Trinity by Matt Wagner

Bringing together DC’s Big Three for a world-saving spectacle is always an event and in 2003, comicbook-superstar Matt Wagner presented an “untold tale”, a “what-if”, a complete retcon actually, of the trio’s earliest adventures in Trinity. The story is big and bombastic as the heroes travel between the environs of gleaming Metropolis, dirty Gotham, and lush Themyscira, while fighting the combined villainy of the near-immortal Ra’s al Ghul, the Superman clone Bizarro, and a fugitive Amazon going by the handle of Artemis. Wagner’s art, always a pleasure to see, is fun as is reading early interactions between the Big Three… if one ignores the plot’s faults.

Wagner produced this three-chapter series at a time when his talents were focused more as a writer; having his stylized art appear in a prestige-format series was a treat for hardcore fans. Wagner’s Batman is a menace of solid muscle and fluid shadows. Superman is portrayed an icon, a sun god attempting to balance his humanity. His Wonder Woman is beauty personified in her pose and grace, set apart from mankind, yet not above. Likewise, Ra’s is dignified, taking pride in his arrogance and venom. Artemis is a punk, both shallow and young. Yet, there is not a complete confluence between the sets of three. Batman is angry for anger’s sake, yet somehow finds himself charmed by the gorgeous Diana. Similarly, at no time does Wonder Woman get a full stake of authority in the presence of her super boy friends. Artemis is never provided a backstory and then never heard from again as clearly this is not the same Artemis who eventually rises to the station of Wonder Woman herself. Even Ra’s one-track plan of global conquest through global genocide is as ever-changing as the sands of his birth; he never gets to one-up on the heroes, rather constantly changes his attack for the convenience of the plot.

Ultimately, Trinity is a showcase for the Big Three to stand in the sun together and rejoice in their triumph, and in their friendship. Wagner is successful at weaving in key characterizations from each of the heroes, yet some of his decisions, again, are merely opportunistic. The mindless Bizarro, used for brute strength alone, does not live up to his potential as the human Batman takes on the creature, albeit in pre-Dark Knight Returns-esque Bat-armor. The brutal slaughter of Amazonian warriors by 21st Century war machines is both distressing and wholly out-of-place thematically. Artemis’ strength, as well as her prowess, fluctuates inconsistently. Even Diana’s dip into a Lazarus Pit mostly goes ignored as, thankfully, she is not restored back as clay.

As a standalone, at face value, Trinity is a fun, action-packed tale of the world’s finest as they learn to be comfortable around each other. Wagner’s cartoony-art style amps the element of mirth; this is clearly a story to be enjoyed, not pondered upon. However, one cannot help but wish the plot went deeper and that more risks were taken, elevating what is a fun story to that of something spectacular.

Trinity has a lot to be desired when trying to determine its place within the established continuity of its three protagonists. If anything, Matt Wagner, when given the chance to create a new and untold tale, blatantly ignores post-Crisis, post-Legends continuity in order to fit the surroundings of his tale. Other than trying to answer, where would this story fit, one should ask if it even should.

A warning to all readers, here below is where geeks reside.

Crisis on Infinite Earths ended with the original Wonder Woman devolving back to clay as the multiverse was reset. Heroes rise anew. Superman is launched in a birthing matrix from a sterile Krypton. A ten-year-old Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ murder as a string of broken pearls fall to the ground. Flashes and Hawkmen come and go. And the DCU is set for its age of Legends.

Crisis was followed up with the series Legends that forged a path for the newly-rebooted characters to go forward on new paths and culminated with the reformation of the all-new, all-different Justice League. Legends also reintroduced Wonder Woman to the post-Crisis DCU. Now how much time actually passed for the characters until the events portrayed in Legends occurred is debatable, as are all comic book timelines, but the Zero Hour timeline placed a four year mark from the debut of super-hero mainstays, such as Superman, Batman, Black Canary (who was the Post-Crisis Wonder Woman surrogate), Green Arrow, and Aquaman (more on him later), as well as second-tier characters such as the Elongated Man and Zatanna, up until Legends and the debut of Wonder Woman. Meaning, a significant amount of “year one” origin time has already passed since the establishment of Superman and Batman and the so-called Heroic Age until these heroes meet Diana of Themyscira.

Wonder Woman by George Perez, DC Comics 1987
Wonder Woman #1 (Feb ’87)

Wonder Woman Vol 2 launched in February 1987 and aside from Legends, she remained mostly inclusive to her own title. Even DC’s next multi-title crossover, Millennium, only presented sparse action from Diana. Aside from lending an assist to the Green Lantern Corps and a quick cameo from the League, her Millennium crossover issues primarily dealt with an established conflict internal to her own series.

