Comics Ate My Brain

December 31, 2008

Crossovers, conclusions, and Cooper

Filed under: fanfic, twin peaks, x files — Tom Bondurant @ 9:47 pm
Just finished watching the last episode of “Twin Peaks” (but not Fire Walk With Me … not yet, at least). Naturally, I’ve got some ideas about how to revisit the series, but — can your mind handle it? — with a different set of FBI agents. It’s a fanfic crossover, sure; but appropriately enough I think we’ll be speaking more about the metatextual implications.

SPOILERS FOLLOW, if by chance you don’t know how “Twin Peaks” ended.

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I am surely not the first person to think that Mulder and Scully should help free Cooper from the Black Lodge. It just seems like a good fit, especially considering the connections between the shows. Mysticism and magic in the Pacific Northwest, with a Project Blue Book connection thrown in for good measure, seems like an “X Files” episode already. Plus, Mulder would naturally be mistaken for the cross-dressing DEA agent Duchovny played on “Peaks.” (However, tempting as it might be, connecting Major Briggs directly to Scully’s dad seems a bit much.)

Looking closer, though, I see more tension. “Twin Peaks” played a particular game with its mysteries: its characters took them very seriously, but the show itself did not. In hindsight the show — which at the time I took very seriously, don’t get me wrong — was a parody of soap operas, if not movies and TV in general. Knowing that Laura Palmer’s murder was never meant to be solved, all the hoopla surrounding the mystery now seems like a grand game of misdirection. Even after her killer is revealed to the audience, he gets in on the act, feeding the cops clues he’s making up on the spot. “X Files” got twisted around its own continuity as well, but that was more a function of the show’s longevity; and it may offer some insight into its predecessor’s hypothetical fate.

But I digress. “X Files” was a lot more skeptical about its paranormal elements. I picture Scully rolling her eyes at the town of Twin Peaks pretty much from the moment her rental car crosses the county line. Moreover, “XF’s” mysteries were the kinds of legends one might have found in 1970s-era explorations like “In Search Of” and Chariots of the Gods. Whether an episode was a standalone “monster show” or a “mythology show” which contributed to the overarching plotline, “The X Files” reassured viewers that there were answers.

All this is to say that the final fate of Dale Cooper would be just another week in the woods for Mulder and Scully … so we must then ask ourselves whether the character of Cooper, and by extension the “Twin Peaks” mythology, benefits from an intervention by “The X Files.” The latter show wrapped up plotlines for two of its cousins, “Millennium” and “The Lone Gunmen,” but in both cases I daresay that the guests played by the home team’s rules.

I suspect the same would be true for “Twin Peaks,” unless our hypothetical fanfic writer elects to change the rules subtly as the story progresses. Actually, that wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for a “Peaks” storyline; and it would give Cooper the chance to save the day, after first being rescued himself.

See, if I were to write such a fanfic, I’d want it to be more than creative onanism. Sure, it’d be fun to watch Scully giggle at her partner’s mistaken identity; or to give Mulder pause over the thought of entering the circle of sycamores. There are more logistical concerns too, like the fact that “Peaks” takes place in 1989, two years before Mulder and Diana Fawley stumbled upon the X Files. However, these things are like equations (I almost said “solving for X,” ha ha): plug values into variables and see what comes out. What is missing, inevitably, from any fanfic is the unique element of creativity which only a David Lynch or Chris Carter can provide. In a very real sense, Lynch substituted Cooper’s fate for Laura’s killer. There are clues throughout (including in Fire Walk With Me), but putting them together ourselves yields only the sum of those parts. Involving “The X Files” would help acknowledge the deconstruction any outsider would have to perform in order to avoid something Mary Sue-ish and insubstantial. I’d have to think pretty hard about even the bare bones of such a story (which, naturally, I’d share with you-all).

Aw, who’m I kidding? Alan Moore could do it….

See you in 2009!

