Thursday, November 02, 2006

Stream-of-Consciousness Review: Justice League of America #3

Cover: I realize there are technically two or three or six covers for this issue, because we wouldn’t know if we should bother buying it or not were there fewer than two covers for it, but I’m only going to discuss the one that was on the comic book that my local comic shop’s proprietor handed to me from my pull file, the Michael Turner one. It’s a fairly striking image, what with the crowd of Yellow, Blue, Orange and Green Tornados standing behind Red Tornado. It becomes a lot less striking, however, when you consider the fact that Turnder apparently only drew two to three of these Tornados, and then cloned the rest with some sort of computer witchcraft. But what’s irritating about the cover image is that it doesn’t reflect the interior of the book at all. As we saw last issue, and as is reinforced this issue, there’s, like, maybe a dozen or two Tornados protecting Ivo’s lab. Not scores. So the cover isn’t terribly accurate, and I wonder how much more striking it would have been was it a better drawing of just a half-dozen or so Tornados of various colors. Ah well. Further crapifying (is that a word?) the cover is the blurb: “Tornado Outbreak!” I always cringe when I see one of these pun cover blurbs on a DC Comic. I know from experience they could be much worse than “Tornado Outbreak!”, but still… Page 1: Trident and Dr. Impossible face down Jefferson Pierce, who’s so busy monologue-ing he doesn’t notice their true target…Page 2:…Superman villain Parasite, redesigned by penciller Ed Benes to resemble a fatter version of the Superman: The Animated Series version of the character. Pierce continues his narration, spending a color-coded narration box or two recapping the events of the last two issues. See, this is something I don’t get. Brad Meltzer is pacing this first story like a graphic novel; this is something derisively referred to as “writing for the trade” or more derisively referred to as “decompression.” I have no problem with it per se, as long as the story moves forward a little each month, but if you’re going to take your sweet time getting from point A (there is no Justice League currently, and Professor Ivo, Dr. Impossible and some mystery villains are up to no good) to point B (there is a Justice League again and the villains’ nefarious plot is stopped), then commit to taking your sweet time and forget about half measures like this complete recap of the Pierce plot. If you’re writing the story for the trade, write it for the trade. This catch-up bit might be helpful to readers who forgot the last two issues over the last month or two, but this recap will also be appearing on page 45 or so of a 140-page trade, and it’s going to break the whole thing up there. Maybe DC can axe it in the trade collection… Anyway, Pierce powers up, and tells us what Trident’s trident can do, which I’m glad of, because I’ve never heard of the guy. Page 3: In the first panel, we get a close up of Pierce’s eyes emitting electricity, and he quips about Trident’s trident. Cool. The next panel, however, Trident stutters “W-What’re you doin’?”, but Pierce isn’t doing anything. Shouldn’t the trident be shaking or emitting a weird sound or glowing or something? In the next panel, Pierce shoots at the trident, by making an, um, gun-shape out of his right hand. So, he wasn’t doing anything last panel? He then uses his fists to sort out the guy who went and put on a trident-shaped mask just to make sure everyone knew he wasn’t named after the brand of gum. Page 4: Dr. Impossible slings a blade Pierce’s way, and he blocks it with a forcefield he generates, saying, “Bruce taught me this one.” Kind of funny to think of a guy without electric powers teaching a guy with electric powers how to use ‘em. Note Pierce refers to Batman here as Bruce. So that’s one more name to go on The Really Long List of People Who Know Batman’s Secret Identity. Page 5: Red Tornado visits the grave of Boston Brand, who doesn’t answer Reddy’s calls for him. He begins to suspect that maybe that wasn’t really Deadman who guided him into his new human body after all. Nicely laid out and drawn page here, but a couple of questions come into mind. First, what the hell is Reddy wearing, if he has a human body now? Does he paint his face, head, ears and lips red now, or what? And what’s up with his eyes? We see him with green pupils while suited