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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 3/12/8

Blue Beetle, Animal Man, L.E.G.I.O.N., and Fables. Ex Machina tackles drug use, and the Justice League finishes breaking down.

Employee’s Pick

Justice League

[DC] Justice League: Breakdowns Parts 11-15 (JLA #58-60 and JLE #34-35)
Writers: Keith Giffen (plot; JLA and JLE), J.M. Dematteis (script; JLA), Gerard Jones (script; JLE)
Pencilers: Bart Sears (JLA #58-59), Darick Robertson (JLE), Kevin Maguire (JLA #60)

The long-awaited conclusion. The Justice League tries, and fails, to keep Lobo and Despero from wrecking Times Square, finally defeating Despero by implanting the intelligence of robot servant L-Ron into what passes for his hate-filled mind. Then it’s off to Kooey Kooey Kooey to wrap up the Max Lord plot thread. Max has been conveniently revived by lameass villain Lord Havok, whose Extremists are somehow meant to seem threatening. Havok has powerful mind control abilities, which he uses to take over Max’ body, then the Kooey Kooey Kooey islanders, then half the Justice League, until one of the League’s most forgettable members defeats him with magic and her dying breath.

Good Old Days Click to enlarge.

The last issue, which reunites the original Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire team, recaptures some semblance of the Bwahaha days, but it’s still too morose. And that’s a step up from the rest of the crossover, which serves only to make the good parts of the team’s run look better via nostalgia-soaked glasses. Yeah, it was too silly at times, too inconsequential, but when it was on, it was on. And it never is during these fifteen issues, not for more than a page or two, and then only when DeMatteis is scripting. I swear, if I ever read another comic by Gerard Jones, it’ll be too soon! What’s worse, though, is thinking of the idiotic decision to turn Max Lord evil years later. If he were mindcontrolled, as he was here, then I could buy it. Maybe some writer will retcon that in later, making the original story look less ridiculous. As it is, this and other stories prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the true Maxwell Lord could never, ever do the things he was purported to’ve done, that he would have no desire whatsoever to attempt them. Controlling Superman, killing Blue Beetle to cover his tracks. Pfah! You can’t just transplant Lex Luthor’s motivations onto another character because you’re not allowed to kill Lex. And then do what Giffen did in this story, wrap things up by sacrifing characters relatively few people care about. That’s not good writing; it’s banking on the outrage of those fans the character does have and the shock of readers who don’t know when the wool’s been pulled over their eyes to outweigh the resounding "meh" from everyone else.

Oreos and milkClick to enlarge.

This was a crummy way to end the series, and it only got worse from there, as few at DC showed any respect to Giffen’s jocular JL. I guess the point was to transition from humor to "serious comics" (for serious cats), and it did a fair job of that, preparing us for the mediocrity that would follow. The sad fact is, there was never a place in the DCU proper for this version of the League. Can you imagine this team reacting to the Death/Publicity Stunt of Superman? Not the shadow of the JLI that took part in that "story," but the true Bwahaha Leaguers. And that would just be another in a long list of crossovers they did have to endure. Millenium, Armaggedon 2001, Invasion. Ugh! What a mess. There’s always someone in DC editorial pushing their agenda of Serious Business, refusing to let creators play in their personal sandbox without interference. The JLI years gave us some great memories, though, and they’ll never completely disappear, thanks to writers like Gail Simone and John Ostrander, who enjoyed those years and find ways to bring them back to the forefront now and again. And thanks to the original team themselves, who delivered the concentrated awesome that is FKAJL and ICBINJL. There are also spiritual successors to these fun-first comics, like the new Blue Beetle.

In Soviet Russia, family perfects you!

New-Type Books

Blue Beetle 21

[DC] Blue Beetle Vol. 7 #21
Writer: Justin Peniston
Penciler: Andy Kuhn

OK, so, not the best example of "fun first" this issue. We have a guest writer, who comes with pack-in guest artist, and a story about the Spectre gruesomely murdering inmates at a local prison. The issue is saved by a visit from Jaime’s awesome girlfriend, Traci 13, who gives him a tip for dealing with the unbeatable embodiment of the wrath of god. It’s a surprisingly good issue, the first at DC for little-known indy writer Peniston. He has a good enough grasp of the characters that I don’t feel like I’m reading someone else’s take on them. It’s almost like John Rogers wrote it, and that’s a good thing. Especially since this is rather plot-heavy for a fill-in issue. In a scene you’d think Rogers would’ve wanted to handle himself, Jaime confronts the man responsible for his father needing a cane to walk, and must choose between forgiving him and leaving him to the Spectre’s justice.

Back Issues

One new book this week. Three next week, and back to two for at least three weeks after that.

Animal Man 29

[DC] Animal Man #29
Writer: Peter Milligan
Penciler: Steve Dillon

In one of the most bizarre stories I’ve read, Animal Man fights the Notional Man, an aborted fetus that was willed into something resembling a person by its mother. All of his dialogue is abortion-centric, making for an incredibly offputting character. Animal Man himself is having an identity crisis; it’s not clear whether we’re seeing the real Animal Man or not. It’s all very confusing and nauseating, topped off with a contrived ending where the hero fails, defeats the villain with the power of love (with an assist from hate), then turns out not to have failed just because.

