Existence: That Ol’ Meloncholy Feeling

Before I delve into the (somewhat) heady topic of this post, I must make two small comments.

  • Firstly: it should be made aware that I use parenthetical statements and hyphens with haphazard frequency. I do not always use them the way they are meant, as I find I am more of a stylistic writer than a pedantic grammar monster.
  • Secondish: readers (if any of you are out there!) might have noticed that I have been leaning heavily into the DCU with my first few posts.While I have plans to explore some Marvel topics, and there are several Image and indie posts I have considered, for the time being I expect to continue my focus on DC. With several exceptions *cough*X-Men*cough* I have always had more of a profound love for DC and all of their attempts, failed and otherwise.

So, in continuing the tradition of DC exploration, I recently came across a comic in my collection that stood out. See, in “organizing” my frustratingly large collection of comics (hoarding takes all forms, you know), I have always had 3 primary categories:

  • Series – these would be issues in any series (limited, on-going, cancelled, etc) that I collect (arranged by issue #)
  • Related to Series – issues not in a series, but related to a series (Annuals, Specials, etc)
  • The Rest – peculiar one shots and the like

The comic I unearthed falls into the third category.

 

The Kingdom was a weird attempt at continuing the awesome tale told in Mark Waid’s 1996 graphic novel, Kingdom Come. Illustrated by the always-impressive Alex Ross, Kingdom Come was an “Elseworlds” (think: imaginary) story that told of a realistic and rough future for the DCU. A fan-effing-tastic read, and a delicious treat for the eyes, but not the main reason for this post (but, seriously, check that shit out).

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The art alone makes reading Kingdom Come worth it.

Kingdom Come was wonderful but The Kingdom was another mess altogether and I honestly never cared enough to read or know too much about the greater story beyond Planet Krypton.

In Kingdom Come, former Justice League showboat Booster Gold opens up a superhero-themed restaurant named, you guessed it, Planet Krypton.

BoosterGold

Booster Gold in his earliest years. Oh and his robot buddy Skeets.


KC takes place in an alternate timeline, but The Kingdom was supposed to take place in the normal DCU continuity. So this one-shot quickly explains that our Booster Gold also decided to open up a superhero-themed restaurant named Planet Krypton. Convenient.

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From Kingdom Come again. Also, the waiter dressed like Aquaman is totally hitting on the waiter dressed like the Flash. Look at that pose! He doesn’t really care about the handcuff arrow! He’s just trying to make conversation and see how fast you really are.

Maybe a comic book that takes place in a restaurant and was intended to be read as part of a larger story does not seem like the most interesting material in the world at first glance, but it was quite enticing to me when I first encountered it.

Flashback!

1999. I was on a precipice, staring out at the swirling acne-fueled clouds of my teenage years. The storm was coming fast. Emotionally, I would deal with the deaths of several extended family members. Physiologically, my hormones were about to blast into crazy town. I was gawky. I needed braces and glasses. I was learning that I was gay. It was an intense time, and it caused me to lose many hours of sleep thinking. Which, obviously, is exhausting.

GawkyMe

The only photo I could find of myself on short notice. I mean, I may be obscured by a beagle (R.I.P. Shadow, my dude!) but I am dressed like Charlie Brown so I think this illustrates my awkwardness to an okay degree.

I was always something of a thinker as a kid. I suppose I still am. I cannot say my thinks (to be Seussian for a moment) are anything grand or enlightening, but I do enjoy spending time in the realm of thought. The big questions that would blink into my spells of insomnia during childhood began to pop over more frequently and always unannounced.

The usual stuff. Existence… what the hell is it? How infinite IS infinite? Is pre-birth the same as non-existence? All those oh-so-fucking-fun ponderings that the human mind is wont to bite into at the least opportune moments.

GoodOlCharlieBrown

I dressed like Charlie Brown and I thought ike Charlie Brown. So there we go.

I had never taken a philosophy course at this point in my life and just assumed that these thoughts did not have names. They were just those thinks. The ones that caused my guts to tighten, my entire body to seize. I suppose all people go through some variation of this visceral reaction when they grapple with those weighty fucking thoughts.

Despite these bouts of “WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN,” the comic books that I gravitated towards were usually the most ridiculous. The medium demands it. Superheroes are gods and goddesses in tights darting about the universe, living their soap operas, making clever quips and solving complex problems. With that much power, things get weird. They accidentally board trains that rip through time and space and are left stranded in bizarre dimensions. They work alongside dogs wearing capes, squirrels wielding the strongest weapons in the galaxy, frog-like telepaths from planets of pure methane in the 30th century.

