Preposterously and against long odds I am an unabashed fan of the DC Comics event ARMAGEDDON 2001. Way, way, back in the halcyon days of 90-91 Archie Goodwin wrote, what I believe to be, a very clean, direct, and fantastic single issue. That I think it stands shoulder to shoulder on the myth-making stage with some of the classics is my cross to bear.
Armageddon 2001 #1 sets up a great sci-fi tale. A great superhero story. A fantastic what-if. A solid mystery within a mystery. A believable protagonist. A tragic, yet menacing antagonist. What’s more, depending on your perspective, this series even laid out a tolerable and enjoyable format for event comics that might have saved us all a crap load of money and at the same time continued to help retailers sell a ton of books.
Therefore, it is a special tragedy of note that all this fine work would later be undermined and driven into a shallow grave for no less a sin than being a story well told.
Yep, that’s a real problem. Tell your story too well.
Let me ask, when you set out to tell the story of the fall of a hero what’s the harm in the reader figuring it out slightly before the final reveal? Doesn’t that point to a story that “makes sense” and “comes together rationally?”
Well, Instead of sticking to that plan and turning a B list (at best) hero into a fantastic modern villain operating from an untouchable fortress in the future DC decided to deliver a useless and complete anticlimax in the hopes that it might “surprise” readers. So, for those keeping track, instead of giving readers a nice pat on the hind parts for figuring it out and telling the story you set out to tell DC flipped out – changed the ending to a HUGE story – and sabotaged all their plans for the future.
But, through the miracle of the internet and my stupid obsession I’m going to throw up a bunch of content on it and see if you think my radical views have merit. Why? Hell, why not?
First, Goodwin’s script is amazing. This kind of 12 words a page stuff coupled with wide, almost epic panel choices, really only works when you’ve got the annual format to show off with. The problem with a lot of this stuff is that they try this kind of end run around – I don’t know – WRITING with less than half that page count. Heroes that behave like it - challenges - choices. He really knew his way around the format.
Second, The annual format would persist through the entire crossover in giving the 56 page treatment to the bookend issues and the selected characters (those who had annuals – sometimes multiples). I can’t stress this enough. EACH issue gave creators the time and space to tell satisfying and full stories. Because of the unique device of WAVERIDER each annual was a self-contained exploration of a possible future. Meaning the story could wrap up but the ongoing mystery narrative could proceed unabated.
Third, Jurgens art was at its peak. This was the pinnacle of late 80’s house style. Clean, direct, representative of a very specific look and feel. His renderings had the authority of precision and defined boundaries. He also had tricks and combined with Goodwin's script delivered on many panel plays (repeating threes, widescreen a decade before The Authority would swoop in and claim credit, descending grids to show focus, etc...)
But, let me show you a little of what I mean...
TAKES SO LONG FOR THEM TO COME TOGETHER.
…I HAVE TIME.
EVEN AS I THINK IT, I SENSE I’M WRONG
I DON’T HAVE TIME.
TIME HAS ME.
DON’T WORRY, SON.
I’M A LITTLE BOY AGAIN…TRAPPED IN DARKNESS. BURIED BEYOND SAVING.
…BLINDED BY LIGHT
DON’T WORRY –
--IT’S GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT.
BEYOND SAVING BY ANY ORDINARY MEANS.
PAINED EYES TEARING, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE AS I’M LIFTED UP.
IT WAS AN EARTHQUAKE, WASN’T IT? THE BUILDING…THE WHOLE BUILDING FELL! I THOUGHT NOTHING COULD HELP…!
SOMETIMES IT SEEMS THAT WAY –
WHICH IS WHY SOMEONE SHOULD BE THERE TO TRY.
STILL BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, I FIT ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES TO THAT VOICE…
BUT THE MOMENT NEVER CHANGES.
NOT EVEN HERE.
IN MY MIND, THEY ARE GIANTS.
AND WHOEVER SAVED ME THAT DAY…
…WAS ONE OF THEM.
GIANTS. THEY GREW THAT WAY IN MY THOUGHTS…
…EVEN WHEN IT WAS SAFER THEY NOT BE THERE AT ALL.
NOT THAT THEY WERE PERFECT.
THEY HAD THEIR FAILINGS. THEY HAD THEIR DIFFERENCES.
I LEARNED THAT.
LIKE US, THEIR EMOTIONS COULD RUN WILD…
…SEEMINGLY BEYOND CONTROL.
…SELDOM BEYOND REASON.
…THE NEED TO SERVE A GREATER CAUSE RAN DEEPER.
THIS MADE THEM GIANTS.
THIS UNITED THEM.
IN SPITE OF ALL RISKS…
PART OF MY CONSCIOUSNESS STILL STIRS UNEASILY AT THINKING THE WORD…
…BUT THAT IS THE NAME FOR THEM.
WHATEVER THEIR OWN FEARS OR INNER FURIES…
…THEY ROSE TO THE TEST.
THEY DID WHAT HAD TO BE DONE.
AND ULTIMATELY, DESPITE OBSTACLES AND SETBACKS…
THEY DID IT IN TRIUMPH.
IN THE END, WHAT REALLY HAPPENED MAY NEVER BE KNOWN. EXCEPT…
IN THE END, IT WAS ONE OF THEIR OWN.
WHAT TRIGGERED IT?
MADNESS? OR COLD CALCULATION?
YEARS OF DECEPTION?
ONE SUDDEN DARK URGE?
HOWEVER IT HAPPENED, HOWEVER I PLAY IT IN MY MIND…
…THEY WERE TAKEN BY SURPRISE, CAUGHT UNPREPARED.
HOW ELSE TO EXPLAIN…
…ITS SUCCEEDING SO WELL?
ONE THAT WOULD STRETCH OUT…
…TO GRIP A WORLD.
WRITER – ARCHIE GOODWIN
PENCILLER - DAN JURGENS
INKER – DICK GIORDANO
LETTERER – ALBERT DE GUZMAN
COLORIST – ANTHONY TOLLIN
ASST. EDITOR – KELLEY PUCKETT
EDITOR – DENNIS O’NEIL
So, that’s the first 12 pages of Armageddon 2001 #1
The whole series, neatly laid out. Who is the mysterious point of view character? Who saved him? Who is the devastating Monarch? What prompts this awful change and does this new figure have a chance of stopping this from happening? What follows in the remaining 44 pages will be fodder for next time. I hope you’ll come along, share your memories and feelings on the series – good and bad, of course – and throw in some suggestions on modern stories that deliver the vibe for yourselves that this series delivered for me.