Your Guide to Infinite Crisis:

“Crisis of Conscience” Epilogue

Adventures of Superman #644 offers an epilogue to “Crisis of Conscience,” which also ties to other narrative threads and leads into Infinite Crisis #1.

The issue occurs following JLA #119′s epilogue, in which Zatanna once again mindwipes The Secret Society, but before the final pages of “Crisis of Conscience,” in which the Watchtower is destroyed.

Adventures of Superman #644
“Blame and Remorse”
Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, & Christina Weir story; Darryl Banks, Karl Kerschl, & Adam DeKraker pencils; Wayne Faucher, Cam Smith, & Robin Riggs inks; Karl Kerschl cover; cover-dated November 2005

This story begins and ends with pages connected to Rucka’s ongoing storylines. In between these pages, however, is a “Crisis of Conscience” tie-in story that not only features Zatanna in the wake of that story but also increases the scope of her mindwipes.

The issue begins in the Metropolis Police headquarters in Metropolis Tower. After chatting with her friends on the force, Lieutenant Lupe Leocadio, who writer Greg Rucka introduced as the new leader of Metropolis’s Special Crimes Unit (SCU), enters her office and finds Superman hovering outside the window. Superman enters through the window and grabs her badge where it sits on her desk. “I know what you did to Pete Ross,” Superman says. Superman crumples the badge, saying that she doesn’t “deserve to wear it.” And he departs, his mission apparently solely to intimidate her.

A bit of background is necessary here. Pete Ross, Superman’s childhood friend, married Lana Lang, who long held a candle for Clark Kent. Ross was later elected Vice-President under Lex Luthor. When Luthor was unmasked as a villain, Ross assumed the Presidency. He declined to run for re-election and, after leaving office, was faced with his wife filing for divorce because she had realized that she’d never lost her love for Clark. Meanwhile, Superman had been repeatedly menaced by a teleporting villain named Ruin. In Rucka’s Adventures of Superman #640, Superman beat Ruin and unmasked him — revealing him as none other than Pete Ross. In the next issue (which also saw Superman’s second encounter with an OMAC and is therefore discussed there), Superman visited Pete Ross in a super-human prison and became convinced of Ross’s innocence. Lupe Leocadio has been interrogating Ross and other prisoners there.

“Sacrifice” intervened, but with this issue Rucka begins to return to the storyline, which has stretched more or less for the year and a half during which Rucka had served as writer on Adventures of Superman.

As the issue continues, the scene shifts to the Daily Planet building, where Clark Kent is arguing for Pete Ross’s innocence with another staffer. Jimmy Olsen and his girlfriend Jerry enter, and they briefly talk with Clark. Editor Perry White intervenes, spurring Jimmy to move along — and Clark to continue his discussion about Pete Ross.

It’s a discussion that Clark continues at home with Lois Lane. She thinks it’s possible that Pete is Ruin, but Clark is adamant. She seems intent on investigating her own shooting while on assignment in Min-Hara, a parallel to the U.S. war in Iraq at the time.

The discussion recalls Wonder Woman’s killing of Maxwell Lord during the “Sacrifice” storyline. It’s clear that the killing hasn’t been broadcast to the world yet, as it was at the end of The OMAC Project. Superman relates his faith in Pete to Wonder Woman, who’s killed, and to Batman, who’s been revealed to have built a spy satellite that was corrupted. “It’s all coming apart,” Superman says. “I just need to know some people are who I thought they were.”

Lois takes a moment, considering whether she wants to say what she’s thinking. Then she does, and it’s a doozy: “Clark, Diana was right.”

In an instant, Clark and Lois are having a fight. A wide panel, with each one at either end emphasizes the distance between them. But Clark sits on the bed and Lois holds him. Her words recall Superman’s recent loss of control, and he imagines strangling Batman. Clark worries that Max still has some hold over him. Lois encourages Clark to have J’onn check him out, but Clark says he knows the Martian can’t find any traces of Max’s control that might remain. But, he says, he knows “someone who can.”

It’s at this point that this becomes a “Crisis of Conscience” tie-in. Because the person Clark means is none other than Zatanna.

Zatanna’s busy having stage fright, however. She’s supposed to perform her tricks live before an audience, her regular gig, but she’s backstage in her dressing room, burned out on magic.

Superman flies in through the window, and he’s immediately moralistic. Zatanna mentions the Spectre’s anti-magic rampage, as seen in Day of Vengeance, a fact not touched upon despite the use of magic in “Crisis of Conscience.” She refers to her recent mindwiping of The Secret Society (in the pages of JLA #119) as happening just “the other day.” She says she can’t do it again, however, and we can see the toll it’s taken on her to have taken up the burden of erasing The Secret Society’s threat to all of their loved ones.

It’s a tense conversation, but Superman gets to the point of asking her to probe for any traces of Max’s mind-control. She refuses, sick of meddling with minds. She gets up to leave, apparently inspired to do her show.

