Your Guide to Infinite Crisis:

“Sacrifice”

We’ve looked at the first three issues of The OMAC Project. Now it’s time to look at the shocking storyline those three issues flowed into: “Sacrifice,” running through an entire month’s Superman and Wonder Woman titles.

In The OMAC Project #3 as it was first published, the final image of Clark Kent responding was accompanied by a note telling readers to read the “Sacrifice” storyline, running through July’s three core Superman titles and Wonder Woman. As the text in that panel put it, this four-issue storyline is “all building to The OMAC Project #4!”

While “Sacrifice” was solicited for publication three months before, its importance to The OMAC Project wasn’t entirely clear. What’s more, continuing a major mini-series into numerous issues of other titles was long out of fashion by the time The OMAC Project was published: DC’s weekly Millennium crossover was the high point of this practice, with each issue introducing plot threads that would run through DC’s titles that week; the next issue of Millennium would simply begin with these plot threads resolved. Such practice was widely frowned upon as abusive of fans, and both DC and Marvel came to stress that their major mini-series didn’t require reading every — or even any — crossover issue. Yet shortly after OMAC #3 was published, Greg Rucka — speaking as part of a DC panel at the San Diego Comic-Con, the U.S.’s top comic book convention — stressed that “Sacrifice” was essential reading and would change the status quo that OMAC #4 would pick up.

The crossover did make a certain amount of sense, however. WhileSuperman and Action Comics were written by other writers at the time, the two concluding titles involved in “Sacrifice” – Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman — were being written by none other than Greg Rucka. Combined with the relative unimportance of the first two chapters, this would allow Rucka further creative control over the crossover, allowing him to incorporate it more fluidly into the mini-series.

The four issues would be united in another way: all four covers, while illustrated by their respective artists, featured Superman in much the same pose on the cover’s left, flying and punching someone on the right. On Superman #219, the first chapter of the storyline, that someone would be the Superman villain Brainiac. On Action Comics #829, the second chapter, that someone would be the villainous Darkseid. On Rucka’s Adventures of Superman #642, chapter three, it would be Ruin — a villain Rucka’s Adventures of Superman had featured prominently in the preceding year. On Rucka’s Wonder Woman #219, the final chapter, it would be Wonder Woman herself. But, as the storyline itself would reveal, Brainiac, Darkseid, and Ruin played no part in the events except as hallucinations…

Superman #219
“Touch: Sacrifice, Part One”
Mark Verheiden script; Ed Benes pencils; Mariah Benes, Rob Lea, and Alex Lei inks; Ed Benes cover; cover-dated September 2005

Readers had to wait only one week for the story to continue, but the first chapter of “Sacrifice” would have the least consequence, doing little more than set up the story.

The issue opens with Lois Lane awaking to find that Clark didn’t come home last night. In her narration, she wonders about Superman’s powers of vision and how alien they make her husband. This picks up on the theme of writer Verheiden’s previous issue,Superman #218, in which Superman lets loose with his heat vision and scares people. Lois vaguely refers Clark staring at her with doubt “yesterday.”

We first see Superman as he flies to his new Amazonian Fortress of Solitude, created in Verheiden’s first issue, Superman #217. As we quickly realize, this is only one of Superman’s robotic duplicates — and he is searching for Superman. He notes that some of the crystals around the fortress are broken, presumably from some fight.

When this android finds Superman inside the fortress, Superman is staring at his bloody hands, asking “What have I done?”

Then Lois reacts to the arrival of a large figure, seen only in shadows.

With this established, the narrative jumps twenty-two hours into the past and Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen look over the damage Superman caused with his heat vision in this title’s last issue, Superman #218. Even the good-natured Jimmy Olsen seems to question Superman’s actions.

Arriving back at the office, Clark looks in on Lois — in more ways than one. When Lois’s secretary doesn’t recognize Clark, he looks through the wall and sees Brainiac standing in front of Lois, intimately touching her cheek. Knocking down the door while still in his business suit as Clark Kent, Clark finds no Brainiac in sight. He tells her he can’t believe she was talking to him, asking, “what has he done to you?” Lois doesn’t seem to know what’s going on, but her answer is ambiguous: “Clark, you’re scaring me. / He’s only trying to be your friend.” Clark hasn’t said the name Brainiac to her, so Lois could be talking about anyone — yet we didn’t see her with anyone when Clark burst in.

