Wednesday, October 03, 2007

JLA 13: Unlimited License


Along with fixing the problems of the previous writer, Dwayne McDuffie has begun his run on Justice League of America by moving it squarely in the direction of Justice League Unlimited, the animated series he used to write for.

Thank GOD. More power to him.

The Justice League is an amazing concept. But its first 9 years? Crap. I know; I own the Archive Volumes that cover those years. Remember the Super-Duper? I do.

Then the Silver Age JLA ended at the hands of the Joker, who struck at the weakness at its core, the detested Snapper Carr.

The next 14 years were also painfully bad, just in a different, Bronze-y way. I bought lots of those stories when they were first published. Remember Starbreaker? Remember when Young Gerry Conway had Two-Face become the mediary for a trio of statues of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson that had been animated by the alien Dronndarians? I do.

Then there were the Justice League Detroit and Justice League International. They had their dubious virtues (Vibe and the Martian Manhunter, respectively), but we all knew they were impostor groups. Morrison's JLA had the players, but plot-wise it was muddled gibberish (it was the usual Morrison: all concept, with haphazard execution). Then we spent the next few years watching the JLA be eroded from within to suit the demands of universal crossover, only to be followed the Meltzer run, which was a decompressed Avengers novella written on Superfriends stationery.

In short, the Justice League has pretty much ALWAYS been bad, and gotten away with it because the Justice Leaguers themselves are so popular. Basically, the only time the Justice League has ever been a good story was on Justice League Unlimited, where some people had the crazy idea that DC's best characters deserved good stories. It was literally the best thing to happen to the Justice League in 30 years, and helped point the way toward a new, revived DCU.

So if McDuffie wants to bring it closer to the only bright spot in Justice League history over the last thirty years, I say more power to him, and, frankly, any who says otherwise might just be an idiot.

A Partial List of JLUifications in JLA No. 13 (Can you spot any others?)

1. Replacing Hal Jordan with John Stewart.
Fine on its face: GLs are pretty darned interchangeable. John's a better team player than Hal, anyway.

2. Make a connection between John Stewart and Hawkgirl.
Hey, it did wonders fleshing them out as characters on TV, and face it, they could both use it right now. The Hawkgirl/Hawkman thing is tedious and goes nowhere, our collective barf buckets are still unemptied from the horrid Red Arrow/Hawkgirl thing. I give my personal blessing to John and Kendra.

3. Clobbering Geo-Force out of the picture and off panel.
Really, shouldn't that alone inspire you with confidence in McDuffie, even if you've never seen a JLU episode? For the record, an enormous number of DC heroes, many of them quite obscure, were shown to be part of the JLU; Geo-Force wasn't one of them.

4. Assembling an Injustice League under Lex Luthor.
For all those people bitching, "It's been done before"-- yeah, ya think? Heroes fight villains. Groups of heroes fight groups of villains. That's kind of how that works. If you have a problem with that, maybe you should be reading Blankets instead.

5. Actual fight scenes.
Not just a big splash page that's a picture of whole bunch of heroes & villains in mid-fight. You can get away with that in a "timeless" medium like comics, but on tv you need to see a sequence of events. So I mean a battle like you used to see on JLU (and in the tradition of the original JLA stories), where one person attacks using his power, and then another one counterattacks with his powers, and there's a clear winner. More on that tomorrow. MUCH MUCH more on that tomorrow...

43 comments:

Grebok said...

Amen, and I say again, amen.

The justification for Grodd's Legion of Doom in the JLU or the Society for that matter are no-brainers at this point.

Yeah-yeah, villains don't work well together. That's the fun!

H said...

That the JLA has rarely been good is a horrible truth. But I'm curious what you think of the brief Steve Englehart run, which I think should be put on a pedestal and worshipped.

Blockade Boy said...

"...maybe you should be reading Blankets instead."

Zing! Oh, Scipio...! You're the best.

You're actually making me want to pick up this comic again.

totaltoyz said...

