Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Justice League of America: Sanctuary (comics)

Writers: Alan Burnett, Dwayne McDuffie
Artists: Ed Benes, Ethan Van Sciver, Carlos Pacheco, Jon Boy Meyers
Collects: Justice League of America #17-21

First off, a pet peeve. I really friggin hate it when the issue numbers collected aren't listed anywhere on or in the collection in question. Guess which trade doesn't bother to tell us its contents. Yeah, sure, I can always look them up, but it still annoys the piss out of me.

Anyways, first up we get a three issue story by Alan Burnett where the heroes look into the events of Salvation Run, which was a thing at the time. Basically, the Suicide Squad rounds up all past and present villains, dumps them on a planet and allows them to work the rest out amongst themselves. Naturally, the League doesn't care for this, especially since Martian Manhunter went with the villains as a covert spy and cannot be reached. After that, we get a one-off where Queen Bee is kind of being a douchebag, necessitating Flash and Wonder Woman to smack her around a little bit. Then, the volume closes with a quick Final Crisis tie-in.

I probably don't need to point out what the problem is here.

It's pretty much common knowledge by now that editorial had a bit of a hand in where McDuffies run went, meaning they basically wanted tie-ins to happen at a relatively frequent clip. This is back in the midst of the disaster that was Countdown, where DC was attempting to make series that were "spines" of the universe and reflected the events going on at the time. But even if you're inclined to cut some slack, when four out of five consecutive issues are tie-ins to different series going on at the time, there's a problem.

Of course, that problem is compounded by the fact that these tie-ins go do nothing of worth. The three issue Sanctuary story by Alan Burnett is the worst reflection of this. Obviously, the Salvation Run mini proper has to be allowed to do it's thing, but that doesn't leave much room for tie-ins. What results are three issues that go absolutely nowhere; we read two issues of the League wringing their hands about what to do about the whole thing and then when they go to find the villains they don't even end up in the right place.

Oh, and a space villain is thrown in there, because the League needs to beat someone up in the midst of this story. Nothing is resolved; they don't even try to take Amanda Waller to task over the whole business. So, three out of the five issues are effectively worthless as a story; they read decently, but unless you've read Salvation Run you have no idea why you should give a crap about any of it and if you did by some chance you already know what happened to the villains.

Later, we take another trip into tie-in land for a Final Crisis prelude issue. This one actually works better than Sanctuary because there's a good mix of lead-in for the event in question and advancement of things McDuffie has been working with. This is generally how most tie-ins should work, otherwise they feel more like a meaningless disruption. But even so, there's really no reason for this story to exist either.

Other than the extended talk between the Big Three, this issues not much more than a venue to show how the Human Flame got from the point A of a petty crook to the point B of being recruited by Libra for his role in Final Crisis. It's not exactly something that was begging to be told, because how the Human Flame got there doesn't really matter. But here we are. I can't help but think the only reason this was told in Justice League - aside from Libra being an old JLA villain - is that it would have seen more eyes than, say, putting it in a Secret Files or something.

While all this is going on, McDuffie pens a couple small back-ups advancing his subplots. One connects (well, kind of) and the other whiffs. The first one focuses on Vixen and her wonky powers. It's rendered redundant by Sanctuary itself, which adequately explains what's going on with her in the midst of it's unnecessary diversion. Aside from a tidbit about a power she shouldn't be able to replicate, it's a bit of a page waster.

The other one focuses on the Leagues emotional robot, Red Tornado, who apparently has a wife and kid. How the latter works I haven't a single goddamn clue, but there it is. No crying, but he scowls through the whole thing. I don't hate the character or anything and it read alright. It didn't seem quite as pointless as the other backup, I guess.

The best part of the entire collection is the fourth issue, where Flash and Wonder Woman team-up follows. It's the bright spot of the book. Wonder Woman shows up to talk to Flash, who has been neglecting his League duties since he came back. Then they catch wind of Queen Bee being kind of an ass, so they go and whup her.

It's a good read. Sometimes, it's nice to read a quick, one-off adventure where the heroes stop a quick plot by a villain and smack them around. We don't get them a lot these days. McDuffie shows a good handle on his characters, especially Flash; just because McDuffie wrote for the show - which had more of a jokester iteration of Wally - doesn't mean he treats comic Wally the same way as I feared.

While I note that there are a lot of problems with the volume, it's worth mentioning that the actual writing still works on some level. Dwayne McDuffie - and Alan Burnett as well - write likable characters that you wouldn't mind following in a series. Most of the cast feel like themselves and both writers make the interaction between the characters worth the exercise.

As for the art, there's a total of four different pencillers working on the issues within. All four are talented, sure, but still. The bulk of it - the three issue Sanctuary arc - is done by Ed Benes. Most people have a general idea as to whether or not they like his art. He tends to trend toward cheesecake - big boobs and ass shots wherever he can possible squeeze one in - so if that's not your bag, this will probably end up annoying you. Every female sans Amanda Waller - who you can't really sex up - and Black Canary - mostly because she's barely in this volume at all - is either showing off cleavage or their ass. It doesn't bother me all that much and I tend to think he's pretty good at what he does, but your mileage may vary.

Van Sciver pulls duty on the Flash/Wonder Woman team-up. As you might expect, he does very well. Between this and Flash Rebirth, I think Van Sciver is really growing on me as a Flash artist. He does very well when it comes to drawing speed and motion, which is all important when dealing with a character like this. If he were a faster artist, I'd probably start wishing he'd work on Flash regularly. It seems to agree with his style. Sadly, that's not the case, but I'd be happy to read whatever one-off issues with Flash he might want to do.

The last major artist is Carlos Pacheco, who illustrates the Final Crisis tie-in issue. His art is very, very good; truth be told, his work may well be the best of the bunch. A good third of the issue in question is a long talk between the Big Three. Most of the time, that's not something you'd want an artist like Pacheco to draw - not when you can shoot for more exciting things - but it really shows off Pacheco's ability to convey expression with his art. He pulls this off on a level I'm not sure I've seen since the last time I read a comic illustrated by Kevin Maguire. There's even room for a bit of action in the rest of the book, though it's not long enough for him to truly take advantage of.

Last on the artist front is Jon Boy Meyers. He does the back-ups for the first and second issue of Sanctuary. His style's very different from everyone else working on the issues contained here. His work is more minimalistic. It reminds me of the sort of look an animated series might go with. It really isn't bad, but it doesn't fit in with the rest of the material at all.

The Score: 5.5 out of 10

You can skip this pretty safely. This collection isn't much more than a bunch of tie-ins. They're readable, at least, but they fail as stories at the same time they fail to add anything to the series they tie into. The only stuff of note here are the fourth issue and eight pages of the fifth. That isn't worth fifteen bucks Standard Retail Price. Hopefully the next volume fares better.

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