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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 2/27/8

The Mask Strikes Back, the Justice League breaks down, Lone Wolf and Cub, Atomics, Queen & Country, and new Birds of Prey.

Employee’s Pick

Justisssssssssssssssssssse League

[DC] Justice League: Breakdowns Parts 1-5 (JLA #53-55 and JLE #29-30)

Not having an endless supply of money or foresight means missing a great many things when they first come out, only to learn they were worth buying years ago. So it is that, despite having read FKAJL and ICBINJL, I have not, up to now, read the finale of Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis ‘ original run on Justice League, a fifteen-part crossover between Justice League America and Justice League Europe. I’ll cover it in three parts, starting this week.

Maxwell Lord is in the hospital, in a deep coma after being shot by an unknown assailant. Doctors fear he won’t survive. The League can find no clues as to who shot Max, so they basically spend the first issue standing around, worrying about Max, and trying not to kill each other. The Injustice League, aka Justice League Antarctica, show up to pay their respects and are deputized as Max’s personal bodyguards, more to keep them out of trouble than anything. With Lord out of commission, the U.N. scrambles to reevaluate the situation, fearing that the JLI would be ill-fit to face a serious threat without their founder’s leadership. The U.N. comes to a decision: the League will be completely overhauled, restructured, rebuilt from the ground up.

In part 2, U.N. Ambassador Rolf Heimlich shows up to oversee the restructuring, and promptly fires JLE field leader Captain Atom. Atom takes this opportunity to do what his now former teammates had talked him out of: fly off to Bialya to confront Queen Bee, whom he suspects is behind the attack. Problem is, Bialya has its own superteam, the Global Guardians, and they aren’t about to let Captain Atom go unabated.

Heimlich next sets his sights on the American branch, cutting Blue Beetle and Ice loose and replacing them with Doctor Light and… Tasmanian Devil? Beetle and Ice meet up with other disbanded Leaguers, who have got it in their head that a return to Bialya is their best course of action. The League’s so-called useless, dundering, incompetent- Ahem. The less well-regarded members of the team, led by Beetle, figure out that a metahuman was behind the assassination attempt, and that the would-be killer purposefully left behind a trail that led to Bialya. Breaking into the Global Guardians’ HQ, they come face to face with the assassin, one-time hero Jack O’Lantern. A fight ensues between the Guardians and the ex-Leaguers, soon joined by the Justice League proper. The scuffle ends prematurely as Sumaan Harjavti, brother of former Bialyan dictator Rumaan, sets off explosives that demolish a city block, bringing the ceiling of the underground HQ down upon the fighters’ heads.

Having partially solved the mystery behind the Maxwell Lord shooting and exposed Ambassabor Heimlich as a mind-controlled drone of the Queen Bee, the League heads back home. Well, most of the League. Ice runs off, suddenly filled with concern over "her people," Fire following close behind. Part 5 works as an end to Act I, wrapping up the more pressing conflicts and giving the audience a break before diving back in again. I think that’s what I’ll do; split this into three parts instead of two.

So far, it’s not the most enjoyable read. There’s little in the way of lighthearted antics – the era’s strength – and plenty of the drama and tragedy that would plague this incarnation of the team years later when editorial would deem them too fun to live. With Giffen plotting both books, as he had from their initial launch, dialogue is split between DeMatteis on JLA and Gerard Jones on JLE. DeMatteis does a capable job under the circumstances, sneaking in a good joke here and there amidst the glum, but Jones’ writing is flat and lifeless, a chore to read.

Chris Wozniak pencils the JLA issues, delivering art that’s painful to look at and at odds with the tone of the story. Muscles bulge out all over the place, facial expressions are laughably depicted, and I’ve seen more natural posing from action figures using rigid, plastic props than scenes where people of flesh and blood are supposed to be sitting on soft, pliable couches and chairs.


Bart Sears does a much better job on the JLE side, which is funny since he’s since regressed into one of the worst artists in comics. His heroes are full of muscles, too, but they’re anatomically correct and show more of a variance in body types than Wozniak’s. Also, he knows his way around a face. It’s almost too bad he puts so much work into differentiating the characters; his Crimson Fox and Silver Sorceress have decidedly feminine faces, yet he gives Fire and Power Girl masculine faces, which rather kills their eye candy factor. Darick Robertson takes over from Sears with part 5, becoming the new regular artist. He basically apes Sears’ style, mannish faces included.

