Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Review: Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey

With the second volume of the relaunched Justice League, the problem of Geoff Johns replacing a shared, public continuity with a secret continuity only he himself knows is only compounded.

It is now five years after the events of Origin, but it might as well be the next day. The seven Leaguers haven't changed much physically (Aquaman shaved his sideburns and took off his necklace) or emotionally, and the team doesn't seem to have evolved much at all. Most of them still don't know one another very well, and most of them don't seem to like one another at all. No one has joined the team, or even been on the their satellite headquarters, not even Steve Trevor, Agent of ARGUS, who has become their one man PR-team/support staff/government liaison (Last night I kept going back in forth in my mind over whether it would be more or less hilarious if instead of Steve Trevor Johns and Lee used a grizzled, bad-ass version of Snapper Carr in this role).

The only exception to the no-one-but-us rule was, apparently, The Martian Manhunter. "We all know what happened when we let someone else onto this satellite and into the Justice League," Batman says in one panel, which leads directly to a two-page splash of Manhunter fighting the entire League by himself (Hey, in the New 52 J'onn can apparently use his Martian vision, make part of his body intangible and part of his body super-strong, all at the same time!).

What was that all about? It's one more of those little snippets of a secret history that is so often referred to, along with what the League has been up to for five years, what happened with Barbara Minerva, the untold story of Aquaman's hatred of Green Arrow, why Superman has a special enmity for The Key and so on. The idea seems to be to tease readers with these little flashes of a story, but it's a strategy that only really works if anything at all of interest is going on around it. Like, that sort of storytelling might have worked on Lost (I didn't watch Lost; did it work on Lost...?) because people wanted to know what was up with that fucking island.

Do people want to know why Martian Manhunter wears a loincloth and lost his spot on the League to a Teen Titan?

I don't know.

This is also the volume where Lee's presence can be seen starting to evaporate completely, and it's odd that he leaves the title without giving it much of a look...beyond the characters' terrible new costumes, of course. There isn't, for example, a single exterior or establishing shot of the Justice League's satellite watchtower headquarters; not that he drew, anyway (There's one, by I think Ivan Reis, who just draws three pages of one issue, and it's in the second issue of the collection, after scenes set on the satellite). That's sort of weird, isn't it?

(Maybe it's simply a matter of my living with them longer, or because DC used to publish maps and suchlike, but I can tell you what the tables they used to sit around in in the original cave HQ, the Bronze Age Satellite HQ, the JLI Embassy or the lunar Watchtower looked like; I can picture the rooms of those bases, but all we get here are a couple of generic interior drawings of metallic rooms.)

This volume contains the second six issues of Justice League, two standlone done-in-ones by guest-artists leading into the four-issue title story.

The first is by artist Gene Ha, which lays out the relationship between the U.S. government, Trevor and the Justice League and doesn't make any goddam sense. Apparently, the U.S. funds the League, but is angry they have no control over it. So why don't they just stop funding it? I don't know.

Nor do I know why Etta Candy looks like this now, aside from The New 52's unspoken "No Fat Chicks" rule:
Nor do I know why Supereme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a member of congress all of a sudden:

The second is by Carlos D'Anda, whose smooth, clean art is a welcome respite from all the little lines of Lee and even Ha's work—it's a stubble-free issue!
Probably the highlight of the volume, D'Anda's issue #7 involves Green Arrow's attempts to join the Justice League (which really seems more like a "Year One" rather than "Year Five or Six" story, but maybe I'm just thinking that because Mark Waid and company had Green Arrow attempting to to join the Justice League in their first year during Justice League: Year One), mostly by showing up at their various conflicts and lending a hand, only to be told to buzz off in various ways.

Lee returns for the "Villains' Journey," in which the David Graves character kinda sorta introduced in the previous volume is reintroduced as a supervillain that looks a bit like a white Martian crossed with a devil (he gets more and more devilish-looking as the arc progresses) and who and goes by the villain name of, um, Graves.

He was a Justice League fan who lost his family and developed cancer during the Darkseid invasion (they caught a rare form of cancer by inhaling the ashes of the destruction; you know, like the real-world malady suffered by many 9/11 first responders, only made silly), and while fashioning himself into a villain discovered a strange place that gave him a strange power involving the creation of pseudo-ghosts.

Props to Johns and Lee for creating a new villain (old ones, like The Weapons Master, Amazo and the previously mentioned Key appear in passing), and for coming up with one with a fairly distinct look, motivation and power-set, but at the end of its first year worth of issues, the Justice League book still doesn't seem like it's coalesced yet.

I can't shake the feeling that I'm reading something akin to an Elseworlds project, an Ultimate Justice League, and I realize that there's a very strong possibility that that is simply me as a reader. That said, however, the fact remains that this isn't a very good comic book—there's a talented writer, but he's producing probably his worst scripts ever, and there's a talented artist (three, in this volume, actually), but he's playing fast and loose with basic storytelling conventions, producing decent art that doesn't function as it should.

Giving Johns and Lee and company a year on the title seems like a more than fair amount of time by which to judge it, and I've read it in its final, collected form, the form it was apparently being written for, and I'm sad to say it still doesn't really work.
This volume concludes with another "What's up with this Pandora lady?" story, this one involving what looks like The New 52 Wizard Shazam and The Question, as well as a few "trailer" pages for future Justice League stories and a two-page ad for Justice League of America.

6 comments:

notintheface said...

Apparently Nu52 Etta's look is a nod to actress Tracie Thoms (from the former CBS show "Cold Case"), who played Etta in the failed 2011 Wonder Woman pilot.

notintheface said...

But yeah, these comics were horse drool.

SallyP said...

I keep wanting to like the Justice League...I keep thinking I OUGHT to like the Justice League...but yeah, it's pretty horrible.

JohnF said...

In fairness, Etta Candy stopped being a big gal quite a while ago. Granted, I haven't always kept up with Wonder Woman continuity (can you blame me) but I remember she started doing serious diet and exercise back in like 1989. She then proceeded to hook up with Steve Trevor. Who knows how many reboots ago that was? Still, I don't remember George Per├ęz catching any flak for it.
Jim Lee is always down for doing some terrible character design. If you need ugly, nondescript costumes, Jim's your man. It's weird that his designs can be so hideous yet boring at the same time. Think of some terrible costumes from years past, at least they weren't boring. Vibe's costume wasn't boring. Az-Bats' costume wasn't boring.
But then, they didn't get the Jim Lee touch.

Caleb said...

NITF,

Yeah, I recall reading that somewhere now...DCWKA, maybe...?


John,

Yes, Perez made her (and Trevor) much older than Diana, and his Etta wasn't as big or boisterous or, um, as Etta Candy as the original (Her and Steve eventually married).

She popped up during Gail Simone's run, as a fellow DOMA agent. I don't remember her being that big, but she wasn't built like Diana either, so....somewhere in between, I think?

Anyway, there's only one Etta Candy for me, and that's Marston and Peter's—Woo woo!

davidroel said...

I don't remember any rule that said the Martian Manhunter could only use one power at a time.