Tuesday, May 26, 2009
It seems to me that Batman and Robin shouldn't be telling this class of grade-schoolers the precise location of the Bat-Cave, regardless of whether or not they pinkie-swore not to tell.
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.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
OUT OF CONTROL, which I guess means the JLA and JSA
are interrupting someone's holiday dinner and wrestling a
half-finished bottle of brandy out of some guy's hands ...
My nerd-ual prowess is a thing of legend, inasmuch as I’ve maintained a raging nerd-boner for the annual Justice League/Justice Society crossovers since my childhood. I’m celebrating three decades of a medically verified nerd-priapism. I know I’m setting a new standard for this site, what with three erection-related jokes in the can already, but I can’t say it strongly enough: Earth-2 gets my dick hard.
There’s one for the referral logs, come on Google rankings, don’t let me down – I gotta be the number one search result across all markets for the phrase “the annual Justice Society and Justice League crossover gets my dick hard every time,” or my life will be for naught.
Seriously though, I’ve been mad for team-ups and crossovers since I was a little shaver – and in-between the rarefied events like Superman vs Muhammad Ali or New Teen Titans versus the X-Men, those few and far between endeavors which crossed the continuity streams (“…Ray”), the ever-lovin’, traditional, you can set your calendar by ‘em JSA/JLA crossovers were my goddamned favorite.
It doesn’t hurt that, if nothing else, the spectacle of those crossovers was usually spectacular – the JLA and JSA team up to save the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the JLA and JSA battle against the Legion of Super-Heroes, The All-Star Squadron fights alongside the heroes of two worlds to stop the nuclear madness of per Degaton, The multiverse-smashing threat of Darkseid, evil villains from a mysterious third Earth, the one time they fought an evil Flash that had a moustache. Classics, every one of them.
Sadly, when you’ve got twenty-two of the fellas under your belt, you’re bound to get the occasional barker.
More than one, to be fair, but in this case your humble editor is looking at 1984’s Justice League of America #231-232, wherein Kurt Busiek had the world’s greatest superheroes fight a superpowered sitcom family of a widowed dad, his two kids and their plucky aunt. Woo woo, pass the popcorn, here comes the excitement!
I remember when I was pretty excited about Kurt Busiek as a writer, but then again I was a kid, I remember when I liked a lot of dumb things about comic books.
OOoh burn – no, of course, Kurt Busiek is not a bad writer – that’s a demonstrable fact, nevermind what you extract from his co-writer credit on the weekly Batman/Wonder Woman/Superman series Trinity, a comic book which is so bad that modern medical scientists have found microscopic evidence to prove that the each known Yersinia Pestis bacterium – the strain responsible for the Black Plague which devastated Europe in the Middle Ages - each clutched tiny atom-sized copies of the latest issue in their flagellum. It is so fuckin’ awful that copies of the book have spontaneously miniaturized, flown through time and attached themselves to the most notorious anaerobes in the history of the world (Not counting “Billy the Faculative Anaerobe”, gunslinger of the Bacterial West. Man, I feel dizzy. Where am I?)
Right, so, JLA #231-232, a story engineered to cover the mandatory double-earth crossover for that year and also to explain what the world’s greatest heroes were busy doing while Martians performed intergalactic drive-bys on planet Earth in the immediately preceding issues.
Evidently, what happened to the world’s greatest superheroes – specifically, Superman, his hot-ass piece of a cousin Supergirl*, Wonder Woman and The Flash – was that they got distracted into this utterly useless bugfuck of a side-story by these eminently forgettable ciphers who conveniently appear out of nowhere to abduct these four heroes from their satellite headquarters.
*I had a crush on her when I was a kid, whaddya want from me? I’ve grown vulgar in my dotage.
The trio in question are assorted members of The Champion Family, and for god’s sake don’t start getting worked up about that name, it’s fuckin’ pointless. Specifically, the Champions are Ian and Victoria Champion, the teenage son and tweener daughter of missing, mind-controlled, dimension-hopping scientist Joshua Champion. The siblings are unattended by parental supervision, but are cuddled under the protective wing of their aunt Meredith Champion, who looks like if Laura Ingalls Wilder hadn’t dressed like such a slut. She looks like Preppy Longstocking. Haha, I just made that up to make fun of the Eighties.
pulsebeat of the new wave, Kurt Busiek ...
Just so you’re up to speed, Ian wears a leather jacket with the collar turned up, a shock of hair over one eye, and he is an asshole. Victoria is basically a Doctor Who companion from 1966 and spends most of her time busting her brother’s balls with her inveterate nagging and pleading, “Oh, aren’t you worried about daddy, what about daddy, Ian you don’t mean you don’t care about daddy,” blah blah blah, I’m on Ian’s side. Meredith is a fuckin’ zero, I don’t even remember her having a personality. I think she was a ‘Nam vet who competed in UFC, either that or she knitted and had a lot of cats, whatever.
What makes this particular crossover so frustrating is … well, hold on, if I could summarize it in a single sentence, I wouldn’t be sliding in at just under a thousand words at this point. AMONG THE THINGS which make this particular crossover so frustrating is that the action largely focuses on the family Champion, who have no personalities. They are boring sauce on a yawn sandwich, deep-fried in who-gives-a-fuck oil. Worse than that, they largely take center stage of the story at the expense of the members of the JLA, and entirely at the expense of the JSA. The whole thing reads like an attempt at a pilot for an ongoing series featuring the Champion family, but even then I’m being generous.
Here’s how bad this story was, ready? Ready? Okay. In re-reading this comic, I found that it feels exactly like a giveaway anti-drug comic. This thing shoulda had the goddamn Protector in it.
The writing is ridiculously uneven in this thing, Busiek obviously had his heart set on indulging his trademark motif of granting small, human moments to the characters, and when he does that it’s actually quite good. I think we’ve learned, though, that Busiek only has two settings – intimate, emotionally affective character-based writing and inconceivably obtuse and pretentious gobs of cosmic-level hoo-hah that no living human can relate to without special medication (see as an example, gosh, lemme think here … oh yeah, Trinity).
The Crime Syndicate of America, man … those were villains! And they ended up not even playing traffic cop in this story, they played the part of a familiar landmark. Green Lantern all telling lost superheroes “All right, well, go left at Earth-C, and keep going until you see the Justice League Satellite – if you see the Crime Syndicate in their imperishable green energy prison, you’ve gone too far…”
Of course, this was also the last JLA/JSA crossover which took place on alternate Earths, so while I may be disappointed that it was such a fizzle of a story and neglected to take advantage in any fashion of the concept of infinitely variable alternate realities, at least I know that the Champions took off at the end of the issue to explore the multiverse and are, at least, now totally dead.
I will tell you this: The Champions were so goddamn lame that for thirty years I assumed wrongly that they were from Earth-Prime. JUST LIKE ULTRAA, MAN.