Action Comics #897 came out this week, sporting a rather maniacal looking Lex on the cover. That means we are 8 books in with 3 books left of this Luthor-centric arc by Paul Cornell and Pete Woods. Will this story be able to be wrapped up in that short period of time, even if Action Comics #900 is double-sized? Unlike how I felt with World of New Krypton, I think the answer is yes. Paul Cornell is moving things along here, revealing more and more clues about what is behind the scenes.
As for me, I love mysteries like this in comics. Who is behind the presence of these globes? Who is pulling Luthor's strings? Are we really reading a long arc where Luthor basically isn't in total control of his faculties? And with all my issues of not having decent Superman stories right now, how wild is it that I am liking this sans Superman story??
In particular, this issue really crackles. Unlike interactions with Grodd and Deathstroke, there is something special about Luthor interacting with the Joker. They really represent the opposite ends of the spectrum ... order and chaos, fascism and anarchy. Much like their arch-nemeses, I don't think these guys would be easy pals. Cornell captures that as we see each character reveal what they think of the universe, what they want in the world.
And Pete Woods is doing such tremendous work here. I think it is his best stuff to date.
Last issue we learned Loisbot working for someone else. My guess, giving the origin of her technology, is that she is a servant of Brainiac. But now that we know she might be leading Lex down someone else's desired path, it makes me question everything she has done so far. Now that we know that, Cornell doesn't necessarily need to be coy.
It turns out that Spalding has discovered that the articles which Lex downloaded in the 'isopod' way back in Action Comics #890, the articles which spurred him to start this black energy quest, may have been planted. All that information may have been the bait to get Lex to go out and harvest this energy for someone else.
And Lois seems all to eager to quash that reveal. She doesn't want Lex to question what he is doing ... why he is doing it. She wants him to continue down this path. I have said it before, I have come to like the LoisBot. She is funny and has the best wardrobe. I hope she isn't simply the pawn of a Brainiac.
The latest globe has manifested in Arkham Asylum with the Joker. This no longer seems like arbitrary concentrations of energy. These have been placed.
Somehow Lex has arranged a meeting of the minds. Surprisingly, the Joker seems to be ready and waiting, having set up two jelly jars on the table.
As they start their discussion, Joker plays a sweet and subtle joke on Lex. Joker says he just wants to kill Batman, that that will save the world. Of course, that mirrors Lex's feelings about Superman. It takes Lex a second to realize he is being teased.
Luthor's reaction is definitely not your typical Lex. He throttles the Joker, Loisbot backing him up with her weaponry. After being hit, he tells Lex through grit teeth that he boiled a baby and made the father drink the soup. Creepy. Cornell really does a great job writing the Joker, moving back and forth between intense anger and lunacy.
Finally he makes Lex pick a jelly jar so he can reveal what is contained. The jar Lex picks has a My Little Pony in it, described by the Joker as a magical singing pony, echoing something Lex told Death in their conversation a few issues back. How could the Joker know that?
I love ... and I mean LOVE ... that the Joker calls it a camp version of Blade Runner. I love Blade Runner. A reference to the famous unicorn scene! Just perfect.
Under the opposite jar is the black energy globe, this one remarkably smaller than the prior ones.
The Joker reveals that he has some control over the globe, able to touch it and shrink it. That is something Lex has not done. We have seen what happens to people in the vicinity of these globes. They go mad, lashing out violently. How interesting that the Joker can interact with it so intimately.
The Joker does not want Lex to analyze the globe and transmute it to white energy.
In a rare moment where you can look deeper into his psyche, the Joker says that what he really wants is for there to be order in the universe, so that what people do matters in some way. I wasn't sure if we were going to see him fall over laughing in the next panel, a sign that the Joker was just shining us on again. But Cornell plays it straight. This is the Joker. It is him almost praying that he is wrong about things; it is him pleading that he hopes the antithesis of what he believes is the underlying power in the universe. In some ways it reminded me that in Blackest Night Luthor admitted he wanted to be Superman.
I also like the cross-hatching behind the Joker. At first it seems chaotic, overlying scratch marks. But then it also seems orderly, straight lines crisscrossing. And then it seems like both, an ordered pattern laid on top of itself so many times that it becomes chaotic. It has the feeling of a fractal. I thought it worked well with this panel, the duality of Joker's speech.
Giving us some more exposition, the Joker says that the globe simply appeared to him one day, probably because he is such an archetypal personality. The globe was attracted to him. And because it sought him out, he is immune to its influences.
Looking back, are the other villains we have seen archetypes like the Joker? Certainly Grodd and Vandal Savage are big personalities. Is that some sort of hint?
Moreover, the globe is a portal of some sort. With the globe, the Joker can hear all conversations. That's how he knew about the Lex and Death dialogue. Again, Cornell has a nice grasp of the Joker. When discussing Death, he says she is a tease because she 'ignores all the gifts' he sends, all the people he has killed. Fantastic!
But the Joker knows that the whispers are a minor attribute of the globe. The Joker knows there is a power behind the globes.
LoisBot again tries to deflect any new information from Lex. Lex doesn't know that someone or something is manipulating him, doing these things to him. And Lois doesn't want him to know. She says that the Joker is trying to confuse Lex with his rantings.
I keep waiting for Luthor to finally sort of snap out of it. The way he is acting, the things he is doing is so out of character sometimes. I keep waiting for a panel where he says 'what am I doing' even if it is only for a moment.
The Joker agrees to give Lex the globe if he increases it in size first. At its normal size and power, the Joker can use it to leave Arkham.
Spalding feeds the globe power and it grows to fill the room. The Joker tries to slip out but whatever he saw in that globe was too horrifying, the future too terrible, to want to be out there. A vision that is scary enough to spook the Joker? I don't know if I want to see it. And neither does he.
The Joker begs Spalding to analyze the globe, stopping what he saw, and change it to white energy.
Shaking Lex, Joker implores him not to force a cataclysmic joke on the universe. Whatever future he saw, Lex is at the center of it.
The last time I heard of some plot being called a big joke was the Commedian referencing Ozymandias' plans to lay waste to New York City.
What could the Joker have seen?
Who is behind all this?
Lex leaves, the white globe now under his control.
When Spalding says he is going to have to reveal those planted articles to Luthor, LoisBot shoves him into the energy globe, killing him. Almost immediately afterward, she seems to show remorse. I am telling you now ... LoisBot has become a bit human. She loves Lex. I guarantee you that at some point she is going to go against her programming, disobey whoever her 'master' is, and save Lex.
Amazingly, the Joker takes credit for killing Spalding, leaving Lois appearing pure as the driven snow.
The issue ends with Larfleeze in Las Vegas demanding to see Lex.
So we continue to learn more about this cosmic chessboard where Lex is simply a game piece. I still think that Brainiac is on one side of the board, the LoisBot his tool. But who is Mister Mind working for. I still think it's Darkseid. I don't think Sivana or Mxyzptlk fit the bill anymore.
But the high point of this issue was Lex and the Joker playing off each other. Cornell definitely has a feel for both characters. In particular, his Joker was spot on, scary, loony, and sad.
Pete Woods continues to shine in this book. His Joker is frightening and goofy. And he has the right body type. I hate the emaciated look for the Joker.
Can you imagine a Brainiac, Darkseid, Luthor, and Superman throwdown in Action Comics #900? I think I am aiming too high.