JUSTICE LEAGUES OF ANNOYANCE
Just what DC needed – more books with "JLA" in the titles. Their big spin-off event in January was the JUSTICE LEAGUES 6-parter. The series tells of what happens when the individual members of the JLA split apart and form their own little Justice League groups. There are four books which star four individual teams, with two books acting as bookends to get the story started and completed. Unlike other crossovers that have this kind of set-up, the storyline is linear. The four books in the middle should be read in a specific order, although the storyline overlap really only occurs on the last couple of pages of each issue. You could skip an issue without ruining the whole storyline.
Heck, you might be better served skipping the whole thing.
JL? #1 kicks things off. Tom Peyer is the writing mastermind behind this project, and writes part 1 of the "Justice Leagues" saga. In it, a blond man with a receding hairline and dapper suit on is talking on a cell phone to his client, an alien who's coming to earth to take it over. He's merely the advance man, eliminating all the obstacles that stand in her way. Obviously, in the DC Universe, the biggest obstacle of them all is the JLA, unless you want to count the Spectre and it's probably just more convenient to forget him for this one.
The whole method of getting this storyline is about as hokey as they come. The cell phone becomes a power signal, and a really powerful psychic uses it to amplify his thoughts to everyone in the world. When he changes his mind about conspiring in this plot at the last minute, the world is left with the baffling mystery of who the "Justice League of A-" is. (I guess it's only natural, given DC's proclivities towards not using celebrities, that Jennifer Lopez didn't star in a Justice League of Ass prestige format one-shot.)
Yeah, this contrived plot is asking a lot of you, dear reader. For the sake of moving on with the crossover, though, bite into it and move on with your life.
Ethan Van Sciver does a terrific job drawing this issue, with inks from Matt Martin and Ray Kryssing. While his rendition of the interior of an airplane makes it look like the interior of Air Force One with all that seating room, his character drawings are really fun to look at. Reminds me a bit of a more straightforward Sam Kieth type of artist. He's not afraid of using lots of little wiggly lines. He also does a better job on the last page of the issue in drawing the Justice League of Amazons than the artist of that book does in its entire issue. And check out his half-page splash of Aquaman bursting out of the water. Very nice.
Part 2 of the crossover is JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMAZONS. They are protecting the jungle from evil lumberjacks run by greedy callous over-the-top businessmen. Len Kaminski writes this one. While the set-up is a bit cliché, the character interaction and analysis is spot on. Wonder Woman leads this team, with Power Girl, Zatanna, Big Barda, Supergirl, and the Huntress in tow. The teams split evenly between the warriors and the peacemakers. Our advance man villain also plays a bit part, as he's looking for something of greater importance inside the jungle that nobody else is aware of. At this point, it doesn't take a genius to realize that each successive book will probably feature one oddball guest character that will turn out to be our cell phone man in costume.
The biggest disappointment in this issue is the art. Aluir Amancio does some of the best SUPERMAN ADVENTURES art on that series. He's best know for drawing the women in that title, so he seems a natural fit to draw this all-female cast of characters. But the transition in his art style from cartoony to more "realistic" loses the energy that makes his art so attractive. (It may not be a big help, either, that Terry Austin isn't inking this. Those honors went to Claude St. Aubin.) The art is often uncomfortable to look at and rendered sparsely.
It's too bad Amancio couldn't draw the book in his animated style. Then it would have looked really cool, even if it had causes some stylistic incompatibilities with the rest of the crossover. I don't think that's too much of a problem in this day and age, though. Look at the different artists on the Batman books or the Superman titles. They're pretty varied in styles and influences, but it all gels together (when necessary) just fine. I think readers are pretty hip to that these days.
Too bad Butch Guice didn't draw it. Or Gary Frank. Or Dale Keown. Or any of a number of other artists who are too busy with other projects to put this one together in their spare time.
