Your Guide to Infinite Crisis:

“Sacrifice” Concludes

It’s time to update our look at “Sacrifice,” the storyline that spun out of The OMAC Project. Specifically, it’s time to look at the end of that storyline…

But before we continue, it’s fair to note that this article, as always, contains spoilers. If you haven’t read “Sacrifice” (or the presently upcoming TP of The OMAC Project, in which “Sacrifice” will be reprinted), and if you haven’t already heard what happens, save yourself the surprise and don’t read this article yet.

If you continue, it’s at your own risk.

But you knew that, didn’t you?

Wonder Woman #219
“Sacrifice Part 4 of 4″
Greg Rucka script; Rags Morales, David Lopez, Tom Derenick, George Jeanty, & Karl Kerschl pencils; Mark Propst, Bit, Dexter Vines, Bob Petrecca, & Nelson inks; J. G. Jones cover [Landrönn cover on second printing]; cover-dated September 2005

If the third chapter of “Sacrifice” was a stunner, the final chapter would blow readers away. This was a tie-in storyline: it wasn’t supposed to change anything. Instead, it would split The OMAC Project in half — both literally and figuratively. More than this, it would have lasting implications for the DC Universe and set the stage for Infinite Crisis.

The issue begins with Wonder Woman on her knees. If we had any question as to whether we were reading sexuality into the situation at the end of the last chapter, Max points out that she looks good in this position.

We don’t get a sex scene, however. Max can’t control Wonder Woman because, as she expresses, she has a god’s sight and wisdom. The failure of his powers doesn’t surprise him, but it’s necessary to allow what will come next.

Superman no sooner releases Wonder Woman than he starts to hallucinate. As Max reveals, Superman is seeing Doomsday murdering Lois.

So why doesn’t Wonder Woman just knock Max unconscious? Because, as he argues, he’d eventually wake up — and he’d still control Superman, so great has been his years of integrating his control into Superman’s mind. “As long as I live,” Max says, “Superman’s mind is mine to control.”

Max confesses to stealing Brother I and killing Blue Beetle, but Wonder Woman’s already getting Max to explain himself. She’s a master at peaceful negotiations, but she won’t get the chance. Superman, his mind controlled by Max, attacks Wonder Woman, tearing her up into the sky by the throat.

He thinks she’s Doomsday. He thinks she’s killed Lois.

It looks like we’re going to see a repeat of Superman battering Batman. As Superman rips Wonder Woman upwards, windows explode from the sonic boom. As Wonder Woman narrates, “The world recedes. / He’s taking me to the sun. / And he’s going to throw me into it.” His heat vision carves a line across her cheek as he screams at her in anger. She fights back, remembering the Kryptonite Batman gave her. As they near the sun, she pushes her hands into his eyes, deflecting his heat vision in must be a painful maneuver. She gets out the Kyptonite, but he delivers a punch, sending her flying back to Earth as the Kyptonite drifts aimlessly away.

The trajectory of her return to Earth is improbable — at least, unless Superman intended it, though that’s unlikely given that he thinks her Doomsday. It’s clear that she’s not steering toward Earth: she blacks out from the punch; it’s the heat of reentry that revives her. But we’re inclined to forgive the narrative implausibility. It’s a hard thing to depict this sort of fight, and with all the good in this issue, it’s easy to be forgiving.

Wonder Woman comes crashing to the Earth, slamming into a highway and sending cars flying from the impact. A double-page spread showing the crater and devastation is juxtaposed to her narrative prayer: she begs the gods that this be someplace deserted.

Max Lord is watching. In fact, Brother I was able not only to track them to the sun but display an image of them fighting by it — so great, apparently, is the extent of the computer’s spying ability. Now, Max is watching Wonder Woman’s impact. The computer tells him and us that it’s outside ofRock Springs, Wyoming. “This is what happens when the gods fight,” he observes. And he explains his motivations, telling Brother I and us about his quest to regain control of the mankind’s destiny from the hands of such dangerous super-powered individuals.