This is far from the best the era had to offer. Between Jones’ dialogue and Wozniak’s pencils, I find myself hurrying through each issue to lessen the discomfort. It doesn’t help that I’m rushing to meet my deadline, but the more I think about these issues the less I like them. This remains, overall, my favorite era of the Justice League, but the original stuff rarely reached the highs of the follow-up miniseries, and this is near the bottom.

New-Type Books

Birds of Prey 115

[DC] Birds of Prey #115

When Sean McKeever led off his run on the book by having the Birds fail spectacularly at a simple mission, causing the deaths of hundreds of people, I said, "No problem. It has to be a feint, and the story will end with no one having died after all." It still might, because it turns out the one and only story arc McKeever’s writing before leaving the book is five issues long, but my confidence is fast evaporating. Last issue, I thought, was a good sign. Babs was being a jerk, yes, and it wasn’t explicitly stated why, but it seemed obvious that she saw herself in li’l Misfit and wanted to scare her off before she wound up in a wheelchair like Babs. Failing that, train her well enough that she doesn’t take stupid chances and avoids the fate most in the Batfamily meet: death, maiming or character assassination. This issue casts more than a shadow of a doubt.

Black Alice shows up, Misfit is mean to her, and Oracle is… maternal, in a clumsy, impotent way. I think, even without all the signs that this is a Very Bad Book – and I still hold out hope that it isn’t – I’d have trouble adjusting from Gail Simone’s run. Her Oracle had a distinct voice that isn’t present in McKeever’s version. Better or worse, she’s a different person. I’m starting to think that’s only a small part of the problem, though. In these past three issues, we’ve seen a different Birds of Prey. Less effective, less confident, less themselves. Simone started her run by breaking both of Black Canary’s legs and handcuffing her to a bed, so I figured McKeever was owed some leeway. Then he went and squandered it. Bad enough he has Huntress, whose character has long been defined by her toughness and overconfidence, acting like a nervous rookie. Worse, he has her imply that Zinda Blake, Lady Blackhawk, a timelost hero from the golden age of comics, was drugged and raped repeatedly by her nemesis, Killer Shark, during same golden age.

I could be wrong about all of this. McKeever could have written something so sublimely brilliant that no one can see how good it really is. Most of the cues that scream "bad writing" are openended, and there are still two issues to reveal them as false leads, but when every "maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t" hinted-at plot thread leads to horrible disaster, it worries a fellow. Tony Bedard’s taking over permanent-like with issue 118. He’s never impressed me, so I’d already decided to drop the book at that point. Now, I’m not sure I’ll stick around for the end of McKeever’s arc.

Back Issues

The Atomics 3

[AAA Pop Comics] The Atomics #3

Silver Age-style wackiness from Mike Allred. Story’s a bit hard to follow from this issue alone. Seems Boone Gehr, a half-human alien from another dimension, has traveled to Earth for some reason and a huge, bug-looking dude named Shrek (one year before the movie of the same name came out) is trying to take him back. Boone teams up with Madman and some other heroic types, they have a short fight with Shrek, and end up losing the monstrous alien. That’s when Boone delivers his origin story. Meanwhile, It Girl is searching for a friend of hers, Adam Balm. For some reason, Adam, Luna (It Girl), and some other teens were hanging out in the sewers when they were suddenly mutated by spores. They gain superpowers but also gain funky new skin colors and what look like warts or boils all over their body. Luna managed to change back by, um, concentrating really hard. *shrug* She’s trying to help Adam change back when an old friend who gained the type of power that kinda forces you to become a villain shows up and sets to revenge himself upon Adam for an imagined slight.

The writing’s mediocre, as is typical of Allred, but as is also typical of him, the art’s great. He’s one of the best in the business, able to shift his style when the situation calls for it, as it does for a short joke-telling sequence this ish.

Lone Wolf. Also, Cub.

