Your Guide to Infinite Crisis:

“Sacrifice” Aftermath

In the month after the historic “Sacrifice” storyline, three of the four titles that participated in that storyline offered stories dealing with the aftermath of “Sacrifice.” It may at first seem ironic that the storyline’s aftermath was almost as large as the storyline itself. In fact, these three aftermath issues more ably demonstrated the lasting impact of “Sacrifice” than the storyline itself.

“Sacrifice” ended suddenly with Wonder Woman standing over the murdered Maxwell Lord. The implications were clear enough, yet left unsaid. As the story continued in The OMAC Project #4, Brother Eye took control of its own processes and caused crises around the world in order to distract Superman and Wonder Woman. The two flew off to deal with these crises, leaving dialogue over what had happened for later.

Adventures of Superman #643 and Wonder Woman #220, both scripted by Greg Rucka, followed the two characters from “Sacrifice” to the present, carrying their stories chronologically past the events shown in The OMAC Project #4. Superman #220 showed Superman meeting Superboy and encountering an OMAC, both for the first time since “Sacrifice.”

Wonder Woman #220
“Affirmative Defense”
Greg Rucka script; David Lopez pencils; Bit inks; J. G. Jones cover; cover-dated October 2005

Almost all of this issue is narrated by Wonder Woman to an unknown audience. We don’t find out to whom she is speaking until the issue ends.

The issue begins with Wonder Woman recounting the events of the previous issue, ending with Maxwell Lord’s death. In narration, she tells us that she killed her friendship with Superman when she killed Maxwell Lord — and that she did so knowingly. “I could see it in his eyes,” she narrates. “The disbelief and the incomprehension.” When Superman mutters that she murdered him, she asserts, simply, “This was not a murder.” But Superman cannot understand.

Then the calls come in from Oracle about crises the world over. Superman heads off to stop a nuclear missile fired at Taiwan, while Diana shoots off to stop a tsunami on its way to Seattle. When she gets there, there’s no tsunami. But there are other threats showing up on Oracle’s radar, including a nuclear power plant in Arizona heading for a meltdown. Arriving there, she finds that it’s no false alarm. After talking with a worker, she races into the reactor room, hot with radiation.

She doesn’t hesitate. She does what has to be done, she tells us, exactly as she did with Maxwell Lord. Using her magic lasso, she tethers the boron rods that would diffuse the reaction were they not jammed in place. Her narration as she pulls describes the pain in her wrist, broken by Superman in their fight. She gets the rods to plummet, stopping the meltdown.

Though the radiation wouldn’t kill her, it would harm those around her, and so she must go through decontamination. We thus get a shot of Diana, the scar from Superman’s heat vision still on her cheek, nude in the shower. (Her breast and genitals are hidden, of course, by her arm and the steam of the shower, respectively.)

After undergoing tests at the nuclear facility, Diana returns to her embassy. In Wonder Woman #218, with the eyes of Athena that she gained in #217, she saw that embassy staff member Jonah McCarthy couldn’t be trusted and told her minotaur assistant, Ferdinand, to keep him from leaving the embassy. Exhibiting great and previously unseen strength, Jonah flipped Ferdinand and escaped. As Wonder Woman returns to the embassy to question Jonah, she seems to suspect what Wonder Woman readers had come to suspect over the past months: that Jonah works for Checkmate, if not Maxwell Lord directly. Now, as she narrates how she feels no differently about killing Lord than killing Medousa earlier in Rucka’s run, she discovers Ferdinand unconscious.

As she talks with Ferdinand, he notes her battered appearance. After a pause, she tells him what she’s done and confesses that she doesn’t know where her actions will lead. Unlike Medousa, she tells Ferdinand, Max looked like a man — the implication is that the public might not support her.

Dr. Leslie Anderson, part of Wonder Woman‘s extended cast, arrives after some absence and is surprised to find that Diana has regained her sight (in #217). Ferdinand had blamed himself for Anderson’s disappearance, but Diana realizes they both have feelings for one another. She lets them talk as she searches Jonah’s office for clues. She finds a chess timer.