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December 24, 2008

Christmas on the go

Filed under: Christmas, meta — Tom Bondurant @ 3:06 am
Every Christmas I try to post something profound, or at least something obvious said in a somewhat clever way. Not so much this year, however. This year we have been scrambling simply to keep ahead of Christmas. Let’s put it this way: tomorrow morning the LCS opens at 8 a.m. and I still won’t have time to go there.

Among other things, Christmas emphasizes how the divine was visited upon the mundane, so all this clamor and confusion may seem a little perverse. Indeed, I am more than ready for just settling down to a long winter’s nap. (I was ready for it at about 3:00 this afternoon, in fact.)

Nevertheless, in the spirit of the holiday, I am sure everything will work itself out in the end. I am looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and sharing the season with my family. I do feel another Santa-as-superhero post coming on, but that will probably have to wait until next year.

Meanwhile, feel free to click on the “Christmas” tag to see my previous holiday offerings, and I’ll talk to you next week. Until then, Happy Holidays to one and all!

December 14, 2008

Attempting a "cold dissection" of Final Crisis’ woes

Filed under: crisis, dissertations — Tom Bondurant @ 9:52 pm
Tom Spurgeon observes that discussions about Final Crisis‘ failure to perform have descended into

angry jeremiads about the utter stupidity and ineptness of the current DC brain trust vs. self-styled realists lecturing in acidic tones to why none of this matters in the long run unless you’re a big nerd that cares about stupid things. What’s missing is a cold dissection as to the why and how of this happening.

Someday, possibly decades in the future, someone is going to ask Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and the rest of the DC brain-trust about what was really going on in the years 2004-2009. Until then, I will have to make do with my own perspective.

To me, Final Crisis’ problems began with the success of 52 and the failure of “One Year Later.” Together, they were presented as a victory lap for Infinite Crisis, which advertised them via that trusty old device of the two-page characters-rushing-towards-the-reader spread. However, after 52‘s relatively good reception, I think DC’s high sheriffs figured that the marketplace was still more friendly to an event than to the regular books’ attempts to reconnect.

Furthermore, DC probably knew at the time that it had two big Grant Morrison projects in the pipeline, namely Final Crisis and “Batman R.I.P.” The seeds of each had already been planted in “Seven Soldiers,” Batman, and 52. However, I don’t think that DC had any blockbuster events planned between the end of 52 in May 2007 and the beginning of Final Crisis in May ’08; and in light of 52‘s success, I think DC wanted to gin up something to keep the momentum going. FC and “R.I.P.” might still have been big sellers on their own, but why take that chance? Give the public more 52 … or, more accurately, give it a “better” 52: a weekly series that helped out the regular titles and built momentum for FC.

Thus, DC created Countdown, apparently without a lot of help from Morrison. (Remember all the plans for the last issue of Countdown? Morrison was going to write it, and then it was Morrison and Geoff Johns, and then it wasn’t the last issue of Countdown but a standalone issue which led into FC.) Whether Morrison’s involvement would have helped is probably moot by now, though. Countdown sold in decent numbers, despite receiving regular critical and fan drubbings.

And I think that dichotomy helps explain Final Crisis’ big problem: it is an esoteric, creator-driven project which must fit into the every-Wednesday model of big-event series. I have nothing to back up either of the following assertions, but I suspect that for a good bit of the people who followed Countdown, FC doesn’t mesh with orthodox continuity strongly enough; or otherwise doesn’t feel enough like a big-event crossover. (Conversely, for many non-regular DC readers, FC may feel too heavily connected to Dan DiDio’s “culture of continuity.”) FC’s shipping schedule, and lack of connection to the regular titles, has also made it easy for every-Wednesday readers like me to forget it’s there. At this point FC might even feel perfunctory.

