Monday, December 17, 2007

Someone Should Tell Them It's a Superhero Team, Not a Clown Car!

Justice League of America #0-12

Written by Brad Meltzer (who apparently has to write another novel so it can place forty-first on the NY Times List before disappearing into obscurity forever.)
Drawn by Ed Benes (except issue 11 drawn by Gene Ha, whose talents for detail were completely ignored.)
Covers by Michael Turner (when he felt like it.)

I am an acolyte of the church of Grant Morrison, He Who is Both Totally Man and Totally God; therefore, I had serious doubts about anyone trying to take over a book that had, until then, been living in his shadow (apologies to Joe Kelly, who did okay). But the guy who got this whole “DC is all edgy now” thing going with Identity Crisis sunk his teeth into the JLA and damn if he didn’t feed it to us like a caring mama-bird over the past year.
Now, having grown up with the post-Crisis (the original Crisis) continuity in which there were five founding members of the JLA—Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Martian Manhunter, Black Canary and Aquaman—(with Triumph if you want to be a real dick about it) I was a bit unsettled by this new/old continuity where the Big Three of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were the guiding force behind the League, but I took that pill and I swallowed it without asking questions, like a good American. And for once, I was rewarded.
Issues one through six were about exploring what Red Tornado is and why he always comes back—and in addition, about what the JLA is, and why it always comes back. Issue seven is about how the new League comes together the way it always does, with a new headquarters and new gimmicks. Issues eight through ten were the Lightning Saga, which I’ll get to presently. Issues eleven and twelve were two amazing standalones that left me begging for more like an amateur BDSM porn star.
Quickly, here’s what I didn’t like: that Starro and Parasite were treated as if nothing had been done to them in-continuity since the ‘70s; that Wonder Woman is still occasionally nothing more than a halfway point between Bats’ and Supes’ philosophies with breasts; that Black Canary didn’t get more time in the spotlight; that Vixen’s and Geo-Force’s problems with their powers weren’t resolved; also that Red Tornado’s ongoing disconnection from his own human side were barely mentioned.
Now: I did, I have to admit, enjoy Hal Jordan and the Canary teaming up with Roy “Arsenal” Harper and telling Ollie to stay at home and watch the baby. Even though it’s leading to some weird synch-up with Kingdom Come, I enjoyed watching Roy come of age as Red Arrow. I love Black Lightning as the team’s stealth informant and Hawkgirl as the team’s number one “tank”. And I love the idea of her getting it on with Red Arrow.
The Lightning Saga is where it gets tricky.
I plan on reviewing the new/old Flash series soon, but until then here’s what I’ll say: never before have I seen a project where the editor says to the writers, “Hey, I gave this shitty writer a year’s worth of leash and this is how we told him to finish it up. Now you two really good writers have to cover his ass with this story to keep the status quo from falling apart before our eyes. KTHNX BYE”
In a nutshell: the new JLA and JSA team up with members of some version of the Legion of Super-Heroes (alien heroes from the 31st century, for those of you not familiar with the Gospel of Jim Shooter). The Legionnaires won’t talk as to why they’re a thousand years from home, but they’re on a mission to save a life. Lightning strikes. The Legion disappears. Wally West, the Flash from 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths until 2006’s Infinite Crisis (confused yet?), reappears, apparently at the same moment that Bart Allen, the “new” Flash, was killed by his enemies. So the Legion caught his soul and returned him to the 31st century where he belongs (yes, the most recent Flash was raised a thousand years in the future. Welcome to comic books.). There. Now there’s no need to buy those unless you really like reading it for the character development (which, for the purposes of this argument, I’ll say that I do).
Issue 11 is something we don’t see nearly often enough—a team book focusing on two secondary characters, completely isolated. No villains. In this circumstance they’re not even really heroes themselves, so much as people caught in a desperate situation. And it was still the most riveting thirty-two pages I’d read that month.
Issue 12 suffers from one thing only—a lack of understanding of what’s going on in Aquaman. Unless Meltzer is admitting what I know in my heart is true—that Orin of Atlantis is not dead—then J’onn J’onzz is speaking to the new Aquaman rather than his best friend and former teammate in the JLA—and speaking to him as if he is, in fact, Arthur Curry as opposed to, uhm, Arthur Joseph Curry (I know, it’s dumb, but there’s dumber stuff out there, I’m sorry to say). Aside from that, it’s a great issue. A little more insight (but not enough) into what’s going on with Vixen’s and Geo-Force’s powers. More development of the Hawkgirl/Red Arrow romance that’s doomed to get busted up by a Thanagarian Mace coming soon to a face near you. More evidence that Reddy (Red Tornado) is losing his grip on humanity. Also more evidence that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman could run the UN Security Council by themselves and probably be more effective than what’s going on now.
I’m doing this series an… ahem… injustice with this review. It’s way better than even I make it out to be. And I make it out to be effing fantastic. Pick up each trade as it comes out. It’s worth it. My only real, true disappointment is that it didn’t go on for another year. For God’s sake, what was so important that Meltzer had to leave? I know it’s best to go out on top, before your fans start saying you’ve lost your touch, but Meltzer hadn’t even peaked yet, as far as I’m concerned… I was left wanting more, and like I said, as a Morrison devotee from the days of the Big Seven plus the little seven, that’s saying something. Character development like this comes along once in a blue moon. All the action and fighting is mere scene-dressing. Buy these issues. Cherish them.

Rating: Four Whiskey Sours.