Of course, by this point in the 90’s the last vestiges of the silly titles I had loved like DC’s Justice League (which I discussed here) and Marvel’s Excalibur (which you can bet we will be talking about in the future, folks) had been revamped to become more serious and focus on the drama of being a hero. The whimsy and magic and humor all faded in favor of big, violent events fraught with meaningless character deaths and grim revelations. Yawn City. Population: Me.

excaliburexample

Marvel’s Excalibur focused on some staple X-Men characters as they got into pan-dimensional mishaps

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the depressing and violent as much as the next guy but I really love balance. Don’t tell me that Ace the Bat-Hound was considered too ridiculous and had to be removed from continuity. You can be a bad-ass vigilante AND have a dog mascot.

 

AcetheBatHound

Recent writers brought Ace back, thankfully. Lookit how awesome that damn pup is!

Planet Krypton was just another book that I was absent-mindedly flipping through at my local comic shop until something weird caught my eye. The colorful images peeling past my face made me take pause. I did not know what the story was about, per se, but I began to realize that the cast of characters was unusual. There were heroes who had not been mentioned in years. Characters that had been written out of continuity.

There was good reason for this. Planet Krypton is a tale of ghosts.

Planet Krypton Edit02

The ghosts appear. Batwoman. Superboy. Fury. Captain Atom. Lightning Lad. Phantoms from other eras, from events that never transpired and histories that could not be.

The story follows a one-off human character named Rose D’Angelo who comes to work at Planet Krypton.

((Sidenote: the restaurant is jam-packed with items and references to comics/characters from DC’s decades of history. If it was real place, I would make it a point to visit whatever city it was in. You listening DC? I’ll eat there all the time! Just kidding, but probably more than a dozen times in my life.))

Okay, so, Rose is running from her past (who isn’t) and she feels as if she let her family down. Rose’s backstory: poor upbringing, meets handsome and wealthy man, man proposes to her, Rose does not love him and says no, family is upset about this, Rose runs away, Rose begins waitressing (and secretly sleeping) at Planet Krypton. Thing is, when the sun goes down, all of these ghosts appear in the restaurant. Spooooooky. Seriously, though. Fucking spooky.

Rose doesn’t really know who any of these ghosts are. Why should she? She’s a human in the DCU and many of these phantoms are of heroes who never existed. 

Now, here is where things get complicated. And  I love complicated in comic books.

History  LessonCrisis on Infinite Earths

CrisisOne

Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Perez, this epic crossover redefined the DC Universe. I mean, everyone’s being flung about space while Earths are colliding and exploding, for crying out loud! That’s gotta be worth something.

By 1985, DC Comics had been publishing the adventures of Superman & the rest of the effing DCU for over 50 years. In those five decades, a lot of stuff happened. So much stuff that there were scores of complications that needed to be smoothed out. Like, how were Superman and Batman able to fight in WWII and also still seem young and active in subsequent decades? Eventually, DC decided to explain that there were multiple earths existing across infinite universes and that every story published happened on one of these versions of Earth.

CrisisonEarthOne

Early explorations of the multiverse included the “Crisis on Earth One!” story that united the Justice League with the WWII characters of the Justice Society (who had been retired for over a decade at that point).

The primary Earths were (surprise) dubbed Earth 1 and Earth 2. On Earth 2 we had the heroes of the Golden Age of comics. The Justice Society of America and all those patriotic gals and fellas who fought in WWII. Earth 1 was where all the Silver Age stories took place. Where the Justice League had their adventures, where Barry Allen was the Flash, etc.

After 50 years of this, DC decided it was time for a change. They felt that they had too many Earths and the stories were too much for new readers. It was time to simplify matters, clean house, sell more comics.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was a 12-part series that set out to eliminate the multiverse and condense it into one continuity. Every DC title at the time had at least one tie-in issue to events in Crisis and no one was safe from the absolute chaos that was transpiring.

The story is actually really awesome. Alex Ross (who did the art for Kingdom Come) painted an amazing piece depicting the events of Crisis that I have prominently displayed in my apartment due to how overwhelmingly busy and beautiful it is . I love it.

AlexRossCrisis

Ross creates homages to many iconic moments from Crisis, and includes every character (major or minor) to appear in the series. 

The plot of Crisis is both simple and complex. A character called the Monitor gathers a handful of heroes and explains that a great and terrible evil is threatening the very fabric of existence. As the story unfolds, time and space begin to rip apart and alternate universes are completely wiped out by waves of anti-matter. Eventually, the villain is revealed to be a powerful force of entropy known as the Anti-Monitor. Many battles are fought, many characters die and, in the end, the history of the DC Universe is completely rewritten.