Cut to the park, where Diana arrives at a group of people playing chess. Among the observers is a woman who runs when Diana calls out to her. Diana flies her away from spectators, but the woman acts fearful of Wonder Woman — as if she’s fearful, having heard how the heroine killed Max. When the woman refuses to speak, Diana lassos her and forces Jonah’s location out of her. As Wonder Woman departs, the interrogated woman asks if Diana plans on killing Jonah too.

Jonah’s driving at night when he sees Wonder Woman standing in front of his car. Jonah had been spying on her for a year, under her roof, and Wonder Woman is angry enough to lift Jonah’s car and toss it aside. She rips off the door, pulling Jonah out from behind the airbag. As she holds him against a tree, he confirms that he worked for Checkmate, though not for Max. He says he was spying on her because, like all methumans, she is a threat. She says she’s taking him to the authorities.

It’s then that he begins to turn the tables. She has no evidence against him, save testimony extracted by her magic lasso — which Jonah says is inadmissible in court. He says Checkmate is beyond prosecution. And he defends her murder of Maxwell Lord, saying he trusts that she wouldn’t have done it unless Max had crossed a line beyond which he could not be redeemed. But a trial for Wonder Woman would destroy Diana’s mission of peace. Max was a man, Jonah says — a man whose monstrosity, unlike Medousa, wasn’t visible.

When a policeman approaches, Wonder Woman says that there’s no problem. She lets Jonah go. In this moment, one could argue, she has violated her own principles worse than in killing Maxwell Lord. While she says that she has no evidence, it’s clear that she also fears the consequences for herself — and her mission. And so she’s willing to bury her crime.

In the present, Diana concludes her narration, wondering about those who will not forgive her actions. As the “camera” pulls back from one frame to the next, we see that she’s in the Batcave, talking with Batman. He’s sitting up, though still bandaged and bruised. She wanted to tell him her story, she says. And she wants to know if she’s lost her friendship with Batman as she has with Superman.

Bruce sits. He doesn’t answer. She prods him to say something, to break his silence.

When he does, without looking up, he says only this: “Get out.” And she does.

That’s it.

It’s a good issue, but it’s not quite up to the par of the previous one. Though admittedly, that’s a pretty tough standard.

Two things drag the issue down. The first, unfortunately, is the Jonah subplot. Wonder Woman’s interrogation of the woman from the park isn’t quite up to snuff, and the woman’s relationship to Jonah isn’t entirely clear. Moreover, her confession under the power of the lasso isn’t shown but rather told by Wonder Woman in narration, so it’s not clear what she said or how she could not herself have been involved yet know of Jonah’s location and that Diana’s killed Max. While Rucka’s admittedly pressed for space, seeing her specify what she knows and how she knows it would have been nice. So too would have been seeing her admit her fear of Wonder Woman under the influence of the lasso, which would have been more effective than the way it was.

The other problem, frankly, is the art. While the previous issue suffered somewhat from the disjunctive combination of various artistic styles, this issue has a single artistic team. Unfortunately, David Lopez and Bit just aren’t up to par. They’re competent but seem pretty lackluster in comparison to the art on The OMAC Project, to Karl Kerschl on Adventures of Superman, or to Rags Morals, the artist on both Identity Crisis and past issues of Wonder Woman. The shower image stands out in particular: even giving readers a little “fan service,” the bland and uninspiring art stands out more than any salaciousness.

All this said, there’s a lot to recommend the issue. “Sacrifice” was so good that recalling it is pleasurable in itself. Seeing Wonder Woman prevent a nuclear meltdown is fun, even if the art brings the dramatic sequence down, and Rucka does his job well. There’s a decent character moment between Diana and Ferdinand. As is there between Diana and Jonah as he gets the upper hand and, after pursuing him at night, lets him go on a quiet road. And the ending, while also brought down by the art, is certainly dramatic.

