Monday, October 01, 2007

JLA 13: Damage Control

I'm not sure that everyone gets everything they deserve out of the comics they buy (myself included). So this entire week, I'm going to focus on one single issue of one single, current comic book: Justice League of America No. 13, the beginning of Dwayne McDuffie's run.

While it's the beginning of his run on JLA the series, it's not the beginning of his run of JLA the group, which was the juggernaut that was JLA Wedding Special #1. So, I'm going to 'cheat" and count that as backstory to JLA No. 13, and therefore within the purview of this week.

McDuffie's first order of business? Repudiating the problems of the previous run. Here are just a few examples.

Fanfic is Replaced by Fiction for Fans

It begins with a deliciously wicked parody of the much-maligned Trinity at the Table scenes from Meltzer's run, in which the "Anti-Trinity" do in five pages what their enemies weren't able to do in five months: put together a team.

Already we know that McDuffie knows the difference between what's ridiculous (the previous JLA run) and what's funny (the new one). Already we know that McDuffie knows that readers want to see heroes fighting villains, not other heroes. Or playing chess. Or capture the flag.

Mensacentric Inactivity Minimized

In the previous run, there was lots of sitting around talking, and precious little doing. The JLA do have a meeting in JLA No. 13, but it is short, and consists entirely of necessary recap and battle plans. Now let's go kick some villain tail!

The Name Game

One of the most jarring features of the previous run was JLAers using their personal names constantly, even in battle. In JLA No. 13, members are still not using their codenames all the time. But neither are they using their real names all the time. They seem to be choosing which to use based on the situation, or as a signal to the readers of other things. For example, when Black Canary reassures Green Arrow, she calls him Ollie, which is understandable since the subject is the well-being of Red Arrow (who is always called "Roy", I note, by everyone). Superman calls Vixen "Mari", when he's having a heart to heart with her, and "Vixen" when they get to work. Green Lantern almost always calls people by their codenames, but the exceptions are noticeable. He calls Roy "Roy", because he doesn't want to say "Red Arrow" anymore than we do. He calls Hawkgirl "Kendra" most of the time; I'll let you figure that one out for yourself. And he always calls "Black Lightning" Jeff, probably because he relates more familiarly with him as a fellow black crimefighter with whom he seems to have a previous friendship (according to McDuffie, at least) and because he can't say "Black Lightning" without sniggering.

What the Heck Was THAT All About?

The plot (such as it was) in the previous run (which was really just one really really long story) wasn't very clear and relied enormously on outside and previous knowledge of the DCU. Frankly, I still am not sure what happened or why. McDuffie fixes this by explaining everything he can: Vixen's power problem, Dr. Light's history, the events of the Wedding Special, even how some of the characters are using their powers. Meltzer seemed to be trying to get away with explaining as little as possible, and McDuffie takes the opposite approach.

This is a big improvement over the previous run, where characters only finished their sentences about two thirds of th-- , and we were left to fill in the blanks. And even though Brad Meltzer had the guts to bring back the Hall of Justice (for which I applaud him loudly), he never had the guts to actually CALL it that, always calling it simply "the Hall", as it he were writing the Elk Lodge of America. McDuffie has no squeamishness (or "cuteness", whichever it was).

Bald Lightning
  1. Having someone question (like every fan did) why Black Lightning would shave his head?
  2. Coming up with a reasonable explanation?
  3. Making fun of it for being dated?
  4. Having John Stewart be the mechanism for exposing all this?
  5. Topping it all with an in-joke for JLU fans?
That, folks is a Five-Star Fix of a Bad Decision By Previous Writer. Dwayne McDuffie did more to flesh out those characters for me in one conversation than the rest of DC's writers combined over the last ten years. You rock, McD.

30 comments:

totaltoyz said...

I assume that's Giganta looming large over the villains? Pardon me, but that new costume has got to go. She looks like Marvel's evil Goliath.

Julio Oliveira said...

Now if only he could get art as good as his script deserves... I rarely even notice that there is anything but conversation ballons and boxes on the pages, being a primarily DC fan (where the emphasis normally is on the story, not on if the things are pretty), but man, do this issue artist scream "The worst of the nineties" to me.

Dwayne McDuffie is a excellent writer. He deserves a excellent artist. (And one that delivers the art on time, since he also meets his deadlines

lizrdprnce said...

Being a big fan of the JL/JLU cartoon, I was thrilled but a little hesistant when I heard McDuffie was going to take over the JLA comic. What if he couldn't recapture the magic? I'm glad to see I was worring over nothing, as his two issues thus far have been brillant!

Jacob T. Levy said...

