The cold open for “Lies”, issue three of the Jeph Loeb-penned, Frank Cho-drawn New Ultimates is a nightmare scenario.
Although months have passed since the previous issue (it feels much, much longer), readers are tumbled into the narrative mere moments after the prior issue’s cliffhanger. Seduced by Amora, the female counterpart of the Prince of Lies, the women of the Ultimates have seized control.
Crippled by the myopic ideology of their male teammates, Valkyrie, Zarda and Operations Director Col. Carol Danvers, have banded together to jettison their victimhood. Ideologically marginalized and institutionally repressed by dominating male views, the women of the Ultimates will no longer stand for this kind of treatment.
And then the nightmare begins.
To bring about a final justice, to redress past imbalances, finally, the men are paraded down NYC’s Broadway. Bound to wooden posts, and publicly humiliated, the men of the Ultimates will meet with a last corrective measure. They will answer for their crimes in the court of public opinion.
The only nightmare here, of course, is a decades-old one; unbridled reactionary misogyny.
Gratefully, we no longer live in the kind of world where the cultural victories of second-wave feminism are mitigated by irrational, misogynist fears. It’s no longer the secret chessboard of ‘men’ versus ‘women’. And men are no longer embargoed into nurturing secret fears of The Day The Feminists Might Rise.
Those fears are simply as outdated as Aliens Or Communists Coming For Us, TV Or Comics Rotting Your Brain, or Workers Overthrowing Society To Build A Paradise. But Loeb’s genius in crafting this issue lies in tapping an irrational fear to expose a very real, very rational fear.
If there is a feminist nightmare at play here, it is not the irrational one of a gender-war conceived of on the terms of reactionary misogyny, it is not the Threat From Outside The Walls Of Manhood. Instead, it is an internal nightmare scenario, one almost unique to third-wave feminist thought. The nightmare here is the nightmare of blind and unquestioning allegiance.
How could things ever get so bad, that one faction of society (women?, workers?) would need to seize control of the social apparatus and begin constructing a new authoritarian regime? The nightmare is Milgrim’s classic experiment; the propensity for the ubiquity of evil. Could we ourselves, become the Nazis? Could we ourselves march in the streets, crying for blood?
Loeb is able to shift gears from second- to third-wave feminism through skillful use of Valkyrie as a narrator. Barbara Norriss’ story frames the events of the narrative. Her story is ours. Once an un-powered fan of superheroes Barbara would do anything to Make It. Anything at all, including strike a deal with Loki, the Prince of Lies to gain superpowers.
Barbara’s wrestlings with Loki’s mind control of her and the others, her apperception of her life as a thin tissue of lies, all go to evidencing the present narrative stream as a nightmare internal to feminism. It is a horror-story, Loeb story seems to suggest, and things cannot end this way; with the collapse of feminist discourse into violent political action. The nightmare scenario is not the second-wave misogyny of ‘men’ versus ‘women’, but the a scenario of the failure to distinguish the social from the political. The real nightmare has always been the parade; having to seize political control to assuage social inequity.
The parade itself, as a conceptual category, has long held writer Jeph Loeb in terrifying grip. Since Fallen Son, through his reboot of the TV show Heroes in its third season, on to his hamstringing of the Ultimates in Ultimates 3, on past his misadventure into The Red Hulk Saga, he ostensibly has had a very public mourning of the loss of his son, Sam, to cancer. His writing has seemed of a different quality, and stories with the scope and vision of Hulk: Gray and Hush somehow seemed halcyon. Would Loeb ever write those kind of character-defining stories again?
With “Lies”, with the magnificent scope of this book, Loeb seems to be back in the driver’s seat again. This crafting of this story takes incredible skill, and its publication seems very much like those first ‘green shoots’ after the recent economic collapse, or the day before voting in the 2008 election. New Ultimates #3, “Lies”, feels very much like a second tomorrow, like the second wind of great promise.