Waiting for the Trade – JLA New 52

Waiting for the Trade

 

by Bill Miller

Justice League vol.
1: Origin

by Geoff Johns, Jim
Lee and Scott Williams

collects Justice
League 1-6.

 

Why I Bought This: Even
though I’m primarily a Marvel reader, like most of the comic-buying public I
was pretty intrigued when DC launched its New 52. This being the flagship title
is the obvious one to sample. Plus Jim Lee’s art in the preview pages looked
fantastic. On Cyber Monday, Midtown Comics put all the volume 1 New 52 trades
on sale at 40-percent off so I finally picked this up (along with Aquaman and JLI).



The Plot: The
Justice League comes together for the first time to deal with the threat of
Darkseid. Your heroes are Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green
Lantern, Flash and Cyborg.

Chapter 1 – Gotham Police are chasing down Batman with a
helicopter as he runs across rooftops in pursuit of an unknown foe. Batman
catches it and finds a non-human cyborg. Batman is on the defensive when Green
Lantern arrives and he and Batman meet for the first time. Police open fire on
the heroes; and while GL’s force field keeps them safe it gives the cyborg time
to counterattack by breathing fire. This results in the heroes having to save
the cops while the cyborg escapes. GL informs Batman the foe is definitely extraterrestrial
as well as filling him in on the whole GL Corps shtick. GL is also agog when he
learns Batman has no powers. They trace their foe to the sewers where it seems
to be planting a bomb. When GL tries to intercede it blows itself up, shouting
“For Darkseid” as it does so. They discover the bomb is actually a Mother Box,
which Batman deduces is an alien computer. This causes GL to suspect Superman,
whom neither he nor Batman has met yet. While Batman advises caution given
Superman’s power levels, GL flies them both to Metropolis. Cut to an interlude
where African-American teen Vic Stone wins a high school football game while
college scouts are watching, but mopes because his dad doesn’t attend. GL and
Bats arrives in Metropolis where Superman has just finished a battle. GL
cockily confronts Supes only to be easily knocked across the city; leaving
Supes and Bats staring each other down.

Chapter 2 – In Central City, Flash is working at his day job
doing CSI stuff while other police officers talk about the need for an
anti-Flash taskforce. In Metropolis Batman is exhausting his utility belt on
Supes to no effect, as we learn Supes off-camera also battled one of the Mother
Box planting aliens. GL recovers and tries to contain Supes with his ring but
Superman is too strong. GL is desperately on the defensive so he uses his ring
to radio Flash for help, as apparently they’ve met, worked together before and
even shared secret identities. Flash arrives instantly and uses his speed to
confuse Superman for a bit, but ultimately Supes is able to move fast enough to
hit Flash with one finger and take the fight out of him. Batman then uses that
interlude to talk sense into everyone, and the heroes band together to
investigate the Mother Boxes. Cut to STAR Labs where they too have a Mother Box
and are trying to decipher what it does. Heading up the project is Vic Stone’s
father. Vic arrives and his dad blows him off, feeling human athletic prowess
is no longer relevant in a world of super-humans. Back with the heroes, who
even with Superman’s X-ray vision and Barry’s CSI background are finding it
difficult to get evidence from the Mother Box. Suddenly all the boxes activate,
opening Boom-tubes to let the Parademon (aka the fire-breathing cyborg alien)
army invade the Earth. At STAR Labs Vic Stone takes a bunch of shrapnel when
the portal opens.