Loved that shaved head discussion. The whole topic can't bear too much scrutiny-- since, with the floating timeline, Black Lightning now can't have debuted before 1995 or so, there's no reason why he ever would have worn the open-chest costume he was updating *from*. But still.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm jaded, but after seeing McDuffie provide a motivation for Reed Richards to side with Stark during "Civil War", a five-point fix-up such as this feels completely ordinary and run-of-the-mill.

Maybe that's McDuffie's special niche in the comics industry: clean-up guy for bad writers?

notintheface said...

I agree that the art in #13 wasn't JLA quality. Why couldn't they get someone like Shane Davis (who drew #8) or even cover artist Ian Churchill to do the fill-in art? This issue wasn't exactly easy on the eyes.

It'll be good to see how Ed Benes meshes with McDuffie next issue, but I'm sad that Benitez will be back 2 issues later. Can't Benes get his brother and/or sister to help him out on pencils? They have similar styles to his.

Gokitalo said...

Completely agree with you, Scipio (except for the JLoA #13 stuff, since I haven't read that yet :)). The Wedding Special was like a breath of fresh air, and the preview pages I've seen for JLofA #13 were great... though the art could have been better. Pity McKone isn't the regular artist for the main title.

Anonymous said...

I'm just glad John Stewart was put in a book by someone who can write him. I don't mind him under Johns but he really feels like a second fiddle to Jordan or even Gardner the whole time. McDuffie makes him a strong character and fun again.

Chance said...

Who is that picture of? is that McDuffie?

The only thing I didn't love about JLA #13 was Batman in a straitjacket. I hate it when villains underestimate their enemies, when they really ought to know better. I also want to hear an explanation of why the complete and utter destruction of the enemies (especially such a bloodthirsty nut as the Joker or Cheetah) did not occur immediately they were at the villain's mercy. Also, an explanation for no unmasking.

Jon Hex said...

I'm glad McDuffie started with a "Legion of Doom" storyline because with that out of the way first, everything after will be unexpected. McDuffie's recent work at Marvel shows he researches character's histories before he uses them, something many writers just don't do. I think he will be remembered as one of the great JLA writers when he's done.

totaltoyz said...

I also want to hear an explanation of why the complete and utter destruction of the enemies (especially such a bloodthirsty nut as the Joker or Cheetah) did not occur immediately they were at the villain's mercy. Also, an explanation for no unmasking.

Because they intend to keep publishing the comic.

At the end of the day, it's a comic book. If the villains don't act illogically now and then, the story's over. Why didn't Luthor gather twenty villains to gang up on Batman, then another twenty to gang up on Flash, then forty to gang up on Superman?

Chance said...

Right, why didn't he, toys?

That "it's a comic book" line is ridiculous. As a comic fan, you don't deserve logic?

At the end of the day, it's a story. I know that Batman must live on; I'd like to see the writer earn his keep by presenting a dramatic situation that stays true to the logic of the situation and the characters.

if you don't ask for that in your comics, you might as well read crap like the Iron Man comic recently excoriated by Blockade Boy over at his blog. I thought we were adults here, reading stories.

totaltoyz said...

All I'm saying is that a certain suspension of logic is necessary for comic book stories to work. Just look at Batman. The idea that anyone with enough mental capacity to feed himself can't figure out that the wealthiest man in Gotham City, whom everyone knows watched his parents murdered by criminals, is spending his fortune fighting crime is ridiculous.
And it's not just comic books either. A lot of popular fiction requires that suspension of logic from time to time. We all know the castaways could have gotten off that island a hundred times if they had just killed Gilligan.

Anonymous said...

1) Lex Luthor may have plans of some kind for the heroes, thus, it makes sense to not kill them yet. (This being McDuffie, I bet they're actually pretty good plans for once.)

2) The Seven Stranded Castaways were stuck on that island for more more pressing reasons than dumb ol' Gilligan.

totaltoyz said...

That Gilligan's Island conspiracy theory is the greatest single example of too much time on one's hands that I have ever read. And since I hang out on message boards like this one, that is saying something.

OK, here's another suspension of logic: The Brady Bunch. The father was supposedly an architect, someone well acquainted with design and construction. And yet he has six kids sharing one bathroom. Figure that one out.

Anonymous said...

"That Gilligan's Island conspiracy theory is the greatest single example of too much time on one's hands that I have ever read. And since I hang out on message boards like this one, that is saying something."

If by that you mean it's totally awesome, I have to agree.

"OK, here's another suspension of logic: The Brady Bunch. The father was supposedly an architect, someone well acquainted with design and construction. And yet he has six kids sharing one bathroom. Figure that one out."

Six kids sharing one bathroom, without significant scheduling conflicts: if Mike Brady somehow got that to work, he's some sort of genius. My guess: non-Euclidean geometry.

Anonymous said...

