Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Justice League #6 review

Earth is under attack by parademons from the evil world of Apokolips but seven superheroes have assembled to form our planet's last, desperate defence. While five face down the leader of the invasion, Darkseid, two are stranded on his hellish world.

Set five years in the past of the rebooted DC Universe, this comic features heroes with considerably less experience than we're used to. Happily, Darkseid, too, seems strictly bush league. Instead of using his planet-shaking strength as a New God to inflict damage on Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Cyborg and the Flash, he stands around dumbly as they pile on. The terrifying, unstoppable Omega Beams of previous issues go unused before two of the heroes put paid to that idea by getting stabby with their weapons. And as for sending Darkseid back home with his tail between his legs, wouldn't you know it? Cyborg has an app for that.

Yep, I'm underwhelmed. We've spent five issues building up Darkseid as a massive threat only for him to be defeated by his accidental creation of Cyborg mid-incursion. His own tech, seeded into the metal suit created by Victor Stone's dad, sends him packing. Which is ironic, but far too pat - Cyborg happens to have the means, something the suit handily tells him.

The one moment which sees the heroes use their brains - Aquaman and Wonder Woman disabling Darkseid's eyebeams - is undersold. With neither mention nor display of the Omega Beams this issue, newer readers might assume the heroes are simply homaging the old 'injury to the eye' motif.

We do get to see the beginning of teamwork, even if it is pretty much of the 'all pile on' variety. That's fair enough, this is the origin of the League so the members-to-be don't necessarily know one another's shticks. And Batman and Green Lantern prove useful at geeing up a doubting Cyborg, while GL helps Superman resist Darkseid's grip.

A big scene last issue saw Batman tear off his mask, cape and chest-symbol and allow himself to be taken to Apokolips, in the hope of finding Superman. As we join him, it seems the parademons didn't bother sticking him on a meathook, a la the unfortunate background players, meaning he's free to skulk around as henchman Desaad reveals what Darkseid is after (for once, not the Anti-Life Equation). Maybe Batman used his escape artist knowledge to get free, but some reference would have been nice. It's not like this 24pp story is packed with plot detail that needs the space - nine pages are given to splashes.

Batman proves basically useless on Apokolips, with Superman escaping the torments of Desaad only because Cyborg makes some Mother Boxes go 'ping'. It's very odd, after last month's big set-up - the unCaped Crusader with no plan, and no improvisation. All he does is yell at Superman to wake up and get through a Boom Tube.

Mind, none of the heroes do anything amazing with their powers or skill sets - there are no super-speed tricks, clever green creations, Amazon feats, Kryptonian power combinations, Aqua-action ... it's all bish bash bosh. Hopefully, as time goes on, writer Geoff Johns will show what the heroes can do other than luck out and maim enemies with handy magical weapons.

After the big fight, we move forward a few weeks. An Everyman who appears at the start of the issue, presumably in a belated attempt to put a human face on the cosmic threat, writes a book christening the Justice League. It's a better name than the in-joke tag Flash comes up with at a presidential ceremony honouring the supposed team. And the cover of the book, assuming it features a subsequent JL adventure, warms my heart.

As for this story overall, I'm lukewarm. Johns has provided plenty of big moments for artist Jim Lee to draw, but there's been very little emotional meat. Darkseid sent a bunch of demons to Earth, heroes got together and, mid-bickering, sent him away again. Read as a whole, I suspect this origin will entertain the eye, but leave the mind wondering why so many pages were necessary

It's taken six issues, but by the end of this book the Justice League stands together. Physically, at least. They're still not all delighted at the idea of being a team. Which is disappointing - sure, heroes can be flawed, but when they're in costume I want DC's finest to be shining lights who together form a beacon of hope. Not grumpy buggers who can barely stand to be in the same room together. With luck, as the story catches up with the present day, the Leaguers really will be 'super friends', with more banter than snarking.

Because Johns is good with the banter - there are a few nice gags here that don't disrupt the story tone. And Lee sells them well, alongside the aforementioned big moments. Some of the smaller scenes are less successful, such as this.
Anyone know what happened there? Darkseid's about to hit Diana, but there's a wodge of white. Cyborg's white noise blast? A passing box of explosive soap powder?