Final Crisis might also have arrived “too late” in another way. In the wake of Countdown and “Sinestro Corps,” DC has settled on an array of mini-events emulating the latter, each focused on a different high-profile character. Indeed, six of the seven DC franchises I consider “foundational” — the Big Three, plus the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Legion — are either in the middle of an event or preparing for one; and Geoff Johns is involved in four of the six. (Justice League has just started relaunching the Milestone characters, but I don’t think that’s the same thing.) More importantly, though, none of these events ties directly into Final Crisis. That may be good in terms of continuity tangles, but it doesn’t help remind readers that FC is still out there, waiting to be resolved.

I say all of this not sure myself of my feelings about Final Crisis’ merits. Each issue so far has left me with a feeling of creeping dread, which is probably the minimal, baseline reaction for which Morrison et al. were hoping. However, using a collection of moments to illustrate the end of the world, instead of a more traditional approach, takes some getting used to. I loved Morrison’s JLA, and I still think his DC One Million (which admittedly, at its core, was an extension of JLA) is a model for line-wide crossovers. FC’s storytelling style is a couple of steps removed from both of those, and again that might explain a reader’s ambivalence towards it. I don’t dislike FC, but neither is it as thrilling as certain other Morrison works.

(It is sorely tempting to speculate that Final Crisis might be doing better if Geoff Johns were at the helm. Johns is involved more directly with the regular titles, and is in a better position to do “subliminal advertising” in the pages of Green Lantern or Action. We’ll see, I suppose, next summer with Blackest Night, which will have been hawked for some two years with little promoting it except the two Green Lantern titles and endless, almost self-parodic mentions on convention panels.)

To sum up, then, I don’t think DC had much choice but to hype FC. It was the next big event after 52, but its ostensible lead-in may well have created an environment (at least among DC fans) more suited to smaller-scale “nothing will be the same” storylines.

December 13, 2008

Making the world safe for Justice Society

Filed under: justice society — Tom Bondurant @ 4:44 pm
”There will always be a Justice Society of America book in the DC Universe,” according to its lame-duck writer, Geoff Johns.

Let’s start there.

On one level, it’s somewhat sad to think that National/DC went years, even decades, without a steady source for new adventures of its original superhero team. But for the Justice Society of America, there might not have been a Justice League; but for the Justice League, there might not have been a Fantastic Four; and so on. No Marvel, no Image, no Charlton or First or Dark Horse, Jack Kirby stuck doing monster stories and romance comics — the mind cannot conceive it!

However, the bittersweet fact is that the Justice League, like the rest of the Silver Age reinventions, supplanted the Justice Society so completely that the Golden Agers had to reposition themselves in relation to their successors. Today the JSA serves an “inspirational” function, which seems like a more important thematic justification for the group (and, by extension, the series) than the jurisdictional niche which has been carved out for it. The older folks are teaching the up-and-comers how to be good successors.

Here is as good a place as any for the obligatory disclosure that I stopped reading JSA back in 2005, at the end of the Per Degaton/1950s storyline. Apart from a few issues here and there, I haven’t read it regularly since then. Honestly, I think you have to share Geoff Johns’ particular DC tastes in order to get the most out of his Justice Society work; and mine must be just different enough.

Johns’ first issue of JSA was #6 (January 2000), appropriately enough featuring Black Adam. (Johns’ run will end with a story called “Black Adam Ruined My Birthday,” which by itself sounds pretty fun.) For the first four years or so, his co-writer was David Goyer, who left after issue #51 (October 2003). Accordingly, I suppose we can only call the book “Geoff Johns’ JSA” from that point forward. To my mind its creation belongs in no small part to James Robinson’s Starman work, because Robinson had been exploring the original Justice Socialites through Jack Knight. Furthermore, JSA’s “reunion of names” seemed at the time to borrow heavily from Grant Morrison’s high-concept for JLA; which of course had been running for a few years to great success. (Indeed, anyone looking at the two books’ logos would surely notice the similarities.)