The cover is also worth some note. It depicts Wonder Woman in handcuffs, being led by a cop towards a police cruiser. It’s a scene that doesn’t occur within the story itself, but it acts as a powerful, even iconic reminder of what might have awaited Wonder Woman if she had acted differently with Jonah — and what might still await her.

Someone at DC decided, however, not to place the words “Sacrifice Aftermath” on the cover, as it is on that of Adventures of Superman #643. But someone decided to add “Guest-Starring Batman” — effectively blowing the surprise of the ending.

Whatever complaints one might have, this remains an important and thoroughly interesting issue. In many ways, however, Adventures of Superman #643 is a superior version, as we shall see.

Adventures of Superman #643
“Fragmentation”
Greg Rucka script; Karl Kerschl, Carlos d’Anda, & Rags Morales pencils; Cam Smith, Carlos d’Anda, & Wayne Faucher inks; Karl Kerschl cover; cover-dated October 2005

This issue was actually published a week prior to Wonder Woman#220, though it makes reference to the ending of that issue and must therefore occur later. The two issues offer parallel narratives that follow their respective heroes after the end of “Sacrifice.” The order in which one reads the two issues does matter: reading this issue first, as readers did at the time, probably enhances it — the reference to Wonder Woman #220 only builds anticipation for that issue. On the other hand, reading this issue first probably diminishes the experience of reading Wonder Woman #220, which seems a bit pale by comparison, as if an echo.

Like Wonder Woman #220, Adventures of Superman #643 is almost entirely told in flashback narration to an unknown listener. And the flashback starts in almost the same place.

The issue begins with Superman recalling his hallucination under Maxwell Lord’s control. He’s strapped into an alien-looking contraption, unable to move, he watches Doomsday shatter a screaming, bloody Lois, her clothes disheveled. He drops a dead Lois to the floor and licks her blood from his hand. And Superman unleashes his heat vision with the intent to kill.

That this is Superman’s point of view on the events of Wonder Woman #219, the concluding chapter of “Sacrifice,” is made clear as he lifts Doomsday up and carries him to the sun, then knocking him back to Earth. Superman’s narration offers a bit of revision, correcting the problem of why Superman would have coincidentally knocked Wonder Woman back to Earth, though the explanation — that he wanted Doomsday to suffer more before dying — is difficult in its implications. Superman narrates that, in his rage, he had forgotten the innocents that would be killed as “Doomsday” crashed to Earth. Superman recalls chasing Doomsday to the Daily Planet building — apparently, Superman thought Checkmate’s headquarters the Daily Planet building. There, from the Man of Steel’s perspective, Doomsday further killed Jimmy Olsen and slashed Superman’s throat. It’s then that his hallucination stops and he sees Wonder Woman with Maxwell Lord in her lasso.

Seeing the fight from Superman’s perspective is most welcome, as it was unclear during “Sacrifice” exactly how this worked. But the sequence takes the first seven pages of the issue, and such hallucinatory sequences quickly grow boring. This is a “Sacrifice” aftermath issue, after all: after seven pages, we’re not yet done with recalling “Sacrifice” itself. The remaining fifteen pages, however, will fully justify the space they consume.

Rags Morales pencils the next three pages, which take place in Checkmate headquarters as Superman watches with horror as Wonder Woman kills Maxwell Lord. In a powerful sequence, Superman pushes her against the wall and recalls how quickly, how calmly she performed the act. He recalls the rage with which he had tried to kill Doomsday, contrasting it to Wonder Woman: “There wasno rage in Diana’s eyes. / There was nothing. / Not even remorse. / I looked into the eyes of my dearest friend… / …and I didn’t recognize her.” Then comes the call from Oracle, and Superman takes off to stop a nuclear missile on the way to Singapore and Diana goes off to stop the tsunami.