Overall, Lee's work - inked by Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Batt and Mark Irwin - is fine for this kind of story, all noisy and Nineties. The cover's a tad dodgy, mind; the staging of the heroes doesn't draw me in, though fans of strong backs will likely enjoy it. Keith Giffen, back in the Eighties, took the same basic idea and went for a more straightforward composition. I think it works better.
In other news, there's actually a back-up in this $3.99 issue, rather than the customary text padding. It sees the mysterious woman who merged universes to form the New 52 Universe named as Pandora. She and the Phantom Stranger have mysterious conversations, presaging some crossover to come. She's going to do something, he's agin it, she shoots him with guns I can only describe as mysterious. He's fine cos he's already a spook. Or an angel. Or, as this story would have it, a cross between rubbish DC character Pariah and Marvel's Watcher.

Anyway, it's a decent six pages of fannish porn written by Johns and nicely drawn by Carlos D'anda, but the very idea of a huge, titles-crossing storyline so soon after the launch of the new 52 makes my head hurt.

So, that's the opening storyline of the new Justice League, if not ended (there are intriguing mysteries for the future/annoying loose ends) so much as stopped. Lots of flash, not much substance but selling by the bucketload. The big test will be how many newer readers come back after this opening arc.

Hyped as the flagship New 52 book, Justice League fails in DC's stated aim of giving us fresh storytelling approaches to bring in a new audience. The narrative isn't broken into chapters so much as random lumps. Events come and go with little explanation and the significance of occurrences is rarely clear. Familiarity with characters is taken for granted. Recaps? What are those?

The people who will get the most out of this book are those intimate with Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga, able to envision the grand designs in which Darkseid specialises; if you don't know Darkseid and his parademons, the JLA are simply fighting random monsters. Johns does Darkseid a serious disservice, giving one of comics' greatest bogeymen a charisma bypass.

There's little here to bring me back next time, nothing I can see that would make anyone a JL fan. Curiosity will have me back next month to see how the League of 'today' functions, and to check out the debut Shazam back-up. But unless this book starts delivering less drawn-out, more satisfying stories - the 34pp tales of Steve Englehart and Dick Dillin in the Seventies Giant issues would be a useful template - I'm gone.

21 comments:

  1. Reading your comments makes me glad I didn't stick with the program. It sounds like I would have been totally disappointed with this League and opening arc. I agree with you - give me the Steve Englehart/Dick Dillin masterpieces of the 70's any day of the week.

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    1. Ah yes, Fully-realised plots, characterisation, action, and all in just four more pages than Johns and Lee have to play with.

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  2. It occurs to me that Johns and Lee, as a writer artist team, bring out each other's worst tendencies. Lee's dedication to endless splash pages negates the strength of Johns' ability to do characterizations, and Johns' imperative to pad out a story for the trade (seriously, there were maybe three issues of story here) means he has no means to crack the whip on Lee's storytelling weaknesses.

    Seriously, this read like a story a couple of talented, enthusiastic but inexperienced and unsupervised 10 years olds would produce.

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    1. Oh, nice one Snell, you're dead on. At this stage I'd be happy to see a couple of up and comers givem the book. Shame Brian Q Miller and Pere Perez are busy with Smallville.

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  3. I was underwhelmed with JL #1 but liked it better from #2 onwards, when I realised it was actually a comedy, and took it in that light. But as a comedy it's not a patch on Giffen's JLI, and the comedy is wearing thin. Like you I'll give the modern team a chance in #7, but it will be Johns' last chance.

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    1. Hmm, I'll have to take another look, with a laugh track, David!

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  4. Hello Martin:- That's a fine review, sir, and it's left me wondering whether I should regret having already ordered JLA #6, or whether it's a disaster I'll be glad to have experienced. (I sat through 2012 just to be amazed at how terrible it was, I can manage a 2012 Justice League.) What you've written certainly seems to describe what I would have expected after the book's empty-headed first few issues. (I actually bought up to #4, but I realise now that I just kept finding better things to do than read it.) I'm fascinated by the plot holes you describe, because GJ's work has become more and more characterised by their like as the years have passed. By chance, I was reading one of his JSA tpbs this morning, and there's no such overwhelmingly obvious signs of carelessness there. I wonder what happened.

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    1. Thanks Colin, I realise I went on a bit. And it may be full of typos ... I actually got a migraine mid-review and ploughed on through a Crisis-wave of white across my vision. stupid, I know, I should've stepped away from the screen.

