Walks Among Us
Secret Invasion/Final Crisis, IncogNegro, Spider-Man 2099
Can you hear it?
There is rumbling in the sky. Dogs howl. Parakeets swear. Two titans battle, and
the winner will determine . . .
Uh . . .
Well, he'll determine something.
In a move that is in no way related to marketing, Marvel and DC have launched
their summer crossovers. Last year you may remember, oh fearless one, this
column was brave enough to stand in the way of World War Hulk. This year,
undaunted by the task and having drunk enough Coke to revive a dead man, I stand
between the competing opening rounds of Final Crisis and Secret Invasion.
Both boil pots o' plots that have been simmering throughout the main DC and
Marvel titles for the last few years. DC's got the death of the New Gods and
subsequent relocation of Darkseid to Earth where he's sowing nastiness, not to
mention problems with the newly-restored DC Multiverse. Marvel has the
infiltration of shape-shifting Skrulls who are responsible for a lot of the weirdness
that has gone on in the Marvel Universe for the last few years.
Both stories can be understood, if you're a hardy soul, without reading the tie-ins
and lead-ups to them. In the case of Secret Invasion, I read the tie-ins, and in the
case of Final Crisis, I haven't. That makes Final Crisis a little harder, but I spent
all my other money on other comics, so no way am I a-spendin' more. Nuh-uh.
Final Crisis is written by Grant Morrison, well known for his runs on Justice
League and X-Men, and also for testifying publicly of his abduction by aliens.
Seriously. And Final Crisis, like all Morrison's work, is so amazingly ambitious
that you start to think this guy really has been to the fifth dimension. He's not just
threatening a world, he's threatening every Earth, everywhere. In the first issue of
Final Crisis, a god is found dead in a dumpster. Orion's corpse, previously a New
God, heralds the subtle invasion of the bad New Gods, including Darkseid, who is
masquerading as a human in order to turn children into Anti-Life zombies, and is
possibly connected to the murder of the Martian Manhunter by a new contingent of
super-villains, not to mention the corruption of a group of Green Lantern corps.
Also there's the casting out of one Multiverse guardian by the others into the realm
of humans. By the second issue you will have been woven a dizzying skein of plot
threads, a prismatic onion that you have to peel apart to see its full brilliance.
(There's a multiverse somewhere where that simile makes sense.)
J.G. Jones's art is nice when it gets room to breathe, as in the first issue when the
New God Metron appears to a caveman. He also manages to be one of the few
artists who can keep up with Morrison's landscapes -- see his rendering of the
Guardians, heads of the Green Lantern Corps, and of the pillar of Earths held by
those who watch over the Multiverse. Sometimes the typically Morrisonian
exposition crowds his art, which is a shame. The gorgeous colors by Alex Sinclair
Secret Invasion is written by Brian Michael Bendis, who started on crime comics
like Jinx and Torso, then progressed to marathon runs on Daredevil and Ultimate
Spider-Man. He is also known for loudly swearing at his fans. In contrast to Final
Crisis's approach, the first issue of Invasion is a bang that rides its own
shockwaves, as the Skrulls strike from various different disguises. They blow the
Fantastic Four's headquarters into another dimension, send a full fleet to attack the
earth, and infect Iron Man's entire worldwide network with a massive computer
virus. And then there's the downed Skrull ship that opens to reveal a host of
Marvel heroes who may or may not be the real thing.
While the first issue sets an amazing standard, the dumb slugfestery of the next two
doesn't really match up, although there is a nice moment as Hawkeye discovers
that the woman claiming to be his long-dead wife is not a Skrull at all, but his
actual wife. Still, all the world seemed ready to go to hell in the first issue, with the
Negative Zone portal expanding from the Fantastic Four's headquarters and the
S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier about to fall on New York. In the next two, the portal has
somehow stopped growing and the helicarrier has actually landed far out on the
Atlantic Ocean, and the Skrull fleet around the earth discharges a bunch of super-powered Skrulls into a giant fight with the superheroes of New York, rather than
oh, say, nuking Earth.
It's almost as if the story decided to tone itself down into a big slugfest instead of
the massive madness it promised. Although Leniel Francis Yu's art (previously
reviewed in Superman: Birthright) is at a new height. One of the greatest shots in a
comic, ever, is the appearance of a Skrull fleet in the wreckage of the world's
satellites. Looming insectile ships swarm into the distance.
With Final Crisis, one gets the sense that everything is building slowly, even if it
occasionally seems to be written in Greek. With Secret Invasion, much of the bang
seems to be leaking away after the first issue. Monthly updates on the crossover
madness to come! Who dares? I do.
I've gotten really into the seamier side of American history lately, as I had a
chance to teach James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me, a book that anyone
who went through high school history classes must read. You will be amazed at the
things you unlearn.
For example, the book minutely details the viciousness of Southern resistance to
Reconstruction. In contrast to the Gone With the Wind image of corrupt
carpetbaggers, Lies exposes Southern vigilantism, to the point where lynchings
became community activities and Klan membership was considered a mark of
respectability. Typically, the men and women of the town would string up a black
man or occasionally a white Northerner who worked for desegregation, castrate
them, burn them, and take a group photo with the dead men, so unafraid were they
of justice. Saddest of all, it worked. This practice became so common that, like the
death of soldiers in Iraq, it was often relegated to back-page news unless something
In Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece's IncogNegro, a Harlem-based black man who
looks white has made it his job to make these lynchings news. Passing as a
photographer, a Klansman, and generally risking his life every second of every
day, Zane Pinchback gets photos of lynchings and the people involved on the front
page of newspapers across the North, using the nom de plume of IncogNegro and
bringing a personal and dangerous aspect to the stories.