LEGION 2

[DC] L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89 #1-3
Writers: Keith Giffen (plot), Alan Grant (script)
Penciler: Barry Kitson

This series has two of my pet peeves – sci-fi speak and low production values. Despite characters paraphrasing lines that are uniquely based in Earth history (e.g. "That’s a bloody homing-bomb!" and "You afraid of big bad Dox as well?"), we’re supposed to believe they substitute the made-up word "grok" for all manner of expletives. Because they’re aliens, and their language differs from ours. Except for 99% of the time, when it’s exactly the same. Then there’s the art, which is absolutely dreadful. Kitson got much better later on, but looking inside these issues after seeing the far superior covers by Kevin Maguire (who isn’t credited beyond his tiny signature on the cover art itself) is like a slap in the face.

It’s a pretty good read, though, overall. Leaving aside the wonky language, it genuinely feels like you’re exploring an alien world as Vril Dox II tricks five beings of varying abilities into helping him free his home planet of Colu from evil computer tyrants. It’s not all happy endings, either; being enslaved for a thousand years leaves the populace ill-equipped to fend for themselves, and many die in the revolution. The book’s packed with tension, as our heroes run screaming from one deadly situation to the next, seeming to always be one step away from certain doom.

Fables 28

[DC] Fables #28-29
Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciler: Tony Akins

Yet another book I caught onto late and haven’t yet reached the point where I can read the latest issue. I can, however, highlight one of the many sidestories that pop up in this series between major story arcs. This one covers Bigby Wolf’s adventures during World War II. One of the recurring themes in Fables is that none of the sequestered community of displaced storybook characters, of which Bigby is a member, may reveal their identity to "mundane" humans. It would cause all sorts of problems, and they have worries enough as it is. Well, Bigby keeps his own counsel, and he wasn’t about to let protecting his secret get in the way of killing nazis. Still, he’s no dummy; when he was forced to reveal his true nature to his squadmates, he swore them to secrecy. They were true to their word, and kept the secret to their dying day. Now there’s only one survivor, and Bigby goes to check up on him, spurring a trip down memory lane.

The framing sequence is clumsily handled – Duffy, the last of Dog Company, says he wrote their story solely for his own use, and freely offers it to Bigby once he learns he’s dying of cancer. He isn’t lying, but the story is written for an audience, specifically addressing one at several points throughout the narrative. That’s arguably no different from private entries in a "Dear Diary," where the keeper of the diary acts as though they’re speaking to the perfect confidant, but it seems to me like Willingham took a shortcut and couldn’t be bothered covering his tracks. Ignoring the framing sequence allows the story proper to match the rest of the series for quality. It’s a gritty war story, about soldiers fighting and dying and living. Oh, and Frankenstein’s Monster having a knockdown, dragout brawl with the Big Bad Wolfman.

Trade

Ex Machina Volume 5

[DC] Ex Machina Vol. 5: Smoke Smoke
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Penciler: Tony Harris

This trade deals with the issue of recreational drug use, and due to the position it takes, is less comfortable a read for me than the previous volume. Vaughan makes good points: that marijuana smokers/dealers are relatively harmless, and that putting them in prison alongside rapists and murderers is cruel. But, the book takes too positive a stance for my liking, tacitly endorsing weed. Now, it’s a far cry from the anti-drug ads that air these days, that "Truth" dreck and its ilk. There are no caricatures here, and although situations are dramatized, they remain more believable than what some ads portray. I can’t object to that, nor to the one-sided nature of the argument, nor even to the on-panel depiction of drug use (which is vastly preferable to Marvel’s "no in our universe smokes now" policy). What I take issue with is that characters choose of their own volition to partake. It’s their choice, and far be it from me to infringe on their freedom, but I don’t agree with that choice. Not because it’s illegal, not because of any moral or ethical hangups. I don’t like it, is all.

I’m hewing close to the line between fantasy and reality here, but I tend to feel the same way about fictional characters as I would about real ones who make the same choices, albeit not as strongly. If a character’s a jerk, I’m inclined to avoid him. If his interests don’t appeal to me, I’m not inclined to go near him in the first place. Seeing Mitchell Hundred smoke up lowered him a couple notches in my eyes. There are many reasons why people smoke, some better than others, but I don’t see it as a valid recreational activity. Time is devoted to procuring the drugs, to discussing them, to discussing procuring them, to smoking, to discussing smoking… I find the entire subject as exciting as drywall. Too many people allow themselves to become defined by their drug of choice, slipping into the habit of using, talking about little else, and encouraging others down the same path. Not that drugs are the only things that can cause this. The same thing happens with jobs, babies, roleplaying… and it’s no less annoying in those cases if you don’t have an interest in the subject. But, just as I don’t want to be around while you’re changing diapers, I don’t want to be around while you’re lighting up. And if that’s all you’re going to do, I’d rather spend my time with someone else.

Hundred’s not a habitual user, he has better things to talk about, and I don’t expect that’ll change, but it’s not as though he was perfect aside from this. One more knock against him, to go along with the greater sin of alienating his friends – as poignantly illustrated in this volume’s fifth chapter. It’s becoming harder to like Hundred. His better qualities tend to lurk in subtext, or burst out briefly during times of crisis only to gradually fade away, while his worse qualities are everpresent. He’s all too dedicated to his job, and has a erected a sort of barrier around himself that keeps anyone from getting in and not so gently pushes away those who try. It’s sad. Less pitiable, more tragic. He’s a good guy underneath the crap, and he has all these people who care about him, who love him. But he doesn’t reciprocate, and that hurts them.

Truncation

Justice League: Breakdowns – The best thing about it’s that it’s over.
Blue Beetle – Solid fill-in issue.
Animal Man – Weird and bad.
L.E.G.I.O.N. – Good story dragged down by bad art.
Fables – Good war story with a weak framing sequence.
Ex Machina: Smoke Smoke – Highly dependent on your opinion of marijuana as to whether it’s an enjoyable read, but the quality’s as high as ever.


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