Taking to flight in costume, Clark carries Lois home, activating their apartment’s security system (as seen in Identity Crisis). Ranting about Brainiac, Superman never says his name. When Lois doesn’t understand what’s going on, Superman speculates that the villain’s done something to her mind — which we suspect to be backwards, given the end of The OMAC Project #3. With a tinge of the personal vendetta, Superman then flies off to find Brainiac.

This is the conversation, including him looking at her with doubt, that Lois referenced in the issue’s opening.

In the Fortress of Solitude, Superman works with his android duplicate to track down Brainiac — but the tech-based Brainiac quickly takes over Superman’s computers and admits he has messed with Lois’s mind. Taking over the android’s systems, Brainiac has the android attack Superman. In the fight, some of the crystals around the fortress are damaged.

This is the damage the android noticed in the issue’s opening sequence, yet the android clearly did not recall the fight — suggesting for close readers that what we’re reading isn’t reality. This unreality is further suggested by the rounded corners of the panels, beginning with the first shot of Superman in the fortress after he leaves Lois.

The android defeated, Brainiac gives his coordinates to Superman, who promptly flies there. Brainiac’s new base is apparently under the ocean in the Marianas Trench. As Superman enters, Brainiac reveals that he knows Superman’s civilian identity and talks about Lois. An angry Superman smashes Brainiac, but finds the villain to be nothing but another robotic duplicate. The real Brainiac then steps out and zaps Superman. As they fight, Brainiac talks about all of Superman’s secrets, discovered by looking into Lois’s mind. The villain claims that Lois and all humans are actually afraid of Superman — again playing off the theme of Superman #218.

Superman then punches a hole through the wall, hoping the water pressure will crush Brainiac. But Brainiac has a trump card: Perry White, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane — all in glass tubes. Brainiac explains that the water pressure will break the glass and kill them as well, meaning that Superman doomed them. As water fills the room, Superman talks with them while he can. Lois’s last words, before the glass breaks and she dies, is “You did this!”

An enraged Superman confronts Brainiac, who claims to have helped Superman by freeing the powerful alien from these “fail creatures.” Superman responds by explicitly forsaking his oath not to kill and begins strangling Brainiac.

A flash of white light then pulls us back into the present — at which point the rounded panel corners revert back to straight corners. We watch again as the android encounters Superman. But now, Superman quickly realizes that the blood on his hands cannot be Brainiac’s: the blood is human, while Brainiac is technological and alien.

At this point, a contingent of Justice League members arrive — including Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern John Stewart, Flash, Hawkman, and Black Canary. They look stern, and their words are anything but comforting. “You have forced the league to act,” says Martian Manhunter. “You have much to answer for,” says John Stewart. Hawkman gets the last word: “The safety of the world is at stake. / One way or another, you’re coming with us.”

It’s a dramatic conclusion to an issue that consists largely of events we know to be imagined. Essentially, this issue merely consists of Superman with blood on his hands and misremembering whose it is or how it got there — and Lois, scared by Superman’s behavior.

But perhaps that’s enough. It’s an opening issue of a crossover storyline, and it’s not meant to do more. The next chapter would provide a little more, ending in an even more shocking revelation.

Action Comics #829
“End of Identity: Sacrifice, Part 2″
Gail Simone script; John Byrne pencils; Nelson inks; Tony S. Daniel and Dexter Vines cover; cover-dated September 2005

Chapter two of “Sacrifice” was published just one week after the first chapter. Written by Villains United‘s Gail Simone, it would advance the story further than the previous issue while still largely consisting of another false memory.

The issue opens with Martian Manhunter arriving in Lois’s apartment — revealing that he was the shadowed figure who arrived in the storyline’s previous chapter. After some initial surprise and some niceties, Lois gets around to asking why he’s there. He says that he’s there to “collect data on Superman’s recent… erratic behavior,” but Lois immediately detects a lie. “You’re here to protect me,” she asserts. “From Clark.” Martian Manhunter admits it, and we see Green Lantern Alan Scott protecting Metropolis and Captain Marvel protecting the Kents’ farm, but he won’t give specifics except to say that Superman may be a terrible threat.