The art then switches to the capable regular series penciller, Karl Kerschl. Superman recalls thinking of Lois, wanting to see her as he intercepts the missile — though he calls her “you” and it’s not explicitly clear until the end of the issue to whom he’s talking. As he catches the missile, two OMACs zap him with beams from their large single eyes. As the missile shoots downward towards Singapore, Superman flies past the OMACs and catches it, throwing it upwards into outer space. Seeing that the OMACs are willing to let the 4.5 million people in Singapore die, Superman narrates that he stopped thinking of them as machines and instead began thinking of them as monsters. So he grabs one and punches it in its large eye, shattering it.

As shards of glass from the eye scatter into the upper atmosphere, he realizes that he was wrong: they are neither machines ormonsters, he narrates. On the next page, we see what he sees: a girl within the OMAC suit, her hair waving out of the suit with the broken glass, her eyes rolled up from lack of oxygen and from his blow, her nose bleeding, and her face scratched. It’s a moment of horror as Superman realizes for the first time that the OMACs are human inside. As he whisks her downward towards oxygen, he narrates that she looked about sixteen.

He leaves her with S.T.A.R. Labs in Sydney, intending to head back to Singapore and the other OMAC. But more and more emergency calls keep coming in: a burning freighter filled with liquefied natural gas off Hong Kong, an oil pipeline fire in Kyrgyzstan, an other crises not enumerated that took, Superman tells us, “almost an hour.” Despite trying, Superman finds no sign of the second OMAC.

Superman’s next stop is the Batcave to check up on Bruce. But Batman says Clark came there for forgiveness and suggests it won’t be forthcoming. After a beat, Superman shares the news that the OMACs “are people trapped inside those shells.” When Batman says he knows, Superman is aghast that Batman hasn’t shared the information. “Tell me they’re not part of your satellite and your paranoia!” Superman exclaims as Batman puts on his costume.

What ensues is stunning dialogue as Batman, enrages, explodes back: “The OMACs are built for murder! That should be all the answer you need!” But Batman’s guilty of constructing Brother Eye, Superman retorts. How is anyone to trust Batman given Batman’s paranoia?

Batman doesn’t give an inch: “Less than eighteen hours ago[,] you almost killed me. Less than a week ago, Superboy almost killed the Teen Titans.” Batman is referring to the events of “The Insiders,” running through Teen Titans #24-25 and The Outsiders #24-25. After these two events, Batman adds, who is Superman “to lecture me about trust.” Superman retorts that he and Superboy were both being mind-controlled — they weren’t responsible.

“You’re the most powerful man on Earth!” says Batman. “You don’t get the luxury of that excuse!” They stare at each other, and everything about them is right there in the scene. There’s Batman, stern, aware of Superman’s awesome power and simultaneously aware of his own need to be all the more determined and disciplined in the wake of it. And there’s Superman, with all his moral simplicity, unable to grasp the implications of his own power.

Lowering his head, looking completely defeated, Superman mutters that Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord, but Batman interrupts: “She told me. She was here about an hour ago.” Batman is referring to the events of Wonder Woman #220.

“What are we going to do?” Superman asks, looking to Batman for direction.

Batman looks back for a second, as if in pity, seeing Superman lost. He speaks as he walks away: “Go home to your wife, Clark.”

The final page cuts to the present, as Superman is narrating all of this to Lois Lane. He says he doesn’t know what to do, then repeats the words. Lois looks down, then walks to him and embraces him. He repeats the same words, muttering this time.

This is powerful stuff, people. This is the heart of the new DC, inaugurated by Identity Crisis and following through Infinite Crisis: super-hero action mixed with touching personal scenes, all exquisitely written and smartly illustrated. The issue’s a perfect ten out of ten. Even with its artistic changes, and its emphasis in the beginning upon a fight we’ve already seen, there’s hardly a panel that needs improvement.

The issue has no less than three great moments. First, as Superman looks into Wonder Woman’s eyes and sees nothing there. Second, as Superman looks at the young girl he’s just hit and realizes the horror beneath the OMAC Project. And third, of course, as Batman puts Superman in his place and Superman breaks down.