Chapter 3 – in Washington
DC Col.
Steve Trevor is being debriefed about his first meeting with Wonder Woman and
the Amazons of Paradise Island, while Wonder Woman explores DC and has ice
cream for the first time. This new interpretation of Wonder Woman carries a
sword at all times (on her belt, opposite her magic lasso) and also seems to be
extra-eager for combat. When Parademons explode over DC she is happy to engage
them in battle. Back at STAR Labs Dr. Stone reveals he already lost Vic’s mom,
he won’t lose Victor too even though the shrapnel in the youth is emitting
weird energy. In Metropolis, Bats, GL and Flash are holding their own, while
Superman is taking entire squadrons of the Parademon army down with ease. Back
at STAR Labs Dr. Stone gets his son in their safe room where the other sci-fi
tech gizmos are stored and performs emergency surgery with them to save his
son. As more demons pour into Metropolis, Wonder Woman arrives to give Superman
a hand. The heroes drive the demons back as Vic Stone comes online as Cyborg
and is somehow patched into whatever background noise/orders the Mother Boxes
are giving the demons. The demons erect a tower in the ocean (but within sight of
the Metropolis docks/shoreline), which causes Aquaman to arrive on the scene as
well.

Chapter 4 – Cyborg is in a lot of pain, and is trying to
come to terms with what his father did to save his life when the demons break
down the wall to the safe room causing Cyborg’s arm to reform into a laser gun
which vaporizes the demons. (His powers in general seem to be like the villain
in Terminator 3 here). With the threat
at STAR Labs defeated Cyborg runs off into the night feeling his father made
him into a monster. In Metropolis Aquaman meets all the heroes for the first
time, and tries to take the leadership role claiming his experience as King of
Atlantis. GL mocks Aquaman and his powers just as the Parademons mount a new
attack from the ocean and Aquaman has an army of sharks jump out of the ocean
and eat the entire Parademon army, except for one whom Aquaman kills with his
tridents thus shutting GL up. The military arrives and fires on the heroes but
Wonder Woman uses her bracelets to protect everyone. Cut to Cyborg who is
getting flashes of Apokolips in his head. He takes out a few demons and manages
to activate one of their Boom Tubes to teleport to the other heroes in
Metropolis. He warns them of what is coming but it is too late as Darkseid
arrives via Boom Tube.

Chapter 5 – Darkseid takes out the military fighter jets
with one shot of his Omega Beams. Flash and Superman get his attention so he
shoots Omega Beams at them. The beams actually split as the heroes do and keep
pace with their speeds. Flash is able to avoid the beams by getting them to hit
some Parademons but Superman is overtaken, knocked unconscious and kidnapped by
the Parademons into their ocean tower. As the next most powerful hero (and
rashest) GL tries to fight Darkseid one-on-one next. Darkseid keeps breaking
his constructs and eventually grabs GL and breaks his ring hand. To his credit
GL attempts to keep fighting but Batman talks him down by unmasking and telling
him his origin. Batman tells GL to come up with a team-based attack using the
combined superpowers at hand to keep Darkseid busy long enough for Bats to
sneak into the tower and free Superman. Once Bats gets there he realizes it is
going to be tougher than he thought since the inside of the tower is a portal
to Apokolips.

