Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Wow, Justice League #4 was really, really bad

I visited a new library yesterday, and it was a very nice library indeed. I was really impressed by their comics collection.

In the non-fiction section, there was a whole shelving unit's worth of books about comics, and a few collections of older, Golden Age and newspaper strip comics, in the 741.5s (that's where drawing, cartoons and comics traditionally fell within the Dewey Decimal System, although many libraries now have dedicated graphic novel sections, and the emerging myriad of comics are challenging conventional wisdom on where these things go—for example, is Alison Bechdel's Fun Home to be shelved in the 741.5s, as a comic, or in a graphic novel section, or in the 800s as a memoir? And so on).

There was also a dedicated section for "adult" graphic novels and comics collections. It was smallish, but contained literary and art comics of the sort Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly and the book-book publishers increasingly release; there were some Vertigo books, but that was it from the Direct Market leaders, really.

And, finally, there was a fairly large selection in the teen area, near the Young Adult novels. This included all of the manga—they had everything I looked for, just to see if they had it—and this is also where they shelved the superhero material. That seemed to account for the bulk of the non-manga in the teen section of graphic novels: A lot of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, X-Men, Spider-Man and other movie-generating superhero franchises.

I was most surprised to find the wide variety of actual comic book-comics that were shelved on little racks on the side of one of the freestanding graphic novel shelving units. I've mentioned before that one of the libraries in my hometown carried a few comics in this fashion—Batman, Superman and Scooby-Doo—but this library had a much bigger and more up-to-date selection.

It seemed to be mostly DC, Marvel and Archie. I noticed Justice League, Flash, Teen Titans and Superman among the DC, and a lot of X-Men among the Marvel. They were only an issue or two behind on "New 52" issues, so I flipped through the Justice League stack to catch up on the series from where I left off.

(You know one thing I like about blogging for no money here on my own personal blog, where I don't care if anyone reads it or not? I can just straight-up meander my way through paragraph after paragraph before actually even getting to the thing I meant to blog about, the thing I put in the title of the blog post. Yes, blogging is awesome!)

The last issue I read was #3, after which point I dropped the series, because DC was charging $3.99 for a 20-22-page book, and simply including transcripts of interviews with characters and pretend documents from the DCU, and counting those as the same as comics pages.

Also, it wasn't very good—which kind of surprised me, given the fact that I actually kinda like Geoff Johns' writing, and I like Jim Lee's art okay too.

Justice League #4 was pretty awful, which was also sort of surprising to me in that the first three issues were also pretty awful, and, well, the book doesn't seem to be going anywhere. If the first issue seemed like it was adapted from an unusued screenplay for a Justice League movie, the fact that the first six-issue story arc could be 2/3 over with very little—next to nothing, really—actually having happened yet was kind of surprising. This story of the origin of the Justice League isn't the equivalent of a movie, but a scene, maybe two scenes of a movie?. I think maybe an hour has passed in the story since the first issue? Although it's been about five or six months in the real world.

It took me scant minutes to read the issue. I had read some half-dozen pages of it previously, because DC released those pages online (that was a sequence in which it's revealed that Conan O'Brien has an Aquaman sketch on his show in the DC Universe, even though no one else except Batman knew Aquaman existed, Aquaman stabs a Parademon in the back with a trident, summons a bunch of great white sharks to maim and kill a half-dozen Parademons, and then stabs another one in the face with his trident). I had also flipped through the issue in my local comic shop the week it came out, because I remembered seeing the goofy side-ways splash panel of Darkseid, and giggling to myself as I imagined Justice League readers turning their issue of the comic sideways to scope out Darkseid the way their dads might have handled a Playboy to check out the centerfold.Oddly, actually sitting down and reading the comic in full didn't add anything to my understanding or appreciation of the story that the combination of looking at DC's preview of the issue and a quick flip-through of it at the comic shop a few months ago had provided.

There's almost nothing to this book.

Here is everything that occurred in this issue, the fourth issue of a six-issue story arc about the brand-new origin of the Justice League:

—Cyborg realized he was a cyborg, killed some Parademons, yelled at his dad and then Hulk-jumped away from S.T.A.R. Labs to join the League

—Aquaman swam up and killed a bunch of Parademons, some with sharks, some with his trident

—Superman and The Flash fought some government helicopters, which had flown up and started shooting the heroes and the Parademons

—Darkseid arrived and said "I am Darkseid."

There was a little more to it than that...but not much!

For example, there's a two-panel sequence in which Green Lantern inadvertently reveals a psychological truth about himself out loud...only to realize he's touching Wonder Woman's magical lasso, which compels anyone bound in it to tell the truth.

It's a weird bit, and not simply because it's been done—and been done infinitely better—already.
In 1998's JLA 80-Page Giant #1, which Johns almost certainly read, there's a short story called "Revelations" written by Christopher Priest and illustrated by Eric Battle and Prentis Rollins. In it, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are towing an imperiled submarine to safety, using Wondy's golden lasso. During the course of their conversation, Aquaman—then in his anti-social, grumpy, bearded phase—starts telling her that he's attracted to her even though she annoys him, and she's a big part of the reason he still hangs out with the Justice League, and she points out that he apparently has become entangled in the rope while they were doing their towing.

While Priest goes to the trouble of setting up a reason for Aquaman to accidentally end up in Wonder Woman's rope, Johns' story and Lee's staging of it simply has Green Lantern standing very close to Wonder Woman, whom he has just met, and being affected by the rope, which she is wearing on her hip. It's a long shot, so we don't actually see what he's doing with his hand, only that it's near the rope.

So Hal was either touching her hip for some odd reason, or simply idly fingering the magical artifact that she was wearing on her hip and, well, neither makes any sense at all in the context of the scene.

I'm really quite baffled by the exceptionally poor quality of Johns' writing here, and while Lee's rendering is strong, the book seems tailor-made to his strengths...to the point that it weakens everything else about the book. It's all splash pages, double-page splashes, almost-double-page splashes and easy-to-draw long shots of heroes.

It costs a lot of money, it's a very short, value-free read and nothing of note occurs within individual issues.

And it's really popular...?

I don't get it.


Kevin Tam said...

It's AMAZING that your local library carries month-old comic books. The Public ones in Chicago carry periodicals and graphic novels (which are in the PN6728 section, following the Library of Congress system), but not comic serials.

Anthony Strand said...

The library here in Columbia, MO has a few titles in singles. I've been reading Batman that way since the relaunch.

Anyway, I've been trying to figure out what happened to Johns, and I just can't. It seems like his worst tendencies (over-the-top violence, continuity wanking, telling rather than showing how great his lead character is) have taken over completely.

I used to be a huge Johns fan - JSA, Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E., Hawkman, his first Flash run - but everything I've read from him in the last couple of years has been terrible.

Flash: Rebirth read like a parody of "This hero has a dark secret" comics.

Brightest Day was incredibly dull. I know you liked it more than I did, but it seemed like the only memorable things in it were grisly death and dismemberment.

Flashpoint was genuinely one of the least coherent superhero stories I've ever read. Barry Allen's mom never died, so Kal-El landed in Metropolis and Bruce Wayne was killed instead of his parents? What?!

Anyway, I've been let down so many times now that I don't expect any better, is what I'm saying.

googum said...

Man, Priest did a couple JLA stories that were just tight. His pre-beard Green Arrow/Batman story features the most dramatic game of raquetball you'll ever see in comics, for instance. He also did one with Snapper Carr that meandered around a lot, but we'll let that go.

jrp001 said...

meander all you want, especially when your critique right on!

Akilles said...

S**t sells.
Especially nice drawn s**t.