George Perez's cover is beautifully illustrated and the artistic highlight of the whole mini-series. He throws all the women of the title on the cover with some nice art nouveau stylings along the border. Perez does the covers for all six issues of this series. They're all group shots of the teams, but without any really distinctive trade dress to them, aside from the varying JLA logos.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF ATLANTIS #1 (part three) is very curious. It, too, is written by Len Kaminski and is drawn by GHOST RIDER alum Javier Saltares, with inks by Mark Propst. Whereas all of the other titles feature team-ups between characters you might not normally see together, this book is just an issue of AQUAMAN with a special guest star or two. While that title has been cancelled, there's not much unusual about putting together Aquaman, Tempest, and Mera. Most of the first half of the issue reads like an Aquaman solo adventure. Lori Lemaris shows up and sits around for just a bit, doing nothing. Power Girl ponders her Atlantean heritage and gripes about breathing water. Arion the Immortal actually has a substantive part in the story, so I can't gripe there.
The series also begins to show signs of repetition already that strains the suspension of disbelief factor. Aquaman sets up the table for his meeting of his JLA with 7 seats, comments on how it just feels right, and goes about drafting a seventh member to fit that seat out of left field.
Very little happens in this issue, also. The issue starts off with the team racing through the ocean so that they can sit around a table in Atlantis to talk. Then, Aquaman opines for a few pages before the team decides to rush off to draft another team member. If that's not enough for you, that's followed up with three pages of fighting to achieve the team's ultimate goal. Mercifully, it ends after that.
This issue did nothing for me.
Well, there was one nice aspect about it. John Workman lettered this part of the storyline, as he did for the first two and the last part of this event. It's always nice to see his lettering style on a book. I feel the need to wax rhapsodic about his lettering so that this column has something positive to say this week. I think I already did that a couple of Decembers ago, though.
We trudge along next to JUSTICE LEAGUE OF ARKHAM. Now this has an interesting premise – Batman teams up with an assortment of Gotham's most evil villains in Arkham. And though he seems to be completely out of his mind with this idea, he's still Batman and still has a backup plan, little do the villains realize. Paul "Kane" Grist writes this issue, and infuses it with a much-needed note or two of humor. It starts off with Batman telling Nightwing not to worry -- that he's perfectly sane. The next page starts off with Batman flying on a glider into Arkham. Oh, yeah. That's a world-class show of sanity for you.
Coy Turnbull's art style doesn't do much for me. While his storytelling gets the job done, his faces all have awkward looks. Joker's huge forehead and flat nose make for a not-so-stunning presentation. While there are one or two nice quotes of characterization in the story, you've got to realize that Grist is dealing with a cast of psychotic characters with VERY strong personalities. Everyone here looks like they're just going through the motions. There's not much chance for those personalities to come out and shine, and the plot conquers all, sadly.
Oh, yeah, and Batman gives the ubiquitous speech about feeling the need for seven chairs for the JLA and feeling awkward that something's wrong here and blah blah blah. It's only part four, and the repetition is killing me already.
This is a workmanlike issue. Everyone gets his or her job done, but nothing stands out in my mind, really. There's no moment for any of the characters that will stick out in my mind five minutes after putting this book done.
The final piece of the puzzle drops in on the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF ALIENS, a team that includes Li'l Lobo, Superman, Orion, Guy Gardner, Martian Manhunter, and more. This may actually be the best issue of the lot. Judd Winick writes it, and manages to interweave the ongoing JL? plotline in with the individual team's plot pretty well. Each of the characters gets a moment in the sun, with plenty of snappy dialogue back and forth. Superman and Martian Manhunter work well together as the conscious of the team, as well as the braintrust. Li'l Lobo provides some much-needed comic relief.
If Winick can handle a team title with this much ability, it's a good sign for THE EXILES over at Marvel.
