(Spoiler alert: this post discusses these issues in detail.)
The story so far: The City of Tomorrow falls apart at its opening as an evil underling infects its citizens with something that causes everyone to start beating on everyone. The whole world is devolving into a massive G20 summit, but instead of Toronto Police Services beating the Jahannam out of people standing around taking pictures or wearing black pants, it's each other. Dr. Ramzi of The 99 Steps Foundation, a few of his protégés, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Lucius Fox are doing what they can to hold it together. Hawkman and a crew on the other side of the world have discovered a new Noor stone, the object that gives the members of THE 99 their powers, and boy is it wreaking havoc, earthquake-style. Batman, monitoring the Earth from the Justice League satellite, quickly realizes there are multiple earthquakes and all the sudden violence around the world is related, but he's not yet sure how.
In the second issue (34 pages with a lot of ads, but this time my shields were up and I was ready, unlike back in issue 1), we learn the instigator for all this is none other than Ramzi's arch-nemesis, Rughal. Yes, that old crazy man is at it again. We also see that Superman has something weird at the base of his skull, and it's not the Best Neck Tattoo EVAR. Disappointed, Supes. The Man of Fe3C however, is becoming less interested in the people taking crazy pills. He's put himself above it all – literally – leaving the rest of the pack to deal. The City of Tomorrow is sealed off by the evil underling, and Batman finally stands up to let us all know that Earth is under attack from a giant starfish named Starro the Conqueror. (Much more lifelike picture here.) A starfish. Uh huh…
Comic Vine has a summary and list of characters in the issue here.
After plunging into the graphic novels that came to North America in the late 1980s, and being introduced to the possibility of serious, noir work in comic form, I think my standards and expectations have changed even though I've hardly read any comics over the last 25 years. I'm finding the dialogue and hyperbole in issue 2 somewhat harder to handle than issue 1. There's so much jumping between threads that each storyline only gets about 5 minutes of advancement in story time. Not very satisfying.
My last complaint about issue 2 is the lack of anything even vaguely relevant to Islam. At the end of the comic we have a major revelation of cosmic proportions, the sort of thing that ought to cause anyone to drop a little G-D bomb. I know this isn't a Muslim comic, but the reasons THE 99 get the press they do definitely include their Islamic roots. Nothing. Not a thing. (I'm on about this not because I need to see Islam everywhere, but because it kinda matters to this blog, and this makes issue 2 almost irrelevant to Philosufi.)
So… no plot advancement, not much explanation, no Islam, and 10 pages of ads (7 about Batman). On the other hand, Superman has gone rogue and given up on humanity, so this could be fun.
Consider that our good deed for the month. We took one for the team.
On to the current action in issue 3. Seems that the evil underling has been spreading a new breed of the starro; not the normal drones that control your mind and make you a member of the Tea Party. These ones are microscopic, easily transmittable, and really fast-acting. Batman really gets down to work here, figuring out what's going on and funnels his idea into "safe-suit #3," a truly wicked-looking, bad-Bats armoured outfit that'll scare the ampullae out of any starfish.
Rughal is revealed to be not just an independent actor, but in a partnership with the chief Starro. (That's a misnomer; they're hive mind beings. But hey.) Like Superman and countless others, he's got one on the base of his neck, but unlike everyone else, Rughal intentionally chose this. Not that much else makes sense here, but Rughal's helping Starro to have humanity destroy itself and wants only the remaining cinders.
THE 99 kids are still all learning their powers and learning to work together. One of the more interesting aspects of the franchise is the requirement for teamwork. They work in triads, each person's powers complementing the group to fulfil their current mission. This isn't coincidence; it's something Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, the inventor of THE 99 series, intentionally put in there to teach young readers. Another little thing about the kids – they're exceedingly polite, at least the ones we've seen so far. It's cute, and I actually rather like it. These are kids, and they're dealing directly with the Holy Trinity of superheroes as well as their disciples. Some manners are in order.
There is – for the first time – a little hint of Islam. One of THE 99, Rola Hadramy, better known as Batina the Hidden, makes her series debut. She is fully covered in a niqab built for action, and can make herself and others invisible. Batina is one of five of the 50 women who comprise THE 99 who will cover completely, showing there are multiple ways to interpret Islamic dress. Others, such as Samda the Invulnerable (she can project force fields) might loosely cover, while others like Mumita the Destroyer or Noora the Light might just start an affair with their hair. To be fair, all the names of THE 99 keep challenging me to remember the 99 Names of Allah and see how much I remember from my old Sunday school at the top of the Jami Mosque in Toronto with Dr. Mahdi. I have no idea how Dr. Ramzi keeps it all straight.
Can't wait to see what happens when Batina meets the half-naked but ludicrously-hijab'd Hawkman. Should be interesting.
Page count: 34, of which 12 are ads. Looks like my earlier ranting may have had an impact; only four of the full-page ads are about Batman.