Friday, January 17, 2014

Why I Won't Be Buying Justice League United

By all rights, I should be excited about Justice League United. I correctly guessed back in August J'Onn J'Onzz would be moving to Canada, and was all for it. I've never been blown away by Jeff Lemire (and outright hated his Atom serial,) but he's a popular and respected writer I've been entertained by. I've previously mentioned that Mike McKone is one of my all-time favorite Martian Manhunter artists. I'm rather pleased that he's having none of that extraneous alien crap on J'Onn's head seen throughout the New 52, and he's using a clean, iconic chest symbol instead of that ridiculous flowery thing David Finch had some other aesthetically-challenged people drawing. This is a solid creative team.

Looking to the line-up, there's some swell people for the Martian Manhunter to interact with. Supergirl is one of my favorite DC heroes, and she has history with the Alien Atlas dating back to 1968, though their most memorable encounter was in 1977 (with fun shared villainy in 1980.) For some reason, I just get a bigger kick from the Martian Marvel interacting with the Maid of Might over the Man of Steel. Animal Man hosted possibly the finest Sleuth from Outer Space guest appearance in his first volume, where J'Onzz told Buddy Baker how much he wanted the animal rights activist in the League because of the importance of what he represented. It's swell that they'll be serving together on the same team. I also like when J'Onn J'Onzz interacts with his fellow 1950s sci-fi heroes, which is surprisingly uncommon, and Adam Strange is the archetypal example of that DC staple. I even prefer Adam's redesign here over the one from a few years, even if he does look like the 1987 Lazer Tag champion and/or one of Captain Power's Soldiers of the Future. No flies on this lot.

I'm not buying it. I mean, literally, I most likely will not purchase this monthly comic book. The reason why is that I can't seem to take pleasure in DC Comics and their universe anymore. I've always bought DC books, but I really got into them in the early '90s, investing emotionally, intellectually, and financially into their line. In the case of the Martian Manhunter, my discontent began around 1999, when I found myself greatly disliking his solo series despite having previously been a fan of the work of chief creators John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. Heading into the '00s, the culture of the company slowly began to change in a way that alienated me. Infinite Crisis was a major turning point, as power within the company shifted to new hands, and its output geared further away from my interests. After having unhappily followed the '98 series for three years, I only gave a 2006 mini-series that promised to radically revise the Martian Manhunter one issue to hook me, and it failed. I kept cutting back on my DC purchases, and became ever choosier in which Manhunter appearances I bothered to pick up. When J'Onn J'Onzz was killed in the first issue of Final Crisis just two years later, I felt a bittersweet relief, hoping the character would return someday to be handled better. His death lasted little more than a year, when he returned in classic form, and I spent a year buying his middling appearances in the bi-weekly series Brightest Day. Whatever grand plans there may have been to spin titles out of that maxi-series were aborted in favor of the line wide reboot, the New 52.

I spent most of 2011 failing spectacularly to guess DC's plans for the Manhunter from Mars. No solo series ever materialized, but I was very enthusiastic about the possibilities that came with his joining Stormwatch as part of that team's integration from Wildstorm continuity. Unfortunately, the book was garbage, which I once blamed on writer Paul Cornell, until I started watching Doctor Who and realized that he was one of the finest members of their screenwriting stable. The title went through creative turnovers until the Martian Manhunter arbitrarily left the team book after only a year, realizing not one iota of my hopes for his time there.

Late in 2012, Justice League of America was announced, and I gave Martian Manhunter's possible interactions with his new teammates a lot of thought. I was still energized by the potential of the New 52. J'Onn was on a rival Justice League whose book would host a new Manhunter solo strip! Unfortunately, the strip was handicapped by a gimmick of tying into the lead story of each issue, which was produced by an entirely different creative team, and likely only existed to justify charging a dollar more than standard books in DC's line. Further, the title's hot artist left after something like three issues, and the superstar writer bolted a few months later. I stopped reading a comic I continued paying $4 a month for, including a six part, three book crossover event. The team behind the Martian Manhunter strip was supposed to take over the book for a five month solo/spotlight arc, but that ultimately became a team-up with Stargirl used to spin the titles' wheels as a separate event mini-series by the former lead creative team played out, and art chores deteriorated into catch as catch can. I read the first Forever Evil tie-in, was unimpressed, and continue to lightly skim/toss through further issues in the story arc, just as I had in my final months buying Stormwatch.

