Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Justice League: The Villains Journey (comic)

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gene Ha, Jim Lee
Collects: Justice League #7-12

If I had reservations after the first volume, they have now turned to outright dismay. Origin stumbled, but it was a game attempt at giving a definitive modern story of the formation of the League. The Villains Journey skips forward five years to the present day of the DCU and it is... a "quality challenged" book.

A regular joe who was caught in the middle of Darkseids attack in Origin - he even wrote a book about the incident - lost his family from some inexplicable disease in the years following. Now he blames the League for it and has decided he'll take them down through the use of spirits and junk. But first, he needs a way to get under their skin, so he captures the League liason - Steve Trevor - and starts knocking over the dominos.

First off, when the liason to your team is the most interesting, relatable character in the book, you are doing it wrong. The first issue of the volume, an interlude before the main arc, revolves around him, giving him the most exploration of any character in the entire first year. It's also the only issue of the twelve to actually try and give some character to the League. How? Through a short flashback sequence. One per member. After a year we barely even know these characters, aside from the fact that they bicker constantly. They're ciphers, serving little purpose other than the fact that we need something to center the plot around. Problem is, if you don't even give a crap about the central players, it's difficult to care about whatever fine mess they find themselves in.

It's difficult to like some of them. So tell me, Wonder Woman; any real reason you had to haul off and beat the shit out of Green Lantern, who was only trying to keep you from walking into an obvious trap without backup? He wasn't even being a dick about it either and she not only knocks him halfway across town, but actually goes after him, sword in hand, so she can presumably carve him up and beat the piss out of him some more. "I don't take pleasure in this" my ass, Wondy.

Then there's Batman, who continues his streak of uselessness in this book. Yet again, he contributes nothing to the fight, doesn't even seem to be respected by his team-mates and is pretty much just there. Had the book opened explaining Batman left the team sometime in the five years gap, I think we'd all be better off. After all, it's clear the creators don't know what to do with him and you have to figure Batman has better things to do than stick around a group that doesn't even seem to respect him.

All of which is to say the book lacks anything resembling character depth. They're all shallow, save maybe Steve Trevor. After thinking on it for a while, I realized the difference between a good comic by Johns and a bad one comes down to its focus. Much of his best work - Teen Titans, JSA, Brightest Day, 52 - was driven, at least in part, by the cast. The big plotlines were there, but Johns spent enough time with the characters themselves that anything they did or trouble they found themselves in had weight.

One of the best volumes of his Teen Titans run - and a favorite of many - is The Future is Now. At that point, we'd spent three volumes with the team and Johns had done enough character work with each for us to invest in them. So we care when they meet their possible future counterparts and find out they're villains. It has meaning. The premise would not have worked if it had been, say, the second story, which is exactly what this book attempts.

Getting back on the topic of The Villains Journey, there are also some noticeable discrepancies. I guess Johns didn't bother reading JLI before he made mention of it here, because not only does he pen a scene where Batman tells Steve Trevor the JLI are basically useless and that he wants them shut down - the exact opposite of how he felt in JLI, where he also encouraged Booster Gold to keep at it - but he kind of misses the fact that the JLI never even had the chance to become an official thing.

It doesn't feel like this team has been together for five years either, no matter what the book says. They don't listen to each other, they don't follow orders, they're often berating each other and they somehow don't know a thing about one another. Yet they've had countless adventures in that span of time. It's a story befitting of a team that just formed, not one that has supposedly kept the entire world safe for five years. It's one of the things that hurts "The Villains Journey" the most; this volume seems like it should be the endgame to, say, the first or second year the team has been together, where they finally put aside their differences and work to become the team they should be.

