief. She’s hardened by it.

Instead of grieving the loss of her lover and hero, she’s consumed by anger. She sees a world full of heroes that Superman helped inspire. Then, when he needed them most, they failed him. They let him die. On top of that, his death didn’t inspire people to be better. Things just went back to the way they were, minus their greatest hero.

In that context, it’s easy to understand why Lois would get so angry. As a result, when she has a chance to embrace the power of the Eradicator, you almost want to cheer her on. Suddenly, she has a chance to carry on Superman’s legacy. At the same time, it’s easy to see how this kind of power will ultimately corrupt her.

Power corrupting fallible human beings is a fairly common recourse in superhero comics. It’s the basis for some of the most iconic stories of all time. However, the fact that this is Lois Lane becoming corrupt is what really gives this story its impact. It makes “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” feel like more than just another dystopian timeline.

What Lois is able to do with the power of the Eradicator is extensive, but her grief has her cross lines that Superman never would. Loveness never gives the impression that she crosses these lines because she’s a fallible human. There’s a progression that builds up inside her, driven by sorrow and anger. She never just snaps. It feels like a natural extension of her anguish.

Naturally, it puts her at odds with other heroes and major villains. I won’t spoil how it plays out, but it gets pretty dark. However, it never gets so dark that it seems gratuitous. Loveless still makes an effort to capture the drama and heart that helped make “Death of Superman” such an endearing story. While it’s impossible to match the impact of the original story, this story still strikes the right chords.

There are moments in “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” that defy the traditional conventions of the DC Universe. It’s appropriately dark. At the same time, though, it never feels like the characters completely deviate from who they are. This darker version of Lois Lane still feels like the Lois Lane we’ve known for over 80 years.

Loveness makes the case that even someone like Lois can walk a darker path in a believable way. The artistic style of Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, and Norm Rapmund give that story an appropriately dark tone. It’s dramatic, but it never feels like it’s just doing things for shock value. Granted, seeing Lois become so corrupt is shocking, but that’s not the only thing driving the story.

While “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” probably won’t garner the same acclaim as “Superman: Red Son,” it succeeds in ways that so many other “what if” comics fail. It takes an intriguing concept and develops it in a believable way. It doesn’t undermine the characters or the original themes behind them. It simply tells a darker version of a well-known story and tells it very well.

Lois Lane will always be defined by her connection with Superman. In so many stories within so many worlds, that connection is what brings out the best in her. In this one exceptionally dark world, it brings out the worst and that makes Superman’s death even more tragic.

 

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The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for “What If? Punisher #1.” Enjoy!

‘What If? Punisher #1’ Toys With Spider-Man’s Concept Of Power And Responsibility

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October 11, 2018 · 5:28 pm

Jack’s Quick Pick Comic: What If? Punisher #1

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics comes out and for comic fans like me, it’s the biggest highlight of the week that doesn’t involve ice cream and whiskey. Within that batch of comics, it’s hard find the gems that really stand out. That’s why every week, I pick out a comic that I feel warrants extra praise.

This week, my quick pick is “What If? Punisher #1.” Now, this may seem like an odd selection. In fact, this comic is very much an anomaly. There was once a time where Marvel had an ongoing “What If?” series that basically offered alternate history takes on iconic characters and stories.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about how these stories are handled. For the most part, they’re hit or miss. They’re either really good or really bad. Rarely, if ever, are they fleshed out stories.

What If? Punisher #1” finds a way to stand out because it does more than speculate on what would happen to Spider-Man if he chose a slightly different path. It actually explores the entire premise that with great power comes great responsibility. It even makes the case that the mainline Spider-Man in the long-running “Amazing Spider-Man” series is wholly irresponsible in his methods.

This is an idea that I’ve actually explored before. I once made the argument that Spider-Man is the most inept hero of all time. I got a lot of hate for that piece, mostly by long-time Spider-Man fans. I don’t blame them for a second. However, this comic actually takes some of the concepts I discussed and puts them into a cohesive story.

It doesn’t radically reinvent Peter Parker or Spider-Man. It also doesn’t radically alter his origin. He still fails to stop a burglar that goes onto murder his Uncle Ben. From that tragedy, he learns that critical lesson about power and responsibility. The only difference in this timeline is that great responsibility means killing his enemies, just like the Punisher.

It’s a line that the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man doesn’t dare cross most of the time. In nearly every famous iteration of Spider-Man, Peter makes clear that he does not kill. However, “What If? Punisher #1” makes the case that not only is this irresponsible. It actually played a part in hurting his loved ones.

How that happens and how it makes this case is something I won’t spoil. Since this is a “What If?” comic, though, there’s not room to dig deeper. There are more than a few gaps and oversights, but most of that is due to logistics rather than merit. At the very least, this comic asks some pretty damning questions about how Spider-Man approaches power and responsibility.

Even though most “What If?” comics are quickly forgotten and have no impact on the actual canon, this issue is worthy of my pick because the concept is so intriguing. It’s too brief and very much incomplete, but the ideas it presents are pretty remarkable. Not all Spider-Man fans will like it, but it’ll definitely get them thinking.

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Alternate History Fiction: The Potential And Limits

Contrary to the sentiment I convey on this blog, there are other genres of fiction that tickle my fancy and not in the way that makes my pants feel tighter. It’s true. It is possible for someone to appreciate multiple genres of fiction, even those that are exceedingly different. I’ll give everyone a moment to get over the shock.