Back in the Amazon Fortress of Solitude, John Stewart warns Superman that the Green Lantern’s ring will attack if Superman makes a move at super-speed. Superman reacts angrily to being threatened, but Flash tries to calm everyone down. John Stewart and Hawkman defend a cautious approach, but Black Canary (who Gail Simone also writes in Birds of Prey) pleads friendship and takes Superman’s bloodied hand, calming him with a smile. She asks the more hostile others to leave while she and Flash talk with Superman alone.

It’s worth noting that Martian Manhunter’s appearance on the final page of the previous chapter seems to have been a mistake: not only is he not seen in the fortress in this issue, but his protecting Lois is clearly occurring at the same time. This is exactly the sort of error that gives these multi-author crossovers a bad name.

In any case, Superman begins to recollect again the events leading up to his hands being bloodied. This time, arriving at Lois’s office and looking through the wall, Superman sees Darkseid with his hand intimately on Lois’s chin. Instead of bursting through the door, Clark Kent is transported to the planet Apocalypse, which Darkseid rules tyrannically, via a Boom Tube — the system of teleportation used by the New Gods, including Darkseid. Godfrey, a long-standing minion of Darkseid, explains to Superman that Darkseid wants to publicly beat Superman — and has prepared a version of a boxing ring for the event.

The ring’s vaguely circular boundaries are defined by barbed wire, which is wrapped around living people bound to posts. Desaad, a Darkseid minion, explains that the only rule is that anyone leaving the ring is disqualified. Superman correctly recognizes how out-of-character this is for Darkseid, suggesting the unreality of the sequence. Superman is outfitted with somewhat alien-looking boxing gloves. Darkseid explains that, should Superman fail to fight, the implant in Lois’s brain will explode — and there’s Lois, dressed in a revealing Apocalypse outfit and cheering for Darkseid, whom she calls “my love.”

As the fighting gets underway, Desaad nicely requests that they not step on any lost eyes, adding “I’m sort of a collector.” Darkseid speculates about what to do with Superman’s body, suggesting “adoormat” or using his organs as ornaments in his “bed chamber.” Cue Lois, again cheering Darkseid.

Superman’s been feeling odd during the fight, and now he realizes why as Godfrey explains the hero’s gloves have Kryptonite in them. Knocking into the barbed wire boundary, Superman sees one of the men attached to posts screaming. Darkseid threatens Superman’s friends and family, adding that Lois will be added to his harem — and given low status therein, to boot.

Burning off his gauntlets with heat vision, Superman apparently knocks Darkseid through the floor into a lower room — though it’s hard to tell from the artwork. Freeing one of those tied with barbed wire, Superman then pulls up a portion of the ring and tosses it away. Apparently, this includes the part of the ring through which Darkseid fell — we see his head, apparently poking up out of the hole he fell through (though again the art is unclear), as Superman informs him that he’s out of the ring.

With Superman declared the winner, Darkseid summons Lois to give her back. “I’ll even pluck out the implant myself,” says Darkseid, and his hand off-panel seems to crush Lois’s skull. Holding a dead Lois, her head blocked from our view by his body, Superman decides to kill Darkseid and attacks. Finally strangling Darkseid as he remembered strangling Brainiac in the previous chapter, Superman hears Darkseid speak oddly: “Clark. / Stop.” Superman pulls back — asking, “What did you just say?” — only to be attacked by Granny Goodness, another Darkseid minion.

And then, as Superman narrates, “everything went white” — similar to the ending of the previous chapter’s version.

Back in the fortress, Black Canary and Flash observe the theme of Superman’s failure to protect his loved ones. It’s then that Black Canary points out that Superman can see DNA itself. Staring at his hands, Superman can only mutter “My God.” Flash decides they should show Superman what he’s done, and — hearing this plan via his telepathy — Martian Manhunter departs Lois’s apartment as she protests Clark’s innocence.

The penultimate page shows a goon with a knife talking on the phone with a man in a suit. The goon’s target is Lois, who has evidence against the man in the suit, and the goal is to intimidate her. Though they’d planned to cut her legs and preserve her face, the man in the suit impulsively decides to have her face cut too. As he does, he’s greeted at a party as Congressman Shephard. While this plot thread won’t be played out during “Sacrifice,” it will be followed in subsequent issues of Action Comics.