up, but here his entire eye is green, just as they were when he was still an android. Does he now pop special contact lenses in and out, or what? The other question regards his specially colored narration box—Why is the font on it like that of an old school word processor if he’s human now and no longer a machine? Is it because his thoughts are still those of a machine, or has Meltzer driven letterer Rob Leigh so mad with all these individualized narration boxes that Leigh doesn’t even think this stuff through any more? Page 6: Wow, it’s only the third issue and already we’ve got a Phantom Stranger cameo. Meltzer is not wasting any time at referencing the Satellite Era. Stranger says some pretty cryptic shit, particularly about the balance “of immortality. Of the thirteen.” Hmm, wonder what that’s all about? Page 7: Arsenal, Black Canary and Green Lantern Hal Jordan face off against some orange, yellow, blue and green Tornados, who each apparently have a weather-related power depending on their color. Roy re-caps his part of the last two issues thus far, while Canary notes aloud, “The blue ones do wind.” Actually, they all do wind. Look at their legs; they’re made out of freaking tornados. Page 8: Roy Harper, a.k.a. Arsenal, former sidekick to Green Arrow and former Titan, kicks ass, demonstrating why he’s one of my favorite DC heroes. And then he goes and says, “Crapola,” and I lose about half the respect I have for him. Sigh… Page 9: He follows that up with the line “Yellow one definitely does the sun!” while some kind of blue energy beam emits from the yellow one’s hands. So shouldn’t that beam be colored yellow or orange or maybe red, to indicate light or heat? Why’s it shooting blue energy at him? That doesn’t seem very sunny to me. Arsenal fires nine arrows simultaneously, and he and Canary have a neat back and forth. Page 10-11: Benes gives readers some fan service, with a big close up of Canary pouncing on Yellow Tornado. In narration, Arsenal confesses he was wrong his whole life, that Green Arrow wasn’t the toughtest of the hard traveling heroes after all; Canary was. In a cool seven panel sequence, she now demonstrates her bad assedness by jabbing an arrow into every joint on Yelly’s body until she finds the weak spot. Page 12: New vocabulary word: “Subtalar joint.” Page 13-14: Now it’s Green Lantern’s turn to show off. Wow. Hal Jordan, your name is Bad Ass. Page 15: Oh my God! They’re still looking at pictures! I thought Superman’s post-Infinite Crisis mission statement was to do less thinking and more action, and yet he’s been sitting in this cave for over three issues now (counting the end of #0) looking at glamour shots of superheroes! This is a good page to point out an inconsistency in the format of the book and Meltzer’s novelistic use of multiple points-of-view, which he tries to convey using color-coded narration boxes that more or less match the costume color scheme of the Leaguer doing the narrating. Thus far, we’ve seen both Black Lightning, Red Tornado and Arsenal narrating/thinking to themselves in these boxes. This page starts out with a panel in which both Superman and Wonder Woman narrate/think to themselves. But in the sixth panel, there are three different box colors, one for each of the three sitting around the table. And they speak to one another in the boxes, addressing their sentences to one another and answering each other’s boxes. Since they presumably can’t read each other’s minds (Martian Manhunter being all Skrull-ed out and MIA), we can assume either that a) this is a mistake, and the dialogue was accidentally put into narration boxes instead of dialogue bubbles, or b) Lightning, Reddy and Arsenal were talking out loud back there during their scenes or c) sometimes the color-coded boxes are used to show dialogue and sometimes they’re used to show narration/thoughts. I’m assuming it’s c), which is unfortunate; I have no problem getting the gist of the scene, but it’s unfortunate that such a high-selling book that’s presumably poised to pull in a great deal of new readers (fans of Meltzer, fans of Identity Crisis, new DC readers pulled into the DCU by Infinite Crisis and 52), some of whom may even be new to comics in general (people who can’t get enough of Meltzer’s prose and decided to try out one of his comics, kids who dig Hawkgirl on Justice League and want to try her comic book Justice League adventures), would screw up basic comic book language