Chapter 6 – Darkseid is incinerating civilians until the JLA
hits him with everything at once. Wonder Woman tries to use her lasso to get
info on why Darkseid is here on Earth, to which he just says “For her,” and
before WW can get him to clarify he decks her. Back on Apokolips Batman finds
Dessad torturing Superman, presumably as part of some brain-washing process. On
Earth Darkseid tries his Omega Beams but her bracelets deflect them and she
counters by stabbing him in the eye with her sword. As he reels from that
Aquaman stabs him in his other eye with his trident. The heroes are dismayed to
see Darkseid is still standing. Cyborg decides to try overriding the Mother
Boxes again to Boom Tube Darkseid back to Apokolips. The Boom Tubes powering up
gets Dessad’s attention on Apokolips thus giving Batman an opportunity to free
Superman. Superman returns to fight Darkseid, but Darkseid proves stronger than
him. The heroes combine to push Darkseid back into the Boom Tube as Cyborg uses
it to teleport Darkseid and his army away. In the aftermath the humans of
Metropolis/the world love the heroes. They then get invited to meet with the
President, who publically embraces them for saving the world, assuming they are
a team. The JLA go along with it for the greater good of human/super-human
relations. They receive their name from a reporter during a second mission,
which we see only in passing press coverage as they fight with Starro
recreating the famous cover of the original first JLA story. Finally we get two
epilogues: first in London
shadowy figures discuss the arrival of superheroes in the world and embrace the
super villain moniker; second Pandora of Greek myth fights with Phantom
Stranger before blackmailing him into leaving her alone while announcing plans
to use the JLA to end her curse.
Critical Thoughts: Let’s
start with the positives, which is the art is absolutely jump off the page
amazing. This is Jim Lee at his very best; reminiscent of the stuff he and
Liefeld were doing when they hit it big in the 90s on the X-books. Every hero
gets a stunning pin-up when they arrive in the story for the first time. I
really like Wonder Woman’s new costume. As an Aquaman fan I have to say he has
never looked cooler, or in the scene where shark army jumps out of the water more
badass, than he does in this book. Furthermore the art works beyond the pin-up
cool to enhance the story. For example, in the first meeting between Batman and
Green Lantern the art visually reinforces that these are two different types of
heroes. The Superman debut fight is rendered (and written) in such a way to
make Superman and his power levels feel fresh and new, which is no easy feet
considering how well we all know Superman. It’s really one of the best fight
scenes I’ve seen in some time, especially once Flash arrives. The sequence
where Superman and Flash try to outrace the Omega Beams is also drawn to really
give a sense momentum and wonder to the action.

In terms of plot and story elements there is both good and
bad here. The dynamic of the heroes’ first meetings and reactions to each other
is handled very well. It’s also interesting to see the heroes of the DC
Universe not being trusted by the public and law enforcement. While I don’t
read as much DC as Marvel, I’ve never seen that before in their
universe—usually each hero has their fictional city they watch over like a
guardian angel and everyone there loves them for it. Of course by the end of
the story the heroes have turned the corner to that more beloved status quo, so
I guess it’s not something they’re going to explore any further.

I thought Green Lantern’s reaction to Batman’s lack of
powers was just great. GL’s portrayal in general is interesting, as he’s
arrogant and rash but we still get to see the determination that powers his
ring and makes him a hero when he fights Darkseid. There’s a funny moment where
he brushes up against Wonder Woman’s lasso and reveals he’s going to be the one
save day because he likes to impress people. All that said I didn’t really buy
the scene where Batman supposedly turns it around for GL to be more of a team
player by unmasking. I think it’s something done more to be dramatic for the
reader than the characters. By which I means as readers we know Batman’s secret
identity is important so seeing him unmask is a big deal. But within the logic
of the story it feels out of characters for Batman to unmask to someone he just
met. More importantly why should GL care, who Batman is? It’s not like they’ve
been fighting alongside each for years and suddenly Batman trusts him with this
big thing. It’s more like, “So uh yea my parents were killed by a mugger when I
was a kid so we better stop this alien invasion, kay?” I think there are easier
ways within the story’s own logic to get to “We need to work as a team for this
one” than jumping to Batman unmasking.

Among the other heroes, I can’t say I like the new Wonder
Woman interpretation. I seem to recall her classical interpretation being that
she’s the emissary of peace into Man’s World. Now she’s the exact opposite of
that as this blood thirsty battle seeking sword wielding demigod. Hell, even
though I didn’t read it, I know I read online that there was a DC event story a
few years ago where the big three’s relationship fractured because Wonder Woman
used a sword to kill Maxwell Lord when he possessed Superman. It sounds like
the whole point of that story was Wonder Woman went too far, and that even she
knew stabbing someone is a big deal with consequences; and yet now we’re going
to make it that she casually stabs people all the time.