The last page occurs in the Watchtower, where Wonder Woman is present along with those seen earlier. Superman is staring down at the person whose blood was on his hands: none other than Batman, breathing through an oxygen mask, his chest and arms in bandages, the skin on his face rough as if burned.

It’s a stunning conclusion, given its obvious repercussions on the relationship between Superman and Batman. It makes sense in terms of The OMAC Project — Maxwell Lord wanted Batman dead and activated what seemed light mind control of Superman, after all. Still, it is really something indeed to make Batman bedridden and severely battered, if not near death, in the pages of the Superman titles rather the pages of the Batman titles or even The OMAC Project itself.

This very important revelation aside, the issue still doesn’t advance the plot much. As with the storyline’s first chapter, much of this issue is devoted to Superman’s false memories. And while both memories were entertaining, they’re mere illustrations of the effects of Superman’s mind control. What’s more, the law of diminishing returns applies strongly to such false memory sequences: the first is one thing, as readers must figure out the memories to be false, but with the second the mystery is lost and the reader finds himself just wanting to get on with the real story.

That having been said, the final page itself was probably worth the price of admission. And the next chapter, written by OMAC‘s Greg Rucka, would fulfill the reader’s desire to advance the story in spades.

Adventures of Superman #642
“Remembrance: Sacrifice, Part 3″
Greg Rucka script; Karl Kerschl, Derec Donovan, Cam Smith, and Sean Parsons art; Karl Kerschl cover; cover-dated September 2005

This third chapter opens with Superman hearing every nervous movement of his Justice League colleagues as he stares down at Batman’s broken body. Rucka’s imagination is in full force here, down to the sound of Batman’s broken ribs as he breathes, the hiss of his oxygen mask, and the drip of his blood transfusions. Superman can also see his fingerprint pressed into Batman’s neck and heat vision marks on Batman’s chest. Superman knows he did this, but he still can’t remember

Wonder Woman administers her Amazonian purple ray, used for healing, but can only use it in small bursts because she’s afraid of taxing his system. When Superman pleads his conscious innocence to her, she recounts how Superboy — under the control of Lex Luthor — attacked his fellow Teen Titans “not three days ago.” This is more than a dramatization of the growing distance between the two, begun in Rucka’s Adventures of Superman #636 (an issue that followed up on Identity Crisis): it’s also an important continuity note, referring to the storyline “The Insiders” (running in Teen Titans #24, The Outsiders #24, Teen Titans #25, and The Outsiders #25, in that order).

Martian Manhunter has finished preparing the Watchtower’s security recordings, and they are replayed before everyone — though without audio, which was damaged in the incident. We and the Justice League watch a holographic Batman, searching for his lost Brother I satellite as seen in OMAC #3. Superman arrives via teleportation and attacks Batman, strangling him and slamming him into a security computer. Batman stretches out his hand, activating the security system, which blasts Superman. After downing a defense robot, Superman blasts Batman with heat vision.

Wonder Woman arrives via teleportation, deflecting Superman’s heat vision with her wrist bracelets and choking him with her magic lasso. Superman knocks a hole in the Watchtower’s wall, echoing his knocking a hole in Brainiac’s underwater fortress and his uprooting of Darkseid’s ring. Forced to plug the hole to save Batman’s life from the vacuum of space, Wonder Woman allows Superman to escape.

Though the League seems to agree that Superman has been mind-controlled, the alteration to Superman’s mind seems too deep for Martian Manhunter to fix. “Are we sure we want to open this can ofworms again?” asks Flash, referring to the events of Identity Crisis. Martian Manhunter probes Superman’s mind as Diana holds his hand to comfort him.

Inside Superman’s mind, we see a confused string of false memories: Lois, in her garb on Apocalypse, in the tube Brainiac made for her; the villain Ruin threatening Lois; Batman snapping Lois’s neck; Superman fighting Batman; Superman’s various fathers watching him, a reference to his response to Maxwell Lord at the end of OMAC #3; and, finally, Maxwell Lord himself.

Just like that, the whole narrative of The OMAC Project is suddenly altered: the Justice League knows Maxwell Lord is the villain. Martian Manhunter confirms it was really Max, and the only question now is how much Max is responsible for.