This all feeds into the biggest problem with the book; The Villains Journey has not earned a single one of its big moments. One instance is the big kiss that made all the headlines - not only is "we're lonely, hey, we should start a relationship" dumb*, but it's another moment ruined by the fact that we have no investment in these characters - and another is the dismissal of Steve Trevor as the League liason after all of a single volume in that role. But my prime example is a scene late in the book, where Green Lantern quits the League - saying he was responsible for the fight with Wonder Woman - so the team has a scapegoat to keep their reputation intact. It's supposed to be an emotional moment and a big deal, but it means absolutely nothing.

Not only is GL's "I started the fight" bit not what happened at all - which should be clear to any eyewitnesses - but we have no reason to care. There's this supposed five year history, but we've seen none of it, leaving us with no real idea of Lanterns experience with the team, what it means to him, how hard a choice this might be for him or how it might affect the team itself. The scene just happens and yet the creators expect it to have an impact; in reality, it just hangs there, lifeless, because it lacks the context to lend it any gravitas.

Honestly, that example is the issue with this comic in a nutshell. For this story to work at all, the book needed a couple of stories after Origin to show some early adventures. Instead, they dropped the origin, threw a five year time skip at us and then expected a plotreliant on events we haven't even seen to have weight.

At least the pacing issues that plagued Origin aren't quite as bad this time.

Making matters worse is the fact that the art is subpar Jim Lee work. Origin had the same problem. It's fairly decent most of the time, but the fact that it's not his best is inescapable. This is Lee's last volume and I hate to say it, but it might be for the best. Lee is amazing when he can take his time, but I think his Justice League run proves he can't hit a monthly deadline anymore without the quality taking a serious hit. It's a damn shame, too.

My Opinion: Skip It

Justice League: The Villains Journey just doesn't work. Most of the problems are avoidable, some are just a consequence of the circumstances and stories placement. Either way, they add up to a whole that just isn't worth the hassle. This book needs to shape up fast. The flagship book of DC's entire line should not be this screwed up.

* I'm probably not telling you anything new here, but starting a relationship based out of sheer loneliness is a recipe for disaster. I like to think Johns is aware of this and that it's a part of his plans for the book, but who knows. As it stands, it's pretty groanworthy; it doesn't help that we have no reason to care. Unless, well, you're a shipper who thought this should have happened long ago, in which case you probably cared before this, quality and sense be damned.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Superman: What Price Tomorrow? (comic)

Writer: George Perez
Artists: Jesus Merino, Nicola Scott
Collects: Superman (vol. 3) #1-6

Now it's time to tackle the other Superman comic.

So, you relaunch your entire line. Obviously you do it partly to try and get new readers to jump on with your new initiative. Preferably young readers, in contrast to the aging fanbase that's held the industry up for a decade or so. Of course you want a writer that will speak to younger readers, so the natural choice is... George Perez?

They are looking to appeal to new readers, right?

Just to be clear, this is not a knock on Perez. He's a very skilled artist and I've always loved his work. But that's the thing, he's known for his art, not writing; had he been put on a monthly to draw, this might have been an entirely different review. But he wasn't.

More than that, he's one of the "old guard", I guess you could say. I've never been as big a fan of Marvel as I am DC, but they've long been better at cultivating fresh talent while DC is more likely to stick to what it knows. Relaunching your entire line and then putting a guy you've used for decades doesn't exactly dispel that notion and it is, in fact, probably detrimental when you're looking to get new readers.

This is all important, because it's easy to tell Perez is from a different school. This comic is very wordy, to the point where, if not for the art, you could be fooled into thinking this was a Bronze Age comic. He sometimes slips into using thought balloons as well, a practice the medium has essentially abandoned in favor of the less glaring narration box.

None of this is to say the book is particularly bad. The "is the hero a magnet for the danger his people encounters" well has been hit in the past, but there's a reason for that. The story also has Superman fighting some elemental creatures and an invisible lizard, which is fun. But if I'm looking to bring new eyes to comics with one of the biggest books in the company, this is the last thing I'd slot in to kick it off. A part of monthly comics is hooking a reader, after all. It may not be a particularly elegant way to put this, but screw it; What Price Tomorrow feels like the kind of thing you'd slot in between bigger runs by name creators, not the kickoff in an initiative meant to bring fresh eyes to the product.

