Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Comic shop comics: August 31

Justice League #1 (DC Comics) This one’s kind of hard to review, even (particularly?) under the rubric of these little type-up-my-thouhts-right-after-reading reviews.

There’s been so much hype built up by DC, the most I’ve seen them produce in my 20 DC Comics-reading years, and so much speculation by everyone who pays any attention at all to DC Comics (and plenty of folks who don’t) that it was virtually impossible for this to live up to or surpass exoectations. It could have been the 21st century equivalent of Watchmen #1 or Dark Knight Returns #1 and it probably still would have seemed disappointing.

So, worth the wait? Able to support the countdown, the controversy and endless analysis?

Hell, no.

It is, however, Jim Lee at his Jim Lee-ist, and Geoff Johns at his Geoff Johns-iest. It does feature Batman and Greeen Lantern, the DC superheroes with the most recent feature films, and there’s a panel f Superman and a few pages of high school football player Vic Stone.

It is, in other words, probably good enough, something perfectly acceptable for fans of either creator and probably most people wanting to get in on the ground flooer of the new Ultimate DCU. And that’s exactly what this reads like, a straight, Ultimate-style reboot, right down to fussier, more “realistic” costumes.

Some thoughts:

—Brand new DCU, brand new comic book, brand new creative team, brand new Justice League line-up, same old bullshit. Despite repated, right up until within the last 24-hours, talk of “holding the line at $2.99”, and Co-Publisher Dan DiDio making digs at Marvel’s Fuck you, fans pricing, this is practically a $4/22-page book of the sort Marvel publishes.

There are only 24 pages of story in this book (two of which are single-page splashes, two more of which are a double-page splash), which DC is charging $3.99 for ($4.99, if you get the combo pack which comes with, um, a digital version of some sort too, I think).

There are four bullshit sketch pages, in which we’re shown even worse costume desgins for four of the characters than the one’s they ended up with, perhaps so the new, terrible costume designs don’t look quite so bad in comparison.

—There's no credit assigned to who wrote the text that accompanies those sketches—editor Eddie Berganza? His assistant Rex Ogle? Writer Johns? Lee?—but I hope it wasn't Dan DiDio, if only because it contains a sentence reading, "This would not be your dad's JUSTICE LEAGUE."

Fun fact: DiDio is a year older than the Justice League, and old enough to have gone to high school with my dad. As for DiDio's dad's Justice League, that would make it the Justice Society, wouldn't it? (Jim Lee is a four years younger than the League, and Johns is 13 years younger than the League).

—I was surprised that they didn't change that previously previewed caption placing this story "Five Years Ago" into something more vague like "Years Ago" or "Some Years Ago." A five-year timeline pretty much makes this a hard as hard comes reboot, and ditches, um, pretty much everything you'd think DC might wanna hang on to. Even if the only thing they wanted to keep was, say, that Dick Grayson was Batman's partner Robin, before growing up to become Nightwing (and there's a new "New 52" version of Nightwing on the schedule), this kinda makes that impossible.As it stood pre-Flashpoint, Grayson became Robin during Batman's third year, according to "Batman: Year Three," or Batman: Dark Victory, are those out now? Because that would leave only two years for Dick to be Robin, quite being Robin and get replaced by Jason Todd and then become Nightwing. And then Todd has to be Robin for a bit and get killed during "A Death in The Family" (is that out?) and come back to life during Infinite Crisis (And that?). They also have to fit in Tim Drake's years as Robin, maybe Stephanie Brown's months as Robin, and Damian Wayne's months as Robin. Oh, and then there's the entire year that Batman, Tim and Dick took off during the post-IC "One Year Later" jump (Is 52 out, too?).

Based on the solicitations for other book's we've seen, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Roy Harper are all still around as the grown-up former sidekicks of Batman and Green Arrow. Less than five years (Or are Batman: Year One and Year Two out now too...?) isn't much time for a kid to have a career as a kid sidekick and reach adulthood. (Note that some of the story arcs I've referred to above are in print as trades, and have always been evergreen sellers; I can see DC overwriting bad, unpopular stories like War Games or whatnot, but Batman: Year One...? That seems crazy).

If DC was fiddling with Wonder Woman's bottoms all the way up until release, it seems kind of weird that they didn't knock that number 5 out of there.