Regardless, from the late summer of 2003, give or take some co-contributors (Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Brad Meltzer, arguably the 52 crew), it’s been Johns’ show — much like Birds Of Prey had become associated strongly with Gail Simone. I am inclined to argue that because Johns has become so identified with Justice Society, and because the JSA isn’t an indispensable part of DC’s dramatic infrastructure, the book could stand to be cancelled upon his departure.

(Gasp!)

I mean, why not? Neil Gaiman and James Robinson got to bring Sandman and Starman to respectable closes (although certain supporting characters continued to live on, even in unrelated series like Trinity). When Johns left The Flash, it was all but over; although clearly Infinite Crisis had something to do with that book’s eventual cancellation (… and here comes Johns again, arguably causing Wally’s book to go away again…). Likewise, when Johns leaves Green Lantern, the book will remain. Flash and GL are two of DC’s “foundational” titles — but Justice Society is not. Despite Johns’ declarations, I suspect that it never will be.

That said, though, DC has published monthly adventures of the Justice Society in some form or another for the better part of the past thirty-odd years. Starting with the revived All Star Comics in late 1975, the JSA later jumped to a feature in the bimonthly Adventure Comics. That lasted about a year (1978-79), after which the characters were title-less until the debut of All-Star Squadron in the summer of 1981. ASSq lasted about five years, and was succeeded by Young All-Stars, which lasted about another two. This period also saw the launch (1984) and cancellation (1988) of Infinity Inc.. The Justice Society itself had been “banished to limbo” in 1986, but returned in 1992, headlined its own series (Justice Society of America vol. 1) for ten issues, and then had most of its original members killed in 1994’s Zero Hour. Aside from a 1940s-oriented miniseries and a similar fifth-week event, the JSA didn’t see much else in the way of significant action before 1999’s “Crisis Times Five” arc in JLA. That led to the new JSA series, and here we are.

Obviously the turning point was Crisis On Infinite Earths, which took away the JSA’s status as its world’s No. 1 super-team. (Ironically, as I’ve said many times before, in Crisis the JSA pretty much assumed the traditional leadership role of the JLA, which was in its “Detroit phase.”) Since then, DC has shown, both in 1986 and 1994, its willingness to close the book on the team and (some of) its members. That’s something DC hasn’t done with, say, the Teen Titans or the Legion of Super-Heroes. It has relaunched, revamped, and outright rebooted the latter teams, but it hasn’t outright ended them as it has the JSA.

Therefore, I agree that Johns (and his creative collaborators, including previously-unmentioned artists Stephen Sadowski, Michael Bair, Leonard Kirk, Don Kramer, and Jerry Ordway) have successfully repositioned Justice Society in a world in which it was no longer required. Nevertheless, the question then becomes whether Johns has contributed so much to Justice Society that it should not continue without him.

Of course, this argument is largely academic. DC would be nuts to cancel Justice Society … wouldn’t it? Johns has made the book a consistently reliable source of income, both as a monthly periodical and in collected form. Surely Sean McKeever, Tony Bedard, or whoever DC pulls off the bench to write and/or draw the title will be able to do just as well.

… Yeah, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. The new writer will undoubtedly proclaim his or her love for Johns’ run while at the same time making it clear that this will not be a mere retread of Johns’ work. Geoff laid a great foundation, and we’re going to build on that to take the JSA to new and exciting places! It’s an excellent place for new readers to climb aboard — you won’t want to miss this!

What, too cynical? Maybe I’ve just been reading too many puff-piece interviews. It just seems to me that if this is truly “Geoff Johns’ JSA,” then it should end with Johns’ departure. The Justice Society itself doesn’t have to disband — it can show up all over the DC map, as needed — but maybe the next writer (and artist) would be served better if there were at least an hiatus between them and the Johns Era. The upcoming creative team will be compared to Johns and his collaborators anyway; why invite those comparisons the month after Johns et al. leave?