Wonder Woman’s next participation on the grand DCU stage ends up as her big “date” with Superman. Superman, at the time, had been dreaming of the Amazon princess since Legends. Comic creator John Byrne, who was the chief Superman architect since his Man Of Steel reboot, decided to tease the fans with a Superman/Wonder Woman romance.

Adv. of Superman #440 (May ’88)

Adventures of Superman #440 (May 1988) ends with the two meeting, and Superman immediately engaging with a lip lock worthy of his kiss with Lois in Superman II. That super-smooch directly lead into Action Comics #600 (May 1988), where fans realize that such a romance will not, nor will it ever, be. That issue also marks the change in the title’s format and becomes a weekly book (for the next 42 issues); prior to #600, Action was the designated Superman team-up book since Byrne’s reboot of the character. However, Adventures #440 also was important for another reason.

Adventures of Superman, DC Comics, art by Jerry Ordway
Adv. of Superman #440
art by Jerry Ordway

Starting in the rebooted Superman #1, Superman discovers a scrapbook containing press clippings of his earliest exploits; he turns the book over to Batman to look into this mystery. The scrapbook, it was discovered, belonged to the Kents, proud parents of the soon-to-be Superman. And really, the scrapbook is irrelevant. However, it is in this issue that Batman learns Superman’s identity. As a result, Superman uses his x-ray vision and peeks behind Batman’s cowl, discovering the vigilante is Bruce Wayne. Four years of activity and knowledge of each other finally led up to this discovery – a first in the post-Crisis DCU. Superman files away and immediately lands in the arms of Diana.

Let’s now get back to Trinity, a story supposedly set during the early careers of these three hereos.

Throughout Trinity, Batman is shown in his gray outfit with the simple black bat insignia. This in itself is not the most glaring of continuity errors. Even though this story should be set in the time where Batman’s costume sported the yellow bat-signet oval, there are plenty of creators that ignored such detail for what could be looked at as out-of-continuity stories, such as those presented within the Legends of the Dark Knight anthology series.

Why should Batman have the yellow oval? Because as of Adventures #440, that was his established costume and that was when the heroes learned each others’ identities. Within Trinity, such secrets are already open as Clark Kent receives a ride from Bruce Wayne.

Another inconsistency is the appearance of Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. When the Wonder Woman title was rebooted, she was granted the ability of flight, so the need for such transport was irrelevant. Wonder Woman’s invisible plane does not make its official post-Crisis appearance until much, much later in the continuity of her title. Again, this can be possibly dismissed with a No-Prize worthy thought along the lines of… maybe the Amazons had it lying around the Diana wanted to take it for a test drive. Right?

An argument could be made that Trinity happens following the team-up in Action #600, after all, this would still be an early adventure as far as Wonder Woman is concerned. The only other allusion to exactly how early an adventure this might be occurs during the heroes’ visit to the Batcave, where a young, dark-haired lad is shown. The boy is never mentioned by name but this could easily be Jason Todd, who was the active Robin at the time.

However, and in spite of all that has been referenced, there is one underlying factor that destroys any sense of continuity: Aquaman.

In issue 3, Batman is racing underwater in a Bat-sub only to encounter – for his first time – Aquaman.

Secret Origins 32 Justice League
Secret Origins #32
(Nov ’88)

Obviously, if Clark and Bruce are already hip to each other’s aliases, Aquaman would have been well established not to mention being a founding member of the Justice League of America. Aquaman’s appearance eradicates any semblance of post-Legends continuity. Boom. Good-bye. Welcome to the end of the map.

Maybe not all is lost. Let’s look back further then. Perhaps this could be a hidden story from a pre-Crisis Earth-1 detailing one of the first times Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, all met. Unfortunately there are continuity errors with that as well. Most noticeably, Bizarro, who is referred to as a clone multiple times. The Bizarro clone was introduced post-Crisis as an attempt for Lex Luthor to gain possession of a completely subservient Superman. In fact, Luthor, who is a corrupt businessman in the post-Crisis DCU, has his LexCorp Tower fully shown in the pages of Trinity. Yes, the pre-Crisis Bizarro was a Superman “duplicate”, also created by Luthor, but set more in vein as a Frankenstein’s Monster, albeit one who worked everything in reverse.

End result? Trinity is a fun read that is completely ignorant of any sense of continuity and really should have carried the Elseworlds banner, which was a DC imprint allowing top-tier creators, such as Matt Wagner, the opportunity to play with known characters in different, alternate settings. Trinity would have been perfect for this imprint and would have allowed Wagner the freedom push those relational boundaries a lot more than he did.

Trinity is fun, but also probably best forgotten.

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