But Superman’s brainwashing can’t be undone — it overrode Superman’s anti-killing ethic, a particularly deep mental barrier. Martian Manhunter fears that, if he went about reprogramming Superman telepathically, Superman would go mad. John Stewart suggests calling Zatanna to fix Superman’s mind with a magical spell, but Flash, Black Canary, and Hawkman all instantly respond, “Absolutely not.” “Something you folks ought to tell me?” asks John Stewart, unaware of the mindwiping revealed in Identity Crisis.

Out of options, the League decides to place Superman in the transporter, keeping his molecules eternally teleporting without materializing — an idea they previously attempted with Doomsday, the nearly unstoppable Superman foe. It would basically put Superman out of action until the League can track down Max and come up with a more permanent fix. It’s a desperate move.

But Superman wonders who else Max is controlling — up to and including “everyone in this room.” As Wonder Woman takes a muttering Batman away via teleporter, Superman thinks she’ll be mind-controlled next. It’s then that Superman begins hearing his teammates speaking conspiratorially, as if they’re tricking him. Maxwell Lord appears on a computer screen, as if controlling them. John Stewart wants to get the Kryptonite kept in the Batcave, as if they’re planning on killing Superman. It’s then that Superman realizes “it’s not me he’s controlling… / …it’s them.” It’s a masterful look into Superman’s delusional mind.

And he attacks, as seen on pages with Maxwell Lord in the background. superman tosses Martian Manhunter into the teleportation loop instead. Imprisoned within a green box by Green Lantern John Stewart, Superman breaks it and sends Stewart flying through the wall into space. As Flash deals with the sudden vacuum, Superman flies off to scan the Earth for Max.

The League is recovering when Wonder Woman teleports back, having dropped off Batman. They’re still trying to get Martian Manhunter out of his teleportation loop, and others are unconscious. But, using Oracle, they know Superman’s flying down to Earth in Switzerland. Wonder Woman reveals that Batman gave her his Kryptonite before she left him in the Batcave. She intends to follow Superman to Switzerland, but Flash warns her against Max’s mind-control. Driven, she dematerializes in the teleporter, hoping her magic lasso’s ability to see the truth will protect her.

As if the narrative of The OMAC Project hasn’t yet been affected enough, Wonder Woman crashes into Checkmate’s Switzerland headquarters, previously seen only in the mini-series itself. Confronting Maxwell Lord, Superman surprises her from behind, grabbing her and forcing her to her knees. His nose bleeding, Maxwell Lord stands over her. His are the final words of the issue: “Are you ready to kneel before the Lord?”

If I haven’t made it clear enough yet, this is a stunning issue. If the previous chapter’s revelation of a battered Batman was powerful, if not utterly surprising, this issue overwhelms that utterly. So much so that it changes the status quo of The OMAC Project more than all three previous issues of that mini-series combined.

After all, the League now knows Maxwell Lord was controlling Superman and suspects that Lord was behind Brother I and the OMACs as well. They further have located Checkmate’s headquarters, which Wonder Woman has already attacked. What’s more, the issue sets up a not-to-be-missed conclusion with Maxwell Lord, Checkmate, Superman, and Wonder Woman all at stake.

On what is perhaps a deeper level, the distrust between DC’s heroes worsens further — and does so in a way nicely tied not only to Identity Crisis but to Superboy’s rampage in Teen Titans. It’s hard to imagine the relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman, much less Superman and Batman, easily going back to comfortable after this.

The surprises in this issue even extend to its cover, which features Superman battling Ruin exactly as past covers in the storyline showed Superman battling Brainiac or Darkseid. This would seem to suggest that the issue would feature another false memory sequence, this one featuring Ruin, who Rucka often featured during his run on Adventures of Superman. But while Superman does remember Ruin among other possibilities, what we get in this issue is anything but an issue dominated by another false memory sequence. What we get is something that not only deeply affects The OMAC Project but affects the DC Universe as a whole.

And it’s this element — the staggering implications of this issue — that make this chapter so riveting, page by page.

Both the final issue of “Sacrifice” – Wonder Woman #219 — and OMAC #4 are scheduled to ship this week, hitting stores on Wednesday, 27 July 2005.

Read the Rest

This article continues here.

“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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