But the insistent Superman continues, now asking if she ever messed with the mind of one of his enemies. Alluding to Ruin, who knows Superman’s identity, Superman says that he needs to know because someone’s out to get him. And he points out, a bit more humbly now, that villains have been regaining their memories, hell-bent on revenge. Though he suspects Luthor, he feels the need to rule out possibilities.

“The Toyman,” she says curtly, referring to one of Superman’s most longstanding B-list villains. Superman asks if she could use her magic to locate him now.

We don’t wait for the answer, instead cutting to the Winslow Schott, the former Toyman. He’s passing out toys to some excited kids, apparently at a hospital. When one reminds him of his time in prison, he happily implies that Superman let him go so as to help make children happy.

Elsewhere in Metropolis, Superman’s flying Zatanna around. He asks why she altered him, and she says that she did so after he had murdered some children. “You were so upset,” she says. “You knew one of those kids, and you couldn’t understand how someone so harmless had gone so insane.” She merely tried to make him harmless again, and Superman says it may have worked, since he’s been quiet for some time.

Zatanna’s referring to a story that was run not long after Superman returned from the dead. At the time, eager to make Superman more edgy, the writers upped the formerly fairly prosaic Superman titles’ body counts. The Toyman story was a prime example, as the gimmicky but harmless villain was suddenly shown as a vicious child-killer. One victim was the son of “Cat” Grant, Superman’s friend. All this happened in Superman (second series) #84 (cover-dated December 1993).

Any hope that Zatanna’s spell worked, however, vaporizes as Superman and Zatanna enter the room where Toyman is keeping a bunch of boys in a cage. We now realize that the earlier images of Toyman helping children were merely Toyman’s imagination, as panels showing his point-of-view are intercut with objective ones showing Toyman with the incarcerated children. Toyman’s speech, however, is entirely innocent: he has no idea that he’s menacing the children.

In fact, in his vision, Superman is menacing the children who in reality he’s freeing. Toyman thus calls for the guards. What to Toyman are normal hospital guards are in reality large toy robots who blast Superman. When Zatanna intervenes, Toyman tosses a yo-yo at her that wraps a ribbon around her and electrocutes her. When Toyman begins to claim that Superman had him released from prison, Superman corrects the villain, saying he broke out. Superman tears apart the robot guards and frees Zatanna, who casts a spell undoing her previous one.

In a moment, Toyman’s reality splinters on the page. Believing that he loves to make children happy, he cannot believe the truth.

As Superman battles robot teddy bears and the like, Zatanna briefly passes out, apparently from the exertion her spell required. As a robot teddy bear pulls Superman through the wall, a revived Zatanna apologizes to Toyman, pulls the children close, and teleports them outside. As Superman knocks the robot bear’s head off, he looks back to see the building collapse — apparently with Winslow Schott still inside.

Later, with no sign of Schott and the children sent away in ambulances, Superman talks with Zatanna. He tells her to forgive herself, but she can’t. In true boy scout fashion, he touches her chin and says, “Then I’ll do it for you.”

Thus ends the “Crisis of Conscience” aftermath portion of the issue.

On the last page, we see the female Parasite, introduced by Rucka and last seen escaping during an OMAC attack in Adventures of Superman #641. She’s in the Metropolis sewers, surviving off the life energy of rats. But she’s interrupted by Lex Luthor, wearing his combat armor and accompanied by his assistant, Mercy.

In Villains United #6, it was revealed that Lex Luthor the businessman, who has been running the Society, wasn’t the real Lex Luthor. While his real identity had not been revealed, that issue also featured a man who is apparently the real Luthor — still wearing his armored combat suit, first introduced in the present continuity in the opening storyline of Superman / Batman, during which he lost the Presidency.

The results of this last page would be shown in the next issue, which not only featured Luthor and Ruin but also the appearances of numerous OMACs.

This issue, however, has enough to recommend it. It follows up on the characterization of Zatanna in “Crisis of Conscience,” further expanding the interior space granted her there. With Toyman, we expand the scope of Zatanna’s mindwipes much as the issues of Geoff Johns’s Flash that crossed over with Infinite Crisis did with the Flash villain The Top.

If there’s one relevant complaint here, it’s that the title’s running storylines interject upon the main story. Still, these scenes are equally fine, particularly how Lois defends Wonder Woman’s killing of Maxwell Lord. Clark’s faith in Pete Ross also dovetails nicely with his lost faith in Wonder Woman, Batman, and ultimately himself — thus connecting the events of “Sacrifice” and The OMAC Project nicely with the running events of Adventures of Superman.

All of which, of course, is no small feat.

Read the Rest

“Your Guide to Infinite Crisis” attempts to spell out and outline the whole of this sprawling, complicated crossover. It has several other installments, organized by the narrative thread under discussion:

The OMAC Project

Day of Vengeance

Villains United

The Rann-Thanagar War

The Return of Donna Troy

Crisis of Conscience

PowerTrip

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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