At this point, I'm simply all out of love. Justice League United might be awesome, but for how long? Mike McKone isn't a monthly artist, so he'll hopefully at least make it through the initial arc before being replaced. Jeff Lemire is increasingly in demand, and he only lasted nine issues on his previous team book. Justice League of America launched with over fifty variant covers and mounds of hype, but in retrospect only existed to set up the "Trinity War" event, and has now fallen to pieces. I have no real reason to expect the new book to last a year, and if I still want it then, I can buy a trade paperback. Even if Jeff Lemire had substantial plans for the Manhunter, there's no guarantee the next editorial mandate won't quash them, or that Lemire won't up and sign an exclusive deal with Image Comics before the debut issue even sees print. The New 52 is defined by fickle impermanence, so I can't motivate myself to commit to purchasing any of its product on a periodical basis. I've been burned so often, I wouldn't even want to place a bet on Justice League United coming out in a recognizable form at all. I won't. I call enough on these shenanigans, and expect to draw the line at never mind.


Count Drunkula said...

+1 your whole position.

Omega Agent1 said...

Looks like DC's version of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Anj said...

And here I was thrilled that you and I could have monthly review comparisons.

Like you, I enjoy Kara and J'Onn hanging out.

Anyways, I completely understand your opinion. DC is struggling massively right now with only a couple of books being very enjoyable for me.

I'll probably get the book because Kara is in it and will let you know if your worries are justified.

Joe Slab said...

"The New 52 is defined by fickle impermanence"

An apt & concise summary. I won't be buying it either. It seems like more "throw it against the wall & see if it sticks" fireplace-kindling like 2/3 of DC current output.

will_in_chicago said...

Frank, I find myself following the characters I care about and pick up some comics when I am moved.

I think that J'Onn has not been harmed by the New 52, but neither has it done all that much for him. I do like the line up of Justice League United. One reason I think that the Maid of Steel works well in a pairing with J'Onn is that both lived on the alien worlds that they called home and got to know its culture before its passing. (In the case of J'Onn, he experienced more of his culture than Kara Zor-El did of hers, but there are parallels.)

Stormwatch did not serve J'Onn well and could have been titled the Midnighter and Apollo show. J'Onn's most significant presence in Stormwatch was in leaving the team -- and it showed he does care.

I am not sure how much DC knows about characters like J'Onn or many of the other characters. However, I know that for some people, the changes in the DCnU has not increased their love of comics but has created the opposite of love. Not hate, as that is still a passion, but apathy.

I don't know what the future holds for DC or J'Onn, but I hope that you do plan to keep this blog going.

LissBirds said...

I feel pretty much the same way, but I'll probably buy the first issue because I'm a sucker for punishment. Maybe I've just reached the point where I think "how could they make it any worse?"

I'm intrigued by the Adam Strange costume redesign--it's actually not half bad. (Looks a LOT like the 2009 Buck Rogers costume, though.) It's the only costume here that I like. (Not a fan of Supergirl's at all.)

You're spot-on about the "fickle impermanence." It always feels like they're making things up as they go, which is just poor planning.

So--how much longer until comics as we know them are completely and utterly reborn into a new medium? If at all? New 52 always felt like DC's death throes to me. I'm waiting for them to hit rock bottom and get rebuilt.

Diabolu Frank said...

There is no rebuild. DC Entertainment will consolidate to California. The line will gradually shrink down to a core dozen or so titles, and then publishing will cease altogether. Superman, Batman, and whatever else Warners want to keep running for R&D will be available for digital download. Otherwise, the former DC Universe will be IP for the other divisions to mine. The end.