Tuesday, January 03, 2006

100 Days of Justice League Day 2: JL #2

Justice League #2
Story: Make War No More!
Plot & Breakdowns: Keith Giffen
Script: J.M. DeMatteis
Penciller: Kevin Maguire
Inker: Al Gordon
Letterer: Bob Lappan
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Editor: Andrew Helfer

As was revealed last issue, Dr. Kimiyo Hoshi a.k.a. Dr. Light was given an official Justice League signal device and granted Justice League membership by an unknown benefactor. The League obviously wants to find out who was behind this, and Batman is being none too polite about it.

As Dr. Hoshi begins to reiterate the story for a third time, the Blue Beetle, ever on monitor duty it seems, announces that news commentator Jack Ryder is about to “rampage” against the Justice League. As he does, he zeroes in on Batman, the “sullen, uncommunicative vigilante with a penchant for circumventing the law and slugging cameramen;” the Martian Manhunter, an untrustworthy “creature from another world;” and Mister Miracle, “a publicity-hungry carnival performer.” He ends his rampage, as Beetle calls it, by saying, “Do we need this new JLA? Do we want to be ‘protected’ by a group that we may need protection from?”

So, the stage is set. This Justice League isn’t just facing menaces in the form of psychotic, power mad, greedy villains and aliens. It’s facing perhaps the greatest menaces of all: the media and public opinion.

Maxwell Lord is also watching Ryder’s commentary and requests that Ms. Wootenhoffer, his assistant, pull the Ryder file. “It’s under ‘C.’” he says, a joke that Ms. Wootenhoffer doesn’t get. It’s at this moment that a Mr. Gold arrives for his appointment with Max.

After seeing Ryder’s commentary, Guy Gardner is outraged and threatens him bodily harm. When considering Guy, Ryder’s commentary may not have been too far off. He is someone that America probably may need protection from. Between Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, and, of course, Batman, Guy’s indignation is shelved for the time being in the funniest page of the issue. "Well, gosh. Maybe someday I'll get to be a real man like you." Zing!

Meanwhile, Dr. Fate visits an angry man with, as Fate says, “a destiny,” one he feels the man is “tempted to throw off.” This is the Gray Man, a man with gray hair, gray clothes and a gray demeanor. Actually, Fate doesn’t visit the Gray Man as a social call. He says he’s drawn to him by his anger. Fate has come to warn him. The Gray Man doesn’t seem phased by this. As Fate departs, the Gray Man claims to be angered, but he appears quite placid – an intriguing and mysterious and gray juxtaposition.

Just as "gray" in their own way are the three super-beings known as the Silver Sorceress, Wandjina, and Blue Jay, who are determined to eliminate the nation of Bialya’s nuclear “defenses.” Actually, they’re not specifically interested in Bialya so much as Earth. They’re on a self-proclaimed mission to rid all worlds of nuclear armaments. As Wandjina hurls a missile through a dimensional portal created by the Silver Sorceress, the three are greeted by a charming Colonel Rumaan Harjavti, “leader of this small, beleaguered country.” One is reminded of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi or, even, Saddam Hussein. The three are suspicious. Harjavti tries to paint a picture of himself and Bialya as victims, but as the Silver Sorceress says, “He stinks of blood and deception.” They are rightfully suspicious as he invites them to relax, eat, and talk.

As Batman and the Martian Manhunter further inspect Dr. Light’s signal device and find it to be “a superior copy” containing design elements that they should incorporate into their own devices, Beetle picks up a news report on a trio of super-beings responsible for attacking several Israeli missile sites in the name of intergalactic peace. The implication is that Colonel Harjavti probably put them up to it. In addition, I’m getting the impression that monitor duty pretty much just means sitting around and watching the news. Since the news story involves super-heroes, Mister Miracle begins, “it involves us, “ finishes Batman. Captain Marvel and Guy Gardner fly together with the rest of the team following in the Blue Beetle’s “Bug.”

We cut back to the three strange visitors from another planet and learn the origins of their hatred for nukes. Giffen and DeMatteis use a storytelling technique that has bothered me for a long time. I understand why it’s used and have accepted it as a convention, but I almost always cringe when I read a story that uses it. It’s the technique in which one character tells another character something he already knows for the benefit of the reader who does not know it. It often shows up as a narrated flashback. In this case, the Silver Sorceress recaps for Wandjina how their world was destroyed in a nuclear holocaust with the three of them as the only survivors. I don’t think Wandjina would need to be reminded of something like that. I would have preferred that Giffen and DeMatteis set up a scenario in which the Silver Sorceress related this story to Colonel Harjavti. He wouldn’t have been aware of their history, and it would've served the same purpose as the Silver Sorceress telling Wandjina something he not only already knew but he personally experienced.

As the Justice League are en route, Guy Gardner suddenly veers off course. He has apparently used his power ring to locate the three new heroes and makes the mistake of attacking them. Wandjina summons a lightning bolt which strikes Guy directly. He plummets earthward and, as he’s just about to splat, Captain Marvel swoops in and catches him. “Captain Whitebread just saved your life,” says Captain Marvel referring to himself using the derogatory name that Guy used earlier. “I noticed! I noticed!” says Guy, equal parts flustered and annoyed.

