Monday, August 27, 2012

...of America

I got an email from Anj of Supergirl Comic Box Commentary today reading, "Weird lineup. Some potential... Can't wait to hear what you have to say." Seeing as this news generated more emails than than any other I can recall, there's a lot of excitement about J'Onn J'Onzz returning to a new Justice League of America...
"DC Comics announced at the DC Entertainment-All Access Sunday panel at Fan Expo Toronto that a new League will be forming.

Launching in 2013, DC Comics will publish a new ongoing comic book series, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by David Finch."

"This is a very different kind of team book,” says Geoff Johns. “On first glance, people might think the heroes of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA stand in the shadows of Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the JUSTICE LEAGUE, but Green Arrow, Katana, Martian Manhunter, the new Green Lantern, Stargirl, Vibe, Hawkman and Catwoman thrive in the shadows. They're underdogs who have everything to prove and something to lose. They're a team of unlikely heroes who will help one another discover they're as A-List as anybody -- yes, even Vibe. Though getting there won't be easy. Why they're formed, why each member joins, what they're after and who the society of villains is they're trying to take apart will all be clear in the first issue when it hits early 2013. David and I are really focused on delving deep into what it's like to not be a member of the big seven and why, sometimes, the grass isn't always greener on the other side."
I'm guessing the timing of the announcement has something to do with all the anti-DC press generated this week by Rob Liefeld's twitter antics and Judd Winick's stealthier departure from the company. Sunday morning in Canada? Anyway, I like seeing J'Onn with a more ragtag lot working outside the spotlight. The Patron Saint of Loser Super-Heroes is preferable as the Superman of a lesser League, and there's a much broader latitude for character dynamics once you get away from the icons. I was very disappointed that the Martian Manhunter was left out as a JLA founder in this continuity, and I was among the many fans deflated when he didn't even make the International one (a blessing, given that title was axed to ready this one's launch.

That having been said, once it was revealed that J'Onn would be the sole DC representative on the recreated Wildstorm team Stormwatch, I was swiftly won over by the potential of the hero taking part in an international clandestine group of protagonists freshly introduced to new readers. The Sleuth from Outer Space could have been at the flashpoint of the merging of two distinct continuities, a guide through the marriage of DC to WS. One year, three writers and more artists later, Stormwatch remains a complete mess of watered down Wildstorm material hovering on the fringes, less wedded than a groomsman and bridesmaid having a drunken tryst in the bathroom after the ceremony. Editorial is clearly still working in the background to integrate Wildstorm, and elements will surely come into play in the new Justice League of America title. It just isn't the same proposition though, although I couldn't help but notice similarities to an entirely different one...

...The 2007 incarnation of the Outsiders that never was. Martian Manhunter, Katana and Catwoman were all initially announced as members, then Green Arrow was offered as a replacement for Captain Boomerang Junior. As many as three completed issues featuring this team are probably still sitting unpublished in a drawer somewhere, as new creators were brought in to start from scratch on another line-up (although all four New 52 JLofA members figured into early issues anyway.) I was interested in that Outsiders volume at the time, since that has always been a thrown together assortment of character types that could only be classed up by recruiting from the b-list. For a Justice League though, that's a rather anorexic line-up. There's no way I'm buying that this exact group will still be in place by the twelfth issue of the series. Instead, we have a strawman group created specifically as a tie-in to the 2013 crossover event "The Trinity War," a rather inorganic development.

Frankly, this lot has the faint aroma of hubris. Geoff Johns is in Midas mode after his success on Aquaman, but his upcoming early departure from that book and the Barry Allen Flash reminds me of the sort of thing that turned off the fan bases of serial relaunch abandoners like John Byrne. You have to wonder if Johns thinks he's going to point to the bleachers and actualize Vibe: Rebirth for a fellow Detroit native, or make Katana DC's Michonne. Johns set up the least unsuccessful Hawkman series, lasting 66 issues (16 as Hawkgirl, and more issues were produced after his and Rags Morales' departure than have encompassed any previous run.) Geoff Johns' JLA story arc from shortly before that title's cancellation also managed to squeeze in an incongruous Catwoman, not to mention featuring this team's first scheduled foes, The Secret Society of Super-Villains. Baz is the new Arab-American Green Lantern created by the half-Lebanese Johns, and Stargirl was modeled after his deceased sister. Such a random, commercially dubious selection feels like fanfic or an unchecked ego, especially for a League team.

Geoff Johns has basically made Steve Trevor the Nick Fury of DC Comics, which is a lot better than Sarge Steel or Alan Scott, especially for Steve. He might have been a seriously emotionally abusive boyfriend (mostly under Bob Kanigher in the Silver Age,) but a good chunk of the Wonder Woman catalog pivots on characters dumping on the Amazing Amazon. Trevor was a pretty empowering dude in distress during the Golden Age, and I thought he was alright in the Bronze, but George Perez rendered him thoroughly toxic Post-Crisis by making him twice Diana's age and marrying him off to the equally sidelined Etta Candy. Trevor proxies started popping up in recent years though, so a full scale revival was long overdue. It actually suits him to be the weakest link background organizer here, and as a well known supporting player amidst the general public, he deserves all the recent attention. This League is run by S.H.I.E.L.D. A.R.G.U.S., who are dangling the individual carrots motivating each hero to join. Per Johns, "You’ll see why they’re selected, and why this team is going to give the real Justice League a run for its money, because the relationships in this team are going to be incredibly significant," Johns said. "There’s going to be a real learning curve with all the teams, but has the benefit of a true leader in Steve Trevor. Steve Trevor has a heart and soul that’s going to bring these characters that, on first glance, might not ever gel — what does Stargirl ever have in common with Catwoman? How’s that going to work?"