What Superman doesn’t know is that Batman is actually being light with Superman. He chastises Superman, yes, but he subtly seems to pity this friend of great power. He tells Superman to go home to his wife, emblem of the comfy life Batman cannot have. Wonder Woman he simply dismissed. What’s more, he knows about the Justice League taking his memory — and that Superman wasn’t a part of that decision. Batman’s certainly not happy with Superman letting himself get mind-controlled and attacking him. But Batman’s true rage is reserved for Wonder Woman and, in the pages of JLA‘s “Crisis of Conscience,” for the League. Only in the pages of Infinite Crisis #1 will Batman really lash out against Superman, and there it’s not as reasoned as his argument here.

Despite Batman’s beating, it’s Superman here who’s damaged goods. Superman has experienced his own homicidal rage and he has no idea what to do now that Wonder Woman has killed in cold blood before his eyes. Batman might be paranoid, but he’s not lost. It’s Superman who’s lost. His ethical framework, at least consciously, has no way to process what’s happening.

If I didn’t make it clear enough before, this is great stuff. While simply an “aftermath” issue, this one’s on par with the concluding chapters of “Sacrifice” itself — if not exceeding those two issues in human merit. This is about as good as monthly super-hero comics get. It gives us super-powers, and it lends new vitality to the characters we thought we knew and continue to love.

Chronologically, this must be the first Superman story after “Sacrifice” and takes place during The OMAC Project #4. Superman was briefly seen in The OMAC Project #5 bringing Lois back to the Daily Planet, presumably after their talk in this issue.

Superman #220
“Home”
Mark Verheiden story; Tony S. Daniel pencils; Marlo Alquiza inks; Ed Benes cover; cover-dated October 2005

Although published a couple weeks prior to Adventures of Superman #643, this issue almost certainly occurs after that “Sacrifice” aftermath issue. Like that issue, Superman #220 also shows the aftermath of “Sacrifice” — though it was not marked as such on the cover. The issue also features an OMAC appearance, though this too was not marked on the cover. It is certainly Superman’s first encounter with an OMAC after the events of “Sacrifice.”

The issue begins with John Henry Irons, formerly the armor-clad super-hero named Steel, scaling an arctic mountain. He continues, communicating by radio with a friend in a base camp until he reaches Superman’s old arctic Fortress of Solitude, which now lies in ruins.

In Smallville, in her alter ego as Conner, Superboy helps Jonathan Kent lift a tractor stuck in the mud. Pa Kent is concerned about Conner’s public use of super-powers, particularly that Lex Luthor might be watching from overhead. Conner takes the hint: the Kents are worried about Luthor taking control of Superboy again.

A defiant Conner taps the tractor, sending it shooting forward through the muddy field. Jonathan scolds him, expressing concern not just for Connor but for himself and his wife Martha, both of whom would be at risk.

In a barn on the Kent family farm, Clark Kent pays a visit to the sulking Superboy. He says he’s already talked with his adoptive parents and isn’t here to scold Conner. Rather, he simply doesn’t know where to turn. Conner seems to feel the same way.

Back in the arctic, John Henry says that he helped Superman install fail-safes into the fortress — fail-safes that would protect the fortress’s technology and lifeforms in case of just such a disaster. Apparently, the fail-safes worked, teleporting important objects into the Phantom Zone, a dimension of void. But he’s concerned that someone inside didn’t escape but was buried alive, hidden from Superman’s x-ray vision by lead shielding. John Henry’s apparently been following a weak distress signal from inside the fortress for a few days. He sets explosives and runs. Freed in the explosion is the Eradicator, the subject of John Henrys search — a Kryptonian protector who later fused with a human and has frequently malfunctioned.