I agree that the JLA comic has rarely been good in the past, but I disagree that there have been no bright spots, which (unless I'm misreading it) seems to be Scipio's contention. I definitely agree with H about Steve Englehart's run; and there were a handful of enjoyable stories scattered through the rest of the title's pre-Detroit League history too. The three-part story that reintroduced the Seven Soldiers of Victory. The Halloween tale with Felix Faust. The big super-hero slugfest in #200. And Scipio has, in past posts, expressed an appreciation for the pure Silver-Age wackiness, when presented well; I don't think you get much wackier than "Operation: Jail The Justice League!"

Jake said...

I'd just like to re-affirm that, damn it, I still liked the Obsidian Age storyline.

I can't spot any more JLUified moments in this issue alone, though Hawkgirl's attitude in the Wedding Special also counts obviously.

Seriously, I really did like Obsidian Age. Plus it had Nightwing's speech about what the League was supposed to be, which anyone writing Justice League should be forced to read.

Scipio said...

"I'm curious what you think of the brief Steve Englehart run,"

I don't recall it, H. Perhaps it deserves profiling on the Treadmill?

SallyP said...

Aw c'mon, don't pick on the JLI. I loved them.

Nevertheless, describing Meltzer's run as "...a decompressed Avenger's novella written on Superfriends stationery." is the BEST description of the latest issues that I have ever come across.

Magnificent!

totaltoyz said...

"I'm curious what you think of the brief Steve Englehart run,"

I don't recall it, H.


I know you've seen a little of it. "In Blackest Night", the first two-part episode of the Justice League cartoon, was a line-for-line rewrite of Englehart's JLA #140-141. The poor guy wasn't even credited.

Mr. Fob said...

There's also the reference to a Javelin.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Seconding, thirding, and fourthing the Englehart run. JLA #145 was *the* comic of my childhood, and dammit it's still great.

That year of comics may have given the whole satellite era an unjustified halo, but it was worth it.

The Conway era that followed was substantially as Scipio describes it, I think-- the awesomeness of characters and concept and setting carrying some... substantially sub-awesome stories, interrupted by occasionally-very good JLA/JSA team-ups.

Scipio's underselling the Giffen era, of course, but he's right that it doesn't count as a great run of the World's Greatest Heroes.

Scipio said...

"There's also the reference to a Javelin."

Nice catch, Mr. Fob! I'm pretty sure the Javelins have never been mentioned before this issue.

rlsims said...

I have to agree with just about everybody else that the one-year stint Englehart did on Justice League was the best the book was written during the first run. Scipio's being a little harsh on the Morrison and Waid periods, but it's his blog.

I do have a fondness for the Len Wein period, which includes JLA 100-102, the Seven Soldiers story mentioned above. It was also the springboard for Morrison's JLA Secret Files and Seven Soldiers mondo-series. Of course, Wein also introduced Dibney into the League. Your mileage will vary.

Conway's League was pretty awful, though.

Bill Meisel said...

I just got the wedding special and the most recent jla last night and I must say I was pretty impressed with how much seemed to actually happen in those two issues.

Who is the villain in the anti-Mr. Terrific uniform (the jacket says "foul play")? Where would I have seen him before?

Matt Worzala said...

I just wanted to say I love groups of heroes versus groups of villians. And Blankets is awesome.

Also, I like your blog very much. Keep up the good work.

-Matt

Flint Paper said...

Bill- Mr. Terrible first showed up in the new Secret Six, during the big throwdown at the very end. Catman beats the tar out of him offscreen after catching a knife in the leg (it was meant for his heart, but of course Mr. Terrible can't do anything right).

gene phillips said...

Not all the Fox JLAs are classics but as a whole they're better than Scipio rates them, IMO. McDuffie could do worse than to emulate Fox's skill at knowing how to play the heroes' powers off one another in a teamup situation.

The Mutt said...

I've been reading JLA almost continually since the Sixties, and it was rarely one of the better books I'd buy that month. There were a couple of artistic peaks, but usually JLA was just a standard, workman-like DC comic.

JLU was the best Justice League I'd ever seen.

I hope McD moves more towards the JLU model of spotlighting small teams from a huge roster.

Bill Reed said...