Which leads to my next point, I found the scene with Wonder
Woman and Aquaman stabbing Darkseid in eyes far more viscous than I prefer a
mainstream superhero comic to be. Admittedly it is good strategy giving
Darkseid’s eyes are his power source, but I think A-list heroes who appeal to
kids should be presented as morally above such tactics. Actually the eye
stabbing scene is another way this book reminds me of a 90s comic, as I
remember when X-Force launched they had Shatterstar stabbing people in the eyes
to show how grim and gritty they were. Objectively I can see that both Wonder
Woman and Aquaman have roots in Greek myth where viscous things, including
blindings, befall people all the time. So yes, an artistic argument can be made
to portray those two characters in this way; however, I’m not sure personally
it’s what I want to see. I had decided if I liked these first three New 52
trades I probably sample Wonder Woman
and Batgirl next and this
interpretation makes me less likely to buy Wonder Woman’s solo title.

This brings up the next question I can see both sides too,
which is what is Cyborg doing in this book? You have DC’s six most important
well known A-list heroes and then this random C-lister better associated with
the Teen Titans hanging out with them. It doesn’t help that his origin scenes
are probably the least interesting parts of this trade. That said if you are
rebooting your entire universe for the 21st century I can absolutely
see and respect the need include an African-American hero in your A-list
flagship title that younger readers are most likely to read. When you throw in
that this relaunch is also meant to reach out to lapsed comic fans, Cyborg is
probably a better choice than most other African-American heroes to fill thus
role since he was part of the final season of Super Friends that also heavily featured Darkseid. (And this story
even manages to work the “Super Friends” name into the final chapter when the
President introduces the heroes to the public). Then again if the goal is to
make Cyborg an equal of these other heroes, why is he a teenager just getting
his power when everyone else on the team are fully power adults? As I
understand it the next trade jumps ahead five years so by then Cyborg should be
about 23 years-old and on more equal footing with his teammates, so hopefully
that criticism works itself out.

My final criticism, and it’s a big one, is the ending of the
Darkseid fight both makes very little sense and falls flat on a dramatic level.
On the doesn’t make sense front, Cyborg uses the Boom Tubes to teleport
Darkseid back home. So why can’t Darkseid return again, if not immediately then
certainly in a couple of days at most if he wanted to? Didn’t he build these
things to begin with? He can’t fix and repair them on Apokolips, which is
galaxies away from whatever signal Cyborg is generating. It seems the heroes
were not terribly effective against him physically so there’s does not seem to
be a logical reason he wouldn’t return fairly soon once he got tech support on
the phone to fix his Mother Box problem. Fanboy logic nitpicks aside, on
narrative level it’s not a satisfying solution to the fight either, which is a
much bigger problem when your climax doesn’t work. The heroes entire plan is
keep Darkseid busy so Batman can free Superman so that Superman can then kick
some ass, but when Superman is free we don’t get to see any ass-kicking and
after two chapters of working towards that goal, it’s a letdown that Supes
doesn’t get the big cut loose moment at the end.

Grade: The art is an A+; the story is a B-. Story means more
to me than art so let’s call it a B+.

Waiting for the trade – X-men

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
X-Men Visionaries: Jim Less
by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee
Collects Uncanny X-men 248, 256-258, 268-269 and 273-277 and Classic X-men 39
Why I Bought This: So several months ago DC was hyping the hell out of the New 52 and the preview pages for Justice League by Jim Lee looked pretty damn amazing. Knowing I was going to wait for the trade on JLA meant I had six months before I could pick it up so I decided I wanted something by Jim Lee in the interim. The two most obvious choices were either X-Men or Fantastic Four Heroes Reborn, but having purchased the terrible Captain American Heroes Reborn trade in the wake of the awesomeness of last year’s movie, I decided to go with X-men. Plus the back cover did promise both a famous Cap story and a Savage Land story I had never read before as I dropped X-men in my original collecting days right around the time Jim Lee took over so most of this is actually new to me. Those preview pages must have been damn good because this is one of the rare trades I paid full price for from my local comic shop.

