Monday, April 23, 2012

Reads Justice League #8

I usually don’t wander too far in the details of current comics – it doesn’t make for evergreen posts that Future Folk would find interesting. However, this week I’m moved to plant my feet in The Now and discuss some of the New52. [When, by the way, do we stop calling them “the New52”? When do they become just “the 52”?]
Today we look at the Justice League, specifically, Justice League #8, which spills over with plottish goodness and mysterious backstory.

First, I have to praise Geoff Johns’ handling of Green Arrow. Now, it goes without saying that the only way anyone should handle Green Arrow (if one must) is with gloves. Or fireplace tongs. Or Otto Octavius’s metal tentacles. But Johns has done as good a job with him in this issue as anyone can. He does a great job of marrying several aspects of GA’s personal mythos. In the study of ancient myths and religions, Classicists learn about “mythic syncretism”. It’s the process by which ancient religions incorporate foreign belief systems into their own, and by which cultures take varying versions of a myth (usually from different locations) and merge them into a greater whole. In ancient literature, mythic syncretism was a natural sociological phenomenon generated by cultures; in modern comics, it’s an intentional artistic act accomplished by individual creators.

Johns, as discussed before, is the current unsurpassed master of comic book character syncretism. Sure enough, he applies his syncretic hand to Green Arrow with his typical efficiency in JL #8. We see an Ollie Queen who includes: the happy-go-lucky, self-promotional, and competitive comic-relief GA from Batman: Brave & the Bold; Denny O’Neil’s guilty white liberal of the Bronze Age Justice League; the reformed playboy of Green Arrow: Year One; and the accomplished self-made billionaire tech entrepreneur of the current Green Arrow series. By allowing all of these “versions” of Green Arrow to be correct, Johns ties together the various GA “myths” into an Ollie Queen who is much more interesting and appealing that any of his ‘predecessor’ versions.

What’s more, Johns acknowledges that Green Arrow is an extremely capable and accomplished person and crimefighter; but unlike previous writers who’ve tried to make that point, he doesn’t push it too far. He still concludes—correctly—that, despite Ollie’s abilities, he’s just not a JL-level character. Since the Silver Age, that’s always been one of Green Arrow’s (many many many) problems: by continually pushing him to ‘stand with the gods’ in the JL, he’s looked smaller by comparison. What Ollie really needs to shine is not to be the token non-bat-non-super-hero in the JL, but to be the standout leader of the B List heroes. Sure enough, Johns goes to that exact place almost immediately. In case you didn’t piece it together yourself, what Steve Trevor is doing during his visit to Ollie is offering him the leadership of the new Argus-sponsored Seven Soldiers of Victory (a group modeled after Steve’s former “Team 7” [a Wildstorm group]  that Etta mentions).

The other Green Arrow that Johns sweeps into the mix is the historical connection between Green Arrow and Aquaman. Most readers nowadays tend to associate Green Arrow with either Green Lantern or Black Canary; but those associations are rooted entirely in the Bronze Age. But the hero with whom GA has the longest connection is: Aquaman. Green Arrow and Aquaman are exact contemporaries: they both premiered in More Fun Comics #73 (1941). Like Aquaman, he was never quite the hit that other Golden Agers who eventually wound up being the Justice League were; the Golden Age Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman all helmed at least one title, whereas, Aquaman and Green Arrow were confined to anthology books or perpetual second-featurehood in someone else’s title.  

The connection became both strong and overt in 1959 (Adventure #267) when they starred in a pair of crossover tales, in which they switched jurisdictions, with Green Arrow tackling a sea-foe of Aquaman’s and Aquaman returning the favor on land. It’s clear in these stories that Aquaman and Green Arrow not only know each other but are friends and allies. In other modern media, the connection has (somewhat bizarrely) continued: Green Arrow and Aquaman were Batman’s most frequent co-stars and the definite breakout characters of the Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon and they are the only two DC superheroes to be portrayed in live action television by the same actor (Justin Hartley).

So Johns gets big snaps from me for giving them history together in JLA #8 (and, amusingly, not a very friendly history, apparently). And working into it the fact that Ollie’s origin put him squarely within Aquaman’s realm—stranded on a desert island—is genius.

As delightfully surprisingly as I found all the Green Arrow goodness (holy crap, I just typed the phrase “Green Arrow goodness”—who AM I?!), I was equally nonplussed by the brief revelation that the Martian Manhunter had, at some point in the last five years of DCU time, joined and the left the Justice League (a point DC has been inconsistent on in other books). His use in this issue is ALL kinds of right. It puts Martian Manhunter back up on the JLA-level of heroes. It makes him, once again, a former member of the League, and restores him to a central position in the DCU’s history. It intimates that J’onn is a dangerous lunatic (something that always makes me happy) or at least he’s a dangerous, sneaky S.O.B. (STILL eavesdropping on their minds even though they are in space!). It explains why the JL hasn’t gone all “JLU” on us, despite new heroes that have cropped up since their founding. And, very interestingly, the ONE current Leaguer who’s not pictured in the flashback with J’onn is… Cyborg.