I thought the Justice League cartoon was pretty lame, myself, and I also believe that JLI is one of the all-time greatest superhero comic book runs, so... I disagree.

Scipio said...

"McDuffie could do worse than to emulate Fox's skill at knowing how to play the heroes' powers off one another in a teamup situation."

True.

rafi-el said...

Gotta fourth or fifth or sixth the kudos for the Englehart run -- The Secret Origin of the Justice league - Minus One should be required reading for any writer before he/she is allowed to do a retcon. Wein's run was fun in its own way and who can forget Cary Bates as a super-villain? I love most of Fox's run as well, although there are a few clunkers, most notably when Bat-mania was sweeping the nation and Batman had to be the center of everything.

I think the problem is that Conway's JLA was so mediocre and went on for so long that the good is overwhelmed in our memories by the bad. Denny O'Neil's and Mike Friedrich's weren't great, but they're runs were mercifully shorter.

Word verification "knusa" -- the alien fruit that gave the League weird dreams in issue 39 ;-)

Mike Loughlin said...

Scipio- you got me to buy JLA 13 (and the wedding special) mostly so I could understand what you're blogging about. DC owes you a finder's fee.

I really enjoyed the two comics, despite the art in issue 13. Nothing wrong with straight-up super-hero comics, although they don't have the emotional resonance of Blankets. (but then, Blankets didn't have anyone wearing giant wings hitting people with a mace)

Here's hoping McDuffie can keep it going. I know you don't usually read Marvel books, but his Fantastic Four comics have been fun, and he writes the best Black Panther & Storm outside of Priest.

totaltoyz said...

The Secret Origin of the Justice league - Minus One should be required reading for any writer before he/she is allowed to do a retcon.

Englehart fan though I am, I have to admit I didn't care for this particular story so much. In the 70s, bad Steve Englehart was better than almost anyone else at their best; but I just couldn't reconcile the idea that time passed for the Justice Leaguers as it did for us on "Earth-Prime" and that the JLA was actually founded in 1959. I thought the story was very good otherwise, and I loved the explanation of why J'Onn couldn't return to Mars (even after he started hanging out with guys like Superman and Green Lantern), but I just couldn't get past the time thing.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. How the hell did a hackish-fanboy like Brad Metzler get to write Justice League of America? Is it cause he knows Dido personally and Dido wanted him on DC regardless of how much he loved Geo-Force? And why flippin' Geo-Force?

Scipio said...

Brad Meltzer is a well-known author of several best-selling novels of political intrigue. When authors of such renown in other media write comic books, it is believed to bring great respectability and public attention to the art form itself and those comics books in particular.

It is what I believe Devon would call "stealing heat".

suedenim said...

"In short, the Justice League has pretty much ALWAYS been bad, and gotten away with it because the Justice Leaguers themselves are so popular."

This really is a little-known truth of the Silver and Bronze Age JLA. Even as a kid, with few exceptions like the awesome, difficult to screw up JLA/JSA team-ups, I often thought "Huh, shouldn't Justice League of America be... GOOD?" I ended up buying Brave and Bold or DC Comics Presents for most of my hero team-up fare....

I'm a little iffy on the GL/Hawkgirl pairing in this context, since Kendra isn't Shayera. That said, I'd pretty much welcome any and all things that turn Kendra INTO JLU's Shayera, because she's my favorite character. I definitely wouldn't mind if Kendra started wearing Shayera's Hawkgirl outfit. The two Hawkgirl costumes seem really similar at first glance, but the devil is in the details. The Shayera Thal Hawkgirl costume is, IMO, one of the best in comics, while Kendra's costume just doesn't work for me.

d said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who regards Englehart's brief (10 issues?)run on JLA as one of the high points of the entire bronze age. The Dr Light/Key 2-parter in 149-150 is one of the highlights of my childhood and still holds up really well, having re-read it just a few months ago while moving some boxes. 144 was one of the 1st comics i ever bought and the main reason I've been buying JLA in all it's permutations some 30 (!) years later. Due for a critical evaluation?

totaltoyz said...

difficult to screw up JLA/JSA team-ups

And yet, Conway managed it a time or two.

notintheface said...

