Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Week In Geoff Johns Comics, Part One: Justice League #31

Geoff Johns doesn't seem to be doing quite as much writing as he used to be doing, but he's still got two books on his schedule, Justice League and a high-profile run on Superman, which starts this week and will likely be one of the more talked-about and watched books to ship this week (in large part because of its pencil artist, John Romita Jr, breaking away from a literal lifetime of drawing for Marvel in order to tackle some DC superheroes, which I have to imagine a guy who draws superheroes for a living would want to have the opportunity to do at some point in his career).

Both of these books shipped this week, so let's take a look at how the comics Geoff Johns is writing at the moment turned out.
Ivan Reis drew this image.
Justice League #31, drawn by pencil artist Doug Mahnke and inked by Keith Champagne "with" Christian Alamy, is a 22-page, $3.99 book. The average DC comic, at least a few months ago, was 20-pages for $2.99. Do you know what the means? The last two pages of this comic book must cost fifty-cents a piece. So I hope you really enjoy the debut of the all-new, New 52 Doom Patrol in a classic Geoff Johnsian climactic splash page (Retroactive spoiler alert!), because it was pretty expensive compared to each of those first 20 pages.

This issue follows up on he few post-Forever Evil plot points introduced in the previous issue of this series: 1) Power Ring's power ring, which fled from his body after Sinestro buzz-sawed his arm off and then incinerated the Earth-3 version of Hal Jordan, has approached an Earth-1 lady named Jessica Cruz and offered itself to her ring finger, and 2) Lex Luthor wants to join the Justice League since him and his villain bros saved the world from the Crime Syndicate and, since the Justice League is all no way dude, he goes to Bruce Wayne's house to tell him he knows he's totally Batman.

Now, despite everything else that might have happened in Forever Evil, up to and including the introduction of The New 52 Anti-Monitor, the biggest Oh no they di'nt! moment came quite early on, when The Syndicate captured Nightwing and then unmasked him and told everyone everywhere on Earth that he was really Dick Grayson (not just people who happened to be watching TV; literally everyone, as they hacked every electronic device with a sound and/or speaker in order to broadcast this information).

What was shocking about this is that Dick Grayson is either the adopted son or the ward (not sure which, in the current continuity) of Gotham City billionaire philanthropist celebrity Bruce Wayne, a man who had previously given a news conference to announce that he was Batman's financier (which is still in continuity, according to "Death of the Family" in Batman and Batman Eternal, so don't give me that!).

So, with Grayson outted as a Gotham City vigilante and long-time Batman associate, it shouldn't take too much thinking to develop a theory that Bruce Wayne, who disappeared for years only to return to Gotham City about the same time The Batman first appeared, is probably Batman. Maybe not enough evidence to hold up in a court of law, as it would likely be mostly circumstantial, but, if nothing else, everyone with a pulse in the DC Universe should strongly suspect that Batman is secretly Bruce Wayne under his cape and cowl.

Why then it was presented as a surprise in Forever Evil #7 and the previous issue of Justice League that Luthor knows that Bruce Wayne is really Batman, I can't even imagine.

Let's dispose of the Power Ring business first. "Jessica Cruz of Earth" is in her home, which she hasn't left in four years. Like most paranoid shut-ins who haven't left their houses in four years, Jessica has the fit, firm, slim, sexy body of your average Hollywood actress or professional model, he heair looks great, and she's even wearing make-up and nail polish.
The ring knows everything about her, and proves it by expositing at her in Lantern-like dialogue bubbles (which are in the shape of the GL symbol, although slightly bent-up and twisted, not the shape of the four-leaf clover symbol of Power Ring. Julia shoots the talking, glowing ring with a shotgun, but to no avail. It slips onto her finger, giving her maybe the worst costume you could imagine.

Go ahead, close your eyes and try to imagine the worst Power Ring costume you can.

Okay, ready?

Now open them.
Did it look as bad as this? Liar.

The League has been tracking Power Ring's power ring, and, when Superman calls to check in with Batman, he tells him "there's just been a detonation of emerald energy" outside of Portland. That's a perfect example of what I love about Johns; he had Superman say "emerald energy" instead of "green energy." That's awesome and dumb at the same time (particularly so given the New 52 DCU's feint toward "realism," as seen in the costumes Superman and Wonder Woman are wearing during the scene where Superman says "emerald energy").

The ring, which repeatedly refers to Jessica as "my puppet" is apparently burning down her apartment building, and summoning scary, demonic-looking energy constructs that are eating emergency responders. And that's where the Doom Patrol comes in:
It looks like the original line-up of the Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani-created super-team: Elasti-Girl (or -Woman), Robotman (in a too-big jacket and a pair of pants), Negative Man (in a dumb jacket likely meant to recall the Grant Morrison-written version of the characters from...400 years ago), Doctor Niles Caulder (wearing an all-black action suit and totally walking) and Element Woman, last seen on the Justice League roster, although she went missing during Forever Evil.

I'm pretty sure this is Geoff Johns' second Doom Patrol, following one that appeared in this Teen Titans run (all of these guys, plus Beast Boy, Bumblebee and Herald-with-a-new-codename Vox).
But back to Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor.