—I was quite surprised at how Marvel-like the new DC Universe is apparently going to be. The book opens with Batman on the run from the Gotham police, who try to take him down with lethal force, and when he and Hal Jordan talk, they reference how few superheroes there are, and that they are misunderstood and feared by the populace.

The whole protecting a world that fears and hates them is such an X-Men thing that I think it's actually in their charter, and a large swathe of the Marvel heroes fit into that concept of trying to do right by people who fear and misunderstand them (Spider-Man, The Thing, The Hulk, etc.)

It's early yet, but I wonder if Geoff Johns and company have a compelling reason for this angle, and whether or not it will be a unified approach. The Marvel heroes, whether by coincidence or not, seem to have emerged from various forms of radiation, delivered in various ways, and, retroactively at least, the dawn of the Marvel heroes seems to have been a reaction to the fears and anxieties of the atomic age. Looking at the Justice Leaguers they've chosen, their origins aren't nearly as unified—alien, guy with alien ring, guy who survives crazy accident involving lightning and chemicals, guy dressed like bat, human/mermaid hybrid, lady with pagan god-given powers—so I wonder if the new DCU is Marvel-esque just because the folks at DC know readers seem to think Marvel is cool and are trying to ape an aspect of that universe, or if there's a story-reason for it.

—Jim Lee's section depicted Cyborg's football game is especially weak, and confusingly laid out:

—Those costume still aren't growing on me, and while I can kind of sort of understand why DC thought giving everyone new costumes might be worthwhile—signallng how big a deal the reboot was—it seems like a move done primarily to signal to current comics readers, DC's current readership in particular, that this was going to be a big deal, rather than something that was done particularly to attract new readers.

If the idea is to make the DC heroes new reader friendly, why oh why oh why would they make the costumes look so much different than the ones that everyone knows from decades worth of cartoons, TV shows movies, video games, toys, lunch pails, halloween costumes and so on...?

I suppose Batman's is the only change that really makes much sense to me; the costume looks worse, and a lot harder to draw (which seems at odds with the publisher's new emphasis on shipping their books on time and producing art that's not as shitty as it usually is), but I suppose it does look closer to what the Batman in the Arkham Asylum games and the Christian Bale movies wears.

But man, what were they thinking with Superman? He's no longer wearing red shorts over his blue tights, he's now wearing a pair of blue metal panties over his blue metal pants.That's...better...?

Gambit and The Champions: From the Marvel Vault #1 (Marvel Entertainment) I've always liked the idea of Marvel's Champions team, which, like their Defenders team, doesn't really seem to have any sort of unifying principal or reason to exist, beyond the fact that some Marvel editor somewhere decided they could use another team like The Avengers, so who did they have lying around? (Two old X-Men, a Russian spy lady, a Greek demi-god and a guy with a flaming skull who rides a motorcycle all the time? Sure, that sounds great!).

I've always liked the idea of Gambit too, although I can't recall ever actually liking any comic book I've read with him in it. I basically just think he's a funny character, based on how hilarious he was on that '90s X-Men cartoon (everyone on that show was hilarious).

This is a comic book in which a pre-Gambit, in-the-(mutant) closet Remy LaBeau is hired to steal a whatsit from The Challengers, a whatsit that MODOK also wants to steal. Oh, and it's drawn by the late George Tuska, this being another From The Vault special where Marvel apparently found some old artwork and had someone come in to figure out a story to go with it so they could publish it (Here, it's Scott Lobdell).

It's nothing special, really, and beyond the pleasures of Tuska's crazy, rough, primal facial expression, there's little to recommend it. I liked the way Tuska drew Gambit's skull as if it were trying to push its way through his skin, and seeing Tuska draw the rather lunatic designs of several of these characters (This Ghost Rider, for example, wasn't yet a skeleton-on-fire, but a normal dude who had a crazy face that looked like a rubber mask of the Red Skull, bleached white. And set on fire. And he als always wore cowboy boots. And drove his goofy-looking motorcycle indooors).

Sadly, Lobdell doesn't go Full Claremont with Gambit's dialogue, so it's much harder to laugh at the character than usual and, well, laughing at Gambit is the only real pleasure I take in the character.

Anyway, this is a comic book that you can buy if you want. I did.

Bonus! There's a five-page ad for The New Avengers #16 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato, and did you know that Brian Michael Bendis still does that thing where he pretends like the Avengers are characters on The Real World, that ur-reality show from when I was in high school and Bendis had yet to write anything from Marvel, and they act like they're in the confessional booth?Yes, he still does that!


