Saturday, January 13, 2007
Comics! 52, GLC, and JSA!
A comics-heavy time here at Stevereads, and it's Elmo who's to blame! Every three or four days, he slips me a small package of comics, and every such package manages to have stuff demanding to be written about. This time, it was just three issues - but they were three issues of such joy-inducing merit that we here at Stevereads can't let them pass in silence, even though some of you are, you know, girls, and so not interested in comics (especially with Kevin out there earnestly recommending crap).
Our first issue under consideration is the latest issue of 52, a rip-snortin hootenanny of an issue mainly due to DC's most consistently hilarious character, Lobo. The fun is increased here because in this series we've been presented with a Lobo who's convinced himself that he's converted to pacifism - we readers have known all along what a running joke that was, and in this issue it all comes crashing down.
In this issue Lobo and Starfire and Animal Man are brought into the presence of our new cosmic super-villain, the Lady Styx. Lobo's pretended to be turning the other two in for a bounty (in order to get them all inside Lady Styx's lair), but when he demands it, what he gets isn't to his liking one little bit. She tells him (through interpreters, of course) that he's not getting any bounty, that he AND his supposed prisoners are going to be chopped up into chuckroast and FED to her.
The killer part is that even that isn't enough to tip him over the edge. Sure, the idea of being served for brunch irritates him, but it's the final taunt that really gets to him:
"She says ... she says your god's ... gulp ... a big, fat prancing coward who licks his own! Just ... just like you, main man!"
Naturally, right after that follows a whole heaping LOT of decapitations. Lobo informs our villainess that he killed everybody on his homeworld AND Santa Claus (this last is true and hilariously so - the issue where Santa gets his smackdown is, quite possibly, the comic book comic highlight of the last quarter-century), and he proceeds to basically hurl her into a Sun-Eater.
There were other interesting parts of the issue, don't mistake: Animal Man DIES, for instance, and more importantly, we all get a GLORIOUS four-page demonstration that there should be a monthly Power Girl comic, and that it should be drawn by Adam Hughes. Not OUR Adam Hughes, who's perhaps the slowest comic book penciller in the entire world (we surely don't know any OTHER candidates, do we Kevin?) - no, some altenate-universe Hughes who pencils one issue in the same amount of time it took Jack Kirby to do Fantastic Four, X-Men, Thor, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes, and Rawhide Kid. Every month. For years.
But the main attraction here is Lobo handled exactly as he should be - hilarious, over the top, and as a guest star (his regular monthly role in the otherwise-fantastic and severely underrated 'L.E.G.I.O.N.' series very nearly torpedoed it).
The second issue of our trio is the latest issue of 'Green Lantern Corps,' written for adults by Keith Champagne and drawn with weird, wonderful nuance by Patrick Gleason.
We here at Stevereads are as shocked as anybody by how much we love this title - and not just this one! 'Green Lantern' AND 'Guy Gardner' are every bit as great, constituting a genuine high-point renaissance in the whole mythos of Green Lantern.
The surprise-factor here comes from the fact that the whole Green Lantern concept has always left us fairly flat. The rings can do virtually anything, yah, yah - makes for convenient exposition in the odd Justice League issue, but beyond that? We never really got it.
Clear now what the problem has always been: Hal Jordan. Hal Jordan, the handsome, wavy-haired Wonderbread so-called 'greatest Green Lantern of 'em all.' I see now that the problems I've had with the whole Green Lantern concept have derived from my boredom with just this one individual guy.
The central Green Lantern concept, though, the idea of a galactic police force, is and always has been rock-solid (naturally so! It was stolen from an impeccable source, and the first of you to name it gets a fun gift in the mail! Shall we call it a Steve-prize?). For the first time, the concept of the Green Lantern Corps is being given the gritty, operatic, thrilling treatment it deserves.
'Green Lantern Corps' is, at least for this current Champagne/Gleason 'Dark Side of Green' story-arc, the hands-down best title DC is currently publishing. You should go to your nearest comics shop and buy both issues of this arc and savor them.
