Captain Comics: Summer comics crossovers

©Tribune News Service

The pandemic delayed the usual summer comics crossovers, but the first shots have finally been fired.

In Burbank, in the red Superman trunks, is DC Comics and “Death Metal.” In New York, in the blue Spider-Man leggings, is Marvel Comics and “Empyre.” Let the battle begin!

“Dark Nights: Death Metal” #1 arrived first, on June 16. My one complaint is that it’s a sequel, which means back issues or an explanation are generally needed to get started. So let’s deal with that:

In 2017, after a well-received 50-issue run on “Batman,” writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo launched “Dark Nights: Metal.” This seven-issue miniseries more or less continued into “The Justice/Doom War” in “Justice League.”

It was an imaginative series of stories, introducing all kinds of big concepts, like the Dark Multiverse, which exists in parallel to the regular Multiverse, only it’s a place where all stories end badly. Plus it has lots of evil Batmen, some of which escape to our Multiverse, including The Batman Who Laughs, a combination Batman and Joker.

The Justice League defeated the Dark Multiverse, as you’d expect. But in victory, they broke the prison of Perpetua, a member of a godlike race that creates multiverses. (Yes, this is new.) She was imprisoned, we are told, because she created our Multiverse with Crisis Energy (bad), not Connective Energy (good), which is probably why we need so many superheroes to keep things from falling apart.

After millennia of imprisonment, Perpetua is weak. But she recruits the Legion of Doom and the evil Batmen. The Batman Who Laughs gives her access to the Crisis Energy of the Dark Multiverse.

And this time, the Justice League loses.

That’s where “Death Metal” begins, another Snyder/Capullo production full of big ideas and impossible odds. It’s comics at its best, if you can follow the concepts without your head exploding.

Just consider how this issue starts:

—· The Batman Who Laughs has conquered the world, and turned it into a hellscape.

—· Perpetua has destroyed 44 of the 52 universes in the “local Multiverse.”

—· One of the evil Batmen is the robot Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Batcave, only on whatever world this one comes from, Batman downloaded his mind into its computer.

—· Wonder Woman is queen of Hell, formerly Themyscira, a prison for Earth’s supervillains. She has no choice, as the Amazons are held hostage.

—· Batman is still free, and has a Back Lantern ring, which can raise the dead.

—· Wally West, formerly Kid Flash, has Dr. Manhattan’s Connective Energy powers but is held prisoner in Tartarus and is too weak to use them. It does make him super good at exposition, though, which is how we know most of this.

On June 24, Marvel Comics dropped “Empyre: Avengers” #0. Don’t let the oddball name and numbering fool you; this is the first issue the “Empyre” crossover, a sequel decades in the making. It will be followed by “Empyre: Fantastic Four” #0, then the two teams will co-star in the core “Empyre” miniseries together.

Oh, wait, did I say a sequel? Yep, that means more Stories from the Back Issue Bin. Sorry. Here goes:

Back in the ‘60s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby established two space-faring empires that hated each other, the Kree and the Skrull. (You may recognize those names from the movies.) In the early ‘70s, they tried to wipe each other out, with the Earth caught in the middle, in what is famous among fans as “The Kree/Skrull War.”

A few years later, we learned why the Kree and Skrull hated each other, and it involved a third race, a pacifist, tree-like people called the Cotati. I’d love to skip over this but it’s important:

Millennia ago, the Skrulls, who were very advanced and busy expanding their empire, came across the world Hala, which the barabaric Kree shared with the peaceful Cotati. The Skrulls decided that only one race should have the place, and set up a contest between a small group of each on, of all places, Earth’s moon. The Skrulls created a self-perpetuating atmosphere in a valley on the dark side, which was christened the Blue Area of the Moon by the Fantastic Four when they discovered it eons later.

Anyway, whoever won the contest was promised Skrull technology so their civilization could leap ahead of their natural progression. The Cotati won by planting a huge, beautiful garden; the Kree built a lifeless stone city. In a rage, the Kree killed the Cotati, then the Skrull judges, and just stole the technology. Within a few hundred thousand years, the adaptive Kree had become the equal of the Skrulls, whom they hated, and vice versa. Thus the Kree/Skrull War.

Still with me? OK, just one more story to go.

Around about the time we learned this, a time traveler from the 31st century named Kang the Conqueror, also called Rama-Tut in ancient Egypt, also Immortus of Limbo, sometimes Scarlet Centurion and possibly a descendant of Dr. Doom, came to the 20th century in pursuit of a “Celestial Madonna” who would give birth to the “Celestial Messiah.” This was ancient history in Kang’s time, and the time traveler figured if he could find the Madonna and become the father of the Messiah, he would re-write history and conquer everything.

Unfortunately, many 20th century records had been destroyed by the 31st, and the identity of the Cosmic Mom was unknown. Kang narrowed it down to the Scarlet Witch, mutant Avenger; Agatha Harkness, an ancient witch; and Mantis, a mysterious martial artist from Vietnam with empathic powers. He kidnapped them all, and prepared to, er, consummate his victory …

… as the Avengers came to the rescue. Among their number at the time was a reformed villain named The Swordsman, who had trained Hawkeye. I’d tell you more about him, but he was boring. Also, he got killed in this adventure.

What’s far more interesting is what happened next: One of the original dead Cotati was still around in spirit form, and lacking a body, quickly inhabited The Swordsman’s corpse. Suddenly green (even his costume) and talking like a Cotati, Swordsman stood up and offered himself as the potential father of the Celestial Messiah. So Swordsman had become a zombie possessed by the ghost of a dead alien tree and fathered the Celestial Messiah, named Sequoia.

Just another day in the Marvel Universe.

OK, now to the present. In “Empyre: Avengers,” we find out that a half-Kree and half-Skrull character named Hulkling has become emperor of both races, uniting them … against Earth. This is strange, as Hulkling has been a superhero on Earth since his introduction, and has a boyfriend here, one of the sons of the Scarlet Witch.

Since Hulkling appears standing with the Avengers on the cover, we should probably not take any of this at face value. That is underscored by how strange the Avengers act when they reunite with Zom-Tree Swordsman and Sequoia on the Moon, where they begin to feel inexplicably euphoric.

Oh, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. See, the Avengers get a call for help from the Blue Area, which is now green, because the Cotati have planted another garden. There they meet and fight a Kree robot with the head of a mutant Skrull, which indicates which two alien races are presenting this month’s problem. The former Swordsman shows up, still green, and confirms that the Kree and Skrull are coming to destroy Earth, because the Cotati have been hiding on the Moon. And more than they hate each other, the Kree and the Skrull hate the Cotati. Then the Messiah appears, all grown up, and everyone breaks for lunch while the Avengers hear the story I just told you.

“Avengers assemble!” says Iron Man, as the invasion fleet launches.

Cool, huh? “Empyre: Avengers” #0 is brought to us by writer Al Ewing and artist Pepe Larraz, and I can find no fault with either. Like with DC and “Death Metal,” Marvel has put its best foot forward with “Empyre.” The two king-size crossovers will battle it out over the next weeks and months with one-shots, miniseries and guest appearances.

And it doesn’t matter which one outsells the other. The real winner will be us.

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(Contact Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website : captaincomics.ning.com

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©2020 Andrew A. Smith