I noticed something at the end of JLA#13. Superman made a comment to Black Lightning that eight of them had been captured. Now, let's review, in reverse order, who has been captured by the Injustice League so far:

1. Vixen
2. Black Canary
3. Green Lantern (John Stewart)
4. Hawkgirl
5. Red Tornado
6. Wonder Woman
7. Red Arrow
8. Batman
9. Geo-Force

Superman (and, by extension, McDuffie) left out GEO-FORCE!

Either their counting sucks, or they respect Geo-Force as little as we do.

Accursed Interloper said...

>>difficult to screw up JLA/JSA team-ups

And yet, Conway managed it a time or two.<<

Oh lordy, I remember the astounding incompetence displayed by all members of both teams, on the occasion of Terry Sloan's murder, plus the smug self-regard they ended up enjoying at the end of that tale. Gack! And I remember how he turned Wonder Woman into a prickly, narrow, fundamentalist, close-minded pagan on the occasion of her meeting the New Gods (circa 1980), despite years and years of having worked with Judeo-Christian superheroes, to and including The Spectre, without the slightest ecumenical friction at all. Which reminds me of yet another thing I liked about Morrison's run on this title.
...
But that's another rant, still under construction.

Accursed Interloper said...

"Morrison's JLA had the players, but plot-wise it was muddled gibberish (it was the usual Morrison: all concept, with haphazard execution). "

Oh dear oh dear, oh my goodness, oh dear... Mr Scipio, sir, I am amazed to find myself disagreeing with you, at all, let alone this strongly, but this... oh dear.
The concepts were outrĂ©, yes, but they weren’t just tossed up against a wall to see what would stick; every one was incorporated into an actual story, in which (1) a disparate variety of familiar characters stayed in character, and (2) played off one another in ways that made me like the characters all the more (especially Barda and Steel), plus (3) surprised me more often than any prior writer had.
Admittedly some of the attraction was at the high-concept level. But that’s not such a bad thing. Some pre-existing wacky comicbook concepts DID make tighter comicbook sense, when he was done with them, than they had beforehand; I’m specifically thinking of Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt turning out to be the same sort of 5th-dimensional entity as Mxyzptlk and Qwsp. Economy of mythology, that was, and a long-overdue clarification of just what-the-eff kind of critter that T-bolt could be. But this stuff was always, always done to serve the story, and the story always had a clear-cut beginning, middle, and end. And he certainly provided no shortage of actual fight scenes, and not one but two (2!) Injustice Gangs organized by Lex Luthor!
Inventive uses of super-powers were made, a la Aquaman tweaking Zum’s basal ganglia and giving him a seizure, or J’onn J’onzz reshaping his own brain to emulate the Joker’s madness, or Superman’s harnessing all that electromagnetic mojo to move the Moon back into its orbit. Farther up this thread Gene Phillips said “McDuffie could do worse than to emulate Fox's skill at knowing how to play the heroes' powers off one another in a teamup situation.” Morrison did that, and did it real well. Case in point, consider the way the team used Martian telepathy for tactical communications, undetectable and unjammable. Was anybody doing that before Morrison’s run? Or consider the fact that Batman suddenly didn’t have to be the ONLY member with any deductive reasoning capacity. Or the way Plastic Man & Steel exploited the Queen Bee’s blind spot. This stuff went on all the time.
And the villains, boy howdy! Formerly inane villains (Amos Fortune, Starro) were reworked into conceptually intriguing problems (Julian September) or terrifying menaces ( a frikkin’ evil-eyeded starfish the size of Hudson’s Bay). The Key went from being a buffoon in a hat to a reality-bending uber-menace with an actually scary appearance, then got knocked out with a boxing glove arrow. That’s pure comic book goodness, right there!
I just don’t believe, and can barely believe that you believe, that the execution was haphazard, at all. Any given 4-issue story arc contained about twelve issues worth of Wein/Conway plotting (which in turn equals about 40 issues worth of Meltzer plotting), and always tied up neatly at their ends.
Sorry to rant like that, but you really caught me off guard there, sir.

