Friday, August 25, 2006

comics! wolverine and JLA!

Only two comics this week, although my nemesis Pepito just recently returned from an exclusive tour of Europe and the subcontinent, so I'll doubtless be rooting through a pile of poop sometime soon.

In the meantime, I bought Justice League of America #1 and the latest issue of Wolverine. Both were meticulously well-done (fantastic artwork in both cases), and both irritated the piss out of me.

Wolverine #45, written by Marc Guggenheim and drawn by Humberto Ramos, is a Civil War tie-in, and I confess I bought it because the cover showed Wolverine duking it out with the Sub-Mariner, and Namor fascinates me these days. Not only does he LOOK like DC's Black Adam, but nowadays, with Namor having no ongoing title of his own, he's being WRITTEN like Black Adam - not a super-villain, but something much rarer in the comics world: a powerful badass who just doesn't happen to AGREE with the normal way super-heroes act.

Never bought an issue of Wolverine in my life. As many of you might already know, the character as he's always written torques me off no end. The pinnacle of that torsion had to be that John Romita Jr.-illustrated storyline a few years back where the writer (the perp's name escapes me at the moment) had a mind-controlled Wolverine take on - and BEAT - the frickin Fantastic Four.

This issue isn't as bad as that. But almost.

Guggenheim is a really good writer, and Ramos is a great artist, better all the time. And that keeps the issue interesting, well worth the offensive $3 price tag. I was brought up to speed quick: Nitro, the super-villain whose explosion killed Namorita and started the whole Civil War, has been hunted down by Namor's operatives. But Wolverine wants to know who was supplying Nitro with the drugs he was high on when he detonated, so he's in the odd position of needing to defend the guy against the Atlanteans. As this issue opens, that pits him against Namor himself, and that's where I started to get irritated.

I want you to picture something along with me. Picture yourself pitted in combat against a little toddler, a toddler who just a month ago learned to walk. This toddler, despite his outward appearance, has years of combat experience - and to top it all off, he's got super-tough bones and two hands full of razor sharp knives.

In this scenario, you're a fully-grown male Navy SEAL.

Yep, you anticipate me. There is one, and I goddam mean only ONE way such a fight progresses. You are ONE HUNDRED TIMES stronger and faster than the toddler in question. There is NO CHANCE WHATSOEVER that the toddler will WIN the fight. There won't BE a fight.

Now guess what happens in issue #45?

On page 2, Wolverine a) takes a direct punch to the head and b) IN THE NEXT PANEL kicks the Sub-Mariner's feet out from under him.

That's just on Page 2. Not only would Namor's punch have blown Wolverine's eyeballs out of his head (bet they're a bitch to grow back, huh?), but Wolverine shouldn't be able to kick Namor's legs out from underneath him under any circumstances, even with a backhoe to help him out.

I mean, what's the POINT of having these characters in the first place, of endowing them with a rich continuous history, if you'll disregard it to make the little toddler look cool?

But I'm not sure the issue's ending doesn't bother me even more. Wolverine borrows a suit of armor from Iron Man to track Nitro to Atlantis (no attempt is made to explain why Iron Man doesn't just go himself, except that if he did, it would fuck this issue's storyline up the wazoo), where he fights Namor again and - surrealistically absurdly - comes even closer to being his equal. And then Wolverine has a change of heart and LEAVES Nitro to the Atlanteans. Knowing full well that they're going to torture him for a very, very long time before they kill him. Having been told of these methods by Iron Man.

So they both know about it. Iron Man and Wolverine know they're handing Nitro over to a society that'll TORTURE HIM TO DEATH.

That's my growing problem with the whole Civil War storyline: it's making half of all Marvel's super-heroes into SUPER-VILLAINS. The appeal Wolverine used to have was that he might kill people, but he had a code of ethics - that deep down, he was a super-hero. And Iron Man? OUR Iron Man, leaving a super-villain in the hands of people who he knows will torture him to death?
I find I don't mind the idea that Civil War might radically change everything in the Marvel universe forever. I find I can live with the idea that half our erstwhile heroes are now ... well, if not super-villains maybe then certainly something more complex than they were before.

Oddly enough, the thing that bothers me is that the 'bad' guys include not only Spider-Man but ... worst of all ... the Fantastic Four.

So we move across the aisle to DC for a much bigger event: Justice League of America #1! Written by fourth-rate hack novelist Brad Meltzer and drawn by the great, the mighty Ed Benes.

There's a lot going on in this issue, and a lot of it is wonderful. Meltzer gives us a very mature multi-layer narrative, the hands-down best part of which is the strand where we see Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman standing around in the Batcave discussing who they should invite to join the new League. Oh, how I wish we'd been given EVER so much more of that! It's wonderfully done - Batman obsessing about security issues, Superman exuding hope and inspiration, and Wonder Woman balancing it all out with tactical considerations.

