Sunday, December 17, 2006

Comic Musings for 12/13

I'm a little late posting this week; I fell behind in reading my very large comic bundle for the week due to holiday events and just plain old being tired (oh yeah, and The Lost Room). And, despite there being such a large stack of comics, I'm only going to talk about three that were other than average. Mostly this week, the comics were just kinda there, and these were the only ones that stood out enough for me to have something to say about them.

Spoilers ho!

Justice League of America 4 -- From a high level, this issue pushes all the right buttons for fanboys. The plot begins bringing all the characters together that will eventually form the new Justice League, at last, and we trade the big reveal of the villain last week for an even more surprising reveal at the end of this issue. I closed the comic and chuckled, as it was a fun ride.

But then I began thinking about the details, and I began to be a little disaffected. Let's start with the team coming together--for three issues now we have had the Big Three standing around a table looking at photographs and files of various candidates for the new Justice League, and now, amazingly, the very folks they had decided to invite magically show up at their doorstep with a mystery that needs unravelling. So it turns out that the three issues of discussion between the three of them was mostly marking time until the plot could come to them. I suppose these scenes would've worked better if someone other than the people they were considering were the ones that showed up...but we end up with the stupid comic book trope of mentioning someone and they show up in the story. It just feels like so much wasted breath (and pages and money).

Then there are the scenes with Green Lantern, Black Canary, and (until now) Arsenal fighting the big bads. We find out how Arsenal gets his new name, Red Arrow...and it comes because one of the most experienced heroes in the DC pantheon almost calls Arsenal by his real name in the heat of battle: "Roy" becomes "R..." when Green Lantern catches himself, and then he changes it to "Red Arrow" to cover his flub. That's just bad writing, folks; that's picking a name for an existing character and then making up a reason for him to use it. And the only reason I can see for using it in the first place is because Red Arrow is a name from Kingdom Come. However, let me point out that the fight scene with these three is extremely well choreographed and remained a joy to read, calling out as it did the memories of the classic Justice League of the 60s and 70s. But the naming gaffe is a flaw that overshadows the good parts.

The last page reveal was nice, as it was unexpected, and I assume that Meltzer will tie it all together. We know that Solomon Grundy's personality changes everytime he is reborn, and it makes sense that he would eventually be reborn as a genius. But there are gaps that need filling in so that it will make sense as a long-term plan. But I despair of the symbology that acts as a visual cue that Grundy is now a genius--he wears a suit, so that he has to identify hmiself as Grundy. My first problem with this is that I don't see the apparently obvious connection between wearing a suit and genius; in fact, having worn my own share of suits, I think a smart man wears a nice pair of slacks and a t-shirt or golf shirt so as to be comfortable. I'm told that an exquisitely tailored suit is a wonderful thing to wear, but that requires money not smarts to make happen. I don't look at people in suits and automatically think "Wow, he must be a genius" and in fact I sometimes think the opposite. My second problem is the potentially awesome impact of having Grundy appear as he always does but speaking in the full and complete sentences he uses in the issue. Instead the issue's creators went for the visual shorthand that doesn't make a lot of sense in the first place, and we never get to see the image of the Grundy we know being intelligent rather than "looking" it.

I will say, though, having Hawkgirl's dialogue include "I'll get my mace" was a very clever and appealing touch.

The Spirit 1 -- I'm not sure if this series was ever described in its press as being the Spirit we know set in contemporary times, so it was a bit jarring to begin the issue with a TV montage. Later in the issue, Ginger Coffee (intrepid crime reporter for a national network) uses her cell phone in an ingenious but also really stupid fashion. I think in the long run the stories will be missing a vital element not being set in the original time period of the Spirit, but if anybody can pull it off, it would be Cooke. And besides, there are other concerns (but I remember the failed attempts at bringing The Shadow and Doc Savage into contemporary stories).

For instance, like the recent Batman/Spirit crossover, The Spirit is once again relegated to witness the events that surround him. Forces act on him rather than him acting. Now, I recognize that a good bit of the humor of the original Eisner is that The Spirit gets pulled into a lot of his adventures, but once in them, he is a protagonist. There are stories where, because of injury for example, The Spirit witnesses all that goes on around him instead of acting, but it is the exception rather than the rule. That this is the second comic with this version of the Spirit and also the first of the self-named series, I begin to expect that this is how he has been re-imagined. And folks, that's going to make for some really dull story-telling down the road.

But at least this time, Ebony shows up. His modernization may ultimately work, since writing him as he was portrayed in the comics of the 40s and 50s would be painful to read. So long as he is not allowed to slip so far into the street-wise kid role that he becomes gangsta. I'll keep reading for a while, especially since the next issue is to feature P'gell, but the charm and magic of the original series is really missing here, and given the lifespan of non-selling series now, it will take an act of faith on the part of the DC leadership to keep the series going until it hits its stride. Here's hoping it finds it sooner rather than later.

Sandman Mystery Theatre 1 -- Confession time here: I am a huge fan of the Golden Age Sandman, Wes Dodds, and thoroughly enjoyed the first Sandman Mystery Theatre series. I read that this would be a new Sandman from Vertigo, much like the most recent Deadman was someone other than Boston Brand. That information alone was enough to keep me from reading Deadman, but given my fondness for the first Sandman, I had to hope that his new series would keep the tradition.


Look, I expect dense and convoluted storytelling from Vertigo titles. But there has to be something in the issue to give the reader some kind of cues as to what is going on...and it just is not here. Eric Nguyen's art is a chore to interpret, and while he attempts to use the single-color scheme that Guy Davis used in the first series, at least Davis's characters looked different enough that you could tell them apart. I've read this issue three times now, and I think I finally have a faint grasp on how the new guy becomes (temporarily?) the new Sandman, but it needs clarification. This being a Vertigo title, it may well be that the threads will be pulled together in subsequent issues. However, that task had better start in the next issue, because if it doesn't, I won't be buying the third issue.

But I will say that the first page--scenes between Wes Dodds and Dian Belmont--felt dead on, and I give the writer all due credit for that. Now let's see if the title can pull together the parts that didn't have a basis on earlier writers.

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