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Trouble with Comics

A Few Thoughts on the Justice League: War Movie

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* Thank God there’s finally an animated film that explains how the Justice League met.

* There’s something really wrong with the writing when my visceral, gut response to the bad guy breaking Green Lantern’s arm is “GOOD!”

* I’ll give you a pass for Superman snapping DeSaad’s neck because he was not quite himself, but I can’t help but wonder what Jack Kirby would have thought of having the heroes consciously plot to stab Darkseid in the eyes and then carry it out with no reservations whatsoever. 

* Thank God it’s finally okay for Green Lantern to call Batman a douchebag. That’s really what’s been holding comics back.

* Thank God Cyborg can finally say “Shit!” when something goes wrong. That has ALSO really been holding comics back.

* Why doesn’t “Shazam” turn back into Billy when he tells people his name is “Shazam?”

* Especially later when he says “Shazam!” to bring down the lightning to power Cyborg’s Boom Tube generator and DOES turn back into Billy?!?

* (I will never not think of him as Captain Marvel, because, HE’S CAPTAIN MARVEL.)

* Wonder Woman’s new costume would be so great if it had pants.

* Why did they make Cap’s lightning bolt look more like Superman’s S? Irony?

* Why did they make a New 52 cartoon and use the OLD Superman S? It’s maybe the one change I kind of like and they don’t use it!

The New DC 52 Week Four, Part Three – The Dark and the Not So Bright

The Fury of Firestorm #1 by Ethan Van Sciver, Gail Simone and Yildiray Cinar has one good element at its core (I guess that pun is intended) and that’s the issue of race. Before high school quarterback Ronnie Raymond and school reporter Jason Rusch are linked to the Firestorm Protocol, they are just kids who don’t get along because Jason accuses Ronnie of racism. It′s not that Ronnie says or does anything to provoke this, which shows Simones subtlety and sure hand; its that Jason is angry and maybe jealous of Ronnie′s minor celebrity and plays the race card, with the effect of actually getting Ronnie to wonder why it is he and his mother don’t have any black friends, even as he′s angry at Jason for bringing the question to light. 

That’s the most interesting part of the issue, with the rest being rather unconvincing stuff involving a threesome of handsome American terrorists tracking the remaining particle to Jason, leading to the transformation of our two male leads into the superpowered version of The Defiant Ones. None of that is very interesting, with average, Bob McLeod style art from Cinar and the same made-up teen lingo (″Ill casket you!″) Simone used to ill effect in Batgirl. I give it credit for trying to be about something for half its length, but its not enough to keep me around.

Teen Titans #1 by Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth is one of many DC books determined to bring back the ′90s. Hey, the title of the issue is even, Teen Spirit, and you’ve got ′90s X-writer Lobdell and ′90s Image artist Booth, looking about the same. Lobdell doesn’t do such a bad job, though gathering just two heroes together for the eventual team seems a little sluggish. Red Robin, the Cassie Sandsmark Wonder Girl, and Superboy—none of these are characters who I feel like I′m missing out on. I actually liked Lobdell′s Superboy debut, so hopefully I can just read that without having to follow this one.

I, Vampire #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino is the most Vertigoesque of the new books, a nod to Twilight and True Blood with its star-crossed lovers and that one special vampire guy who sees humans as more than walking blood bags. This vampire, Andrew, has been (un)living for 400 years with guilt over turning the sweet Mary into what she is today, a bloodsucker about to go to war against humanity with the rest of her kind. This isn’t an original comment, but yes, Sorrentino′s art does look a lot like Jae Lee, and that’s a good thing, as the book calls for a style that’s someber and still, though maybe Fialkov could have broken things up a bit with a flashback to sunnier times. I think Fialkov may be in for a tough go trying to reconcile this world with the rest of the metahuman-filled DCU, but for now, we′re off to a good start.