Also, I can totally beat that Gilligan's article in terms of too much time on hands. Witness: the debate over whether Lockjaw can talk. And that's page two.

totaltoyz said...

the debate over whether Lockjaw can talk.

Oh no. Don't tell me that's still being debated? A stupid, ridiculous story that no editor worth his paycheck ever would have let through, but got printed because it was John Byrne, and some people still take it as canonical? I thought Peter David effectively dismissed it years ago.

Anonymous said...

"Oh no. Don't tell me that's still being debated? A stupid, ridiculous story that no editor worth his paycheck ever would have let through, but got printed because it was John Byrne, and some people still take it as canonical? I thought Peter David effectively dismissed it years ago."

Oh, it's still being debated. In fact, Peter David's explanation is attacked in Zapruder-like fashion, because Gorgon couldn't have been in two places at once.

totaltoyz said...

Maybe he couldn't have, but has anyone explained why, if Lockjaw was actually an Inhuman transformed into doglike form by the Terrigen Mists as Byrne claims, the rest of the Royal Family treated him like a pet?!?! (I can't open the link you posted; I'm at work and for some reason it's blocked.)

Scipio said...

I'd appreciate if we all would not allow comments to degenerate almost immediately into topics utterly irrelevant to the post at hand.

Really, when it happens I wonder why I bother posting at all, when my posts get hijacked into discussing Giganta's costume and the loquaciousness of Lockjaw. There are forums for that kind of thing.

totaltoyz said...

You're absolutely right. Sorry, Scipio.

totaltoyz said...

Getting the thread back on track, let me comment on the writing. All I have seen of it is the "Anti-Trinity" segment that was linked in the body of Scipio's commentary. I loved the dialogue, but that's no surprise, as I always loved the dialogue on JLU. I only recognized about half of the villains in the crowd scene (and I question the inclusion of a couple I did recognize), but I thought Mr. McDuffie captured the personas of Luthor, Joker and Cheetah quite well.

Chance said...

I agree with the assessment of the skilled characterization, toyz. That was the book's main strength, to me.

Also, who is pictured in the post?

Scipio said...

That's McDuffie.

Raz said...

Scip I totally agree with absolutely everything you said...I was gritting my teeth through ALL of Meltzer's run - I only bought it for the Red Tornado in the first place, and then only stayed cause I knew Meltzer was gonna be gone soon. But BY GOD it was hard. =(

Dwayne McDuffie gives me the happies. I hope he stays a long looooooong time. =)

Accursed Interloper said...

Chance objects "I also want to hear an explanation of why the complete and utter destruction of the enemies (especially such a bloodthirsty nut as the Joker or Cheetah) did not occur immediately they were at the villain's mercy. Also, an explanation for no unmasking."

I'm betting (1) that there IS an explanation, and that (2) it has something to do with Lex's need to assert tight control over this horde of super-villains, all of whom he regards as his subordinates. He could be fixing to auction off the rights to kill the individual heroes, or some sick-ass thing like that; there's ample precedent for it in the Silver and Bronze ages.

Totaltoyz objects "I only recognized about half of the villains in the crowd scene (and I question the inclusion of a couple I did recognize)"

It always blows my mind that anybody is able to talk Gorilla Grodd into teaming up with a gang of humans, but it keeps on happening.

totaltoyz said...

It always blows my mind that anybody is able to talk Gorilla Grodd into teaming up with a gang of humans, but it keeps on happening.

Actually, Grodd wasn't one of the ones I question.
Deathstroke: I admit I'm out of the loop, but from what I remember of the character I doubt he would join a large group of villains. He's used underlings before but I've never seen him as a team player.
Sivana: Why would they want him? If Luthor is back to being a scientific genius, as appears to be the case, why would they need Sivana?

Accursed Interloper said...

Why would Luthor want to have the world's maddest scientist on his team? Maybe just to make him look cool, just by being in the same room with him.
Thaddeus Bodog Sivana is valuable because of the advantages of specialization, as explained by Adam Smith. Sivana's got broad knowledge and deep expertise of the Marvel Family. If Black Adam shows up (now THERE's a non-team-player), they'll be wanting to use some of his specialized anti-Marvel weapons and tactics. Admittedly, his track record is something like 0-and-143, but many of the rest of them can say the same.
Plus (!) he's got the all-around BEST crazy/evil cackle this side of Hillary Clinton!

totaltoyz said...

Good points on Sivana.
Another one I actually question is Joker. I know this is supposed to be the "anti-Trinity", and Joker is inarguably Batman's greatest foe. But logically, I don't think Luthor would want someone on the team, let alone as one of the "generals", who's as likely as not to kill his own teammates for the fun of it. Even though most of Luthor's defeats were caused by his own ego, short-sightedness, and monomania, I don't see him taking that risk. Realistically I think he would have gone with the Penguin, or even Ra's al Ghul.