      Anyroadup, do read #6, I'd love to hear what you thought.

      As for Johns' superior JSA work, I wonder if editors are wary of editing him these days due to his lofty position.

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    2. "By chance, I was reading one of his JSA tpbs this morning, and there's no such overwhelmingly obvious signs of carelessness there."

      Good point. It was his work on JSA that led me back into comics after a five year break. His work was just fun, well done super-hero team stories, a nice change from the sometimes wonderful but sometimes tiring post-modern 'meta' themes that people like Moore and those like him do. It was like a fresh, young Jurgens (and I say that as a lover of Jurgens work). But lately a John's comic is one that I can't see putting three dollars (or in this case four) down for. Maybe he's just tired and stretched so thin; after all he's had so many assignments once he caught on...

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  5. I dropped with issue #3 when I saw where this was headed. Thanks to your reviews, I can see I was pretty much correct!

    I feel like such a crusty old man, always riled up against this new-fangled DCnU. But dangit, it still annoys me!

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    1. Crusty you may be, but you're smarter than me, getting off this lame-ass book, as we Brits say.

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  6. The bottom line solution for removing ALL of Darkseid and his troops was a bit too deus ex machina for me. Too easy.

    And there just wasn't enough story here. I think I'll go back and reread the Appelex meteor JLA origin, told in one issue and still awesome.

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    1. Absolutely. Just look at the way the team using teamwork to escape the trap they're in. A little bit of trust, a bit of faith and the will to act - that's a JLA worth following.

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  7. Nice review Mart. I don't really hate all the DCnU, but this book? It's a real stinker. And as DC's so-called flagship book by it's two top guys? It's just embarrassing.

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    1. I wonder how soon we'll get a new creative team, one allowed to go their own way rather than follow some corporate guidelines as to what makes a good superhero book.

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  8. Yes, underwhelmed also describes me after this first arc. The broad story itself fails in so many ways that I can't believe reviewers are raving and leaving high marks for it, but whatever. As eye candy goes, in six issues it has had its moments (mostly involving Wonder Woman), but my goodness this stuff is just...so...dumb.

    I also hearken back to the Englehart/Dillin classics, which Mr. Englehart told me several years back weren't being reprinted by DC because "every time it came up, I was informed Dillin's art 'wasn't good enough.'" I think DC has relented and finally put some Dillin JLA reprints in the pipes, but how's that for corporate hardheadedness?

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    1. Good grief TS, that's the most depressing, stupid 'reason' ever - Dillinger is one of the DC greats, acres better than many of the tyros who followed him, who have had their work collected. At least he's now being seen in the JLA Archives, I think.

      (Aargh, stupid auto-'correct'. Dillinger for Dillin! And I can't go back and change it. Stupid Blogger in iPad!)

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  9. You weren't alone in not knowing what that big white thing was; I couldn't work out whether it was the explosion from Darkseid punching Wonder Woman or Cyborg's hand cannon.

    On the whole, I thought it was okay. Couple of nice hints about future stories and I'm always pleased to see the Phantom Stranger turn up, but really, DC's flagship title should be much more than "okay".

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    1. I'd love to see Kurt Busiek have a crack at this book, there's a chap who can do plot AND character.

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  10. Many of you sound crusty out of touch older readers. DC cannot write the way it has been if it wants younger people to read comics. It's simple as that. The idea that this can't make people fans of JL? I think you are very very wrong there, sir. In fact you should put your money where your mouth is and give the trades to some individuals,male and female, with zero knowledge of DC and who are not over 25 and tell me that they did not find it more interesting than a lot of the stuff you have been calling good writing It's all subjective and as a younger reader, older reviewers/fans have been some of the worse people in my opinion to trust in what they think is entertaining or relevant and are more killjoys than about acknowledging things HAVE to change and encourage others to take to the medium.

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    1. I'll admit to crusty, but out of touch? Not so much. Despite what DC said about fresh starts and accessibility, plenty of these relaunch titles seem firmly targeted at readers old enough to feel nostalgia for such concepts as the Blackhawks or Challengers. I'd love to see more fresh hooks for you thrusting young bucks!

      As for putting my money where my mouth is, I've spent quite enough on this book without buying the trades as well! Besides, I'm convinced no one would thank me. But if you wish to do the experiment from your side of the fence ... ;)

      Hey ho, we disagree. Still, thanks for taking the time to join in.

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