Hans van Dok said...

Well spoken, Accursed Interloper! Scipio, I think your blog is awesome, but Morrison's JLA is just great.

brian said...

Oh yeah - Morrison's JLA rules.
I recently purchased a couple of the Justice League boxed sets and enjoyed them. But McDuffie's take? Not so much.
I've read a few negative reviews of issue 13 and tend to agree with them. The issue isn't horrible. It's a competant comic and there's some nice moments of characterization. But it's just kind of not there. We have a bunch of villains beating on the JLA for no apparent reason other than to be villains.
And frankly the JLA seems to get caught off guard fairly easily. First a bunch get taken down in the Wedding Special, then the remaining leaguers think it's a good idea to go back to where there comrades fell, and they get taken down too.
There's no strategy on either side displayed.
It's just kind of all overly-simplistic. And frankly, as someone who liked the Meltzer run (but admits it had problems) I think the McDuffie love is really more of "glad Meltzer's gone".
Take these first two issues of McDuffie's run, stack them up against Morrison's and you'll see the lack of ideas and energy.

Gokitalo said...

I don't mind McDuffie bringing JLofA closer to JLU, so long as it doesn't seem forced. I'd even be keen with a Hawkgirl/Green Lantern (John) relationship if it comes about naturally.

Case in point, consider the way the team used Martian telepathy for tactical communications, undetectable and unjammable. Was anybody doing that before Morrison’s run?

Aye, kind of reminds me of how, if you'll pardon the Marvel reference, Jean Grey would often use her telepathy in battle to keep the X-Men's minds linked during the Claremont/Byrne era of Uncanny X-Men.

I'm a big fan of Morrison's JLA too, but I can see Scipio's point when it comes to plotting. Take the Prometheus story, for example, in which Catwoman is arbritarily inserted to the story. Sure, it's a cute scene, her presence is explained, and there's even some foreshadowing, but it was a rather odd insertion.

The biggest example of spotty plotting in the run may have been in "Rock of Ages," where, if I remember correctly, it's never quite made clear why destroying the Philosopher's Stone would lead to Darkseid's takeover of Earth. It was sort of like Grant Morrison was trying to link two separate stories together. The Wonderworld heroes were never quite fleshed out, either, although one of them played a key role in Morrison's final storyline.

Bill Meisel said...

MR. TERRIFIC (TERRY SLOAN) WAS A WONDERFUL GOLDEN AGE CHARACTER, QUITE UNIQUE IMHO.

CONWAY KILLED HIM JUST SO THE COVER COULD SAY SOMEONE WOULD DIE (AND WHEN I OPENED THE ISSUE IN THE EARLY 80s AND SAW WHO WAS FEATURED IN THE ISSUE I KNEW IMMEDIATELY WHO HE INTENDED TO KILL.)

Obviously, I feel very stronly about this. At least he left Charles McNider alone.

Accursed Interloper said...

Gokitalo: "Catwoman is arbritarily inserted to the story. Sure, it's a cute scene, her presence is explained, and there's even some foreshadowing, but it was a rather odd insertion."

Way I saw it, (foreshadowing + explanation + plot resolution) = (bases covered).

"The biggest example of spotty plotting in the run may have been in "Rock of Ages," where, if I remember correctly, it's never quite made clear why destroying the Philosopher's Stone would lead to Darkseid's takeover of Earth."

Ahhh... okay. "Metron says so" might not make much of an argument for a course of action, admittedly, but there was also no real argument against destroying it (no "null hypothesis," if you will) so at the crunch, yeah, they kind of *did* fall back on the kind of half-assed gut-instinct spur-of-the-moment decision-making that they'd been getting away with since 1959. But... Would an explanation of the exact causal chain of events leading to the horrific Darkseidian distopia have added value? Maybe so, but it would have taken up space, too, and as it was there was barely enough space for all those fights and all that drama.

"It was sort of like Grant Morrison was trying to link two separate stories together."

I thought that was a shrewd solution to the problem of having too many characters and needing something for each of them to do. And since they're super-heroes, they each needed something *important* to do. So yeah, it kind of took two stories to contain enough plot to make room for that much action, but then he certainly DID deliver on the action, did he not? And by the end of the story, everybody did end up on the same page.

