Thursday, March 1, 2012

Paul's Picks! - Feb. 29th, 2012

Well, it's that time again folks: Wednesday! And you know what Wednesday is?... Well, of course you do, you're reading a blog about comics, so you obviously know it's New Comics Day, a.k.a. Paul's favorite weekly holiday! And in celebration of this weekly, well, celebration, Paul is here to give you his favorite book of the week.

Justice League in Review

For those of you who may have already read the "epic" finale to Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's introductory arc on the best-seller from the DCnU, please don't roll your eyes when you see their title at the header for this week's pick. If I can be totally honest with you, this week's column is much less about my favorite stand-alone issue from Leap Day, 2012 and more so about the feelings that I was left with after reading the greatly anticipated conclusion to this first arc of Justice League. I'm going to try and make this as concise as humanly possible, but take into account that this article has been half-a-year in the making. So without any more build up, let's get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we?

Gotta admit, it's a cool cover.
My Expectations:

When I read the solicitations for the launch of the New 52, there is no hiding that this book was most likely sitting at the top of my most-anticipated list. I mean, get real people: a Geoff Johns/Jim Lee ongoing series? And not just any series, a Justice League book! Let's be honest DC fans, over the last few years, the JLA book had pretty much fallen off the deep end. It was stuck in Lamesville and couldn't get out. DC promised to return to us all the things that we could possible desire from a team-up book: an A-list writer, one of the most favored artists in the business, a line up of the best heroes that DC has to offer, and a villain of epic proportions. In theory, this was the perfect setup! And I couldn't have been more hyped.

Let me just break here for a moment. There may be some of you out there who did not share my absolute glee in anticipation of this book (although I'm willing to bet not many), so let me explain just what this series meant for me personally as a fan. First of all, Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's Batman: Hush was one of the first graphic novels that reached out and grabbed me as a teenager. I'd always loved superheroes, I'd seen the movies and I grew up on the Spiderman, X-Men, and Batman animated series. But this book was one of the catalysts that began my development into a comic reader and lover. His awesome art style was part of the reason I began delving into the wonderful world of comics in the first place. And yet, even with his powerful influence on my interests, if there is one creator that could be attributed to my complete submersion into the world, it would be Geoff Johns. From the moment I read those six issues of Green Lantern: Rebirth by Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, I knew I had been hooked. My journey from Rebirth to the Sinestro Corp War was, in a way, life changing for me. While I'd always loved these characters, and I would read the occasional graphic novel, this was the first time that I had connected with the characters on such a level. Geoff Johns bared Hal Jordan at his core, brought him back and humanized him in a way that I never could have imagined. As I was reading those pages, even up through Blackest Night, I could feel the heart and devotion that he was pouring into these characters. Even when the dialogue became stiff or the reveal seemed a bit contrived, I was willing to take it in stride because I could always tell that he was truly putting all he had into his work. It was something truly magical to behold.

So now that I've gushed about these guys like a 14 year old girl, you know why I was so ecstatic about this JLA series. To put it mildly, it promised to be everything I could ever dream of in a superhero comic. It really was my "dream team." Seth and I had even joked about it in the past, we'd heard rumors and talked about how incredible it would be, how it was the quintessential creator team up on the best characters available, and there was no way on this earth that I was going to miss out on it.

What Succeeded:

If you've been reading my Pick's over the last several months, then you're probably aware that the series has made its way into the spotlight a time or two. There were a few moments there where I thought this was going to be exactly what I wanted it to be, that it would finally hit all the right notes and sing with the harmony of an angelic choir... Okay, maybe I'm glorifying it a little too much, but you get the point. There were plenty of things to love about the series as it went along, from some interesting character development (especially when viewing these well known heroes as they met for the first time) to the crazy-cool action drawn beautifully by Jim Lee. I don't know how many times I've already said it, but I just love that pic of Superman busting out of Green Lantern's chain construct. Hal just didn't know what he'd gotten himself into...

Never. Gets. Old.

Of course, that scene wasn't the only awesome page in the arc. I remember when I first flipped over to the full spread at the end of issue 4, "I AM DARKSEID." And the cold chills ran rampant across my skin... I mean, come on guys, it's Darkseid! On the first arc! When the first move in your attack strategy is a nuke, you know it's gonna be big. That's exactly what Johns and Lee did for us fans, they went big. When you're kicking off what is considerably the most dynamic book on the market in terms of characters and potential, what better way than to just come right out guns a'blazin'?

What was successful about this first arc? It showed the fans that sometimes, if not always, DC does care what we want. We wanted a Lee/Johns team-up, we got it. We wanted them on JLA, it's done. We wanted something big, something cool, something colossal enough to require the collaboration of the world's greatest superheroes, bada-bing, bada-boom. The most successful aspect of this book, for me, is the sense that the fans do matter. And, of course, giants sharks eating parademons. Always a plus.

What Failed (And Why):

Come on, at least cover your face with your hands...
Alright, I'm just going to lay it all out there on the table. This book has been, with just a few exceptions, consistently good. It's been a solid book, with some great art (along with the occasional decent art), and some decent writing. The problem is, if I were to give you that description, of a decent book that is certainly worth keeping on your pull list, you wouldn't be thinking of JLA by Johns/Lee. You'd be thinking of Batgirl by Gail Simone, something that is good but just kind of floats beneath the radar most of the time. A Justice League title, with such an A-List creative team should be, in a word, ground-breaking. It should be the book you go out and buy every month, then follow up with a release-day purchase of the hardback so that you can lend it out to all of your friends that are on the fringe of being comic readers. This should be the book that is revitalizing old readers, bringing in new ones, and going into an upcoming Absolute edition by DC.