This issue features a deliciously hissable new villain who rips apart Green Lanterns like CD wrapping, and it also features Guy Gardner, who, when handled correctly (here and in Howard Chaykin's recent two-part mini-series, he's handled perfectly), is the ultimate antidote to Hal Jordan-style bland perfection: he's the Ben Grimm of DC comics, wonderfully flawed and brutishly heroic.
But as good as those two titles are, neither one of them holds a candle to the second issue of Geoff Johns' relaunch of 'Justice Society of America.'
It's a little disenheartening, actually, watching this title unfold with such amazing confidence and vigor while Brad Meltzer's Justice League relaunch continues to struggle in its own mire, going nowhere.
Still, pity only mutes so much, and it doesn't take a bit from this magnificent issue. In the first issue, we saw the Society trying to pull itself together after the events of the latest Crisis ... recruiting new members, undergoing a new, mysterious assault (so far on one of its potential recruits, the lamely-named but wonderfully-rendered Mr. America), and grappling with the mysteries of its own new members.
This issue has too many good things to enumerate - Hell, the artwork alone is worth an aria of praise, and there are lots of other factors in play. Johns' writing is sharp and note-perfect, and the action of the plot is convincingly moved along on multiple fronts. As noted, there's a sad, melancholy comparison to be made between this title and Brad Meltzer's efforts over in Justice League - in both books, a broken team must gather old and new members in the shadow of a growing threat. In JLA, the gathering takes a comically long time, and the threat is almost instantly mockable. In JSA, the new recruits are in place at the end of the first issue, and the threat - well, the threat here is twofold: Nazis (considering that this is the team that actually fought in DC's WWII, this is a delightful given)(although please, Powers That Be over at DC - give us a JSA book SET during the war! It's been more than 20 years since you did, and all us fans are wanting to see these great characters in their prime) and a nebulous approaching future threat.
'Future' being the key word. Because of course the, as Elmo would put it, pants-wettingly good 'big surprise' in this issue is the final-page revelation that our Cosmic Boy is THE Cosmic Boy, and not the version we know from the Legion of Super-Heroes but the adult version we all saw in the background of our most holy text, 'Kingdom Come.'
'Kingdom Come' of course being the fantastic 'imaginary story' of a future DC universe in which the super-heroes have retired from the world stage and super-powered anarchy reigns unchecked. That graphic novel stands as one of the six greatest superhero books ever made (and the single best portrait of Superman - in words and pictures - ever made, with the possible exception of 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?' by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, and George Perez). In this possible future, we glimpse this grown-up version of Cosmic Boy in the backgrounds, and maybe we wondered what his story was (disregarding, of course, whatever story was given in any of the million pages of 'Kingdom Come's supporting materials over the years and concentrating only on what's in the book itself).
This issue's final page introduces the mouth-watering prospect not only of Legion involvement but of dipping back into that potential future universe.
In short, 'Justice Society of America' is ripping forward on all cylinders! We shall certainly report on its next issue!
It's been brought to our attention here at Stevereads that our thoughtless omission of the patented Stevereads comics-quiz from our comic book posts caused consternation in certain quarters. In truth, we omitted it in order to give Kevin time to re-assemble the tattered shards of his dignity, but we see now that we must serve higher ends than the self-regard of one bosom friend! So here are a few puzzlers for you all!
First: well, it seems that serving in the Legion of Super-Heroes can be hazardous to your mental health! Cosmic Boy is of course the nutjob in question in the latest Justice Society, and here's our question: name three Legionaires who've pulled a nutty! Your only restrictions? A: it can't be FAKE insanity, and B: it can't, of course, be Brainiac 5, whose predilection for insanity has been a standard Legion plot-device since the Crimean War.
Second: for all its strengths, this latest issue of JSA contains one salient MISTAKE. Be the first to name it and win a Steve-prize!
Third: Speaking of the Legion, who among you can offer decipherments for the largest number of Cosmic Boy's cryptic utterances? One in this issue is easy as pie, two others not so much so - any takers?
In any case, many thanks to Elmo for providing this wonderful little batch of comics! We should all give thanks that he's not Pepito!