Monday, May 13, 2013

DC 2000

This unjustly forgotten comic seems to have fallen through the cracks. A spiritual successor to Grant Morrison's DC One Million crossover event, Tom Peyer's two-part DC 2000 never got the attention or the acclaim of its predecessor, and it's slipped into near-complete obscurity in the years since. It's a sad fate for a fantastic book, and a baffling one as well: how could comics this bizarre and funny and smart be so obscure?

Peyer conceives of the book as a clash between two times, 1941 and 2000, and two teams, the JSA and the JLA. It's a dazzlingly intricate time-travel story in which the villainous scientist T.O. Morrow, trying to bring about a future in which he rules everything, mucks about in the past by introducing year 2000 technology to earlier eras, thus accelerating the development of technology and science in various ways. The book's primary theme is the double-edged sword of modern notions of progress, the ways in which rapid advances in science and societal norms have been massive boons in some ways and chilling threats in others. The JSA of 1941 encounter the technology of the future and they are both awed and terrified by it: impressed by the potential of an artificial heart, horrified by the rapid killing potential of an automatic weapon, baffled and overwhelmed by the nearly limitless possibilities of a computer. The group's encounters with these technological marvels allows Peyer the opportunity for some sharp humor about the kinds of things we now take for granted in our technology-dominated era, as well as some subtle critique — about the easy availability of ridiculously powerful guns, especially, with a strong gun control message popping up in the book's subtext several times.

It's also a book about shifts in morality and belief over time, contrasting the relative innocence of the JSA's times — and, implicitly, the kid-oriented comics they appeared in — against the far more complex morality of the JLA's modern age. At one point, the JSA get a glimpse of the JLA's future and they are horrified: World War II waits in the future for them, as does the A-bomb, the '60s counterculture, Nixon's disgrace, rampant drug use, more violent crime, the dismantling of FDR's New Deal. Peyer has artist Val Semeiks — also the artist of One Million — render this panorama of future horrors across a hallucinatory double-page spread, with a long thin panel running across the bottom of the page showing the stunned faces of the JSA. It drives home how much the world has changed, how much comics and heroes have changed.

Moreover, the book's action is continually driven by the morality of the protagonists, by their desire to change the world. It's a parable about how easy it is to be seduced by the lure of power: even the noble icons of the JSA, often held up as holdovers from an earlier, more innocent era, are not immune to it, and when they are given access to modern technology, they run amok with it, meaning well but causing all sorts of havok throughout time in their attempts to make a better world. It's the same impulse that drives the villain himself, trying to remake the world in his own image, to bring about a world suited to his own desire for a bright, shining future. The JSA's motives are more altruistic but their hubris is no less damaging. Only Jay Garrick, the original Flash, resists the impulse, preferring progress to come at its own pace rather than trying to force the world forward too soon — ironically it's the man who moves at inhuman speeds who wants to slow down, to resist the lure of the future and live in the present he already has.

Peyer also engages with morality through his treatment of Dr. Fate and the Spectre, who he views as opposing icons of spirituality, with Dr. Fate representing inclusivity and openness while the Spectre is an avatar of blind faith, tenaciously clinging to a rigid religiously dictated morality rather than embracing the relativism and inquisitiveness of Dr. Fate. The Spectre is in many ways the book's real villain, more than Morrow, because the Spectre's simplistic view of faith leads him to see the JLA as sinners, the time they come from corrupt and evil. For Peyer, the Spectre becomes an embodiment of religious fundamentalism and intolerance, so locked into his own perspective, so assured of the correctness of his own beliefs, that he calls down eternal punishment on those whose views contradict his own.

This is a book with some very big, very serious ideas at its core, but it is not, it should be said, an entirely serious or straight-faced comic. This is no treatise, and a big part of what makes DC 2000 so great is Peyer's ability to balance multiple tones, to approach his ideas with seriousness without sacrificing humor or emotion, without getting overbearingly preachy or grim. This commentary on religion, morality, progress, and technology is all housed within a framework that leaves plenty of room for wit and good old-fashioned superhero action. Semeiks' art is vibrant and energetic, his layouts bursting with vitality and a keen sense of pacing. And at times the book is outright funny, particularly in the sequences where the JSA puzzle over the technology of the future; the group's encounter with a laptop computer is especially hilarious. At other times, Peyer mines genuine, and surprising, emotion from this premise, particularly in a startling sequence towards the end of the second issue where T.O. Morrow must tearfully face a heartbreaking decision, poised to progress from a powerful but somewhat old-fashioned supervillain into a genuinely terrifying monster.

This last-act focus on the villain's humanity and psychology is just one example of this comic's unpredictability and depth. Peyer and Semeiks crafted a fun, smart, tonally varied epic in just two oversized issues, and in many ways these comics are the equal of Grant Morrison's JLA and One Million, from which this miniseries was spun off.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this mini series and have re-read it many times. It's sad when fandom will not accept a quirky yet intelligent writer such as Tom Peyer. I loved his Hourman series, and I admire a writer that can take Golden Age characters and just stretch them into places you'd never thought they could go. Dr. Midnite and Hourman as the "Odd Couple" FTW!! You just don't get dynamics like that in the Bronze Age.