Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Comic shop comics: December 11
It's a strange thing to say, since, immediately prior to that, Bane has proven pretty adept at taking down the Arkhamites all by himself. In the previous scene, Emperor Penguin (who is on the Blackgate/Bane side of the war) defeats Clayface, maybe Arkham's most powerful super-villain, and then Bane defeats Poison Ivy, maybe the other most powerful super-villain (He just sort of throws her down though instead of killing, incapacitating or capturing her...again writer Peter Tomasi and the art team of Scot Eaton and his inkers fail to show what happens after an important conflict; last issue, it was unclear if Bane had captured Scarecrow and Man-Bat, and we had to wait until dialogue this issue to learn Bane apparently walked away from his fallen foes. But again, he totally beat those guys, without being Batman).
Anyway, Bane takes The Penguin's advice to heart, goes into the basement of Blackgate for a page or two of dramatic blacksmithing, and builds himself the completely ridiculous Batman costume seen above, declaring himself the new Batman, perhaps the most un-Bane-like thing it is imaginable for Bane to do.
Dressed as Batman, he confronts Killer Croc, who, upon seeing him, says, "--BATMAN?!" Bane, of course, looks nothing like Batman. Eaton gives him a Dark Knight Returns, Superman-fighting helmet and a tattered cape, but he's still as big as a house, with a too-small head atop a massive body that dwarfs that of the imposing Killer Croc. Surely nobody will be fooled into thinking Batman has suddenly grown two feet, gained 300 pounds and started wearing short sleeves, will they?
And if dressing a little like Batman was meant to intimidate Croc, it doesn't seem to work; Croc fights back brutally, breaking part of Bane's metal helmet and taking a big bite of his meaty shoulder before Bane beats him into unconsciousness with a giant Batarang and throws him off a roof.
And hey, what's this?
But this, this is my favorite part of the issue, even moreso than its title ("Das Bat," for no reason at all):
I love that panel. Great job, Scot Eaton.
Now, on a normal week, I wouldn't have purchased this comic at all, as DC's pre-release marketing campaign for it was essentially a warning to anyone who pays attention to such things to back off, this was going to be a last-minute, half-assed effort, and its creation would have included an extremely questionable editorial decision that would make most reasonable readers particularly leery of editorial taste and competence.
If you've completely forgotten what I'm talking about, DC announced and solicited this book as the Justice League reunion of the creative team behind the seminal, late-80's reinvigoration of the franchise: Writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and artist Kevin Maguire. Then— a few months after they announced it, remember—they then announced they didn't like the direction it was going under Maguire, and he was no longer drawing the book; instead, they would be replacing him with Howard Porter, Grant Morrison's partner during his seminal, late-90's revival of the franchise (This move particularly baffled me, given not only its timing, but the fact that Maguire's about as known a quantity as there can be in comics).
Beyond that, Giffen, DeMatteis and Porter haven't really distinguished themselves lately on any of their many books for DC (Giffen and Porter especially seem employed when speed is needed above all else), and an alternate, future iteration of the Justice League in redesigned costumes didn't really thrill me as an idea (DC's currently publishing three Justice League books set in the present I'm not reading on a regular basis) and, finally, this being set in the 31st century makes me suspicious that it will ultimately have something to do with the Legion of Super-Heroes, a franchise I generally try to avoid, due to fear and confusion regarding them.
All that said, I drove all the way to the shop today in the dark and wind and snow, and they ran out of copies of Krampus, didn't order any of Fearless Dawn: Jurassic (of which I know nothing, other than that Steve Mannion draws awesome ladies and monsters; Fearless Dawn is the name of a lady character he created, and "Jurassic" promises dinosaurs) and they forgot to order a copy of SpongeBob for me. So what the hell, I figured, I'll try the first issue of the new Justice League comic by a bunch of guys whose Justice League comics I used to read and like.
(And thus ends my preface to the review, which may end up being as long or longer than the actual review.)
After having read the first issue, I was extremely curious to see what Maguire's issue might have looked like, or why he left the book and how the writers might have changed the story or script to go in that different direction, as this really reads like the sort of book written specifically for Maguire.
After a five-page opening involving a mysterious future lady in a standard, generic future setting running away from the authorities, and narrating about mysterious things, we get a two-page splash of the new Justice League, locked in 3-4 pages of battle with The Collective, some kind of mental villain that possesses a mob of civilians for them to fight, allowing for the standard introduction of superheroes through combat. Throughout the battle and its aftermath, the constantly bickering Leaguers drop hints that they may or may not be the original heroes, and a pair of young identical twins named Teri and Terry, but calling themselves "The Wonder Twins" (They have white hair, un-pointed ears and dress in red and white, in case you're wondering) talk to one another about the League, who they are apparently responsible for, and the mysterious lady from the opening, who went rogue from their organization, Cadmus.
While the humor isn't of the "Bwa ha ha" variety, the book is definitely leaning toward fun and funny, even if it is more of a straightforward superhero action book than a comedy. Much of the humor comes from Superman and Batman's arguing with one another, and the often off portrayals of the characters (Wonder Woman, for example, seems like she's supposed to be a parody of Wonder Woman, but given how often Wonder Woman is now written as a ruthless warrior, this seems more like Giffen and company turned a dial from 8 to 9, rather than exaggerated it for parodic effect, although I guess "our" Wonder Woman probably wouldn't say of Batman, "...Bruce? A night in my bed and he'll be ready for anything.")
Thankfully, Giffen and DeMatteis don't hang the mystery of who exactly these characters are over readers' heads for longer than an issue: They're clones, resurrected from the DNA of the five original heroes. And though they go by the names, both professional and personal, of their predecessors, some of their personalities are wonky, they don't have their full power sets (Superman lacks heat-vision, The Flash is missing his friction-proof aura, etc) and they're missing chunks of their memories. So there are still a lot of questions for readers to be kept in suspense about, but at least the creators get the premise down in the first issue.
Anyway, given the light-hearted nature of the story, and, especially, the focus on personality clashes and inter-character conflict, it's sort of baffling to see panels like this
And, of course, there's this two-page sequence in which each page is divided into nine-panel grids which, glowing computer-y panel borders aside, looks like it could have come from any previous Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire comic:
It's a perfectly decent mediocre superhero comic, full of cliches employed effectively enough, but missing some sort of spark to distinguish it from all the other perfectly decent mediocre superhero comics. Hell, if you look at just Justice League comics, DC has Justice League, ...of America and ...Dark, there's an alternate Justice League in Earth 2, an alternate future League in Injustice and yet another one in Batman Beyond Universe (Oddly, Batman 3000 makes for a third alternate Batman in red and black).
Sometimes when I'm reading a really good comic book, I'll finish a panel and think, "Wow, what a great panel. I will scan that one and use it as an example of how great this comic book is, when I write about it on my blog later."
Well, I thought that when I read the last panel on page five, when Fred "Boomerang" Myers makes an allusion to Michael Fassbender's penis. And again on the third panel of the very next page. And again in the panel in which artist Steve Lieber draws the movie poster for The Ugly Truth starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. And on the page after that, when Boomerang's patrol officer attempts to make a dramatic exit (Oh, and when his parole officer first visits, a page or so earlier, and Boomerang volunteers to help him track down his own legacy villain).
Basically, there are a lot of really great panels, a lot of really great sequences in this comic. And it's only 20 pages! Right now, here's what Marvel looks like to me: There's Hawkeye, there's Superior Foes and then there's everything else.