These revisions caused quite the ruckus. For one, there were hundreds (actually untold billions but who’s counting) of characters completely erased from existence. Additionally, almost no one remembered that the Crisis even happened. When history was slammed into one pancake, everyone was reconfigured along with it and accepted the new reality as it was.

CrisisTwelve

Crisis on Infinite Earths is an insane story that includes hundreds upon hundreds of DC characters engaged in a battle that is literally destroying all known time and space. It was dipping into sweet nostalgia while still running full-force towards the future.

Now, there is a point to all of this. Many of the ghosts wandering about Planet Krypton are characters that had been completely erased from time due to the effects of the Crisis (or similar events). Rose, our protagonist, is dressed like Supergirl. This is important.

One of the biggest, and most upsetting, changes to happen during Crisis was the removal of Supergirl from the Superman mythos. Dwindling popularity in the 80’s and a flop film pushed DC’s editorial staff to give the “go ahead” to killing off the last lass of Krypton.

SupergirlDeath01

Lots of characters die in Crisis but this death is utterly heartbreaking for several reasons. Supergirl’s death is as heroic as it is unfair and it makes me tear up every time I read it. Superman’s pain here is palpable. A man capable of giving so much to so many, unable to protect his last living relative. The image of Superman holding the lifeless corpse of his cousin is as iconic as it is devastating.

SupergirlDeath02

Holy shit, right? That look in Clark Kent’s eyes as he realizes, despite all his strengths and do-goodery, that he cannot save her. That last panel, with Superman howling in agony, is haunting.

Despite Supergirl going out with a bang, and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) eulogizing her fallen friend by saying her memory will never be forgotten, the events of Crisis DID erase Supergirl from memory. Ironic? I don’t know, but definitely sad. Superman was truly the last of his kind, and history was rewritten so that it was always this way.

And so Rose, decked out in the garb of a girl who never was, tries to escape her own past by conversing with the apparitions in the restaurant. Rose confides in them as they stare blankly back, unaware of her presence. She dreams of them.

Planet Krypton Edit01

Rose dreams of flying alongside Jor-El (Superman’s Kryptonian father), Hawkgirl (Shayera Hall, wife of Hawkman who had her origins rewritten multiple times), Katma Tui (honored Fallen Green Lantern and wife of John Stewart) and an alternate version of Adam Strange.

These ghosts are an assorted lot. Though most are the shades of characters who never really existed, others are just the actual spirits of fallen heroes like Katma Tui (who I discussed here).

The first ghost we see Rose speak to is the original Batwoman: Kathy Kane.

Like Supergirl, Batwoman was from a simpler and sillier time in the DCU. Though her initial creation in 1956 was to detract those who had begun to think Batman was secretly gay with Robin, a true romance never actually blossomed between the characters. Instead, Batwoman was at first a rival and then a very dear friend to Batman and Robin. For years she joined in their exploits and had some of her own until DC decided to retire the character. Sadly, in 1979, Kathy Kane was brought out of retirement only to be killed by the Bronze Tiger. To quote Jack Donaghy:

30rock

A sad truth.

But, as with Supergirl, her death would not matter as she would be another victim of the new history created by the effects of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Kathy never existed as Batwoman in this new timeline. Another woman who never was.

BatWoman

Batwoman’s entry in Who’s Who which came after her death but before she was erased from history.

My real interest in Planet Krypton came from this curious fact about Batwoman. Kathy Kane was dead but, more importantly, Kathy Kane never existed. So, she shouldn’t even have a ghost… right? I loved this. I still love this. What, exactly, does that mean? It is so absurd, so ridiculous, and yet it can be imagined so it can be pondered. How does it feel for these ghosts? Does it hurt to be dead and then to be purged from history? How can we even comprehend any of this? More of those thinks.

The ghosts are unaware of Rose, of her pleas for advice. They move about, completely detached from the corporeal world. How does it feel to have a life of adventure and then disappear into obscurity, completely erased from the very stories that you helped to forge?

Planet Krypton Edit06

Apparitions include Insect Queen (an alias used by Superman’s first love, Lana Lang, in many pre-Crisis tales), Dream Girl and Princess Projectra of the Legion of Superheroes (both ladies were longstanding members of the team and both were retconned out of existence during an event called Zero Hour) and one of the peculiar Captain Marvels (perhaps Hillbilly Marvel?) that never took off at DC. 

One day, Rose overhears Booster Gold talking to an unknown person on the phone about the ghost problem. Booster is trying to bring someone in to take care of the ghosts and Rose wants to find out who is coming to take a look.

Who else should arrive that night but Batman?

Planet Krypton Edit03

Classic Batman entrance.