Superman arrives at the crater where Wonder Woman lies at the bottom. He can’t hear or understand her, and she knows he won’t stop until she’s dead. He hits her with freezing breath, then picks up a rock, but she’s gone. Behind him, she slams her bracelets into his super-powered ears, sending him reeling from the incredible sound. She knocks him down but can’t get her magic lasso around him to make him see the truth. They fight close, and she screams in pain as he snaps her wrist.

It’s then that she realizes that she has to focus on Max instead of Superman. She kicks him away and uses her new powers to summon a great flock of birds to distract him. When he’s cleared the birds away, she’s gone.

Slightly less than two minutes have passed since they started fighting, as Max observes. He also improbably observes that it looks like no one died in her crash to Earth. Again, the improbability doesn’t matter much: the fact that the devastating fight has taken only two minutes only reinforces the high drama.

Wonder Woman arrives and quickly lassoes Max. Under its truth-imposing influence, he asserts that the fight will only end when one of the two heroes is dead. Superman’s already arriving himself. She removes and tosses her tiara, slicing Superman’s neck. As he grips the bloody wound, Max listens to her and releases his control over Superman. He stands there in deep shock, his hand and chin dripping blood. With the lasso still around Max, he asserts again that he’ll control Superman again the moment the lasso comes off, “and the next time he’ll kill Batman… or Lois… or you.” Wonder Woman asks how to free Superman, and Max, compelled by the lasso, gives the only honest answer: “Kill me.”

She looks sternly into his eyes, reaches to his head, and twists, breaking his neck.

The issue ends there, with a cold Wonder Woman and a shocked Superman standing over Max’s body, its neck twisted, the body obviously dead.

One could hardly ask for a more shocking conclusion. The OMAC Project, if one had asked prior to this issue, had as its villain Maxwell Lord, the murderer of Blue Beetle in the pages of DC Countdown. He controls Batman’s super spy system and is able to generate super-soldiers, seemingly at any point in the world, with a single spoken command. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Booster Gold, and others were tracking down Blue Beetle’s murderer. Presumably, this investigation would continue through the sixth issue. Even with the JLA aware of Max’s headquarters as of the third chapter of “Sacrifice,” one would imagine that Max and his technology would survive, whether through somehow shielding the headquarters or through relocating.

Now, however, Maxwell Lord is dead. And all of this resulted from a single page of The OMAC Project: the last page of #3, in which Max speaks to Clark Kent.

“Sacrifice” changed everything. But this was true not only for the best-selling mini-series. It also changed the relationship between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The full extent of this would not be seen until later, but the implications were clear enough by the end of “Sacrifice.”

Batman had been beaten by Superman, and their relationship was in considerable doubt. More severely, Superman’s relationship with Wonder Woman was clearly in jeopardy. Superman has long opposed killing, though he had done so himself on one occasion and lived to regret it. For his part, Batman has long had similar sentiments, his very identity having been formed by his parents’ murders. Though we didn’t know, at the time this issue was published, just how extreme its effects would be, the fact that it would have some lasting effects beyond The OMAC Project was clear enough.

In fact, in the weeks following this issue’s publication, writer Greg Rucka would make it clear that the storyline’s entire purpose was the break up DC’s “big three” in the lead-in to Identity Crisis. And the next month’s issues of Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman would make the extent of this issue’s effects clear enough.

What was most amazing, perhaps, was how well the murder was set up in the year previous to this story. Batman and Superman weren’t the only DC heroes against killing. Super-heroes killed in the 1940s, and such behavior returned in the 1980s — notably through the revisionist classics Batman: The Dark Knight Returns andWatchmen, but also in Marvel’s The Punisher: It was the late 1980s, as John Byrne was leaving as head of the Superman titles, in which Superman killed. The 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were more puritanical on super-heroes killing, expressly in the wake of the self-censoring Comics Code Authority. And, like almost all super-heroes with legacies extending from into those decades, Wonder Woman was never a killer.

For the second printing, Landrönn, cover artist for The OMAC Project, provided a new cover.