But is it? I mean sure, it's been at the top of the best selling list since August, but why is that? Has the writing been Geoff Johns at the top of his game? Did Jim Lee crank out his best looking stuff in years? I hope I don't alienate anyone by saying this, but the answer is a straight-up no. No, this isn't Jim Lee's best work. No, Johns has not been writing like a man on fire. Don't believe me? Consider this, for just a moment: Consider the exact same story, written the exact same way, at the hands of, say, James Robinson (who was on JLA prior to the relaunch). And consider the art was by someone with lesser fame. Would it be a best seller? Would I even be writing about it right now? The truth is, most of us fans knew that this was going to be a buy from the moment it was solicited. I'm not saying we couldn't have been scared off of it eventually, but I couldn't see myself pulling a book like this any less than a year.

You Got This!... Nah, still doesn't sound cool.
Is it possible that Geoff and Jim knew this? Don't get me wrong, these are two of my favorite creators in the business, just read the paragraphs above. But I can't help but shake the feeling that this book has been sub-par, because the guys creating it haven't been giving it their all. As I mentioned before, I could just feel the emotion and sincerity that was poured into books like Green Lantern: Rebirth. It's the same unction I feel when I read books from Scott Snyder right now, it's what gives them their edge. But this first arc has come off as, I almost hate to say it, but, lazy. That's it, in a word. Lazy. You build up to a big splash page with all the heroes, gathering forward for the last hurrah against an unstoppable enemy, and their leader cries out in a fervor, "WE GOT THIS!..." What? I don't know what that was supposed to do for me, but it just threw the brakes on the whole book. I couldn't get pulled into the intense moment in the story, because I was too busy having to stop and reread, trying to figure out why that would happen. And so, you need to do something different, something unexpected, surprise the fan. So what happens? Batman delivers a hearty speech to Green Lantern, it's going well, then suddenly... He takes of his mask?! Alright, I get it, this isn't the Batman we all know and love, he's green around the gills. But really? I was willing to let it slide at first, but the more I think about it, all I can think is, whaaaa...?

It's just bad writing. No, I'm not saying I could do better. What I'm saying is, Geoff Johns can do better. And so can Jim Lee. That cool looking splash page above, with all the heroes charging in? Take a look around. Sure, GL looks nice, and Flash. But what about Cyborg back there? He looks sloppy, almost unfinished. Rushed. Same for Aquaman. Is it me, or does he look a lot more top-heavy than in the rest of the book? I know these guys are capable of some of the best work the industry has to offer, I just don't think we've been getting it in this book so far. I don't know what it was; perhaps there was too much pressure. Maybe DC has put more on their plate than they can manage without their work losing quality (Johns is the Chief Creative Office of DC, Jim Lee the Co-Publisher). Or perhaps they just took too much on themselves. While introducing Darkseid and Apokolips as the first enemy to be faced by the team sounds awesome on paper, it may have been a little too big. Here's my take on that: had the duo been tackling a story about Darkseid for six issues, it could have been amazing. That should be plenty of time to build the world up for newcomers while also pleasing long time fans (such as myself). The problem is, this wasn't a story about Darkseid or Apokolips. It was a tale about seven heroes meeting for the first time, trying to see where they all fit in, and working together. Apart, these are two great ideas. Together? What we get is a rushed, often told-not-shown, to-the-point, wrap-up finish to a story that still felt like it was getting started.

I would love to say this is the best book out of the New 52, and I wish I could say I'd be buying the trade and handing it out to my friends. Instead, I'll be hoping for something better going forward. Which brings me to the next and final part of my review...

Looking Forward:

That's one bad chick.
Issue #6 had a lot of flaws. Issue #5 was pretty bad as well. But this arc really did get off to a good start. I know all the bad things I had to say makes it sound like this was a terrible story, but it really wasn't terrible, it just wasn't amazing (and it should have been). The good news is, it's not over! Jim Lee is leaving the series for a two-issue miniature arc, but soon he'll be back and they can start flexing their creative muscles again. That epilogue featuring Pandora really grabbed my attention, especially after a lack-luster finale to the actual story. The bottom line here is, yes: they kind of dropped the ball. The first run wasn't as amazing as we all hoped it would be, but that's life, isn't it? Disappointment is a common thing, so now we move on.

Geoff, Jim, we all know you guys are capable of producing some incredible stuff. You've done it already! And now you've been given the reigns to tell the story all of us have been waiting to read: who is this Pandora chick, why is she getting all mouthy with the Phantom Stranger, and who were those creepy guys at the end? You've hooked us in, now's the time to show us what you're really made of. Ignore all the haters, but listen to the fans that really care about your work and win us back. Everyone makes mistakes, no one's perfect, and maybe we just expect a little too much. But here's to hoping that, in the months to come, Justice League becomes the book to beat (a position currently held by Snyder's Batman, IMO). That's all we're really asking for.

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