Batman moves through the room, doing his whole World’s Greatest Detective shtick, studying the various bits of memorabilia on display in Planet Krypton. As he takes a closer look at some of the items behind glass cases, he realizes that there is something off. Many of the superhero artifacts that are on display are puzzling the Dark Knight.

Planet Krypton Edit04

Pre-Crisis there were all kinds of weird and colorful kryptonite that did everything from changing Superman’s powers to giving Supergirl’s cat, Streaky, superpowers.

“Upon examination… particularly upon handling… I find that some of the items in question evoke an inexplicable emotional sensation. The closest descriptive assignable would seem to be “nostalgia” — but as these things do not, cannot exist… nostalgia cannot possibly to that which cannot be rightfully remembered.”

Crisis did not just erase heroes from existence. It also completely removed entire adventures or plot points from the DCU. Batman doesn’t recognize his own novelty batarangs in one panel because his post-Crisis history never included such devices.

Batman’s thoughts come to a head as the ghosts arrive. And then, in my favorite moment from this silly little one-off comic, Batman comes to face the ghost of Kathy Kane.

Planet Krypton Edit05

As with Superman’s reaction to Supergirl’s death, the emotion in this moment lies in the way the face is rendered by the artist (Barry Kitson in this case). Also, note the presence of Superman’s dog Krypto in the first panel, sniffing up at Superboy.

That moment is everything. Kathy Kane never existed. Somehow, beyond all logic, across all realms of consciousness, Batman is able to make a connection. He is at once confused, surprised and upset. There is recognition, even if only a flicker. He sees his friend, the one he had known for so long, the woman who had died so many years before.

Batman whispering “Kathy…?” really hits me. Comic books can break through interesting layers in the imagination because the reader is often left to fill in some blanks. I choose to believe that the bonds of friendship stretched across the boundaries set forth by reality as we know it and Bruce got a brief chance to see someone that he did not even remember that he lost.

Of course, Batman immediately ignores this sensation and sets his sights on Rose, who was watching from the shadows. Batman explains that he knew she was there the whole time, yadda yadda yadda, and Rose questions him about his recognition of Batwoman.

Planet Krypton 018

Oh, Batman.

He writes off the encounter and insists Rose goes home. Some minor things go down. A few of the ghosts are not actually ghosts. There are a few Kingdom Come characters mixed in, and Batman is able to tell them apart from the others. Since Planet Krypton is, again, a part of the larger series known as The Kingdom, it is explained that they come from a different timeline and that their presence in this one was causing the ghosts to appear. They were merely the shadows of other realities. In The Kingdom, DC undoes a lot of what was done during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Crisis brought all realities to a singularity, The Kingdom comes along and says “JK, there are more realities again!”

The non-phantoms depart as the day begins to break, leaving Batman and Rose to stand with the remaining ghosts as their forms disippate into the morning light. Once more, Batman tells Rose to go home, he gives some advice, he does his classic Batman exit.

Before Rose leaves the restaurant, she catches the sight of one final ghost. It is herself, a Rose D’Angelo from another reality. One who made the choice to marry the rich man and still wound up working at a restaurant to support herself.

Planet Krypton Edit07

Rose’s own ghost. Aw.

Her story wrapped up, the ghosts gone for good, Rose takes Batman’s advice. She decides to go home.

A nice goodbye to an unimportant character who will probably never be seen again.

Mark Waid tells a decent story here, and Barry Kitson does a fantastic job illustrating it (I am a big fan of his work on L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89).

A story of ghosts, a story of infinite earths, a story of Supergirl and Batwoman. A story of two women who never were.

Though I have read Descartes and Nietzsche and Plato (and so on and so forth), I think I have most enjoyed my own philosophical musings about existence through the filter of comic books. Though they defy reality, they are a mirror to the human condition. A testament to the imagination. A study in connection.

What a damn essay this turned out to be. If you stuck with it, good for you. If not, well, you probably aren’t reading this sentence then. Until next time, I leave you with these parting words from Rose D’Angelo in Planet Krypton.

“But, [Batman]’s gone too. And I’m alone in a silence turned ugly. I’ll never know if the ghosts had been trying to show me something. I no longer feel their presence. They’re just fading notions in the morning light. What had he called them? ‘Reflections of realities similar to our own… though divergent.’ Worlds that might have been. Full of men with rippling muscles, women in capes and tights… and a Rose D’Angelo who gave in for her family… and changed nothing. Batman told me to be a hero to myself. For the first time in a year, I finally realize… maybe I already had been. Either way, I decide I’m a little too busy to be haunted by the past anymore. I have to get home.”

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