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JLA #107

April 10, 2012 Leave a comment

November 8, 2004

Quick Rating: Good
Title: Maintenance Day (Syndicate Rules Part One)

The Justice League is taking a day for general maintenance, unaware of a growing threat from another world.

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Pencils: Ron Garney
Inks: Dan Green
Colors: David Baron
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Art: Ron Garney
Publisher: DC Comics

I’m a little biased here, I’ll admit that up front. New writer Kurt Busiek is one of my favorite scribes working in comics today, and moreso, this is a title in serious need of improvement. The book hasn’t been good on a consistent basis since Mark Waid’s all-too-short tenure ended nearly 40 issues ago.

As the issue opens, the JLA is basically spending the day doing preventative maintenance. Several of them are keeping their eyes on the Cosmic Egg that contains a new universe ready to hatch. (This egg, of course, was a leftover from Busiek’s JLA/Avengers crossover, although he has to be careful never to mention any copyrighted properties of that other publisher by name.) As they do that, Martian Manhunter and The Flash do their regular sweep of various contacts around the globe, making sure no crisis demand their attention, and pay a visit to an old menace they have in containment.

Right off the bat Busiek is doing one of the things I think he, along with writers like Waid and Geoff Johns, do incredibly well. He picks up on the history of the League, tapping into old stories to create the new. Some readers may find things a bit daunting, but the particular threat that occupies our two heroes this issue (although not the main threat of this story arc) is one even I was unfamiliar with, but Busiek gives us everything we need to know to comprehend the story.

Ron Garney’s art is usually very good, but it appears somewhat unfinished here. Just as the last six issues, released biweekly, looked as though he rather raced through them, so did this first issue with his new writer. There’s nothing really bad about the artwork, but it’s not as strong as anyone who has seen his Captain America run knows he’s capable of. It’s possible he just needs time to rest and then get back onto a normal monthly schedule.

After a truly abysmal last story arc (which, admittedly, started with a strong first issue then spiraled into cliché and tedium), this issue is a breath of fresh air. Busiek has said he wants to join the small club of writers who has had long tenures writing both the Justice League and the Avengers. Hopefully this issue is just the start of great things to come.

Rating: 7/10

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Trials of Shazam! #2

December 15, 2011 Leave a comment

September 25, 2006

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Grounded

The Trials begin!

Writer: Judd Winick
Art: Howard Porter
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Art: Howard Porter
Publisher: DC Comics

Last issue, things changed for Billy Batson. This issue, we check in on the rest of the Marvel Family. Those of you who have worried about Mary since Brave New World, this issue we find out her fate. But the real focus is on Freddy Freeman, the young man who once was Captain Marvel, Jr., and who now has no power at all.

Billy and Freddy meet and we learn a lot about what’s happened – how Billy has changed and what it means for the rest of the Marvels. This issue really changes the focus of the entire property – even the title of the miniseries has a new significance by the end. Judd Winick is doing a lot more than just updating the Marvels for the 21st century, he’s changing them from the ground-up. He’s doing it so well, though, that even a lifelong fan of the Big Red Cheese like myself can’t really get upset. Change is only bad when it doesn’t make sense. The changes in this issue… they fit.

Speaking of changes, let’s talk again about Howard Porter’s cracking new art style. Porter’s art, which appears to be some form of digital painting, give this book a style unseen elsewhere on the shelves. This is very much its own series, both in art and story, and it’s all to the good.

There isn’t much else I can say – this issue is majorly spoiler-laden. But if you enjoyed issue #1, you’ll be happy to know this issue keeps the story going in the right direction.

Rating: 8/10

JLA #103

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

August 7, 2004

Quick Rating: Below Average
Title: Emerald Warrior (Pain of the Gods Part Three)

Green Lantern’s failure threatens to send him over the edge… again!

Writer: Chuck Austen
Pencils: Ron Garney
Colors: David Baron
Letters: Jared Fletcher
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Art: Ron Garney
Publisher: DC Comics

In case you’ve missed JLA #101-103, allow me to sum them up for you: Hero fails to save somebody. Hero overreacts as though this has never happened before. Hero’s teammates remind him that he can’t save everyone. Repeat. Same thing three times in a row, it’s just a different member of the Justice League each time.

This time it’s Green Lantern’s turn. When he hears cries for help from two different directions and can only go in one, he has to live with the consequences of what happens to the situation he had to turn away from. The problem is… it’s all been done before. Last issue. And the issue before. And hundreds of times before that. John Stewart is someone who has had to deal with the guilt of an entire planet being destroyed because he was too cocky to take his job seriously. Are we really supposed to accept he’s going to go off the deep end because he’s forced to choose who to save while being as responsible as any hero possibly could?