The Plot – As you can see in the issue list this collection is 11 non-sequential issues from two year period, taking what I guess the editors fee is the best of Lee’s art from his Uncanny before Marvel launched the second X-men title for him.
Issue 248 – The X-men are living in Australia (this was their status quo for much of the late 80s) when Nanny and Orphan Maker (a pair of minor villains who plagued the various X-books at this time and were terribly lame in every conceivable way) show up in hopes of regressing the X-men into children. They manage to do this to Havok, Dazzler and Psylocke before the other X-men stop them but as Havok is coming to his senses he fires a plasma bolt at Nanny’s UFO and accidentally kills Storm.
Issue 256 – 258. So in-between the last story and this one all of the X-men except Wolverine jumped into a magic crystal that would allow them to be reborn with new lives because they were afraid of another group of lame villains, this time the Reavers. Wolverine was later crucified by the Reavers and saved by new character Jubilee. In this story Wolverine and Jubilee are traveling to Madripoor, where by coincidence Psylocke is reborn as purple-haired Japanese ninja (she had previously been a pink-haired British chick). Psylocke is found by the Hand who sell her to the Mandarin and she becomes his bodyguard. This eventually leads to a battle with Wolverine and ultimately she regains her memories and frees herself from the Mandarin’s influence.
Issue 268 – In World War II Wolverine (pre-metal claws) and Captain America meet for the first time in Madripoor, where they thwart a Nazi/Hydra kidnapping of Black Widow back when she was a child.
Issue 269 – Rogue is reborn as both herself and Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers, whose memories and powers she had permanently absorbed when she was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants) back in Australia where the Reavers have taken over the X-men’s a brief three-way battle ensues since Marvel holds a bit of grudge, until Rogue uses Gateway to teleport to the Savage Land. Once there Rogue loses her powers. Several weeks pass before Marvel tracks her down, and she is looking rather undead since there is not enough life-force between them to support two people. Ms. Marvel is about to win until Magneto intervenes and reintegrates them into one being with Rogue as the survivor.
Issue 273 – In the aftermath of the X-tinction Agenda crossover the leaders of the various X-teams are discussing which of them should take possession of the X-mansion, when Lila Cheney arrives and teleports the X-men to Shi’ar space to help Professor X, who hadn’t appeared since his death/space cloning/marriage in issue 200.
Issue 274 – Magneto and Rogue (still sans powers) are falling for each other. They team up with Kazar and SHIELD to try and prevent Zaldaline, who has stolen Polaris’ magnetic powers, from conquering the Savage Land.
Issue 275 – double sized issue sees a pair of big battles as the X-men battle Deathbird and the Imperial Guard as Deathbird has usurped the throne from Lilandra, wife of Professor X. Simultaneously back on Earth we see the conclusion of the Savage Land team-up with Magneto killing Zaldaline much to Rogue’s disappointment and renouncing his face-turn from five years earlier. In the cliffhanger The X-men defeat Deathbird but then in the party that follows Jubilee and Gambit witness Professor X being evil.
Issue 276 – 277. More space intrigue that ultimately ends with Professor X and few others revealed to be Skrulls before the X-men set things right and restore Lilandra to the throne.
Classic X-men 39 – In the early days of the second X-men team Storm inadvertently slights a homeless mutant with energy projection powers. He follows her to the X-mansion and stalemates her, Wolverine and Colossus forcing her to choose which of her friends he will kill. She picks Wolvie knowing his agility and healing factor will save him, but in the aftermath of victory Wolvie’s feelings are still hurt.
Critical Thoughts: The stories here are mixed bag, some are good but some terrible. None are truly great; although I should preface that by saying I’m not much of an X-man fan to begin with. The art however is as good as you’d expect a Jim Lee volume to be.
The Nanny store is terrible and I assume must be Lee’s first work on Uncanny since I can’t think of any other reason to include it and chronologically it’s a lot further apart than the others in the volume.
