By Kelly Gaines
As suddenly as it began, DC’s Milk Wars has ended. For a relatively short event, Milk Wars is loaded with references, ideologies, and narratives that need intense dissection to piece together completely. I wouldn’t say that I’m disappointed, just a little frustrated with the amount of work the average reader will have to do to follow and understand what they’re reading. If you have a sturdy background in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, the complete history of the Doom Patrol, the Justice League, and all of the Young Animal titles, you have nothing to worry about here. If you haven’t read much of the Young Animals, aren’t up to date with Doom Patrol, and haven’t delved into the history of DC’s multiverse, you’re going to need a lot of breadcrumbs to find your way through this story. Milk Wars is clever, hilarious, and fully embraces the “meta-narrative” trend that’s been taking over more and more in pop culture. However, Young Animals was created as a way to bring new readers into the DC universe without having to feel lost or behind. Milk Wars effectively alienates any new readers of not only DC but comics as a whole. I’ve been a DC girl since about eight years old, and even I had to put reading on hold to look up back issues and google characters to piece everything together. Milk Wars is a smart read for an avid comic fan, but likely a let down to readers hoping to use the Young Animal titles as gateway comics.
So, What happens? The call to adventure delivered by Cave Carson’s eye managed to get nearly all of Earth Prime’s heroes to the Retconn offices just in time. What ensues is a massive brawl between the heroes and Milkman (who is not actually Superman as Wonder Wife and Father Bruce were the actual character, but is a copy of Superman made by Retconn and birthed from Casey). Milkman is flanked by gigantic and heavily armed super cows, which open up a world of dairy puns even Batman can’t resist. Milkman is in the midst of a full-on existential crisis- first lashing out at the Justice League for seeing him cry back in Rhode Island, then unconvincingly calling the heroes “weirdos” while firing lasers and throwing punches. For some reason, he’s stored up an extra supply of insults for Wonder Woman, referring to her as “Swimsuit,” “Reject from an all-girls summer camp,” and a “greek centerfold.” Referring to Themyscira, the mythological home of the Amazons, as an “all girls summer camp” is borderline hilarious, and I don’t know what magazines Milkman’s been reading, but I’ve never seen a centerfold with biceps like Wonder Woman. As always, Wonder Woman is not distracted by the insults, but peppers her punches and kicks with intermittent words of wisdom.
While the battle rages on, the Retconn employees upstairs are having a difficult time making the sale with Lord Magna Khan, who turns out to be a liaison for another hidden buyer. Magna Khan throws a tantrum that would make any middle-aged couple at a used car dealership proud, referring to Earth Prime’s entire reality as a “lemon” that Retconn is trying to unload onto him. The sale falls through, and Retconn’s hysterical leader decides to activate their “ultimate failsafe”- destroying the reality completely. The Doom Patrol, The Justice League, Shade, and Mother Panic, are all now in danger of not only dying but having never existed at all. A little encouragement from Batman sparks an idea, more of a desperate hail Mary, to save reality and each other.
This main plot is cut apart by the Rita Farr side plot. Rita, who was taken by Retconn in the first part of Milk Wars, is now being nailed to a cross by worm monsters. No part of that sentence was metaphorical. Rita Far is literally being nailed to a cross by worm monsters, who brand her with the words “DC Superstar”. Whether or not this was a reference to ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’ is irrelevant. The scene reminded me instantly of a day 12 years ago when my mother threw away my Teen Titans comic because she saw a panel in which Beast Boy makes a comment about wanting to see Wonder Girl’s panties. Had she seen this book, it would have been straight off to the convent with me. Once again, Milk Wars has managed to warp familiar images into something strange and unsettling- and I have to commend the creative team for that.
Both plots are eventually underlined by a conversation between Casey and Milkman. Casey manages to talk Milkman, her son, away from the fight. The two connect in a genuinely sad moment as Milkman laments the unfairness of his creation and Casey tries to comfort him. If you’ve seen the play ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’, you know this kind of hyper-aware meta-narrative. Milkman says “If I was nothing, I could have been anything. And they made me bad”. On one hand Milkman is talking about Retconn’s creation of him, but on the other hand, he is speaking for all fictional characters. If we are to believe that every story is a reality within itself, that means the people creating the fiction are giving birth to these characters and deciding the meaning of their life. A sentient character would have the ability to recognize this control and resent it. Milkman cannot exist in Earth Prime’s reality once things go back to normal. Father Bruce and go back to being Batman, Wonder Wife can be Wonder Woman again, but Milkman was never really Superman, and thus there is no place for him in Earth Prime’s story. It’s a sad, short life that could make any writer feel guilty for the characters they’ve written off.
The best way I can sum up Milk Wars is to say this: it was one hell of an event. I doubt this will be a universal fan favorite, and for some readers, it might be a complete waste of time. However, if you’re a fan of playing with the concept of narrative, or a DC virtuoso, I would recommend giving it a try. For any new readers, especially new readers who find themselves here because they started with Young Animals- hang in there. There’s a lot of legwork to be done to piece this event together, but the final project is well worth the effort. Furthermore, This issue was used as a stepping stone for the next arcs of the Young Animal books. Shade the Changing Girl will relaunch as Shade the Changing Woman, Mother Panic will relaunch with a new mission in Gotham A.D., and Cave Carson is coming back as well. I’m hopeful that these new launches will answer some of the questions I still have lingering after Milk Wars. What happened to Mother Panic’s kid sidekick? What was up with Shade’s pregnancy? and How are Cave Carson and Swamp Thing friends? I sincerely hope time will tell.
Doom Patrol/Justice League of America #1