And he doesn’t just go off the deep end, he goes nuts, and almost causes another tragedy in the process. He’s been in the superhero game too long to behave like this. One could almost accept this storyline with a brand-new character (it would still be a cliché, but at least it would be more in-character), but not with someone who’s been fighting the good fight and dealt with as much as John.

Even Ron Garney, who is a fine artist in his own right, isn’t quite up to speed in this issue. His pencils took a bit rushed, and I’m forced to wonder how long he had to put out the six parts of this bi-weekly storyline. (Apparently, waiting an entire month for each issue would have been a disaster because we may have forgotten we’ve already read that story.)

Considering how surprisingly good the first issue of this story arc was, this has rapidly become a major disappointment, and next issue’s installment, featuring the Martian Manhunter, doesn’t give me a lot of reason to believe it will be much better.

But at least there was no burning building in this one.

Rating: 4/10

Trinity #2

December 5, 2011 Leave a comment

June 12, 2008

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: A Personal Best at Robot Smashing & It’s Gonna Throw the Car

The members of the Trinity face a bizarre attack – and so does one of their teammates.

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Art Thibert
Colors: Pete Pantazis
Writers (Second Story): Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza
Artists (Second Story): Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher
Colors (Second Story): Allen Passalaqua
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Art: Carlos Pacheco
Publisher: DC Comics

As the three members of the Trinity return to their respective homes, each of them is faced with an unexpected challenge. A miniature solar system (including a familiar-looking sun) is threatening Superman’s Metropolis, Batman’s Gotham City has been plunged into another century entirely, and Wonder Woman has to stop a group of giant fighting robots from destroying Washington, DC. But what does any of this have to do with Morgaine Le Fay’s “anti-Trinity” and the mysterious dreams that afflict them?

While the first issue of the new weekly focused on bringing the three heroes together, issue two shows each of them dealing with a threat in their own style. What makes this work is that Busiek gets a chance to show us the real difference between our three heroes and how they handle a threat. There’s a nice little scene between Wonder Woman and Superman as well, which is also needed. As the least-popular member of the trinity (let’s be honest here), it really helps to remind us not only how capable she is, but how much respect she commands from her friends.

Mark Bagley’s artwork, of course, is as cool and polished as ever, although I do think his Superman looks a little too young. It’s a small complaint, however, and once I can easily live with.

In just two issues, the function of the second story in each issue has become clear: it’s not merely a space-filler, but a chance to show scenes that are relevant to the main plot, but that don’t feature our three heroes. This issue, we see Green Lantern John Stewart facing the bizarre double-threat of Konvikt and Graak. In terms of plot development, the most interesting thing here is that apparently they are of a species that John’s ring doesn’t recognize. Mostly, though, it’s just an action scene, but a good one. Tom Derenick’s artwork makes this second story look leaps and bounds above the artwork last week, which also helps quite a bit.

I also need to take just a second to point out how cool the naming convention of this series is – apparently each story will take its title from an amusing or pertinent snippet of dialogue. I dunno, I just think that’s neat.

Two issues down and fifty to go, but so far, this has been a really strong story. Busiek and Bagley have made legendary comics together in the past, and it looks like they’re on the right path to do it again.

Rating: 8/10

JLA Classified #5

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

March 19, 2005

Quick Rating: Great
Title: Yadda Yadda Yadda Yadda (I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League Part Two)

The Superbuddies make nice with their new neighbor… and one of them makes a big mistake.

Writers: Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Kevin Maguire
Inks: Joe Rubinstein
Colors: David Baron
Letters: Bob Lappan
Editor: Steve Wacker & Michael Carlin
Cover Art: Kevin Maguire
Publisher: DC Comics

The return of the Superbuddies continues unabated! God help us all.

Guy Gardner, opening a new bar next door, meets with his former teammates about this new enterprise. In inimitable Guy fashion, he takes an opportunity to put moves on the young and innocent… in this case, Mary Marvel. Meanwhile, Mary gets into a fight with her brother, Captain Marvel, about her sharing an apartment with Fire, Ralph continues to suffer from the misapprehension that Sue is pregnant, Maxwell Lord sends Blue Beetle to try to lure Power Girl back to the team, and in an act of unrivaled foolishness, Booster Gold goes exploring.

I must say, I think this issue is a step up even from last issue, which I thought was pretty darn good. There’s some genuine character development here for Guy (of all people), and while there are some moments where Mary goes so far into the “sweet and innocent” routine as to become a caricature of herself, the writers come back and show real toughness out of her to balance it out. People wondering what happened to Captain Atom will get an answer this issue, and the dialogue is as crisp, funny and perfectly paced as ever.

Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein come back for more of their stellar artwork. There isn’t much action in this issue, but that’s fine – it’s predominantly a comedy and doesn’t need a lot of punching and explosions (although there’s plenty of promise of that sort of thing coming up in this story arc). It isn’t easy to time a joke just right in a comic book, but he handles it with all of the skill and wit that he ever has. And how could you write even a paragraph about the artwork in this book without commenting about Maguire’s skill at facial expressions? He may well be the best face artist in superhero comics.

I loved the classic Justice League with this art team, I loved the Formerly Known As miniseries, and I’m loving this arc as well. This is a real winner.

Rating: 9/10

Identity Crisis #4

August 7, 2011 Leave a comment

September 17, 2004

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Very Good

Sue Dibney… Jean Loring… who’s next?

Writer: Brad Meltzer
Pencils: Rags Morales
Inks: Michael Bair
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Kenny Lopez
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Art: Michael Turner
Publisher: DC Comics

This issue of Identity Crisis gives us a little bit of downtime. It’s mostly a building issue, centered on the least exciting but most important part of any mystery – gathering the clues and examining the suspects. Atom stumbles onto the scene of the latest attack, on his ex-wife Jean Loring. With the realization that the murder of Sue Dibney wasn’t an isolated incident, the heroes go into overdrive to trace down the clues and find the killer before he… or she… or they… strike again.

Although Green Arrow remains our viewpoint character for much of this issue, as he usually has in this series, we get to spend more time with the rest of our cast. Superman and Batman each get more “screentime,” Green Arrow pays a visit to an old friend, and we get more about the strange home life of Captain Boomerang. That’s probably the most telling scene in the issue – you’d have to be a dunce not to expect Boomerang to become vitally important by the time this series ends, because there’s simply no other explanation for spending so much time on him.

Perhaps the most effective scene is a simple interrogation where Ollie and Wonder Woman pay a visit to a b-list villain who may have answers. What makes it so effective, though, is that Diana is never fully seen in the issue – just bits and pieces of her. It makes her more imposing, more threatening, and that’s what she needs to be here.

Whether that’s a writer’s decision or an artistic choice I don’t know, but either way it works big time, as does the rest of Rags Morales’s art. My only real complaint earlier is Morales’s portrayal of Superman. It’s still uneven, but some scenes are quite good.

I suspect, as relatively quiet as this issue is, it will probe to be the most important to unraveling the secret of this mystery. The story goes everywhere and a real ton of information is imparted – plus it sheds light on many, many members of our cast. And the kicker is the last page, another shocker which may not be as immediate as the last few issues, but nevertheless sends the stakes much, much higher.

At seven issues, this issue marks the halfway point of this crossover. And I’m already prepared to call it the best crossover DC has done since the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Rating: 8/10

Justice League Elite #1

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

July 18, 2004

Quick Rating: Fair
Title: Grand Experiment

Vera Black is leading the newest branch of the Justice League… who will make the team?

Writer: Joe Kelly
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Tom Nguyen
Colors: David Baron
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Art: Doug Mahnke
Publisher: DC Comics

Spinning out of the tumultuous events of JLA #100, Vera Black begins assembling a new special task force of the Justice League… the sort of shadowed, invisible force that doesn’t exist on paper or in any computer file, the sort of force that can go places other forces cannot, get hands dirtier than the bright heroes are allowed, and get out without leaving a trace. Vera Black is assembling the Justice League Elite.

I’m not really a fan of this concept, to be brutally honest. I like the League to be the best and brightest, the shining examples, and while I suppose there is a certain tactical logic to them having a black ops team, that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it. The whole thing reminds me too much of the failed splinter group Extreme Justice from a few years ago, only darker.

To give credit where credit it due, Kelly has a few nice ideas in this issue. He comes up with a clever method to send an Elite member deep undercover, and he surprises us early with major consequences for a certain character.

I was a big fan of Doug Mahnke during his run on Superman: The Man of Steel, but somehow that style didn’t work as well when brought over to JLA. I must admit, it’s a much better fit for this darker comic. His style does have a gritty look to it, but it’s still too bold to fit well on a hardcore crime comic like Gotham Central. This title seems to be the perfect balance for him, although he’s also been shown to do good work on more science fiction-oriented titles.

This is the first issue of a 12-issue miniseries, and that would seem to indicate Kelly has a definite arc in mind. As this is mostly a “gathering of forces” issue, we only get a few fleeting hints of where the story might eventually lead. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll want to follow it and see where it goes. Personally, I’ll just keep my fingers crossed in anticipation of Kurt Busiek taking over JLA.

Rating: 6/10