Monday, June 29, 2015

Justice League: The Grid (comics)

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, small bits by other assorted artists
Collects: Justice League #18-20, 22-23

The upward arc in overall quality continues for Justice League, but unfortunately the collection itself kind of pisses me off.

Regarding the story, in itself there's nothing wrong with the Grid. There's a fair amount to keep you interested, including the League opening its doors to new members for the first time since the unseen conflict with the Martian Manhunter. Despero shows up. There's some mystery over who broke into the Batcave and some obvious subterfuge going down behind the scenes. Plus, we revisit the old "Batman has a plan for everyone" chestnut, though this time Batman not only comes clean before anything happens, but everyone is far more reasonable about the whole thing.

This book also has a few... Heartwarming Batman Moments, I think we'll call them. I've noted before that while I'm fine with dark Batman stories, the old Batdickery bit had gone way too far, especially prior to the New 52. It's a problem similar to what we see with Iron Man over at Marvel, only not quite as severe; the writers take their behavior so far it's amazing anyone will put up with or work with them ever again.

As such, I enjoy bits that focus on their humanity and ability to get along with others, even in a small way. Here, Batman stops Jason Todd from beating himself up with a hand on the shoulder and a "I'm just glad you're okay". In another scene, he rationally discusses the at-the-time secret relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman, as well as the impact they have on how the League is percieved, without the theatrics or yelling you might usually see in a scene like this. Later, in private, Batman affirms that Superman is his friend and offers a briefcase with plans to deal with him, should the need ever arise. It shows the characters usual forward thinking while also showing a humility he simply did not have in the pre-Flashpoint version of this plot point, Tower of Babel. There, while technically correct in his thinking, there was an undeniable bit of arrogance to Batmans plan, seemingly suggesting that he was the only one there who was infallible.

Showing that the heroes are actually friends within the comic itself? That's something I wanted since volume one. I cannot dislike that. I'm not a rock. Throw in more Ivan Reis art and yeah, I'd say I'm pretty well on board with Justice League again.

Sadly, as I noted at the start, the praise had to end eventually. I didn't go into the story too much because, frankly, there isn't much to get into. You probably noticed the little "collects" bit there, right? Five issues. Issue twenty one is skipped because it's the full issue conclusion of the Shazam story that had been running in the singles as a backup and is, I assume, collected in the trade of that material. Of what we have, only three of the five issues are a coherent story exclusive to this volume.

The other two? Chapters of Trinity War, also collected in the Trinity War trade. You'll recall Justice League of America pulled this as well, but the difference here is that book had five issues of exclusive material. That's fairly reasonable for a volume. The Grid, however, has three. The Trinity War chapters are the bookends of the event and fairly incomprehensible without everything in between.

Whether it's intended or not, it feels like being fleeced. This volume, after all, has a suggested retail price of seventeen dollars for the paperback. I realize they were kind of put in a hard place here, but is there any reason they couldn't have collected the three issues as a small, nine dollar collection? It wouldn't be the first time that's happened. What other reason is there except that extra seven dollars a copy?

I'm enjoying Justice League now, but I don't enjoy feeling like I'm being bilked for extra cash and the score reflects that.

My Opinion: Try It

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Justice League Dark: In The Dark (comics)

Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Mikel Janin
Collects: Justice League Dark #1-6

Okay, right away, can I just say "Justice League Dark" is the dumbest title for a comic? I get the reasoning. The Justice League is a popular brand. I get it. Hell, Marvel does it too. But come on, you mean to tell me that with all the talented writers and staff on hand at DC no one could come up with a better title than "Justice League Dark"?

Just rolls right off the tongue. Could be worse, I guess. The concept could be as stupid as the name. Sup', Avengers A.I.?

Stupid name aside, I was actually kind of excited about this book when it was announced as a part of the launch of the New 52. A team comic based on the supernatural and magical elements of the DC universe? I'm into it.

Sadly, the first volume doesn't quite live up to the potential. The book has all the elements of something great. There's a bunch of interesting characters with diverse personalities and problems, you have magic, you have crazy vests attached to insane people. Split personalities. Just a bunch of cool stuff. It simply never comes together.

That's not to say that the book doesn't have its moments. Having Superman and a few other members of the main League go down early to an attack as bizarre as a hurricane of gross magic witch teeth feels inspired. Sadly, scenes like that prove to be a bit of an exception. Most of the book is aggressively average, from the writing to the art, which is not what you want to be when you're one of fifty two books introduced all at once in a massive relaunch.

Even the conflict is kind of ho-hum, at least for it's length. Apparently, the Enchantress has split into two, with June Moon running from the magical embodiment of her insanity. Not a terrible plot for a short arc, but for five issues it comes down to a fair amount of wheel spinning. The threat of the crazed Enchantress is rarely confronted head-on and her ultimate defeat just kind of happens without a ton of conflict, aside from two team members briefly fighting over the solution. I appreciate that the manner in which the threat is resolved shows Constantine as the outright bastard he typically is, but it doesn't make for an exciting read. The team scatters to the wind afterwards, since no one likes Constantine or trusts Madame Xanadu.

The volume ends on a single issue where the group decides to stick together after having some shared nightmares. Six issues in and we finally have our team formally introduced. Credit where it's due, however; while the team doesn't form until the end, we meet each member fairly early in the book and their paths cross numerous times before we're done. It's a fair middle ground between Justice Leagues staggered approach and Justice League Internationals quick formation.

We close with an interesting cliffhanger that promises a tie to one of the New 52's under-rated gems, but I sincerely hope business picks up in volume two, because you can only coast on potential for so long. Justice League Dark might have an easier time surviving than, say, Shadowpact, if only because of the name, but eventually you need to properly hook people if you want to keep readers. As it is, having an opening trade this bland doesn't help the books cause, especially since DC insists on numbering them and subsequently discouraging the more casual reader from skipping a duller volume.

My Opinion: Try It

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z Book Two (comics)

Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Collects: Captain America (Vol. 7) #6-10

So, I wasn't a big fan of the first volume. It had some good ideas, but most of the emotional beats hit with a resounding thud. It was a rare occasion where some extra decompression might have actually helped the story. Even an extra issue or two in the story might have made it easier to swallow.

I figured that I might as well finish out the story, so I'm back for round two.

The second book isn't so much improved as it suffers from fewer issues with selling its big moments. Things ramp up immediately as Cap sets out to recover his adopted son Ian and the volume doesn't really slow down until the end, so there's less to be concerned with. Still, there are some hiccups born of the structure choice - the big moment with Steves would-be rescuer don't work if someone decided to start with issue one of this Cap volume - and the rescue attempt hinges on whether the reader could buy the father-son dynamic the first volume tried to present. I've already gone over that particular problem the first time around, so I won't repeat myself, but it didn't work that well in my opinion, so the payoff we get here falls flat.

Again, this really felt like the kind of direction you apply to fifteen or more issues, not ten.

JR Jr.'s artwork hasn't changed much since the first volume. Same strengths, same weaknesses. The weaknesses are a bit less glaring though; we have no time skips as in the first part of the arc, so we are mercifully sparred jarring moments like Ians complete lack of growth. Still, it's not something I'm super into. Plenty of others disagree, so take it as you will.

The ending does leave us with some potentially interesting tidbits for the future, so the book could easily improve. If I decide to continue it will be because the library has it, which is fairly likely. I'd recommend you do the same. Castaway in Dimension Z is far from bad, but it's not something I'd recommend purchasing.

My Opinion: Try It