Saturday, September 22, 2012

With one magic word...

I didn't read "Justice League" #0, but I've read plenty about it. I haven't cared for the characterization of anyone, nor the arbitrary changes, nor even Gary Frank's art this time around. I can't think of many artists who I'd find less suited to a character like Captain Marvel than Gary Frank. It's not that he's not a good artist, it's just the same reason I wouldn't put Steve Dillon on a Care Bears comic.

It might be naïve optimism at this point, or it might be that Geoff Johns has made his writing so clichéd and nuance-free that it's simple to extrapolate the plotline, but I think I see where he's trying to go with this. Billy Batson is a jerkass, but he's a jerkass with a heart of gold. Gaining the powers of Shazam--and particularly the wisdom of Zeus--will eventually force him to become a better person and a hero and whatnot. I suspect that's the endpoint of this story, showing how Billy grows as a person into a true champion. It's a redemption story, it's the story that "Amazing Fantasy" #15 told in like twelve pages. It might even be a worthwhile story, but it's not a story I want to read.

There are two reasons for this. One is that, in order to tell this story, Johns seems to think that he needed to make the protagonist a generally unlikable dick, so that his eventual redemption would be that much greater. That's anything but necessary; I honestly think it's lazy. It's easier to write characters at the extremes than characters who actually have some semblance of recognizable humanity. Moreover, it's forced Johns to generate characters who are even more extreme jerkasses, so that there's some contrast between the protagonist and the villains. So the rich jackass dad in the story, who would otherwise be the transplanted smarmy jerk from any '80s underdog movie, has to be a Snidely Whiplash-type who would assault a child in broad daylight. It's sloppy, it's lazy, it's unnecessary.

But the other reason is a larger one, one exemplified by the rest of the book that "Shazam" has been a backup in. If Billy Batson were the only character who had fallen so far so he could pick himself back up, it wouldn't be quite so unpalatable. But Geoff Johns' whole approach to the New 52 has been to make the heroes arrogant, unlikable, abrasive jerkasses, to the point where it takes them five years to realize that, hey, maybe they should learn some teamwork. Making Billy Batson a jerkass only blends him into the morass of unlikable assholes that the Justice League has become.

I know there's an audience for this version of Captain Marvel. The guy who works my LCS loves it. But I'm getting sick and tired of reading about "heroes" who behave like villains, and I'm getting sicker and tireder of what the villains have to become to provide that contrast.

I finally dropped "Justice League" this week. I won't be looking back.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Focused Totality

Reading "Justice League" #12 finally gelled for me the big problems I have with the book. It's not just that it's bad, it's not just that it's melodramatic and poorly-written and incomprehensible and generally unattractive and wholly inconsequential to the rest of the universe. It's that it's all those things in very familiar ways.

In short, it's an early '90s X-Men series.

I may be being unfair with this comparison, since I read only a handful of X-Men comics in the early '90s (barring the beat-up copy of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" that I read repeatedly around the same time). But then, there's a reason I couldn't get into those comics, and that reason is that I had no idea what was ever going on with them. I remember trying to parse out what the heck was going on with Psylocke and Revanche and eventually just going back to Spider-Man and Moon Knight.

But when I read the overwrought exchange between Superman and Wonder Woman and how they both just felt so alone, right before kissing, I couldn't think of anything besides Scott and Jean or Gambit and Rogue. All the focus on infighting and drama and personal conflicts and relationships, all the villains who don't do much beyond monologuing or standing and looking menacing, all the references to past events that I'm not familiar with, all the Jim Lee art, and suddenly it all clicked together. Geoff Johns is trying to be Chris Claremont, and while it's been clear from the start that he was trying to focus this book like an exposé, only now has it become clear why.

It's not really surprising, the Claremont/Lee X-Men being among the best-selling comics in history. The entire New 52 seems to have been an effort in sympathetic magic or cargo cult comic creation, as if acting like it was the '90s again would bring back the prosperity the industry had during that time. It's just...weird. And it's certainly not the Justice League comic I want to be reading.

And so I'm done with it. Finally. Sealed with a kiss.