Where this is all headed over the next year is staring to become clearer. Because of the Martian Manhunter, the League has been hesitant to open up its ranks; J’onn knows that ‘something’ is coming they aren’t ready to handle by themselves, and will need to fix that. It’s been leaked the Mr Terrific and Icon will be joining the League, and the teaser image for “the Trinity War” that appears in the upcoming FCBD comic shows the Leaguers fighting alongside Hawkman, the Atom, JLDark’s Deadman, Element Woman, and THE INCOMPARABLE VIBE, all of whom would be appropriate members of a JLAuxiliary. As many bloggers have already noted, Johns is doing a good job of making the Justice League book a centerpiece for all the action in the DCU (rather than just an add-on to the “real”, solo titles) and this issue is a big step in that direction.


Bryan L said...

Well, this comic is definitely the silver lining of the cloud that is Green Arrow's monthly book. It started as marginal, and has managed to reach new and awful depths under Ann Nocenti. Johns needs to take it over, stat. But how many books can he write every month?

Scipio said...

Yes, as I recall, I recoiled when Nocenti was interviewed about her upcoming gig and obviously-- by her own admission -- knew nothing about Green Arrow.

Look, I'm not Ollie's biggest fan, lord only knows, but even he deserves to be treated better than an ugly cousin you're setting up on a blind date.

SallyP said...

I blush to admit this...but I am a fan of Ollie. The OLD Ollie. The Fat-Cat hating, uber-liberal, Canary-loving, Calling-Hal-a-Nazi Ollie. I tried to read his new book, but it just wasn't jelling for me.

Nevertheless, I was amused to see the way he was portrayed in the latest issue of Justice League, because he's just so NEEDY, and having Hal snapping out zingers is

And yes, it was delightful to see J'onn. I would like to see MORE of J'onn!

steve mitchell said...

"And, very interestingly, the ONE current Leaguer who’s not pictured in the flashback with J’onn is… Cyborg."

Also very interestingly, the ONE current Leaguer who does not have a title of his own is. . .Cyborg.

Roel Torres said...

Hi Scipio,

I don't think you should be too concerned about reviewing current comics and the fact that it has less evergreen potential. In the end, what I appreciate most about the blog is getting your viewpoint and perspective, regardless of the antiquity of the title. Thanks for the Justice League review! I'm always happy to hear your thoughts on the New52!

Scipio said...

Roel: thanks!

Steve: My point almost exactly, Steve! Cyborg is the "Martian Manhunter" of the new League, in that, like MM, he's a founding member of the League even though he doesn't have and never has had his own ongoing title.

Scipio said...

Sally: I hear you. But like you I enjoyed this new portrayal; it seems much more realistic to me.

To the degree that billionaire tech entrepreneurs who are also bow-wielding crimefighters are ever going to seem realistic to me

Anonymous said...

For whatever it's worth, Scipio, I enjoy reading about things that make you happy. They do make a fun time capsule into events that were happening weeks or months or years ago.

Scipio said...

LOL, thanks! But when I read those again they are completely incomprehensible to ME, even though I'm the one who wrote them!

Anonymous said...

Cyborg is in the flashback pic. He's behind GL.

Scipio said...

Ah HA!

Arynne said...

I'm with Sally, here. This guy is *A* Green Arrow, but he's not *my* Green Arrow.

I've been drifting away from DC books since Flashpoint, frankly. I'm sure they will tell some wonderful stories...but I don't recognize the people the stories are about any more.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Scipio, I didn't even pick up on the Seven Soldiers reference. Thanks for that.

ronald said...

Just a thought, which I've expressed in different terms elsewhere, about Green Arrow in comparison to the founding JLA members:

Superman became a super-hero because he wanted to exemplify the values taught him by his adoptive parents.

Batman became a super-hero because he wanted to avenge his parents and wage war on crime.

Wonder Woman became a super-hero to carry out the mission for which she left Paradise Island to come to "Man's World."

Aquaman because a super-hero as, basically, an extension of protecting his home, namely, The Seven Seas.

Green Lantern became a super-hero because he was, in effect, assigned to the position by the Guardians of the Universe.

The Flash became a super-hero as more or less an extension of his pre-existing work in the law enforcement field.

The Martian Manhunter became a super-hero because it was the closest Earth analog to his position on Mars.

Green Arrow became a super-hero because he wanted to be a super-hero. Period. He has no deeper mission, no obsession as such, no assignment to the post, no motive beyond the status itself. Green Arrow has to work way harder at being a super-hero than do any of the others above (even Batman, also non-powered, has the benefit of being the world's greatest detective, martial artist, and pretty much everything else (except, presumably, archer)), and work hard is exactly what Green Arrow does. He could stop being a super-hero at any time but AFAIK he never has and AFAIK he never will.

To be a hero for no other reason than to be a hero is to be the greatest hero of all. OSLT.

Just a thought. :-)