[First Publishing] Lone Wolf and Cub #44

Writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima’s tales of Ogami Itto, assassin for hire, and his son Daigoro are most commonly available as a series of extra small digests from Dark Horse. But they were also translated and adapted in comic book size for Western audiences by First Publishing, who did a few color TMNT trades among other things. There’s no colorization here, aside from the cover by Michael Ploog and Pat Boyette, just the original black and white art, which suits Kojima’s heavily-inked style well.

This issue has a retired policeman, Mamesho Marohoshi, discover Lone Wolf and Cub and vow to stop him out of principle. Ogami Itto was an anti-hero before it was cool, and here in his own book he plays foil to a true hero, an upstanding citizen who won’t stand for Itto’s murderous ways. After witnessing Itto carry out an assassination in broad daylight, Mamesho confronts him and they fight.


Lone Wolf and Cub
generally doesn’t do it for me. Itto is written as superhuman without technically being conferred "superhuman" status, frequently facing supposedly insurmountable odds just so he can overcome them in dramatic fashion. It’s false suspense, and after a while it gets boring. Here, however, it’s used not to glorify Itto but to paint him as akin to a force of nature over which good, despite its best efforts, cannot triumph. The bad guy wins, and the issue ends with him walking off, living to kill many more people. He has his reasons, sure, but he’s no one to cheer for. He’ll win anyways, because that’s what he does.

The Mask Strikes Back 5

[Dark Horse] The Mask Strikes Back #5

The final issue of the third miniseries from John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke. Following the events of The Mask and The Mask Returns, The- um, the mask is discovered by four teenagers with varying motives. The first wants to follow in the steps of Big Head, the infamous first wearer of the mask, who wreaked havoc, eluded police (sort of), and developed a cult following. Also the second and third wearer, and so on, but it wasn’t common knowledge that anyone who donned the mask was taken over by a powerful, mischievous force. The second teen wants glory and the life of a rock star. The third just wants to hide the mask from the cops. The fourth and, as of this issue, current wearer, seeks to use the power of the mask to become a superhero. In each case, they fail to assert control, as everyone loses a battle of wills with the indomitable mask.

Big Head’s archnemesis, the superstrong, seemingly immortal (but far from invincible) behemoth known only as Walter is back and out to kill him. Them. Whoever has the mask on, Walter’s after him. Or her. Anyways! Fight scene. The Mask is basically about chaos. It blows into town, causes a fuss, and blows back out. Not real substantial in terms of plot. What it is, though, is hilarious. Arcudi and Mahnke deliver Looney Tunes-esque humor, madcap antics, and extreme violence along with characters who are well-rounded enough that you care whether the mask gets them killed. Mahnke’s art is as much responsible for the enduring, endearing quality of the book as Arcudi’s writing, a rarity in comics. You put those two together and you’re in for a treat.


Queen and Country

[Oni] Queen & Country: Declassified

Just what I needed, a three-issue miniseries in paperback form. Should be an easy review. This comes to us from Greg Rucka, who cut his teeth on spy novels before coming to the comics field to write… spy comics. Art is from Hard Time‘s Brian Hurtt. They’re an excellent team, and together they produce a spy comic so good that, as apathetic as I am about the genre, I’ve no choice but to love it.

Valery KarpinClick to enlarge.

Declassified is a prequel to the regular series, looking into the past of Paul Crocker, then a field agent in the S.I.S. (Secret Intelligence Service). Crocker is returning from a mission in East Berlin, still communist-occupied before the fall of the wall. His mission a failure, he barely gets across the border without being discovered and shot. Another agent isn’t so lucky, and takes his own life to avoid capture. Crocker is sent on another mission, same goal as the first, helping a soviet agent defect to the West. Different person, different place, same risks, and like the others, it goes badly. Crocker is stuck behind enemy lines and has to figure a way to get himself and the would be defector out alive. Does he? All I’ll say is it’s worth finding out. Rucka combines well-researched authentic espionage and backstabbing politics with the hot-blooded emotions that result from being in very real, very deadly situations.


Justice League: Breakdowns – So-so start to a lengthy crossover.
Birds of Prey – Severely disappointing.
The Atomics – Pretty, but lacking depth.
Lone Wolf and Cub – A poignant tale of evil besting good.
The Mask Strikes Back – As good as the rest of the Arcudi/Mahnke ouvre.
Queen & Country: Declassified – Set in 1986, because no other year is awesome enough to contain it.


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