Kai’s Komic Book Flashback – DC’s “Armageddon 2001”

Up until 1992, I was reading several comic books a month. I didn’t discriminate between publishers as at the time, it was primarily DC and Marvel dominating the field. Independent publishers such as Image, Dark Horse and Malibu were either just starting or publishing books that just couldn’t reach the numbers as the “big two.”

Each year or so, DC and Marvel would have yearly events that would span across their major titles to be used as filler for the main event. Marvel would have “Secret Wars,” “Infinity Gauntlet” and “Infinity Wars” while DC would publish “52,” “Infinite Crisis” and “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, to name a few. These books were sometimes used to retcon or reboot characters, change origins, or kill some characters off. Many readers waited in anticipation to see what was going to happen in the next issue. There was one series, however, that pissed MANY people off due to what was called “complete dishonesty” by the writers for the story’s resolution.

I give you… Armageddon 2001!

The cover of the crapfest DC foisted upon us.

The story was presented as a mystery as Matthew Ryder traveled back in time to 1991 (the year the comic was published) from 2001 to stop a super-powered tyrant named Monarch from gaining power and taking over the world. The whole story was built around “Who is Monarch?” While clues were given as to who he was, many readers were clamoring to determine his true identity. The hints we were given were 1) it had to be someone super strong, 2) someone with a lot of power, and 3) someone who could actually kill Superman. Theories abounded on who it was and readers had to get through two book-end titles and 12 Annuals to figure it out. Because Monarch always appeared in a suit of full body armor, his prior identity was unknown.

Now that you know this, let’s talk about our lead protagonist. He lived in a dystopian society ruled by the oppressive tyrant Monarch. People were, obviously, unhappy with his rule and no one was more unhappy than temporal expert named Matthew Ryder. Monarch was conducting time travel experiments and chose to use Ryder as a guinea pig. Ryder traveled back to 1991 which was ten years before Monarch’s massacre of Earth’s heroes. Ryder was determined to find out who Monarch really was and, if possible, destroy him before he could rise to power. As he travelled through the rift, his body mutated into a form of living temporal energy, and upon arriving at his destination he took the name Waverider.

Your “hero,” ladies and gentlemen.

Now that you know the basic plot, each annual for the year of 1991 had Waverider making physical contact with a suspected hero to see a glimpse into the several possibilities of where they would be in 2001, when Monarch rose to power. Some highlights of the possible futures included:

  • Batman was in prison for murdering the Penguin.
  • The Flash, Wally West, was in the Witness Protection Program, but had to save his super-powered son.
  • Superman had a few possibilities, including becoming President, being killed by Batman, and romancing Maxima after Lois Lane died while she was pregnant with Supes’ kid.

The last annual before the conclusion was Justice League Europe. The members were lost in time and, after everything was resolved, Captain Atom returned to the JLE embassy. Waverider approached, touched Captain Atom and…

Waverider starts fondling Captain Atom and he’s not pleased.

We would have to wait a bit before we see what Captain Atom’s future was. Issue # 2 of Armageddon 2001 was supposed to be out the following week, but SOMEONE leaked which hero would become the despot Monarch. Rumor was it was penciller Dan Jurgens, but this still has not been officially confirmed. Regardless, somebody at DC leaked the identity via the old FidoNet messaging system that was used by Bulletin Board Systems in the late 80s and early 90s. DC had to scramble and make last minute changes to the story due to the identity getting out earlier than anticipated.

Monarch was SUPPOSED to be Captain Atom, and it made sense. His powers included the ability to absorb and manipulate infinite amounts of energy which granted him many skills such as super-strength. He was very powerful and he could feasibly kill all of the DC heroes, including Superman. The basic gist was that Monarch was keeping an eye on Waverider, and when he touched Atom it was to open a rift allowing Monarch to travel back to 1991 and wreak havoc. This is not, however, what happened.

When it was revealed who Monarch really was, it was met with much anger, hatred, and a lot of “Really?! Him?! How?” I’ll get to who it was momentarily, but the frame story had been presented as a mystery – which superhero would go insane, kill all other heroes and take over the world, and why? – and clues were provided. Captain Atom made sense. His solo title was cancelled to facilitate the change as well.

Instead… it was a mid-level character named Hank Hall who was the hero named Hawk.

This guy became Monarch

Hall teamed with his brother, Don, who was a hero named Dove and collectively they were known as  “Hawk and Dove.” How original.

The Hall brothers were the sons of Judge Irwin Hall. After an attempt on Judge Hall’s life, Hank and Don eventually followed the criminal back to the hideout where they accidentally locked themselves in the closet while the criminals were planning to murder Judge Hall.  Don and Hank rarely agreed on anything, but when they both agreed that they should save their father, a couple of voices gave the boys a chance to save their father. All they had to do was call upon the powers of the Hawk and the Dove. The mysterious voices belonged to a Lord of Chaos named T’Charr and a Lord of Order named Terataya. The Lords of Order and Chaos were eternal enemies, but these two eventually fell in love with each other.

To explain the Lords of Order and Chaos would be to simply think of Republicans and Democrats, Good and Evil, etc. They were there to keep the balance in the universe and also tried not to interfere with “lower” life form’s problems. Anyway, when the Hall brothers said their respective power’s name (“Hawk” for Hank and “Dove” for Don) they would transform and gain enhanced powers. Hank, who was conservative, was more hot-headed and aggressive while Don, who was liberal, was more thoughtful and reasoned, but could also be indecisive.

During the Crisis on Infinite Earths story arc, Don was killed while trying to save a young boy from shadow demons. Without Don/Dove to restrain him, Hank grew more violent to the point where many heroes started to treat him as a villain.

We now return you to Armageddon 2001.

In the Hawk and Dove Annual #2, Waverider encounters Hawk and the new Dove (Dawn Granger) and we were given a hint that Hawk wasn’t going to become Monarch. Another problem was that Waverider saw Hawk fighting with Monarch, that Hawk would eventually lose his life at the hands of the villain, and that Dove had allowed him to see so many futures so as to conclude, “No matter the future they fought him but never became him,” making Hank Hall and Dawn Granger the two heroes Monarch could not be. Ironically, they were the only characters shown in this situation, and thus any of the other major characters could have been Monarch without creating a continuity issue.

In short, Dawn/Dove is killed by Monarch…

Poor Dawn.

Hank/Hawk goes ballistic as he no longer had Dove to calm him down and beat up Monarch until…

Oh, for fuck’s sake!

That’s what we got… A complete turd of a reveal. Myself and a bunch of my comic reader friends shouted many vulgarities at this time. None of us could accept a hero so low on the DC totem pole, powerful enough to kill even Superman, would become such a high powered villain. This made us want to rip up our issues.

DC Comics tried to change things much later. In the Battle for Blüdhaven story arc, Monarch’s origin was retconned to where Captain Atom did transform into the villain. Still not satisfied, a JSA storyline revealed that the ending of Armageddon 2001 was faked by Mordru, the sorcerer. I don’t want to even get started what happened in this arc. No…just, no.

None of the futures shown in the story came true. Waverider hung around in Superman comics and DC hasn’t republished Armageddon 2001 since its original release and there have never been any plans to. The outcry was THAT bad.

Good. Keep it that way. This was a story that had a good chapter one, but just fell apart after that. Who cares that the person was leaked? It would’ve made more sense and also could have been a more enjoyable conclusion. Instead, we got a nonsensical conclusion that made only confused readers and no matter how many times DC tried, they couldn’t make up for it.