Comics Ate My Brain

December 10, 2004

New comics 12/8/04

Filed under: batman, gotham central, justice league, justice society, lotdk, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:25 am
Action Comics #822 is up first, just to get it out of the way. I expected it to be bad, but in the big-dumb-fun manner which writer Chuck Austen has deemed appropriate for the title. Instead, it was bad in the this-story-makes-no-sense way. Mostly this was due to the action being interrupted by a lot of plot about Lois being jealous of Lana Lang after finding a pair of Lana’s delicates in the Kent apartment. (They’re left over from when Lana nursed Clark back to health while Lois was in “Iraq.”) Hilarity ensues, of course, when the Kents pack up and drive — drive? Okay, maybe Lois is too sick to fly — to Smallville for Christmas.

The whole “Lois is jealous of Lana” plot is laughable, and makes Lois come off as the worst kind of possessive female stereotype. Who would believe that Clark Kent would ever do anything to jeopardize his relationship with his one true love? Has Clark somehow transformed into Mr. Love The One You’re With? Lois knows Lana well enough to realize Lana is no threat to her. Heck, Lois is pretty sure Wonder Woman is no threat to her relationship with Clark; what does she have to fear from Lana?

Anyway, once in Smallville, Superman and Superboy throw down with a hulked-out poindexter who hates “all the jocks.” Perhaps this will tie into the white-supremacist plot started last issue. Artists Ivan Reis and Marc Campos turn in their usual dynamic job, portraying both the domestic “drama” and superheroics with skill. Hopefully they’ll be around after Austen has gone.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #186, written by Shane McCarthy, with art by Tommy Castillo and Rodney Ramos, continues the 5-part Riddler story. The issue builds effectively to a double-edged cliffhanger and features a well-executed set piece involving Batman racing a train in the Batmobile. Other than that, it’s kind of a jumbled mess. The Riddler taunts Batman through a holographic projection that struck me as a goth-influenced Freddie Mercury; but simultaneously he’s a bearded derelict being nursed back to health. People give the old-school Riddler a bad rap, but this isn’t the best argument for making him “new and improved.”

Speaking of new and improved, JLA #109 finds the Kryyme Syndikaat trying to figure out why their Power Ring has been replaced. To that end, they come to our Earth and start causing trouble. Meanwhile, it looks like the hordes of Qward are ready to attack the Syndicate. I smell a mistaken-identity attack….

Busiek is finding his stride with this issue. He juggles the Syndicate, the Qwardians, and even a brief interlude with the Justice League well, advancing the plot in predictable ways but throwing in a couple of surprises to keep the reader guessing. The art, by Ron Garney and Dan Green, is a good complement to the story. I like it fine, but it does seem a little “earthy” — thick lines, dull edges — for what is turning into a big sci-fi epic. Of course Garney does well with the League, but he also makes the Syndicate his own. That’s good, considering that the Syndicate’s look was updated by Frank Quitely; and the last time we saw them, they were drawn by George Perez.

JSA #68, by Geoff Johns, Don Kramer, and Keith Champagne, begins a time-travel story involving the just-disbanded Justice Society of 1951 and their future selves of 2004. An old JSA villain plans to change history so that no one else is inspired by the Justice Society to become a super-hero. “Masks will be outlawed,” one hero intones darkly — but there’s no indication yet that this will stop Kal-El’s rocket from crashing, or Bruce Wayne from dedicating his life to avenging his parents’ deaths, or lightning from striking Barry Allen’s chemical cabinet, or … you get the idea. As much as Johns likes continuity and the shared-universe concept, it requires a lot more bases to be covered.

(I suppose this title can join the other three Evil Alternate Universe storylines DC is publishing — the Johns-written “Titans Tomorrow” over in Teen Titans, the aforementioned Crime Syndicate, and the time-mucking in Superman/Batman.)

The art is fine, although I couldn’t tell the difference between the good time-traveler and the bad one. That caused some confusion when the good one rescued a JSAer.

David Welsh has already written about a pivotal scene in this issue. I have to agree with him that the scene is both gratuitous and (with regard to Geoff Johns) self-serving, but I am interested enough in the story to see where it leads. I’m a sucker for Evil Alternate Universes.

Gotham Central #26 is part 1 of a 2-parter by Ed Brubaker and the unfortunately-named Jason Alexander. Detectives MacDonald and Driver have Catwoman as their prime suspect in a murder — which wouldn’t be so bad if masked vigilantes weren’t a political hot potato in the wake of “War Games.” Unfortunately for one detective, Catwoman discovers some blackmail fodder. It’s a well-constructed story, but the art took some getting used to. Alexander does a good job of continuing this book’s impressionist tradition; but his lines aren’t as thick I’m used to seeing, and they tended to jump out at me. His faces also look a little hinky, which occasionally made it hard to tell characters apart. Still, with Michael Lark gone to Marvel, he’s a good fit.

The last book I got this week was Justice League of America Archives Volume 9, reprinting issues #71-80 (1969-70), all by the relatively new team of Denny O’Neil (writer) and Dick Dillin (penciller). Dillin stayed with JLA for some 115 issues until his death in 1980, never missing a deadline, and it’s educational to see how his style evolved over the years. While he eventually settled into a more conservative layout, here he’s all big panels and freewheeling action.

O’Neil seems to have already found his voice, trying to shake some of the rust off of the stodgy JLAers and make them more contemporary, like the upstart Marvel heroes. Of the nine stories reprinted in this volume, two revisit old members, one revamps a current Leaguer, and most deal with the induction of Black Canary into the League after the death of her husband. Red Tornado, a future Leaguer, returns to lend a self-pitying hand, and the League moves from its Secret Sanctuary cave into the much cooler orbiting satellite. There’s also a two-parter about the evils of pollution, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with O’Neil’s Green Lantern work. One can see how this new approach to the League would encourage the producers of “Super Friends” to make that series message-friendly at the expense of the traditional League villains. Overall, though, these are trippy stories, with titles like “Star Light, Star Bright — Death Star I See Tonight!”, villains who refer to themselves as “Doomsters,” and once-square Leaguers who say things like “I’ll haul this grundy group to jail!”

There’s also the Black Canary subplot, which when read together became very creepy to me. BC was an Earth-2 heroine, active in the ’40s, whose husband died saving her from an alien energy-ball. However, she then started hanging around with Green Arrow, whose actions basically made it necessary for Larry to save her. (In a typical hero-on-hero mind-control fight, GA trapped BC with a trick arrow. Larry then knocked GA out, leaving only himself available to jump in front of the energy ball.) BC migrated to Earth-1 to get away from the bad memories — so why would she take up with a guy who was part of her husband’s death?

Anyway, JLA Archives Vol. 9 does show the League in transition from traditional formulas into a more character-based format. The struggle between maintaining the old traditions and keeping pace with the rest of late ’60s superhero trends is evident. These stories were familiar to me long before I read them, thanks to the foundation they laid for the League of the ’70s and ’80s. It says a lot to me that the writers who followed Denny O’Neil incorporated these events while not necessarily being bound to his rather flamboyant storytelling style.

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