Looking back, Greg Rucka had set up the murder of Maxwell Lord exceedingly well. In the pages of Wonder Woman, the heroine who campaigned for peace away from her idyllic Amazon island had made statements in favor of killing under certain circumstances. And she had done so, killing Medusa. But that was a mythical figure, making the killing feel more excusable. In retrospect, it both acted as foreshadowing of Diana’s killing of Maxwell Lord and as a feint. If any readers had picked up on the talk of justified killing, thinking it foreshadowing, those readers could believe it to foreshadow Medusa’s death. Moreover, readers of Wonder Woman would have to reexamine their own values in the wake of Maxwell Lord’s murder. If that had been wrong, hadn’t Medusa’s earlier killing too?

Rucka had also laid groundwork in the pages of Adventures of Superman. In #636 of that title, Superman had summoned Batman and Wonder Woman to talk about the villain Ruin. In the process, they’d talked about the JLA having played with Dr. Light’s mind, as revealed in the pages of Identity Crisis. Wonder Woman objected to the mindwipe, saying that it was a deeper form of rape, a violation of a person’s self. But, faced with Dr. Light threatening the heroes’ families, what else could the JLA have done? Kill him, she answered, to Superman’s deep shock.

In the short run, the brilliance of this concluding chapter of “Sacrifice” was its shock value and the excitement of the battle between Superman and Wonder Woman, which left readers unable to turn the pages quickly enough. In the long run, the brilliance came not only in the changes it wrought upon DC’s “big three,” but in how well Rucka had set up the shocking climax.

The shock that makes perfect sense is one of the greatest successes a writer can achieve. Rucka had accomplished it. Even the revelation of the killer in Identity Crisis hadn’t had the same brilliantly obvious feel to it.

And all of this was wrought in a storyline that was a mere tie-in to a mini-series. Comic book stores ordered too few copies of the storyline, not knowing how important it would be. In a nearly unprecedented move for a monthly storyline, DC would go back to press, reprinting all four chapters. Wonder Woman #219, because of its shocking climax, would come first; its second printing would feature a cover by The OMAC Project cover artist Landrönn, symbolically integrating the issue into the mini-series. The first three chapters would get second printings with covers recolored with a red tint, similar to the style of the final printings of Identity Crisis.

Moreover, the whole storyline takes place over the course of a few hours — or about twenty-four hours if one includes the flashbacks to Superman’s attack upon Batman and the page of events before it seen in Superman #219. In Wonder Woman’s narrative captions on the first page of this issues, she says that Superman tried to kill Batman “four hours ago.” And the complete contents of the final chapter takes up just over two minutes.

Over one month of publication, and something like four hours of narrative time, both the DC Universe and the most critically acclaimed and best-selling Countdown to Infinite Crisis mini-series had been splintered.

High praise indeed.

This isn’t to say that the storyline, or its final chapter, was perfect. Beyond the improbability of Wonder Woman being knocked by Superman from the sun back to the Earth, the apparent lack of fatalities from Wonder Woman’s crash to Earth was not only improbable but decreased the drama of the story — a story not otherwise afraid to show life being taken.

The final chapter was also hampered by its hodgepodge of artists, some of whom were better than others. While this is immediately apparent while reading, the drama of the story largely carries the reader through the artistic shifts: the reader notices but cares only barely. Moreover, a few dramatic pages of the fight between Superman and Wonder Woman were penciled by Rags Morales, the capable penciller of Identity Crisis. More importantly, Morales also penciled the final few pages, bringing to the murder a powerful sense of personal drama, a subtlety between the panels that transcends and reinvigorates the life-and-death aspects of the plot.

But it’s a minor criticism in a storyline of tremendous importance and shocking quality, particularly in its two concluding issues, scripted by Rucka. As regular writer of both Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman, Rucka knew these characters well and hardly abused them for the sake of cheap shock. And as writer of The OMAC Project, no one could accuse “Sacrifice” of treading on someone else’s territory, altering the mini-series through a vision other than that of the mini-series’s writer.

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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