Meanwhile, the Martian Manhunter and Mister Miracle fly out to confront, well, presumably all three, but we only see Wandjina and the Silver Sorceress. Blue Jay is nowhere to be seen and, for that matter, has had almost no speaking lines nor been involved in much of the action during the whole issue. I might say that it’s an oversight, but it seems like a difficult thing to overlook. As they request their surrender, Bialyan air traffic control orders the Justice League to leave Bialyan airspace or be destroyed. The League, respecting Bialya’s sovereignty, leaves.

“What they did they had to do. I respect that, “ Wandjina says. “Once, we would have done the same.”

Colonel Harjavti reiterates that the three heroes are safe in Bialya and is more than willing to accommodate their search for more nuclear weapons to be destroyed. He knows just the place he says. “What country is that?” asks Wandjina.


Next issue: Justice League #3 – “Back in the U.S.S.R.!!!”

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved those issues--and while I enjoyed the whole BWAH HA HA phase--it wasn't yet in full swing, and this belays the myth they all were BWAH HA HA

1/03/2006 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

I gotta say, I liked these issues but hated the whole "Captain Whitebread" characterization of Captain Marvel. Totally awful and inaccurate characterization, seeing as how he wasn't supposed to act like a dorky child once he became Captain Marvel but rather become a full-grown man with the wisdom of Solomon.

I'm glad they wrote him out of the book early, I'd rather have him not around at all than be butchered.

1/03/2006 10:49:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I had never heard of those characters before, that they were the Avengers to the Squadron Supreme's JLA. Thor, Scarlet Witch, and Yellowjacket, right? What was their story again?

You never hear much about the letterer, but Bob Lappan is one of the best in the business. His letters are nearly as important to this JLA era as Maguire's pencils.

1/03/2006 11:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Bored Now said...

What's the point of a panel-by-panel plot description without any commentary? Was this a good issue? Did it balance humor and drama well? Is the art as solid as it was when the series was really up and running, or is it still a little rough as Maguire learns the characters? How does the lighter touch on the characters conflict with or expand their existing characterization (t's comment on Capt. Marvel is a good example of such critique)?

I could dig out the issues to reread myself. Gimme something original that will make me come back and read more. Please.

1/04/2006 02:26:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher Burton said...

t.: I agree somewhat. I mean, I wouldn't say I hate the treatment, but he's definitely dorky and intentionally so. I don't think that Captain Marvel is, by nature, a character that needs a lighter touch because he's already pretty light. I think the writers and editor were trying to take a character that had been relatively untouched for a few years and reintroduce him. By taking a 40s-style hero and placing him in the late 80s, they create a kind of commentary on how things have changed. It almost makes the characters like Guy Gardner and Batman seem like even bigger jerks than they are.

Michael: I agree. Bob Lappan is a largely unsung talent. I've always liked his stuff. It's relatively simple, but distinctive to him. I can almost always tell his lettering when I see it.

Bored Now: Thanks for the feedback. I'm going to play the inexperience card. These are my first attempts at any sort of formal review. I did try to include some commentary on Giffen and DeMatteis's use of the "one character telling-another character something he already knows for the benefit of the reader who doesn't know it" technique and how that rarely sits well with me. I also addressed what I feel is a story weakness in the omission of Blue Jay from the dialogue and action. However, I hope that these reviews (such as they are) improve as I progress through the issues. I'll try to incorporate some of your suggestions along the way.

1/04/2006 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

See, but technically almost all of DC's big guns are 30s or 40s heroes, and if I was to have any of them using phrases they used back then I could make them look stupid. Put Superman on the team and have him exclaiming "Moons of Krypton, by Rao!" and he'd look like a total tool. Or if I had Batman yelling "Great Scott!" and grinning and cracking bad jokes while he fought, I could make him look dumb too. So to me, it makes no sense to selectively update some characters and keep them current but decide to portray other characters as outdated, especially since they are all from the same era. Take into account that Justice League was likely to be a big seller and would be many readers' first exposure to the Captain Marvel character, and it makes even less sense to portray him as such a tool. As you said, Cap was out of circulation for a while and needed reintroduction to fandom, so why reintroduce him as a dweeb and cripple his chances in the new market right off the bat?

I think the writers just had an idea that they believed was cool, which was to highlight that Capt. Marvel was actually the mind of a boy in the body of an adult, and was play-acting at being grown up. But that's wrong. Captain Marvel, to me, works best when you portray him correctly, which is as a boy who actually becomes an adult, not only physically but also in intelligence and emotional maturity.

Lastly, I did pick up it was a commentary on how things have changed in the 40s, but thats just a lazy, amateurish commentary in my opinion. I mean, that's kind of an evident conclusion, right? Kind of like how so many people praise an arthouse movie for pointing out that WOW! politicians lie or GUESS WHAT? racism isn't nice. Such commentary is just lazy, obvious and uninspired in my opinion. I'd rather have seen the real Captain Marvel interacting with Guy Gardner and holding his own than seeing a guy acting like a dorky 40s teenager in a grown man's body.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but to see a good recent example of Cap Marvel done right, I recommend Winick's recent Superman/Elipso/Cap Marvel storyline from last year (awful story, but good Captain Marvel characterization).

1/05/2006 08:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This series actually inspired to go out and get my own copies (god bless ebay). These comics never appealed to me when I was younger but they do stand the test of time.

-Hutchimus Prime

1/10/2006 11:56:00 AM  

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