Thursday, January 06, 2005

Justice League Elite - A Change in Scenery Can Make All the Difference

I was not a fan of Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke's JLA.

I think Mahnke killed the book early on, when Kelly was basically trying to write just like Mark Waid (who, in turn, was trying to write just like Grant Morrison). In those early issues, the book needed an artist who could capture the attention of the mainstream. Someone like a Howard Porter or a Bryan Hitch. Both of those artists were put on JLA because there was a lot of attention being paid to their art on OTHER books, so DC "promoted" them to JLA (okay, I guess you could call Hitch's move a "transfer").

That was not the case for Mahnke. He was basically "the best guy we have readily available." And heck, I do not even know if that's accurate or not, which I think is fodder for its own conversation ("Who should have been chosen as the JLA artist?").

So early on, Mahnke's dark style killed the direction that Kelly was taking the book. So Kelly, then, decided to gear the book more towards Mahnke's art. And that's when the book just really took a nose dive.

It was not a bad book, but it wasn't a fun book.

Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Green Lantern running around in a dark book? Just didn't make sense.

And then Kelly added new members, and all the same complaints people normally have when writers add pet characters to the team arose - "You're shortchanging the book by playing with your personal pet characters." Which was fair, I think, as Manitou Raven, Faith and Major Disaster suddenly got a lot of time in the book.

In either event, when they finally left the book, it really was for the best.

So the fact that a title by the same creative team (Joe Kelly/Doug Mahnke/Tom Nguyen), with a cast of Manitou Raven, Major Disaster, Flash, Green Arrow, two parodies of Authority members, and the SISTER of a parody of an Authority member (whose powers arose from a throwaway line in a comic from 3 years ago!) is a GOOD comic is, well, surprising.

And it really is a good comic.

In every aspect that Mahnke did not match up well with the tone of JLA, he DOES match up well with the tone of Justice League Elite, which is a darker tone. I really do like his art, I just like it to fit the tone of the book he is drawing. For instance, his art on the latest issue of Batman just blew me away it was that good (and fitting).

Really, though, the reason why the book succeeds is that Kelly has given these ciphers full fledged personalities. It is one of the greatest tenets of serial fiction...if you create fully realized, interesting characters that the audience can care about, then the plot can be generic, and you'll still be interested, because you want to see how this group of characters handles the situation.

The way Kelly does this is by having the characters exhibit different facets of their personalities. They laugh, they fight, they drink, they emote...we see them from such different angles at all times. There's a scene where the stern leader actually cries a tear of pride after something the Flash said.

The book is about a group of reformed villains (and some heroes) who work undercover doing good deeds secretly. The only problem is that they are considered villains by everyone else, and they can never reveal that they are secretly good guys.

Okay, now I'll tell you who's who in the book, as well as give a description of the plot so far, and finally tell you a few of the highlights so far.

Vera Black - Sister of the Manchester Black, the guy who formed the Elite, and eventually killed himself after being awed by Superman's kind nature. Vera's arms are robotic, and they allow her to do all sorts of crazy crap. She is stern and tough, but also playful at times, and sometimes even sorta tender.

Coldcast - The only remaining member of the original Elite. This guy has some sort of electrical powers. In reality, I may have I really cannot think of a member of the Authority that he was meant to parody. In any event, he is trying to atone for all the awful things he did when he was a member of Manchester Black's Elite.

Menagerie - Her sister was the original Menagerie, which means that she was the host body for a whole pile of crazy demons. Basically an Engineer parody. Her sister was lobotomized by Manchester Black, so she now took her sister's demons to fight the bad guys.

Manitou Raven - One of Kelly's additions to the JLA. He's a Shaman. But get this, he's Apache. And he's a chief. So yes, he's Apache Chief for the new millenium. One of the ideas I think Kelly just loved way too much. In any event, he comes from a different time (1000 years ago), so he has different views on things like gender roles in a marriage.

Dawn Raven - Manitou's wife. She came with him from the past. She is home to one of the most drawn-out subplots in recent years, as Kelly has obviously been setting her up for an extra-marital affair for the last two years...something she finally consumated with her Elite teammate...

Green Arrow - Here only as a tactitian and backup support, he has ended up getting involved with Dawn.

Major Disaster - Ex-villain and Ex-JLA member, Major Disaster is uncouth, and his heavy drinking is beginning to become a problem. The interesting thing about him, though, is that his problem seems to be the fact that he thinks that something below board is going on in the Elite...which is what he joined them to get away from.

Flash - Wally is currently pulling double duty on the Elite and the JLA. Mostly, he doesn't even appear with the team, except sometimes in alternate costumes. He just shows up when they're pulling off scams (like switching "dead" bodies for people).

Kasumi - A legend who had killed hundreds of people by the time she was 12. She now lends her abilities to the team to atone for her past mistakes, but she has a deep secret.

Naif Al-Sheik - An espionage legend who was chosen by Vera to be the laison between the team and the governments of the world because of his world-renowned sense of integrity. He agreed under one condition - there will be NO killing!