On the upside, Perez has some talented artistic partners. I don't really need to sing the praises of Jesus Merino and Nicola Scott, do I? Their work kind of speaks for itself. Especially Nicola Scott. George Perez himself doesn't do any interior artwork, but we do at least get some covers, so there's that.

This is another of those "one and done" volumes we've already encountered a couple times in the New 52. George Perez is gone next volume. I doubt it will be the last time this happens. DC's apparently had some serious creative issues behind the scenes ever since the regime change. Whatever's going on, they need to get it together.

My Opinion: Try It

Not exactly the direction I'd have gone, but What Price Tomorrow isn't terrible. If you like the way comics used to be written, you'll probably get a kick out of this. Can't say it's something I'd recommend purchasing though. Check the library for a copy if you're interested.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Batman: The Dark Knight - Knight Terrors (comic)

Writer: Paul Jenkins, David Finch
Artist: David Finch
Collects: Batman: The Dark Knight #1-9

Of the New 52 line, The Dark Knight is one of the books I had the lowest expectations for. Golden Dawn was not what you'd call high art and that's without taking into account the fact that Finch couldn't even manage five full issues of art in a years time. Hard to have much confidence in that.

Knight Terrors exceeded my super low expectations, but that's not saying much. The comic is still a hot mess.

Do you enjoy reading a Batman who's kind of an idiot? Yeah, me neither. The Batman we get in Knight Terrors simply cannot put two and two together even when the clues all but slap him in the face. It's not like there's some complex caper going on, either; you can guess who's behind it on the last page of issue one and you're not even supposed to be a great detective!

The plot is almost as dumb; very action figure-y, much like Golden Dawn. It does, however, give Finch plenty to draw. If he didn't get to tackle everything he wanted to with the first story, I'm sure he has now. Just about everyone shows up in Knight Terrors, whether they add to the story, such as it is, or not. If you really like David Finchs art - or hell, are even jonesing for some classic rogues* - that may be reason to check this out.

I'll give Finch credit; he defied my expectations. He actually manages seven full issues before a guest penciller has to step in for an issue. Really makes you wonder what the hell the problem was with the first series. His work is typical David Finch; maybe a little less detailed due to the strict deadlines, but still easily recognizable as his. That includes the drawbacks.

Artists who like to draw females on the verge of cheesecake are pretty common in comicss, but Finch kind of takes it to a new level here. The White Rabbit is just... wow. Here we have a character who is literally running around, occasionally tormenting Batman, in her underwear. White corset and pink panties. Dead serious. The White Rabbit is a walking ass shot. Even Psylocke - Miss Ass Floss herself - would look at her and go "damn, put it away girl".

The highlight of the whole book is probably the last issue, a Court of Owls tie-in. Judd Winick scripts, giving us a tale of an old Talon the court retired when age dulled his skills. It's a nice one-shot, giving some background to one of the numerous Talons the Court employs. Winicks best work has always been with Gotham, in my opinion, so it's always nice to see him jump back in. The issue even has David Finch on art, so he's actually lending his work to a story that makes sense! I know, I'm as surprised as you are.

But regardless of how good it is, one issue cannot save an entire volume.

Oh, one last thing. I mentioned in the review for Golden Dawn that I had no clue if anything from that volume would re-appear. Now I can say that's a no for sure. I have zero faith anything from this volume will be resolved either, since a new writer is on board for the next volume.

My Opinion: Skip It

This comic almost makes me want to re-evaluate my stance on Faces of Death. At least that one kind of held together. If you really like the artwork of David Finch, you can bump the score up one. Otherwise, I'd wait for the next volume of this book or just read another Batman book instead.

* The other Batman books are mostly concerned with new villains. I could be mistaken, but I think The Dark Knight is the only one that didn't follow this trend.