It pains me – I mean, causes me grotesque, actually, physical pain – to have to include a Keith Giffen entry on this list, but I simply have to. Giffen’s run on the series was otherwise nothing short of spectacular, even in the face of running more than a few gags into the ground and gaining and losing certain characters so quickly that they barely ever had a chance to be acknowledged as Leaguers, much less gain any sort of character arc.
Still, with the core revamped JLAers – Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice and The Martian Manhunter (plus Batman, if just for the rare laugh offered up with that character) – Giffen could barely ever do wrong. More than that, he showed exceptional skill with the supporting characters, from Max Lord to Oberon to, unbelievably, the former robot sidekick of an intergalactic Ron Popeil dubbed in an indiscriminate in-jokey moment after Scientology founder and science fiction author L.Ron Hubbard.
Even with the characters with whom he had only the briefest oversight, he gained some memorable performances – his Superman was spot-on, his Aquaman was thoroughly refreshing, and he signed on for early exclusivity with The Creeper as the one-guy-who-can-write-him, even if it came to nothing. He had an amazing talent to go from light and absurd comedy to real character to serious action and drama, sometimes switching between the three in the same panel.
But Giffen had his incomprehensible fascinations, too, chief among them his frequent tackling of parody versions of Marvel superheroes - In a roundabout way, we have Giffen to blame for the Countdown:The Extremists piece of dreck which emerged as a contemporary of that grossly pointless year-long miniseries.
This is the set-up to the joke. The setup to the joke is that his clothes are ugly.
It’s likely that he was limited in his freedom to lampoon DC’s own stock, and only had so much freedom or desire to create new menaces from whole cloth. With that in mind, turned to carbon-copy Marvel characters beginning with a trio of super-villains who’d bedeviled the JLA of old and were thinly veiled versions of The Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man and Thor. These characters begat The Extremists, who were – the first time around – pitch perfect world-endangering villains based on Marvel’s biggest baddies, and following that an entire planet full of obvious Marvel swipes.
Somewhere along the line, Giffen also took aim at The Silver Surfer, blandly incarnating him in the DC Universe proper as The Scarlet Skier, herald to an omnipotent universal interior decorator called Mister Nebula.
Let’s be honest – there is not a lot of tread on that tire. Writing even the first appearance of The Scarlet Skier – which involved the recently paroled Skier swearing revenge on nebbishy dog-faced Green Lantern G’Nort, whom I know you all love but should be honest that he works best in Lilliputian doses – involved returning to the well repeatedly for jokes about overt disbelief over the ridiculousness of travelling through space on skies, forced melodramatic dialogue, and G’Nort being a dipshit. In the entirety of his first appearance in Justice League America #36, there were three jokes. Three jokes used, on average, between one and four times per page.
This is the punchline. The punchline is that his clothes are ugly.
So, there was certainly no point – having easily exhausted the joke – in bringing Mister Nebula himself to Earth. After all, the entire gag of his premise - that he is Galactus but he redecorates worlds instead of eating them – was covered in a single caption in the Scarlet Skier’s story. But, no, sadly, Justice League Quarterly, one of the magazines which proved that DC was putting an unsustainable stretch on its flagship team book, brings Mister Nebula himself to Earth in its second issue.
At the very least, there is an attempt to add new humor to the premise, with Mister Nebula getting an origin much along the jokey, well-intentioned potshots taken at Marvel; Lords of Order St’nn and Jakk visit a world which hosts a temple honoring they and their fellow deities. It is a horrible eyesore, designed by an intemperate (and, lest we avoid the opportunity to perpetuate the stereotype, let’s not forget to add “effeminate”) artiste named Kirtinn-Rodd who provides the Lords of Order with sufficient lip to get himself cast into an alternate reality of hideous fabric swatches, from which he returns the all-powerful world-redecorator.
In case it didn’t sound like there was enough humor in that story, keep in mind that there are jokes about throw-up. On two different occasions.
Oh thank god, he's a catty queer. And here I thought comics might fail my expectations for once.
Frustratingly, Mister Nebula and the Scarlet Skier came out of the same conceit as Manga Khan, Giffen’s nod to Marvel’s operatic space villains, and with which Giffen was usually able to maintain a terrific balance between camp parody and providing service as an actual, functional antagonist to the JLA. Mister Nebula and the Scarlet Skier never did, and in the end, their roles in the series just seem like immense wastes of time.
Also, seriously, G’Nort is only so funny. Small doses, folks, like NyQuil and Electroplay.