Okay, here comes plot decriptions! Including spoilers! So be forewarned!

#1-3 details the team's first mission, to stop this group of mercenaries from killing a kidnapped bad guy. Vera disguises herself as Deathstroke, and along with Kasumi, they infiltrate the group. Once there, they realize the team's REAL purpose...not just to kill the bad guy, but to kill the entire country he's from! The team intervenes (even after Vera's cover is blown by Wormwood, a werewolf member of the team of mercenaries), and saves the day - with no casualties. However, after it is all settled, a bolt of lightning comes down and kills the bad guy. Their first mission - and already a casualty!

#4 shows the team react to the fact that someone among them might be a murderer. Green Arrow and Dawn continue to flirt.

#5-7 has Coldcast involve the team in an undercover operation to work with his little brother as well as some aliens who are dealing drugs. In addition, Green Arrow and Dawn get together, and Manitou finds out. There is discord in the Elite. The JSA guest-star, and a drunken Major Disaster accidentally knocks Kasumi and her blades into Hawkgirl, sending Hawkgirl to the hospital.

Great moments in the Elite, so far (more spoilers)

In #1, Manchester Black's final monumet...a plaque over a toilet - "May you rest in P"

In #4, the exchange between Manitou and the spirit God, where the Spirit God can't think of any good insults.

In #4, how Vera lies to Wonder Woman's lasso.

In #6, how Green Arrow alerts Black Canary to the fact that the Elite are undercover (an arrow with a note.

In #6, the biggest reveal of the series, that Kasumi is really Batgirl, placed by Batman undercover in the Elite.

In closing, one of the coolest things about Justice League Elite is the fact there's a lot of content in it. This is not a five minute read, and I really appreciate it. Not just in Kelly's writing, but in Mahnke's art. The detail is impressive, and only doubly so when you consider the fact that Mahnke is usually drawing two books a month. Not too shabby, eh?

Well, there was your first "You Decide - 2005" entry.


Blogger Joe Rice said...


I tried an issue or two of this and found it pretty uninteresting. I didn't see why I should care about anyone in it.

I also remember thinking Kasumi was a blatant Batgirl rip-off.


Is there a trade of this? Maybe I'll try it again. I DO like the art.

1/06/2005 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I felt the same way about you, Joe, after #1 and 2.

But for some reason, when I read them all together because of the person asking me to read Elite (by the by, who WAS it who told me? Silly anonymous posting...hehe), the characterizations really felt a lot deeper.

Maybe it was retroactive, with me reading the later issues?

There's a scene in #4, when Flash apologizes to Vera for the bad guy dying, that really got to me.

And yeah, the Kasumi thing...nice twist, no?

As for a TPB, the series is apparantly a surprising "success" (in that it is outselling Nightwing, Adventures of Superman and Green Arrow), so it probably will get a TPB.

1/06/2005 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

Well then MAYBE I'LL CHECK IT OUT. If I don't inevitably forget about it by the time it comes out.

1/06/2005 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger alex said...

Cronin, you suck.

That book is awful, and will see a quick demise, as sure as my name is General Lee.

1/06/2005 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger Ali Choudhury said...


I checked it out and it had Kelly's usual bemusing plot structure.

Nice touch having Batgirl in there though.

1/07/2005 12:40:00 AM  
Blogger Lex said...

I tried a couple issues of this, but I just wasn't interested in it (from what Brian has said, it looks like it might have gotten better after #2).

Though, I totally agree that Mahnke's art works a lot better here than in JLA.

1/07/2005 01:43:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

By the way, will no one take credit for picking this as their "You Decide" choice?

1/07/2005 01:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...




-Heikki Mylläri

1/07/2005 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Justin Davis said...

I think I was probably the one to tell you to read this. Apparently, I was one of the few who really liked Kelly and Mahnke's run on JLA. Mainly, I really dug issues 78 and 79. They seemed to really show what the two could do.

I've also liked Elite since issue one, but yeah, it has gotten better as it's gone. Also, it was originally planned as a 12-issue maxi. I wonder now if it will be made into an ongoing if it's doing well enough. I've said in the past that it might appeal to people who liked the original Suicide Squad.

Oh, and I was never Manitou's biggest fan either, but I did like him a lot more after this last issue. There's just something about his attitude after finding out about Dawn's affair and the facial expressions that Mahnke gives him that make me care more about Manitou as a character now. Plus, I never cared about Disaster until Kelly started writting him, especially in Elite.

1/07/2005 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Dan Apodaca said...

I guess I'll have to check it out. I read about it and it didn't seem too interesting. Besides, I've never been a fan of Joe Kelly's work.

Also, I've never even touched the book, and I thought that Kasumi was a Batgirl rip-off, until I finished the post. Just fits Kelly's M.O., you know?

I swear, though, Cronin, if this turns out to be bad, you're getting twenty demerits! And no pudding! And I'm telling your mother that you poop yourself!

1/07/2005 04:32:00 PM  
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