Again, to me it’s not like Johns is leaving a “foundational” title like Flash or Green Lantern. It’s more like Gail Simone leaving Birds Of Prey, or even Johns’ own departure from Teen Titans. I submit that DC needs to publish its foundational titles in order to maintain the identity of its superhero line. However, DC only needs to publish Justice Society as long as it can bring in an acceptable number of sales. DC clearly doesn’t want Justice Society to go through a succession of ill-fitting writers like the post-Johns Teen Titans did.

In other words, Johns hasn’t turned Justice Society into a “foundational” title. Instead, he’s established that Justice Society’s revised premise can be sustained over the long term. This accomplishment is not insignificant. It takes a special kind of hair-splitting axe to clear a space for what is, to children of the Silver and Bronze Ages, another version of the Justice League. If DC has found the right person to carry on what has evidently become something very personal to Geoff Johns, that’s fine. I can’t help but think, though, that Johns’ work should be followed by a break. It would both honor Johns’ departure and allow the next Justice Society creative team some time to figure out its own approach.

December 9, 2008

Watching the detectives

Filed under: spirit — Tom Bondurant @ 3:50 pm
Fan reactions to the fast-approaching Spirit movie seem pretty uniform to me: it’s more Sin City than Will Eisner.

It makes me wonder: isn’t Frank Miller’s style really better-suited to Dick Tracy? Likewise, what if Warren Beatty had made a Spirit movie instead of Tracy? (A commenter on this YouTube version of the Tracy trailer wants a crossover.)

Granted, Beatty’s Dick Tracy was only about “bringing a comic strip to life” as far as it involved garish art direction and broad acting. Beatty would have had to appreciate the way Eisner used a comics page, and somehow translated that to a static frame for moving pictures. In a way, I suppose the Sin City movie, with its uber-faithful recreation of Miller’s work, tried to do just that.

And you know, I ask “what if Warren Beatty…?,” but really, a Warren Beatty Spirit isn’t my first choice, because I wasn’t that thrilled with Dick Tracy and I doubt his comics sensibilities have been tuned any finer in the past eighteen years. I guess I’m asking why Frank Miller has apparently abandoned The Spirit‘s nominally graceful, light attitude — and that may be asking why Frank didn’t just adapt Sugar & Spike; or why no director has staged a Batman-movie fight around a giant typewriter. The medium has limitations, and the audience has expectations.

I still think Miller’s a better fit for Dick Tracy, though….

Looks like I’m a Good Critic; plus Joe Kubert and Sgt. Rock

Filed under: meta, sgt rock — Tom Bondurant @ 2:47 am
We got back last night from five days and four nights in Lexington, for a two-day seminar and an afternoon party so that our old Kentucky friends could see Olivia. Without going too much into it, I was technologically limited, so I spent those five days with a pretty minimal connection to the Internet. I also didn’t have an opportunity to see Thursday’s new comics until this morning, which meant that I couldn’t check about 80% of my Bloglines subscriptions until then (no spoilers!). That left me with some 400-odd comics-related posts to skim, read, or just check off.

Probably the nicest surprise — and I was surprised to be in such excellent company — was being included on plok/pillock’s “Critic’s Canon” list. That’s a pretty high standard of criticism, me excluded. It makes me think plok hasn’t read my Bottomless Belly Button review, which was hardly a model of the form.

Then again, I have never been good at accepting compliments. Thus, before I forget, thank you plok, thanks to the commenters who approved of my inclusion, and thanks to whatever silent majority/minority/plurality has similar feelings. If you like this stuff, who am I to argue?

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In other news, I found Man Of Rock, Bill Schelly’s biography of Joe Kubert, to be a quick and entertaining read. There’s not much in the way of controversy. Kubert didn’t lead a “Behind The Music”-esque life of triumph, tragedy, and redemption; and neither, apparently, was his work exploited egregiously. For example, he was able to move his prehistoric hero Tor from one publisher to another without too many problems. Kubert’s disappointments, as MoR sees them, include such things as being replaced on Hawkman by Murphy Anderson, and failing to sustain newspaper strips for Tor and Tales of the Green Berets.