The Flash #1 by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato is a nice-looking book that brought me back a little bit to the first time I ever was interested in The Flash, the Waid/Wieringo run. Oh, its not that Manapul is busting out fresh concepts like the Speed Force or anything, but what as a new writer he may lack in making Barry Allen much more interesting than the norm, he makes up for with an engaging, softer art style that looks like color over pencils, sans ink, and a willingness to play with page layouts and an organic use of sound effects that stands head and shoulders over what we can now say with authority is an overwhelming lack of artistic ambition on the part of 90% of the other DC artists.  I think Manapul could do a better job introducing his supporting cast for maximum impact, but I do like that he seems to understand that one way to make boring Barry more interesting is to have two women interested in him. 

Justice League Dark #1 by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin is the most interesting and competent of the many team books DC has unleashed the past month. As he has shown the past few years in Hellblazer, Milligan is expert at damaged characters who still have something to offer, and now, in addition to roping in John Constantine and early success Shade The Changing Man, he has the scarred soothsayer Madame Xanadu, the daft, haunted June Moone, the resourceful but insecure Zatanna, and even the searching Deadman, who are all being slowly drawn together to go up against The Enchantress, who has already defeated the regular Justice League. 

Janin is a new name to me, but I like the style, which is dark but grounded. Obviously this is a title that’s going to call for some out-of-the-box storytelling, so hopefully he can keep growing in that regard. I guess my only concern is that Milligan has his work cut out for him trying to make each of these strange loners distinct, but I trust he will be up to the task.

And that’s it, the whole 52 aside from Green Lantern Corps, a title that I missed. I think that’s thorough enough. I can say that the majority of these books are not ones I will continue to follow, but I will say there are more I liked than I expected, so that’s something. The ones I wont stick with mostly fail by being mediocre, the titillating or offensive elements unfortunate but probably overly remarked upon. I don’t think reaching more women, kids or non-Caucasians was ever a serious goal, and the few who are offended are likely to keep reading anyway. What folks should really be more demanding of are better stories, more adventurous art, more risks taken. The relaunch has been considered by many to be a kind of last ditch attempt at new readers and relevance, and so the problem is not that Starfire is a slut or Catwoman and Batman get it on, but that to those writers′ minds, and their editors, this represents risk and a bold attempt at taking the characters into new territory. At the same time, maybe 15% of the books show some inventiveness and fresh approaches that aren’t based on exploitation, with another chunk of the books being familiar but competent entertainments. That’s not a bad average overall.

—Christopher Allen

The New DC 51 - Five Comics, Only One Pony

After the huge disappointment of Detective Comics I felt as if I was in the middle of a cruel and disappointing joke: here I am desperately searching through a huge pile of manure because I know that there has got to be a pony in there somewhere.

It couldn’t get worse after Detective Comics, could it?  Could it??  The alphabetical journey of Week One continues…

The aged, liberal-leaning, slightly cynical and more than a little caustic Oliver Queen is replaced by a younger, richer industrialist who fights crime as he travels the world in Green Arrow #1.  This new Oliver Queen is so good at what he does that he actually phones into business meetings while he hunts for bad guys.  Chew gum and walk at the same time? – Hell no, Oliver Queen can make multi-billion dollar business deals as he fights crime and shoots his trick arrows.  As he says, “Multitasking is my speciaity.”

On top of all that, he also has a pair of operatives who assist him, there’s a hint of some kind of mysterious past that haunts our hero, and it looks like he’s going to fight a whole ton of villains in the next issue. 

After reading the story it is apparent that this new improved Green Arrow is an amalgamation of the TV version of Oliver Queen from Smallville and the movie version of Tony Stark from Iron Man: an ultra-rich, somewhat arrogant ladies man who still finds time to do the right thing as he makes his millions.

But does it make any sense for Green Arrow to be battling a gang of super-villains?  The final splash page has ten super-villains looking very pissed and out for some payback.

As I came to that final splash page, the little part of my brain that I usually turn off when reading comic books flicked back on and said, “Hey, shouldn’t those villains be taking on the Justice League and not just poor Green Arrow? – There’s no way he can avoid getting his ass kicked.  There are ten of them!”  And in no way, shape or form was this my brain squealing in anticipation of next issue.  This was my brain saying, “This doesn’t make any sense.  I give up.  Can we move on to something better?”