From their deliberations, I'm gathering the new League's lineup will include at least Hal Jordan (a boring but predictable choice), Power Girl (an INSPIRED choice, if only for the interplay possible between her and Wonder Woman), Arsenal (mystifying, plain and simple - over in Outsiders, hasn't Arsenal been beaten up, tied up, throat-slit, chest-shot and just generally bitched-up by every single enemy they've faced?), Black Lightning (a welcome choice, not only a character with a rich history but also the very rare black super-hero who's not a pale imitation of some earlier white character) (but let's have his electrical powers substantially AMPED, shall we?), Vixen (a character with great potential, but still a fewkin lightweight), and Red Tornado (but a very altered version of the same, potentially not the same old boring android-striving-to-be-human yutz of old).

Alas, the rest of the issue ain't s'good.

There's Black Lightning's plotline, in which we learn that the old Flash villain is now an addict, addicted to Psycho-Pirate making him feel ecstatic. This bothers me because it links uncomfortabtly with Nitro over in Wolverine - so what, super-villains are now going to be drug addicts? But no HERO drug addicts (except maybe poor old Rex Tyler)?

And then there's Vixen's plotline. Urrgh, where to start? Actually, I'll start where the plotline starts - with Vixen, responding to a hand-written note, showing up at a bar for a BOOTY CALL. For some quickie-sex with the Question. Yeesh. So her code-name is Vixen, and she's Latina, and on top of that ... she's a drooling nympho. What's next, in the parade of stereotypes? She's got a brother upstate?

Then there's Arsenal's plotline, which is good in its own right but raises one HUGE question that Meltzer of course doesn't even acknowledge, let alone answer: why would you WANT Arsenal if, as the issue makes abundantly clear, Green Frickin Arrow is available? I mean, I'm all for new blood (Power Girl would be an inspired choice, as would Black Lightning), but why aren't we talking about re-assembling such core members as Green Arrow, Zatanna, SOME Flash, Martian Manhunter, etc?

And then there's Red Tornado's plotline, wherein the character's soul - ushered by Deadman (ALWAYS a pleasure to see, and a much brighter writer would have explored means of having HIM on the new team ... wouldn't THAT have been fun? DC's best character in 30 years ... why not at least try?) - eventually enters a genuine flesh-and-blood human body, although he gets to keep his powers. This bugged me less than other storylines - Red Tornado has needed re-defining for some time now, and this seems as good a start as any.

So, a hit-or-miss issue for me, but it might have worked OK, since it IS intelligently done and DOES leave the reader wanting a whole Hell of a lot MORE ... but no, I finished it with the pulpy feel of vomit in my mouth, and can you guess WHY?

YEP! The pages and pages of The Book of Fate, Meltzer's forthcoming novel ... pages that are tacked on at the end of the issue like a Cleveland whore's early-morning slurred demand of payment for service rendered.

So what are we supposed to think? That Meltzer demanded the pages appear, or he wouldn't write for the title? Or that the DC powers that be voluntarily appeased him, to woo his compliance? Either way, it's disgusting, and not just for the rank feeling of being manipulated.

No, the main reason it's disgusting is one not many comic fans will stomach easily, and that's the acknowledgement that they are children of a lesser god.

Comic book writers sometimes forget this and make inevitably disastrous forays into actual book-writing. They forget that nine-tenths of their comic book work is shouldered by the artists with whom they work - sequential art aimed at the eye does SO much of the work of words aimed at the brain. And so E.S! Maggin or Chris Claremont write novels fogged over with hyperbolic prose and phantom-limb longings for pictures that aren't there.

This is kin to the same thing. The only reason Meltzer writes a (very) decent Justice League issue is because he can't HACK it in any bigger leagues. He stoops to conquer, but in so doing (i.e. following up the issue with a frickin novel-excerpt), he gives ample sighting of his wide fat bum.

Don't get me wrong - comics these days are producing some mighty fine writers. What bugs me here are the one or two who have stupid, condescending ulterior motives for writing comics ... so my question is: is Meltzer in or out? I wouldn't have asked before this issue's noxious excerpt-inclusion, but I'm asking now.

Still, no matter how any of that works out, I was pleased to see the new JLA launched with such multi-layered intelligence. Let's hope DC's other, even more venerable flagship team title, Justice Society, is launched with equal care.

1 comment:

justie said...

We should keep hearing the successive "NOs" from each new member added regarding Supergirl. And, uh, is a MAYOR really going to haul his Spike TV personality out of the city he's supposed to be running and into space?