The Psylocke story is the last story in this volume I had read before in real time. Psylocke greatly benefits from this rebirth, becoming my favorite of all the X-men afterwards. Claremont’s writing is a lot wordier than what we see nowadays and this story with its brainwashing is heavy on internal monologue (the Nanny story has the same problem). I guess what I’m saying is the journey isn’t as good as the destination. The end result of purple-haired ninja Psylocke is a high point for the character (and how Lee draws her as a ninja is the epitome of 90’s comic cool) but how we get there isn’t as interesting to me. It probably doesn’t help that this is the third time I’ve read this story in 18 months as I have both an Essential X-men and an Exiles trade I bought last year that included this story as well. Also Psylocke is presented as this A-list fighter capable of taking down Wolverine in this story, and the description of her skills is the best part of the writing here, but then in future stories she’s never presented at the A-list elite Cap-Wolvie fighting level ever again.
The Cap story was an enjoyable one-shot and Jim Lee draws a damn fine Captain America. Other than the inexplicable aging that placing Black Widow in World War II causes, it’s not exactly treading new ground as I’ve seen dozens of Cap flashback missions in World War II and they’re all basically the same type of story, but I still liked it well enough.
The Rogue story is more overly-wordy psychobabble from Claremont, although the Magneto reveal at the end is another nice splash page by Lee. Of course why Magneto has a machine that can integrate two life-forces into one just lying around is never explained.
Issue 273 has no reason to be in this collection. It’s a talky epilogue to a crossover not in this collection. You could easily include the final page teleport or an issue note and go straight to 274.
The Savage Land story is mostly good and not in the way I expected. Usually the Savage Land setting is for fun stories of little consequence involving some hero fighting dinosaurs or some other monster like Terminus or Gog. This one is narrated by Magneto, and here Claremont’s emphasis on internal monologues is a benefit because Magneto is one of the most nuanced villains in all of comics. The moment where he walks away from Rogue and renounces Xavier’s path is the dramatic high point of this collect. Plus Lee’s art really shines throughout every panel of this story. If there is a downside it’s that Zaldaline doesn’t have the heft to be considered the villain that is going to trouble Magneto (and his allies) or allegedly conquer/destroy the world if this stand against her fails (which is the alleged rationale for why Nick Fury and SHIELD are down there helping out).
The space story is okay. I’m not all that interested the Shi’ar monarchy, but the story handles it plot twists well enough and newer X-men Jubilee and Gambit are given some nice moments to shine. Actually I would say Jubilee is a major highlight every time she appears. These are her earliest appearances and Claremont gives her dialogue a fun rhythm that differs from the rest of the cast. It’s easy to see why she became so popular around this time period (and make no mistake Jubilee was popular as she was prominently featured in the first X-men cartoon, the Marvel versus DC crossover and any other side project Marvel had in this era).
The Classic X-men story is average quality for a back-up. It is included because it is the first time Lee drew the X-men. There’s also a cover gallery of stories not reprinted some of which look quite nice.
One other note you can tell this is the 90s by the last two Uncanny stories because everyone has big guns. Rogue loses her powers? Give her an over-sized gun. Lila Cheney the rock star who doesn’t participate in missions? Give her some Shi’ar ordinance. Kazar, the primitive Tarzan-ish dinosaur fighter who in every other appearance since the 1960s uses a knife or a spear? Throw that man an automatic weapon that would make Rambo blush. I think you get the point.
Grade: If you are buying this for the artwork, it definitely delivers on that front and if that’s all you want give this an A and move on. For me even if I’m buying for the art I expect the story to deliver too—it’s why my flirtation with Image in the 90s lasted less than a year. Story wise you’re getting a good Magneto story, a decent Cap one-shot and a historically significant Psylocke story; plus a bunch of lesser material. Let’s call it a B- in deference to the fact that even the bad stories look good; but this took me months to read because in the early chapters I’d put it down and not be tempted to pick it back up for a month or more at a stretch, it really didn’t get rolling until the Savage Land story at the end.