And I have to say that sometimes it feels good to listen to my brain.

One more thing: either give Green Arrow a beard of or give him a shave.  The chin scruff looks stupid.  The front cover makes it look like he’s about to transform into a werewolf.

Hawk &Dove #1 spends almost a third of the issue explaining who the title characters are, how they got their powers, and what their relationship is.  And then it wraps it all up with a final page that is so poorly illustrated and darkly colored that I couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be one of the heroes or it was someone completely different.  I ended up having to flip back a bunch of pages to try to figure out what was going on.

The issue also has Dove flying through the city as she has a long chat with Deadman.  But after all of the time that the story takes to explain the origin and relationship between Hank, deceased brother Don and replacement Dawn, there is not a single mention of who the bizarre guy is with the red suit and the big ‘D’.  And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if so much of the issue hadn’t been dedicated to explaining Every Little Detail about the main characters.  So on the one hand the issue rehashes everything needed to know about Hawk & Dove, but  on the other hand it figures that every reader will either know or not care about this Deadman fella.

And they were right, because at the end I didn’t care about any of it.

Justice League International #1 would probably make more sense if readers had a better concept of what the true status of superheroes and the Justice League is in the new DCU.  Unfortunately the issues released up to this point have Justice League #1 set in the past, Action Comics #1 set in the past, and Detective Comics #1 seeming to conflict with Batgirl andBatwing in their portrayals of Batman’s status.

This comic starts with a splash page of DC heroes on a huge monitor (including Frankenstein, The Creeper and Congorilla?!?) as a secret U.N. council votes to put together its own Justice League.  Everyone gets to both vote and veto potential members for the league.  The Russians are pleased that Red Rocket is part of the group, England gets a member, China is represented, etc. etc.  But India, the Middle East, France, Mexico, Germany:  none of these countries or regions had representatives at this clandestine gathering so they don’t have any heroes in the JLI.  (I guess it’s too bad that DC didn’t’ have any pre-existing heroes from those areas that could be pigeon-holed into the group.)

Who the members of this U.N. council are, how they were chosen to vote for the League members and how they have the authority to draft all these heroes is never explained.  The whole thing is like an updated version of the Global Guardians concept but it never feels all that updated.  The comic itself, with its Saturday morning cartoon cast of characters, seems both unnecessary and blatantly concocted:  “What do you mean?  How the hell can we only have 51 books?!?  We need 52! – Okay, how about dusting off the Super Friends concept, filling it with minor characters but making sure they’re from all over the world and then slapping the “Justice League” label on the cover.  That’ll work.”

Oh, and Batman also joins the League for no apparent reason other than it never hurts to have Batman on the cover of a team book.  Once again illustrating that DC doesn’t know what Batman’s role is in this new universe.

With regards to Men of War #1:  I tried.  I really, really tried.  I even read the whole book.  Made my way through the whole thing.

But the constant footnotes (S.AW. = squad automatic weapon, GOOSE = Carl Gustav recoilless rifle) which explain every bit of military jargon got on my nerves, the cliché about a “young soldier refusing his destiny” bugged my ass, and the pages and pages and pages of explosions  became wearisome.

But the book’s biggest fault is that it is set in the new DCU which means that while the main characters are human, non-powered soldiers they are fighting in a combat zone that is being destroyed by a crazed, unknown super-villain.  The book is supposed to capture the drama of soldiers as they go into battle, but it turns out that a super-villain is doing all the damage.  How are normal soldiers supposed to fight a villain who can fly, appears indestructible and has “done more damage in five minutes than a year of armed men could do.”   This juxtaposition of reality and superheroics doesn’t work and the whole thing collapses due to the absurdity of the concept.

And the $3.99 price tag for a war comic? – I’d like to have someone explain the logic behind that one for me.  It’s almost as if DC wanted to say there was more than just superhero comics in their re-launch, but they then purposely priced the books to fail.

And finally a comic I enjoyed.    