How does he not get killed? In the first part, it's attributed to luck as he jumps the
tracks just before a train that cuts him off from a mob. It's also helped by his
immense confidence in his role, playing the powerful Klansman to the hilt. He has
learned all the bywords: "Arak?" for "Are you a Klansman?" and "Akia" for "A
Klansman I am," and is not afraid to declare himself a high-up Klansman in order
to save a black man's life by "kicking him out of town" rather than letting him be
strung up. He relies on ignorance, telling a local black man who has figured him
out that, "White folks see what they want to see." "That's what makes them so
dangerous," the local replies.
After one-too-many escapes, Zane is tired of risking his life for the front page. He
attempts to retire until his editor tells him that his brother has been thrown in a
southern jail for killing a white woman, and is entirely likely to swing on a rope as
his only form of trial. Zane goes IncogNegro one last time, accompanied by a
friend who seeks to be his replacement. Zane finds out that his brother didn't kill
the white woman, but someone did, and has framed his brother for it. He has to
solve the crime before the mob outside the jail grows too restless, before someone
sees through his identity, and before the actual high-level Klansman hunts him
Mat Johnson, who really has lived a biracial life, produces a beautiful mystery in a
brilliantly unique setting and time period that carefully uses the brutality of the
time. Warren Pleece's art sets the mood, his settings and interactions shifting
between southern-style-laid-back and creeping horror. A knotted rope threatens
Zane, his brother and his would-be successor, and not all of them escape it. Best of
all, unlike a lot of Vertigo's deliberately provocative work, IncogNegro is never
gratuitous. That's what makes the violence of the lynchings all the more horrific in
the sleepy Southern setting.
This is a comic that matters. You can approach it as social commentary or as a
damn good mystery, but there's no way that you won't recognize it as both while
reading it, and be shocked, moved, and damned satisfied by the end.
This last review, dear readers, is pure indulgence. I sold off most of my old comics
in college, mostly for the purpose of not having to move them around, but also to
get rid of some truly fetid stories, like those crappy Image comics filled with
scantily clad big-haired women with bodies segmented like ants and permanent
tiptoes. Do an image search for "40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings" to see what I
For some reason, the other day I found I had kept some Spider-Man 2099 comics.
A future version of Spider-Man. With fangs. And he has a skull on his chest. When
I found it in a box I had to take a look and figure out why I kept it. After the first
read, I knew I must have the rest.
I had to resort to the Stone Age process of searching through back issues at my
local shops to complete my run. If you've never done this, it's an obsolete, stinky,
vision-deteriorating process designed to test your devotion to comics.
The comic was written by Peter David, one of the only decent writers at Marvel at
the time who wasn't being stretched to write every title available. The gorgeously
minimalist, dynamic art of Rick Leonardi and Al Williamson made the title even
better. Though the setting was a fairly standard mix of urban Blade Runner and
rural Mad Max, the writing and art transcended the potential awfulness into
In another seeming cliché, Spider-Man 2099 was the victim of a genetic
experiment gone wrong. Yeah, that's pretty standard. But he was trying to rewrite
his DNA after his boss got him addicted to a DNA-bonding company drug in order
to ensure employee loyalty. (In 2099, there is no government save corporations,
and no behavior is illegal if it's in the name of business.)
Due to some tampering with the equipment, he accidentally got imprinted with an
attempt to recreate Spider-Man's powers. It included lot of the nastier spidery stuff
-- venom and fangs and these tiny little hook talons on his forearms that he could
use to climb and slash bad guys into Julienne fries. Much better than the vague
suction thing that Peter Parker uses. And he got the first instance I know of with
organic webshooters gooping out his arm, ten years before the Sam Raimi movie
used the idea.
(As a matter of fact, I think Spidey 2099's powers were probably the inspiration for
that terrible terrible story "The Other" that came out a few years ago, in which
Peter Parker gained a whole bunch of new powers that were promptly never
mentioned again. Peter was much too nice for fangs and talons.)
The corporation tried to discover the secret of Spider-Man, never guessing he was
one of their higher-ups now aware of how corrupt his job was. Peter David is not
just good at transcending clichés -- he made Spidey 2099's alter ego, Miguel
O'Hara, part of a great family dynamic. Miguel was the sarcastic, callous and
corrupt member of the family, working in the high levels of an evil corporation.
His brother and mother were always trying to convince him of his evil ways.
Ironically, he became Spider-Man and spent his time fighting the corporation that
made him, having seen their corruption from the inside out. One of the best
moments in the series is when his mother yells, "You'll never be a man with true
courage! Not like Spider-Man!" Miguel yells back, "Mom, I am Spider-Man!" His
mother looks at him for a moment, and breaks into guffaws. "Look!" he yells. "I've
got talons and fangs and everything . . ." She keeps laughing, and finally says, "Oh,
honey. It's nice that you want me to like you that much that you would pretend to
The funniest moments are the jabs at the original Spider-Man. When Miguel's
brother Gabriel, who knows the secret of Miguel identity, says, "With great power
comes great responsibility," Miguel responds, "You read too many fortune
cookies." Later on he modifies the motto into "With great power comes great
Were this the early 90s, I would encourage a letter-writing campaign and a march
down Main Street to reprint Spidey 2099, who still pops up in the Marvel books
every once in a while (most recently in Exiles, with some of his old villains making
an appearance in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man). Since we have moved to
the Cyber Age, people should just blog it. And IncogNegro. Though Secret
Invasion and Final Crisis probably don't need the help.
Next issue: Hellboy. Wanted. The Dark Knight. Before they were movies, they
were comics. Are they caterpillars to the movie's butterflies, or fresh sweet corn to
weird high fructose corn syrup? Join us as we squeeze between the enclosing walls
of Hollywood and comicdom.
Read more by Spencer Ellsworth