More numerous, naturally, are Kubert’s successes: Tor, Enemy Ace, Sgt. Rock, Tarzan, Fax From Sarajevo, and of course the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Man Of Rock argues, fairly successfully, that Joe Kubert was indispensable to the growth and development of modern mainstream comics; perhaps even on a par with Will Eisner or Jack Kirby. I don’t mean this to be quite as obtuse as it sounds; but I approached MoR from the perspective of Kubert as the consummate craftsman, and came away with an even greater appreciation of the man’s place in comics history.

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Then, of course, I read Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Volume 2, written entirely by Bob Kanigher with only a few non-Kubert stories. (It reprints Our Army At War nos. 118-148, May 1962-November 1964.) Last year, discussing Volume 1, the stories were, by and large, about object lessons taught by Rock to the men under his command. While this book contains several of those as well, after a while Kanigher and Kubert start telling stories about Rock himself, as well as building up a regular supporting cast (the by-now-familiar Bulldozer, Ice Cream Soldier, Wild Man, Sunny, and Little Sure Shot). There’s even a story narrated by our heroes’ weapons, which for me recalled the Spirit story of Rat-Tat, The Little Machine Gun.

It’s not all fun and games, to be sure: death seemed to come more readily to Easy’s men, and even a regular is both blinded and deafened (temporarily) by an exploding shell. Men of Rock mentioned that Kanigher and Kubert had to be careful about what they showed, but the sight of a makeshift tombstone — fashioned from a rifle and an empty helmet — is unmistakable. With regard to Volume 1, I thought that the stories were meant for grade-school kids, but lead-out captions for many of the stories in Volume 2 talk about Easy’s exploits being “aimed at your heart.” Apparently, readers of Our Army At War wouldn’t have been blamed for shedding manly tears (or “actin’ like we had cinders in our eyes,” in Rock-speak) at the end of an issue. Indeed, with this volume, Kanigher and Kubert seem to be settling into a nice groove.

The book ends on a two-part story from OAAW #s 147-48, which involves a deskbound general whose lack of combat glory has disappointed his two sons. Naturally, Rock ends up impersonating the general, and you can guess the rest. Although the story is driven by their sentiments, the general’s sons come across as unsympathetic (one’s eager for reflected glory; the other is passive-aggressive). The plot also has to contort itself in order to avoid a court-martial for Rock. Nevertheless, “Generals Don’t Die” is effective on its own terms, thanks mostly to Kanigher and Kubert’s concise,direct storytelling. The whole book is like that; and like its predecessor it’s highly recommended.

December 3, 2008

Would You Like Less Pulp In Your JLA?

Filed under: batman, justice league — Tom Bondurant @ 3:57 pm
I have argued previously that the Justice League is a “clash of genres.”

That phrase might not be perfectly accurate, but it’s a good soundbite. Batman has some pulp roots (Zorro, the Shadow). The Flash and the Atom are science-heroes, powered by vaguely plausible experiments/accidents. Green Lantern and Hawkman are space-opera characters. Zatanna straddles the Vertigo line. The Elongated Man and the Martian Manhunter are different types of detectives; and at one point Booster Gold and Captain Atom were different kinds of “men out of time.” The ones I would call “pure” superheroes — for purposes of this post, “fantasy” characters — include Aquaman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

Therefore, I think it would be instructive to examine which Leaguers tend to fare the best over the years. If the Justice League is a sampler of DC as a whole, seeing which “genre” dominates its adventures might give us a clue as to the company’s overall tone.

Regardless, I suspect that, despite J’Onn J’Onzz’s presence in virtually every era of the team, Batman would be the go-to guy. Batman always has a plan; Batman always wins. Grant Morrison had Batman unmask the Hyperclan (and beat up three of them), outlast DeSaad, and outsmart Lex Luthor. When he wanted to show that Prometheus meant business, he had the new villain (who was an “evil Batman”) first defeat the Darknight Detective.