here. This is Comics Making 101 people, and these are rookie mistakes, not something you’d expect from DC at all, let alone on the relaunched JLoA. Page 16: Aaaand, just to underscore the anything goes approach, here he have dialogue of Superman’s continued in a white narration box, with quotes around the dialogue. For those keeping score, this is the fourth type of format for presenting written information in this book. Page 16: Dr. Impossible demonstrates some teleporting power (or superspeed), then hands Pierce a severe beating. Realizing he’s in the city protected by Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Pierce mutters “Carter…?” when he hears someone flapping his way. So Pierce knows Hawkman’s Golden Age/Post-“Return of Hawkman” secret identity too. Huh. Wonder when that happened? Page 17: Woo hoo! There’s Hawkgirl! So it only took three issues for everyone shown on the first issue’s cover to make an appearance! Take that, New Avengers! Page 18-19: Meltzer and Benes are doing some really nice layouts in this issue, as this 11-panel, two-page spread illustrates. Dr. Impossible calls the mystery villain orchestrating things “Master,” which seems odd, since the mystery villain is most likely an android. Maybe Dr. Impossible is, too? I really like the part where they just throw crumbled pieces of Parasite into the open door on Red Tornado’s body’s chest. Ivo created power-sucking technology in his Amazo android, so what’s he need pieces of a power-sucking villain for? Or is that the secret ingredient in Amazo? Crumbled Parasite bits? In case the clues as to who the mystery villain is weren’t clear enough, Meltzer and Benes make it as obvious as they can in the last panel, in which Ivo pastes two pointy elf ears onto the former Tornado’s body. Yep, it’s Amazo. A villain we haven’t seen since Infinite Crisis earlier this year. And Villains United. And Judd Winick’s “Under the Hood” storyline in Batman. And Young Justice: Sins of Youth, DC: Secret Files and Origins 2000, throughout the entire brilliant-but-cancelled Hourman series and Mark Millar’s fill-in issue during Grant Morrison’s JLA run. Not that he’s over-used or anything. Page 20: Vixen survived. So did most of her top. Lucky for her, this isn’t a Vertigo series, or her top probably wouldn’t have been so lucky. Page 21: Back in the cave, the Trinity are still talking line-up, and finally get around to Cyborg, all agreeing that he’s pretty much a shoo-in. Which is when Pierce, Hawkgirl and the unconscious Trident enter, perhaps ruining Cyborg’s chance of joining the League. Way to go, Pierce. Page 21: Pierce shows us the ack of Trident’s neck, where we see a small, Starro-shaped starfish, presumably doing some sort of mind-control whammy on Trident (so perhaps Starro is the mastermind, not Amazo?). At any rate, the conqueror starfish from beyond the stars hasn’t menaced the JLA for, oh boy, it’s probably been months since the Gail Simone scripted issues of JLA: Classified, in which microscopic Starro’s were used to infect and mind control the Flash and others. And before that, we haven’t seen Starro do that mind-control thing since Morrison re-invented the star conquerors in two different stories during his run. And, of course, Giffen and DeMatteis used the evil Echinoderm during their run on the League, in Justice League Europe.


Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, after Superboy-Prime punched reality and made Identity Crisis, every hero who was active during the Silver and Bronze Ages knew and had always known the IDs of every other hero who was active during the Silver and Bronze Ages-- even when that was incompatible with actual pre-Crisis Silver or Bronze Age stories (i.e. the Outsiders did *not* know Batman's ID).

Anonymous said...

The other question regards his specially colored narration box—Why is the font on it like that of an old school word processor if he’s human now and no longer a machine? Is it because his thoughts are still those of a machine, or has Meltzer driven letterer Rob Leigh so mad with all these individualized narration boxes that Leigh doesn’t even think this stuff through any more?

It's because his thoughts are still those of a machine.

Rob leigh

Caleb said...

Awesome! Thanks for stopping by and clarifying; I'm glad it was the former and not the latter.

Anonymous said...

Actually, they did not know at first. But Batman reveals his ID to the Outsiders eventually.