Back in Kansas, Superman says he’s heard of Conner’s problems with the Teen Titans, and Connor relates how Luthor took control of him, making him attack his teammates and making him lose their trust. Conner says he’s heard rumors of Superman having fought Wonder Woman, and Superman briefly relates how he too was mind-controlled. While Conner’s been hiding out with the Kents, Superman says he’s been silent, driving Lois crazy. As they race across a corn field, Conner finally reveals to Superman that his DNA is a mix of Superman’s and Luthor’s own. Superman’s shocked, and Conner expresses his anguish over his identity. Superman even looks at Conner’s soul, revealed in Teen Titans #26.

But their mutual self-doubt is interrupted by an emergency JLA signal arriving through Superman’s belt: there’s activity in Superman’s old fortress. Though Conner is reluctant to go, because of his promise to the Titans to stay on the farm, Superman wants back-up because of his recent experience being mind-controlled. And so, saying goodbye to the Kents, the two heroes take off.

Arriving in the arctic, Superman finds an injured John Henry rons lying wounded in the snow. Suddenly, the Eradicator attacks Superboy. Noting Superboy’s recent attack on the Titans, the Eradicator says he senses evil in Superboy and presses the attack, knocking Superboy far away. When Superman intervenes the Eradicator again senses danger in the hero and promises to kill.

Superman knocks the Eradicator away, then checks on Superboy. As they reconvene, noting that their recent breaks with reality have in some sense sparked this fight, they turn to see the Eradicator lifting an enormous block of ice from the sea and sending it crashing on the pair of heroes.

Back at base camp, John Henry’s friend notes the 6.6 earthquake that results from the crash. But one of two men who look like native guides darts into a tent, from which there’s a flash of light — before an OMAC emerges. As the Eradicator surveys the icy rubble for the two heroes, the OMAC slams into him and says his target has been neutralized. The OMAC apparently flies off past John Henry.

Superman and Superboy free themselves from the tons of ice, then head for John Henry, who’s kneeling over the disabled Eradicator. His description of the OMAC is clear to Superman, who relates what the OMACs are — including that they’re “human under the armor” (a fact he only learned in Adventures of Superman #643). Conner promises to lie low in Smallville, hiding from the OMACs, but chastises Superman, telling him to get over his problems and set a high standard in the wake of the OMAC threat.

If all of this sounds like fairly standard fare, it is. The ending feels rushed, using an OMAC as little more than a convenient plot device to get rid of the Eradicator while still drumming up sales. This issue pales in comparison to Rucka’s aftermath issues, and the art suffers from the sort of excessive lines that used to characterize Image Comics. The appearance of the OMAC feels particularly off.

On the other hand, it’s nice that the Eradicator wasn’t forgotten in the destruction of Superman’s arctic fortress, and it’s important that Superman and Superboy talk in the wake of their respective confidence-destroying experiences with mind control.

More important for our purposes, however, is seeing that “Sacrifice” does have lasting effects — that Superman doesn’t just go back to normal. In fact, it seems as if Superman has been silent and introverted in his private life with Lois since his confession in the pages of Adventures of Superman #643. After perhaps a day or two, he took off to talk both with his adoptive parents in Smallville and with Conner, who he’d heard had suffered a similar experience. As if grinding salt in the wound, he encounters yet another OMAC. In part inspired by Conner’s words, he begins to shake off his stupor and return to some semblance of normalcy — as seen in subsequent Superman stories.

For his part, Superboy would continue to lie low in Smallville, which would end up being a fairly major plot point in Infinite Crisis.

Chronologically, this must be the next Superman story after Adventures of Superman#643, the above “Sacrifice” aftermath issue. As previously mentioned, The OMAC Project #5 briefly shows Superman carrying Lois, after their talk in that issue. Given that The OMAC Project #5 covers about ten minutes of time and the main narrative of The OMAC Project #6 is also rapid, it’s logical to assume that Superman #220 occurs during The OMAC Project #6 and that Superman was in the Actic, still dealing with the events of “Sacrifice,” during the super-heroes’ mass confrontation with the OMACs — from which he was conspicuously absent.

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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