Mike "Adventures of Superman" Miller draws this issue. Although it suffers from some of his weaknesses (he still hasn't gotten Superman's face right), it's a pretty smooth issue. The characters as a whole have a clean and consistent appearance. Storytelling is strong. Most of all, the book looks solid. I'm not sure if this is anything I can put a finger on or explain more thoroughly than that. I look at the pages in this issue, and I see complete, solid pages. I look at a page of art from Turnbull or Saltares, and they look incomplete or sparse or loosely drawn in. It's a matter of taste and preference, really. I'm not accusing the other artists of phoning it in.
Thankfully, the series comes to a conclusion with JUSTICE LEAGUES: JLA #1. Tom Peyer is back to wrap it up, with Justiniano along for art duties. (Ken Branch inks.)
They might as well call this event the Crisis of Fill-in Artist types. Take everyone who's not doing a series and give them an issue. Turnbull, Miller, Justiniano, and Van Sciver are all currently without monthly assignments. Amancio is a regular contributor to SUPERMAN ADVENTURES, but isn't there every month.)
Justiniano's art is an acquired taste, I imagine. Everyone looks very skinny and tall. Superman has one heck of a receding hairline. And long thin noses seem to be the trend.
Finally, the true reason for this event is explained: How can you call it the Justice League of America when you have at least two members who come from other sovereign nations? Peyer sets out to explain this conundrum and uses a deus ex machine to convince the characters that he's right. It's rather uneven, and the reason comes off as hokey, even for Superman.
All of the various little plot threads that were set up in the last four parts are pulled together in this situation as the alien invades earth. And who's there to stop her? Why, the JLA, of course!
In the end, the alien invader is thwarted and the JLA is reformed. You can push the reset button, pretend this never happened, and not notice it when you read the next issue of JLA.
So why would you have wanted to spend your $15 on this event? The only thing that makes any sense is that you were hoping to see the interesting team-ups of characters from around the DC Universe that share common traits. The problem is that after putting the characters together, it seems they ran out of room to do anything with them. Too many cooks spoil everything.
The set-up smells like something Keith Giffen would have come up with. Given his Justice League past, how cool would it have been if he had written all these books? Picture the cell phone jokes, the Justice League of Anarchists (starring The Heckler), and Adam Hughes on art! I smile at the thought of Giffen writing this story. He's done alien invasions for DC before, too! It even had some McFarlane art in it, for goodness sakes! ;-)
This is a story that can't possibly be taken seriously. This is a series that would have worked perfectly in the era of Giffen/DeMatteis. Played for laughs, this could have worked. Trying to make us take seriously a premise involving a telepath cutting himself short while talking on a cell phone transmitting to the entire world in advance of an alien agenda, and then failing to follow through on the character interactions –
It's all a bit much.
Fix that, and you fix the problems with the paper-thin plots, the repetition, the hard to swallow coincidences, and the scary alien that carries a cell phone. These are all things people will overlook in favor of a good belly laugh here or there.
Better luck next time, DC. And maybe you should consider resting the JLA a little bit. All of these various spin-offs, one shots, event books, and mini-series are a bit grating.
Coming up next week: The final word on silent comics. Really. I'm done with it on Tuesday. I've got all the issue numbers I need. Thanks for your e-mails.
And next Friday? I haven't a clue. It could be any one of a thousand possibilities. I'll start whittling that down over the weekend.
You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board, which already includes brief reviews of this week's ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and BATMAN GOTHAM ADVENTURES issues.
Close to 200 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML. Those columns are even migrating over here in drips and drabs. Eventually, they'll all be on CBR. I can't believe Pipeline is entering its fifth year in a few short months…
For those who occasionally ask: I will definitely be in attendance at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) and the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego). I will also be attending a couple more of the New York City shows that occasionally show up, and can now officially proclaim that I will, indeed, be attending the Pittsburgh Comicon at the end of April.
And, finally, I write DVD movie reviews for the gang over at DVD Channel News. If you're into DVD, check out my stuff there. My latest review is for a horrific piece of trash movie from last year called BODY SHOTS.
Have a great weekend!