It goes back farther. One could argue that Batman leaving the League and founding the Outsiders was the beginning of the “Satellite Era’s” end. Likewise, Batman’s return to the team (now based in Detroit) was an attempt to lend that League some credibility. Batman was a dominant force in the early Giffen/DeMatteis years, and showed up a few times in the Dan Jurgens/Gerard Jones/Ron Randall relaunches of the early ’90s.

And why do people like Batman? Because he has no powers but he’s real smart. (Also, the years of martial-arts training and discipline don’t hurt.) So what does it say that, on a team composed of characters from different genres, that the most visible heir of the pulp heroes routinely gets the most deference?

Clearly the implication is that Batman represents the “need for realism” which has driven superhero comics for the past twenty-plus years (probably going back to his takedown of Superman in The Dark Knight Falls). Yes, those who look to Batman for “realism” are probably frustrated with his very involvement in the Justice League, but I don’t see too many people claiming that Black Canary and Green Arrow are any more realistic. Indeed (despite GA’s appearance in the Dark Knight Superman fight), conventional fan wisdom seems to hold that a bow and trick arrows are no way to stop, say, the Demons Three, or even a moderately well-armed super-criminal like Captain Cold.

Actually, now that I think about it, Kingdom Come also gave Batman’s “talented-humans” team something of an advantage, in that they didn’t have the drama of Superman’s and Wonder Woman’s Justice League. With that nuclear strike, the “regular” humans also end up settling much of the superheroes’ infighting.

So what are we to make of this trend? Is it an anti-superpower bias? (Ozymandias even beats Doctor Manhattan, at least for a minute or so.) Or is it simply more interesting to have the non-powered, real-smart humans outsmarting the powerhouses?

I don’t know that it goes that far — and really, if it gets much farther, it wanders into the old “superpowered fascists vs. wild-eyed vigilantes” territory. Anyway, the Dark Knight, Watchmen, and Kingdom Come examples are all “good guys” fighting among themselves, which is ostensibly “more dramatic” than a run-of-the-mill super-fight. Talking about something like the Justice League, on balance it is probably more interesting to have someone with a lower power level save the day. (There was Steve Englehart’s Willow/Mantis storyline, where the Atom was the hero; not to mention 1978’s JLA/JSA team-up, where the Elongated Man defeated the Lord of Time.)

Still, what’s the point of having a Justice League if you’re not going to use the Supermen and Wonder Women? Well, in fact, the JLI teams got along pretty well with only a few powerhouses at a time (Martian Manhunter, Doctor Fate, Captain Atom, Captain Marvel). Guy Gardner was never really a world-beater as a Green Lantern, Wally West was stuck at the speed of sound for much of his JLI tenure, and Power Girl was de-powered as well. Even when the Morrison League brought together the “big guns” (for the first time in that continuity), Morrison tended to place the powerhouses in set pieces: Superman wrestling the angel, Big Barda fighting the future Wonder Woman, Green Lantern containing an exploding Sun. Morrison’s Flash and Green Lantern were especially creatures of the Id; whereas the lower-powered characters (Huntress, Steel, Green Arrow II, and of course Batman) got to be smart.

I dunno. Again, maybe I’m making too much out of it. However, I can’t help but think that the treatment of Batman over the past twenty years has rippled out not only through the Justice League, but into the wider DC line. It’s created an attitude of cynicism that eats at the more fantastic titles (how great is Superman if Batman can beat him?). After all, Hal Jordan decks Batman in Green Lantern: Rebirth — probably to help his street cred — and then goes on to greater things via “The Sinestro Corps War.”

This could be why I like Trinity so much. I got a huge kick out of Morrison’s “JLA/James Bond Batman,” and I even gave the fist-pumping moments of last week’s
“R.I.P.” conclusion a pass. Batman should be a world-beater, you know? However, there are times when he should also be surrounded by world-beaters, even taking a back seat to them once in a while. If these are superhero stories, pulp’s most famous heir shouldn’t be hogging the stage.

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