Vibe and Katana are Bronze Age babies, and somehow never managed to mix it up before. If the Martian Manhunter turns out to be the team's frontman, I expect them to fall in line well with his style. Where Catwoman would chafe under most major heroes' leadership, I think J'Onn has enough respect for autonomy and disregard for material gains (under victimless circumstances) to suit her. Stargirl is going to feel off outside the JSA, but after mentoring Gypsy and Jenny Quantum, could end up another surrogate K'hym (as Johns promises she'll have lots of interaction with J'Onzz.) The really interesting tension for me as a long time reader though is the Satellite Era trinity of Hawkman, Green Arrow and a Green Lantern. I find it ironic that Brad Meltzer threw J'Onn off his Bronzey League for a lack of presence during that eras, only for him to return amidst this lot. There was a weird dynamic in which Ollie kind of seemed to hero worship J'Onn, who seemed to ignore him. Meanwhile, J'Onzz had an extraterrestrial bind with Katar Hol, but also a nasty tendency to smack him around, and tended to get on better with Shayera. A deep animosity toward Green Lanterns was established in the Martian Manhunter series, and it's not like Hal, John or Guy were ever exactly cuddle buddies. Ollie and Katar tended to clash, and there's no telling what Baz will bring to the table. Then of course there's the SSoSV, who I've always loved, but have never been significant to the Manhunter from Mars. Might we see an actual member of the Vile Menagerie throw in with them? Don't tease me!

The bloom is definitely off the rose with regard to my appreciation of Geoff Johns, and I have my issues with the idiosyncrasies of David Finch. That said, Johns has previously demonstrated a solid handle on the Sleuth from Outer Space that would be welcome, and I enjoy Finch's Manhunter far more than Jim Lee's (although I think Lee came up with a solid redesign.) I'm definitely coming into this thing neutral (especially at a presumed $3.99 price point,) but the fact that I'll try it at all shows I have some sincere hope that this will be worthwhile. I've been terribly disappointed so far by the New 52 so far, and it would be nice if this turned out to be a saving grace instead of a final straw. It doesn't hurt that Johns states "And then there’s things we’re going to do, like Martian Manhunter, we really want to set him up as one of the most, not just powerful, but also influential characters in the DC Universe, and you don’t even know it - there’s a lot to be revealed about that."


Anj said...

There were two parts of your post that struck home with me.

One is the hubris bit. It is as if Johns/Finch are saying 'we are so great, we will make even this bizarre team a best seller'. It almost seems like they threw darts at Who's Who pages. Why would J'Onn want to lead this bunch of (mostly) hotheads? I suppose Stargirl is the one that sticks out like a sore thumb. Why is she there other than the fact she is one of Geoff John's favorites.

The other was the fact that this is clearly borne from the Trinity War, a crossover I have little interest in.

I used to like Finch's art, but his style has become more warped and warped. It feels like he is trying to out-Finch himself.

Luke said...

Maybe I am just more prone, but save for Catwoman this book seems right up my alley. I like the writer, the artist looks like he should be interesting visually, the cast is strong (save for the aforementioned Catwoman and the ? that is Baz), and the concept sounds like a good story engine.

I'm seeing a run akin to Johns' time on JSA, which will be just fine with me and just perfect for DC, I imagine.

I hope that former Brightest Day mates Martian Manhunter and Hawkman can have some time to build a quality working friendship. This is something I am really hoping to see, personally.

aota said...

I had really high hopes for the Outsiders with J'onn on the team but nothing ever came of it. This book looks very interesting the team is very diverse but I think that will make for great story telling. I hope that J'onn will become a great mentor for Stargirl. Also I hope when he leaves the team that he doesn't mind wipe everyone again.

will_in_chicago said...

There is much that I like about this title. The team is diverse, if perhaps in need of a few more heavy hitters. I think that J'Onn may be the voice of reason on the team and often leading missions. I think that not having J'Onn under the shadow of Superman is wise. Too often, J'Onn has been made a jobber while at others Superman has been worried about fighting J'Onn. (So far in the new 52, J'Onn has proven that he can hold his own with the JLA.)

I have been very unimpressed with the current Justice League title where the team seems to be fractured and living off of its PR instead of competency. My hope is that this book will be a showcase for J'Onn and other characters. So far, my hopes for Stormwatch were dashed. The team seemed more functional than the JLA, but many of the characters are hard to like. (Midnighter trying to space Jenny Quantum was a bit mucn.) J'Onn largely had a few moments but was overshadowed by what largely seemed the Apollo and Midnighter show.)

I have many of the same concerns as you do, but I hope that the Alien Atlas gets the respect that he deserves.

will_in_chicago said...

So, one thing I noticed about J'Onn's new team is that it is underpowered in many areas and in magic in particular. Any good suggestions?

Also, is it me or has Justice League in the new DCnU suffered in that the portrayals of the characters have to be rather static? I hope that we will see characters grow and develop in the new JLA title?

Diabolu Frank said...

Will, I'm a super team segregationist. Something that has bugged me since the '90s is DC and Marvel lowering the standards of their premier super-teams to the point where every two-bit character has been a member. I love Doctor Strange, and he's surely powerful enough to be an Avenger, but why would I want him in the "New Avengers" after he's had decades of close association with the Defenders? I'm not fond of "Justice League Dark" as a concept, and it only drives me more nuts that John Constantine can be called a Leaguer. That serves neither the team nor Hellblazer well. That said, if America needs a mage, my natural inclination would be to at least attempt to keep it in the family of old, which is tricky with Dark claiming nearly everyone. It's hard to feel good about encouraging a Bloodwynd revival (sounds like a relapse or chronic affliction,) so how about Blue Devil?