OMAC  #1 is an entire issue of Keith Giffen channeling Jack Kirby.  And that is a very, very good and entertaining thing.

There are pages and pages of OMAC battling bad guys, ripping things apart and huge sound effects like “FFRRAATZZ,” “PA-THOOM” and “BASSSH” to accompany the destruction.  Everything is big and chunky and huge and glorious. 

My only complaint with the books (and it’s a surprisingly minor one)is that I wish that someone other than Dan DiDio was co-writing it.  DiDio has an annoying habit of shoving redundant descriptive boxes into panels and pages where the finished art has already done the work.  For example there’s a terrific double page splash where OMAC is ripping apart a building with a terrific “FRRZTTTZKKK-RRAAACK” and Didio feels the need to insert “In an unimaginable display of raw strength and power, OMAC tears through the final obstacles in his way.”

Yes the book is a pastiche of the classic Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tales, but just because Smilin’ Stan used to shove stuff like that into a comic doesn’t mean that it’s right.  I hate to sound incredibly harsh, but I can’t help but wonder what a real writer (rather than DC’s co-publisher) would have brought to the tale.

(Speaking of The King, for some reason the credit “OMAC created by Jack Kirby” isn’t in the book.  I trust that was merely an oversight and will be quickly corrected.)

I confess that with OMAC  I finally found something worth savoring after seven comics of varying degrees of disappointment.  It’s loud and silly and beautiful to look at.  It succeeds because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t a re-boot attempting to deliver something cool and modern.  It actually reads like a good idea rather than just another book to get the count up to 52.

I would love for this book to exist in its own Kirby-verse but it seems unlikely after seeing how superheroes were forced into Men of War.  Nevertheless I’m hoping that Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the Justice League never make an appearance in the book.  I know that probably won’t be the case, but I can hope.

—Kevin Pasquino

Justice League #1 (2011)

Justice League #1
Writer – Geoff Johns
Penciler – Jim Lee
Inker – Scott Williams
Publisher – DC Comics. $3.99 (print)/$4.99 (print/digital combo)

The New 52 starts here, with the flagship title. This is the one that’s the easiest sell: The biggest superheroes DC has, on a team, starting from scratch, as written and drawn by two of their best-loved talents. I am fairly certain there has not been a positive review of a Johns-written comics on this blog, and it would be pretty easy to rip this one, but it isn’t really that bad. We meet Batman in action, hounded by police, and Lee draws him well, with noticeable but unobtrusive extra seams in his costume as a kind of nod to the Christopher Nolan movies, or perhaps just an ingrained artistic fussiness. And he meets Green Lantern, who performs his shtick to any new readers, though not as impressively as he should, since it looks like too much precious space was used on Batman close-ups. There is a menace of sorts in what appears to be an Apokoliptian parademon, setting off a bomb on behalf of Darkseid, and the mystery of this is the engine that gets GL to abscond with Batman to find the other superhumans that are starting to make the papers, like that guy in Metropolis, who ends up being a little more prone to punching first and asking questions later than we might expect of Superman. And we get a glimpse of young high school quarterback phenom Vic Stone, who has a dad who neglects him. And that’s your twenty-two pages.

Johns does fine with Batman firmly in the arrogant, brilliant loner mold which has defined the character half my lifetime. The Hal Jordan Green Lantern as a cocky hothead is fine, and presumably Superman will be revealed as more thoughtful once introductions are made. There is a chuckle or two in the Batman/GL meeting, but I don’t think many people think of Johns as a really witty writer. It’s a utilitarian effort, and while it makes sense to write a lot of action and big panels for Lee, it also means there isn’t a lot of story here, and nothing we haven’t seen before. For his part, Lee is Lee, with maybe some Neal Adams panel angles in his bag of tricks now, but nothing surprising or ambitious. I get it: this is meant to be DCs most accessible book, so no one is going to experiment in anything but little decorative details, like giving Supermans costume a little collar. I mean, the JL could be in much worse hands than this, and has, many times. That doesn’t mean this is anything to get very excited about.

—Christopher Allen