Monday, April 9, 2007

Comic book musings for 4 April

A mixed bag this time around and some comments at the end.

Spoilers ho!

Superman/Batman 33 - Just as all good things must come to an end, so must all bad things. This arc, about aliens going berserk on Earth, is a perfect example of the new decompressed storytelling without any benefits. I've already forgotten how many issues this ran on, but it was only at the cover of this issue that we finally got to find out who was behind all the shenanigans, Despero.

This issue typifies the problems with the entire arc. We begin with Batman having undergone the possession by the blackrock and strong enough to challenge Superman. But Superman knows that Batman would prefer to die than to be possessed, so he threatens Batman with exactly that; the blackrock, being somehow sentient and psychic and having a highly developed fight or flight mechanism, leaves Batman under his own control. These scenes are supposed to provide a neat mirror to when Superman was possessed and Batman had to fight him. And on the surface, it is a neat little solution to the conundrum Superman is faced with...but there is no way that Superman would ever follow through with the threat. We've had story after story where Superman has declined to kill even his most virulent enemy, so there is no way in DC's green earth that Supes would kill Bats. I guess the blackrock isn't too very psychic.

But then we find out that all of this mess has been brought on by Despero employing an alien race that delivers judgments on entire species. Despero convinces the race to judge humanity and humanity is found lacking the finer qualities of the better alien races. So they psychically persuade the aliens to destroy humanity in order to purge the universe of an inferior race. Only when they are convinced to examine the memories of the people that Superman has known do they begin to believe they have made a mistake, and then Batman convinces them. They defeat Despero and the aliens release the humans from their possession.

But the overarching wisdom of these aliens is somewhat lacking. Do they consider their own roots--do they believe that they themselves have always been so perfect? If they are as wise as they are portrayed, they would know that if they went about destroying creatures they found to be inferior to them, they would be no better than the things they purport to be fighting. Plus, if they are such powerful psychics, why would they trust Despero at all?

And at the end, Superman and Batman agree to be friends while the narrative Alfred says that they never really lost their friendship, as Batman vows to let his humanity back into his personality. This doesn't jibe with the jetsetter Bruce Wayne we have been seeing over in Batman but I understand the point. It just seems futile after all this. If anything, after all his battles, Batman should know that the first and last person he should ever trust is Superman (which argues again against his threatening to kills Bats, but I did that jig already).

I'm sure that the creative team was trying to make some kind of points in the issues that led to this conclusion, but I'll be darned if I know what it is. I don't know why we had the appearance of Plastic Man in the niddle of it. Luthor is disposed of in a single panel...the whole tapestry just doesn't hold together, especially since this issue was upposed to tie it all up. And we are blessed with the apeparance of really wise psychic aliens who don't really seem to be much of either.

Justice League of America 7 - So the team has come together, and after all the planning, the deciding factor regarding who gets to join is whoever was around when Grundy and Amazo were defeated. The problem is that Rucka punches all the fanboy buttons without really delivering content. Look! The Justice League has two headquarters--one is the Hall of Justice from the Super Friends TV show and the other is the satellite from the Justice League Unlimited series. Never mind that both of them pose tremendous danger to the people that the Justice League purposts to protect, especially since there will apparently be tours through the Hall of Justice. And there is some nonsense about putting the Hall on the same location as where the All-Star Squadron met...but the hall is in Washington DC while the All-Star Squadron was headquartered in the remains of the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York.

With a wink, Greg Rucka has Black Lightning invite Batman to the League, harkening back to when Black Lightning turned down Batman's invite, back in the 70s. And Roy takes on yet another identity, this time as the Red Arrow, in order that he may use the "family name." And he lives up to it by immediately hitting on Hawkgirl, which would appear to throw a whole lot of continuity that was recently put back into whack totally back out of whack.

Then there's the gimmicks--if I wanted the full cover, I would have had to buy two issues of the comic, since each cover is exactly half the picture (just like the first issue, remember?). And there is a nifty fold-out spread of the new team in the center, but the layout is totally messed up so that the story pages are out of synch.

This is all just symbolic of my problem with the issue altogether, and as I think back, the part that has been lacking from the earlier issues. Appealing to the fanboy is easy--make an esoteric reference to another company's teams, pull out the fan favorites using some sort of surprise, or just display that you know something about the history. But beneath that very thin veneer of coolness, there's...nothing. It doesn't hang together and sometimes doesn't even make sense. And I don't think asking the story to make sense at more than a surface level is too much.

Runaways 25 - I had heard good things about this series and read the trade containing the first 12 issues. I enjoyed those stories and rather liked the concept in general. Then I found out Joss Whedon was taking over the series, so I knew I had to try it out.

I'm not a big fan of the Marvel Universe, but this just sings. The Runaways have always been a little distanced from the mainstream Marvel Universe ("you know, for the kids!"), so Whedon can spend a good bit of time developing the characters and their interaction. As I think about it, it seems to me that Whedon has more experience doing this than trying to fit his vision of characters into an existing universe. Anyway, he has a team book again, with which to work on the interactions and dialogue between the characters while developing the personalities of the individuals that make up the team. You kow, that stuff that Whedon just excels at.

And boom, he nails it. Even with the appearance of the Marvel heavies, these are still confused kids trying to find their way in a world they didn't want to be a part of. Their powers are barely useful, so it is the family they created which sustains them. Each voice is different and consistent. And like all the best teen teams, they may squabble but when they are in danger, they come together.

Fortunately, this issue makes a fine jumping on point for the series. I recommend jumping as quickly as you can.


It took a bit of digging to find out who did the cover for Superman 661, Jesus Merino. And while Wonder Woman and Superman are okay, I swear to you that his portrayal of the villain channels Neal Adams, and with the word-balloons, it's a throwback to that earlier day. The story itself is a little thin, but that villain just sings.

Also, some bad news. It would appear that Gail Simone is leaving Birds of Prey, which is just unhappy. I know you can't expect a writer to spend a career on a single title, and Simone has a huge run on BoP, but that's one combination that has been quite strong for some time now. While she reports that her new title is big and a dream of hers (rumor has it that she will be taking over Wonder Woman after Jodi Picoult's run), the Birds are going to miss her.

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