" The Wonderworld heroes were never quite fleshed out, either, although one of them played a key role in Morrison's final storyline.
"

Fair point. This kind of telegraphed their status as eventual cannon-fodder, too. "We're the super-duper-uber-ultra-hyper-infra larger-than-life versions of the JLA you know, so any menace that gets past us has to be BAD ASS!!!!!" pretty much sums up all the characterization they ever got, but imho it was all they ever needed. They were plot-points with dialogue, pure and simple, and probably if another writer had created them, I'd join you in complaining about it.
So instead I'll take the low road. That one moment where Batman jumps out at Metron and says "Boo!" went a long way toward selling me the whole rest of the story.

Accursed Interloper said...

Gokitalo: "Aye, kind of reminds me of how, if you'll pardon the Marvel reference, Jean Grey would often use her telepathy in battle to keep the X-Men's minds linked during the Claremont/Byrne era of Uncanny X-Men."

Um, okay, if you say so. But however long they WERE doing that was how long the JLA coulda been doing that, and weren't.

Anonymous said...

The 70s JLA issues were beautiful books. I bought them because all my favorite heroes were in the same book. I was young, so I didn't care if the stories were weak. I'm nostalgic for these issues today simply because they feature characters I know and understand, unlike today's mess at DC.

HammerHeart said...

About the telepathy thing - LONG before Jean Grey had the idea of connecting her teammates telepathically, Saturn Girl was providing mindlinks between her fellow Legionnaires. Hell, the Legion's standard operational procedure was that every information gathered by any member was authomatically "uploaded" by Saturn Girl into Brainiac 5's computer mind, where the best strategy would be determined and then shared telepathically with the rest of the team. J'onn J'onnz did the exact same thing by linking his teammates and feeding Batman, the JLA's strategist, with all the info they collected about whoever they were facing.

Oh, and IMO pushing Kendra to have an affair with John Stewart just to emulate the JLU cartoon is LAME. But apparently I'm on the minority about this.

totaltoyz said...

Oh, and IMO pushing Kendra to have an affair with John Stewart just to emulate the JLU cartoon is LAME.

It's really just the latest in a long series of changes DC has made to their comic books to more closely match the characters' portrayal on TV and/or movies.

HammerHeart said...

Totaltoyz - In THAT case, shouldn't John Stewart replace Hal Jordan as "the" main Green Lantern? I can't say that I'd mind such a change, even though they're both less interesting than Guy Gardner. But having John instead of Hal would definitely be a step in the right direction. Hal Jordan is more boring than yellow ceiling tiles.

And I also wonder about the Question - mr. Sage was featured prominently on several episodes of the JLU cartoon, and right now he's at least temporarily dead in the comics. If they're trying to follow the cartoon's lead, shouldn't the original Question come back to life?

totaltoyz said...

I'm not saying they're going to turn the comic into an exact mimic of the show. I'm just saying this isn't the first time the comics have mirrored TV, is all. Look at Mr. Freeze; first his name was changed from Mr. Zero due to the Adam West TV show, then his entire origin was changed to align with Batman: The Animated Series. And Perry White started spouting "Great Shades of Elvis!" because of Lois & Clark; and Wonder Woman's comic started doing "Earth-Two" stories set in WW2 because of the Lynda Carter series. And, while I haven't read a new Superman comic in years, if I'm reading Lex Luthor's online bio (at DCComics.com) correctly, haven't they changed his entire backstory to make it more like Smallville?

MaGnUs said...

This here, Scipio, is pure genius: "the Meltzer run (...) was a decompressed Avengers novella written on Superfriends stationery." BRA-VO!

"Replacing Hal Jordan with John Stewart"

Sorry, but being a Hal fan, I can't support this. And I can't support the colorist making Stewart's eyes green, like in the cartoon.

oipics said...

So you bought archive collections of a comic you hate? Dude, you should have at least waited for the Showcase editions.

Or better yet, spent the money on a comic you liked.