Jenerators said...

Haven't yet picked up my JL#1, although it's on my pull-list. Can someone (you?) please explain what the connection is between the reboot and Flashpoint? I avoided all of Flashpoint and have survived quite well without it, but may pick it up in collected format at some point.
Also, I'm curious to know whether George Perez saw pics of Henry Cavill in the currently filming Man of Steel movie before he drew the pics for the cover of Superman?

Axle Steele said...

Basically nothing Jen. Flash going back in time to save his mom caused flashpoint, him fixing flashpoint by going back in time to stop himself, from saving his mom caused the current reality. Flashpoint isn't very good, don't read it.

As to Superman's costume, I am 98% certain that it is because they might lose ownership of some parts of the original costume in the ongoing lawsuits, so their redesigning-out-of-it, in advance, those parts.

Anonymous said...

I was really wanting to include a scan of that football game in my review of this, but opted to not do it, so I will just point out that teams have not used half shirts since the 90's. Ironic ain't it.

I personally thought JL#1 was one of the worst books I have ever read.

Ryan said...

That Marvel-like approach is what irritated me the most. I realize that Marvel currently far outsells DC, so it might seem to make sense to go after that market but, on the other hand, people who want superhero books that take Marvel's approach already have Marvel. People who want DC's old approach no longer have anywhere to go.

Sean said...

I kind of liked Justice League #1. Sure, it's not a perfect comic and I'd have preferred more pages, more introductions of the characters; something like having the whole “big seven” in place by the end of the book. But decompression is the way the industry does things now and that’s not going to change. Even so, I enjoyed what was there and am interested enough in finding out what happens next to pick up the next issue.

B.G. Christensen said...

I'm also a little hesitant about the Marvelization of the DCU, but I'm willing to wait and see how it works, as it sounds you are. Overall, I enjoyed JL 1.

DC has said at some point in the past few months (somewhere in all that publicity they've been churning out) that in the new timeline Batman has been around for more than five years, but he was just an urban legend until recently. I'm not sure how I feel about Batman pre-dating Superman. (I feel great about Batman dating Superman, which is why I'm going to buy Stormwatch, but I'm just not sure about pre-dating.)

Farseer said...

I don't necessarily think they are "marvelizing" the DCU. Some superpowered people appear and start running around in costumes... it's natural for people to be curious, worried and fearful. That's not marvel: it's just logical.

However, after being helped or saved for the n-th time by those people, it would be logical to start regarding them as heroes rather than as menaces. Therefore, I do not mind if in the beginning people are fearful. I would be worried about marvelization if the people's attitude hadn't changed 5 years (or whatever) later.

Michael Strauss said...

Right on the mark, Caleb.

The New 52 so far is just window dressing more of the same.

Shaking up the talent producing the books, altering rosters and giving everyone fussy, 90s-esque costumes is ultimately meaningless. DC isn't really doing anything different here than what's already been done by the Big Two over and over again. Only this time it's tinged with 90s nostalgia.

DC could have used this to make an impactful change to the business of comics and really changed the way they go after bringing in readers. Instead, they're offering up costume changes, trade-waiting, story beats cribbed from old Super-Friends cartoons (wait for rookie Cyborg to save the League's bacon from Darkseid), and half measures.

Attempting to make sense of their new timeline, at this point, is futile.

LurkerWithout said...

Someone pointed out in a comment over on Comics Alliance how the new JLA story seems to be partially matching the old Superfriends cartoon. The ones where they added Firestorm and Cyborg and had Darkseid as the main bad guy...

I'm just glad I passed on it. Especially after re-reading my copy of Waid's JLA: Year One...

Hyle Russell said...

As far as Batman and his sidekicks go, the official line is that Batman's been active for at least five years before Justice League #1, operating as an urban legend. That way he can still plow through four teenage sidekicks and see at least two of them reach their 20's.

I too groaned at the "not your dad's Justice League" line. I have no wonder if de-aging all of DC's heroes (sans Batman) to twenty-somethings isn't Dan DiDio's form of a midlife crisis. Some guys get expensive sports cars. Dan DiDio lives vicariously through a swinging single Superman.

SallyP said...

Is it me, or does Superman's cape look as though it is growing directly out of his collar bones?