While I do consider erotica/romance my specialty as a writer, there is another genre I often contemplate in my quiet moments. It’s a genre that doesn’t make anyone who isn’t an ardent fan of The History Channel horny, but it has a unique appeal and one day, I do hope to explore that appeal in my own writings.

It’s called alternative history. No, I’m not talking about the history of BDSM or alternative relationships that involve multiple partners and/or aliens. I’m talking about elaborate, sometimes exceedingly detailed, scenarios that craft a whole new timeline of our history. From these scenarios, all sorts of stories can emerge. Some are pretty damn successful.

Probably the most recent examples involve Stephen King’s “11/22/63” and Philip K. Dick’s “The Man In The High Castle.” Both of these stories take a seminal event in recent history, namely World War II and the Kennedy assassination, and put a new twist on it. That twist can be pretty intriguing, even if some details would make a historian’s head explode.

Now I like alternative history. It’s one of those guilty pleasures I can enjoy with my pants on. However, there is a recurring theme in these stories and one that tends to undermine the narrative.

It’s an inescapable byproduct of the genre itself. In order to craft stories about alternative history, it’s necessary to make a few too many assumptions that can’t possibly be understood. Until we create a functioning time machine, we just don’t know how changing one detail or another would affect history. There’s a reason why Doc Brown was so uptight about that sort of thing in “Back To The Future.”

What bothers me most when I read historical fiction is how these assumptions tend to fuel certain biases. Those who speculate on the tweaks and alterations on the timelines tend to have an agenda. More often than not, that agenda requires that a good chunk of reality be ignored or, in some cases, spat upon.

By far, the most popular assumptions come from the various “What If” scenarios surrounding World War II. In many respects, World War II is to alternate history what “50 Shades of Grey” has become to BDSM erotica. It is essentially the standard by which all others are measured.

There are already so many flawed assumptions about this period in history and I say this as someone who had relatives fight in this war. Movies, TV, documentaries, and conspiracy bloggers like to craft this flawed image of World War II, as though it was a real battle against an evil force bent on world domination. That makes for great, iconic comic book stories, but it’s about as historically accurate as a Zack Snyder movie.

There are any number of stories that make the same claim. If Hitler had only done this or that, then we’d all be saluting a Nazi flag today and tiny mustaches would never have gone out of style. That’s a tempting and terrifying thought, but thankfully it’s about as valid as a physics lecture by Homer Simpson.

The truth is that the Nazis were never close to winning World War II, America’s involvement had little to no impact on the outcome of the war, and Hitler was an inept basket case who just had more luck than brains. History is rarely that frail because in general, people aren’t nearly as diabolical or heroic as the fiction we craft around them.

The same goes for the JFK assassination. There’s a whole cottage industry around the crazy conspiracy theories surrounding this assassination (see the non-Dan Brown version of the Illuminati). Oliver Stone even made a movie about it, which took so many liberties with proven facts that it would take multiple blog posts for me to list them.

Now I’m not saying these narratives don’t make for great stories. They do succeed in creating a world that’s much more interesting than the one we live in now. Unfortunately, it assumes too much of mankind’s ability to keep secrets, conduct wars, and document their various screw-ups.

For me, personally, I prefer alternative history that just doesn’t give a flying fuck about sticking to the facts. There are some stories that basically just give a big middle finger to history books and craft a less elaborate, but more colorful form of alternative history. For me, the one that really got me into the genre wasn’t a book. It was a video game, specifically this one.

That’s a header for Wolfenstein: The New Order, a video game that came out a few years ago. It’s a bloody, brutal, historically inaccurate shoot-em-up that gives everyone a chance to kill hordes of evil Nazis. It’s as much fun as it sounds.

It also has a powerful story that is, again, exceedingly inaccurate. However, it doesn’t try to be accurate. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it engaging. Nobody outside Alex Jones fans are going to argue the plausibility of the events of this game.

It’s in that overtly implausible spirit that I feel inspired to craft my own alternative history story. However, I don’t want it to be one of those stories that preventing JFK’s assassination will lead to a hippie utopia or that Hitler sleeping in would somehow change the course of World War II. For my alternate history scenario, it needs to be more ambitious. It also needs to be much sexier.

Yes, history tends to be pretty repressive when it comes to sex, but it can still be pretty damn sexy. If you don’t believe me, do some research on the antics of Cleopatra, Theadora, and Catherine the Great. Hell, look up some of the massive amounts of erotica produced during the Victoria era. I promise your pants will be tight for a week. It’s no wonder they needed chastity belts back then.

History is full of horny men, horny women, and people trying to thwart horny men and horny women. Most of the time, those trying to thwart horniess are shoveling sand against the tide. In the long run, the desire to hump, hug, and orgasm wins out.

So with that dirty, sexy thought in mind, I feel like there’s potential to craft a different course of history, one where that potential can manifest into something an erotica/romance writer can appreciate. If done right, I can make history the sexiest topic we all slept through in high school.

How would I do that? When in the timeline would it take place? How much will I upset historians with the liberties I take? Well, these are the kinds of detailed questions that I’m still fleshing out. If and when I complete this process, I’d like to build upon this narrative and possibly set the standard for a sexier brand of alternate history. Between our collective fascination with alternative timelines and BDSM erotica, I think there’s an audience for it.

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