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.


notintheface said...

Justice League#0 In Sixty Seconds

Tom Foss said...

That was one of the things I'd read about the issue :).