Wayne has invited Luthor into the room where he keeps his secret entrance to the Batcave in order to convince him that he's not Batman. Bruce sips on a steaming mug of what must be either coffee or hot cocoa (I can't imagine Alfred serving tea out of a coffee mug instead of a tea cup), while Luthor sips an amber-ish liquid from a tumbler with a few ice cubes.
For about three pages, Luthor essentially keeps telling Wayne not to insult his intelligence by denying his Batman (without brining up the very compelling evidence), and Bruce is all like, "Stop playing," until he finally gets up to leave, saying "As much as I'd like to stay here, drink bourbon and take credit for Gotham's Dark Knight, I have tickets to the opera." (So that's bourbon they're drinking? I guess Lex's cup looks right; I wonder why Bruce drinks his steaming hot out of a mug?)

(An aside: Do you know exactly when Lex realized Batman was probably Bruce Wayne? It was in the headquarters of the Crime Syndicate, after Lex had stopped Dick Grayson's heart, diffused the bomb wired into it, and then re-started his heart, saving his life, and he saw how genuinely concerned for Dick Batman was. By the way, did you know that means that Lex Luthor and Catwoman, who were in the room at the same time as Batman when this all happened, know that Dick isn't dead, and yet, according to the last issue of Nightwing, Batman is keeping that secret from Alfred and, apparently, the rest of the Bat-family. He doesn't trust his closest allies and confidants with the fact that Dick is still alive, but Luthor, Catwoman, supervillain Owlman and sundry Justice Leaguers all know that he is. That's kind of weird, isn't it?)

So anyway, Luthor pulls a gun on Bruce Wayne, saying he plans to prove he's Batman, and noting that he felt a slight draft in the room, and smelled stale air. Then Alfred puts a gun to Lex's head. But Lex, using his cat-like reflexes, grabs Alfred's wrist, and pushes the gun away from his temple.

And then, to protect his secret identity as Batman, Bruce Wayne leaps off of a chair and hits Luthor in the sternum with a flying roundhouse kick.
Bruce Wayne, carefully concealing his secret identity.
Luthor fires a round of his "exploding ammunition" at the clock, blowing it up and revealing a stairway. "I'm guessing that doesn't lead to the wine cellar," he says.

"Once Nightwing's identity of Richard Grayson was exposed by the Crime Syndicate, I simply followed the long and murky trail," Lex tells Bruce. "Long murky trail" is a kind of odd way to put the, let's see, one point of separation between Nightwing/Grayson and Bruce Wayne. It is six times more difficult to link Kevin Bacon to any other actor in Hollywood than it is to link Dick Grayson to Batman.

Lex tells Bruce he has no intention of blackmailing him, he only wants to join the Justice League so he can help them prepare for the coming threat that so frightened the Crime Syndicate (i.e. The Anti-Monitor, although Luthor and Batman aren't privy to that, since they didn't read the last page of Forever Evil like we did).

Batman responds by telling Luthor the story of the fable of the scorpion and the frog, but his version includes a violent bat that swoops in to destroy the scorpion before it can sting the frog. Oh Bruce, you add bats to everything!

There are two other scenes between these major threads. In one, Captain Cold visits Lexcorp HQ for a physical, as he is apparently going to join the Justice League with Luthor, as the covers of the past two issues—and a splash page in #30—make clear. That's three pages.

In the other, new recruit Captain Marvel Shazam, brought on by Luthor in the previous issue, complains about how boring monitor duty is to Cyborg. Cy suggests Shazam try using his magic to help them track the power ring, and Shazam says he doesn't know how his magical powers work, but that he would be happy to try. So he puts on his stupid hood, his right eye shoots lightning, and he intones, "Uh, powers of me what I want for the League. ALA-KA-ZAMM!"

And in a blast of mystical lighting, a ping pong table appears, which is "funny" because he just said on the previous page that the League's new satellite HQ could use a ping pong table.
I admit I haven't yet read Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's introduction of the new Captain Marvel character to the New 52-iverse yet—it ran serialized in back-ups in Justice League, and was recently-ish released in a trade collection—so I actually have little to no idea what his powers are or how they work, but I just sort of assumed he would still have the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury, but I guess he also has the ability to summon ping pong tables as well (Maybe one of those A's in "Shazam!" now stands for, and he has the ability to order anything he so desires?).


Anonymous said...

I'm never not going to gripe about how stupid Power Ring's logo is, because the whole X-butterfly-clover thing just seems so arbitrary and ugly.

Man, that costume, though.

Overall that issue of Justice League seems pretty dumb, but I've gotta admit that the idea of Billy and Cyborg playing table tennis up in the JL Watchtower brought me a fair amount of joy.

David said...

Power Ring's costume looks like a weird combination of Elektra, Ice, and Lady Deathstrike.

With the appearance of the Doom Patrol I'm assuming DC is sweeping The Ravagers under the rug, as Caulder was in that as a douchebag friend of Fairchild in a wheelchair.

Sean said...

Bravo! I look forward to your analysis of Superman #32.

googum said...

Mahnke's usually rock-solid, so why does Elasti-Girl look so spaced out? She seems really confused by whatever she's looking at...

Jer said...

Did it look as bad as this? Liar.

While Power Ring's costume is bad, it really could have been worse.

Remember the Star Sapphire costume that is completely open from neck to navel? With the bright eight-pointed star right at the crotch?

Yeah - it could have been much, much worse. Power Ring's costume just kind of looks like a generic Wildstorm costume from the 90s compared to that monstrosity.

SallyP said...

Holy moley, that really is a gawdawful costume. But I have to admit that I snickered at shazaam's "wish".

LurkerWithout said...

Have to agree with Jer, my worst possible costume would have been more dental floss bikini-y. Plus pouches. Full on Liefeld all around the thighs pouches...