Thursday, May 22, 2008

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me

Many readers find themselves challenged by the lack of gray areas and soaring cheerfulness of a Geoff Johns comic. And by this I mean that, in a given script, characters will bond in a family setting, we'll find them genuinely interesting and life-like, and then one or more of them will be viciously murdered.
Good is (some would say) lollipop good and bad is, like, WICKED bad. I not only have no problem with this, I prefer it. I still have a kid in me. I read comics, among other reasons, to transport myself back to when my only concerns were to secure pizza and that copy of Blaster Master from the video store.
Comics are indeed art at the high end of the spectrum. But I don't' care how "weird" high school was, how traumatic courting that goth chick was, comics are not, I repeat NOT, literature. And yes, I love Watchmen, but its particular grandeur cannot be replicated no matter what kind of misogynist Mr. Fantastic becomes. In great novels or series of them, characters are built up by a single writer who's invested everything in them. The writer is invisible because his is the only voice with which these characters have ever spoken. You never pause to think, "Huh- Elric sure is COKED OUT OF HIS GOURD today!" Comics being a stranger, more rarefied animal, they're preyed upon by parasites of the worst kind: stunt writers.
These are youngsters brimming with great dialogue, cutting-edge ideas and the eagerness to ride iconic characters to the top. By the end of the ride, however (or sometimes seconds into it), said icons are unrecognizable.
I belabour this point only to outline what Geoff Johns isn't. When he signs on to write a book (Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern) he's there for the characters' benefit, not his own. If, after fifty+ issues he hasn't made all the hero's major rogues menacing again, given the hero a supporting cast whose lives intertwine organically with his, and kept the whole thing exciting- then he's failed. Meanwhile, at the end of a Brian Bendis run, if he hasn't cornholed all of the characters into talking like Al Pacino, he's failed. If Mark Millar hasn't shown us Sue Richards sodomized by a zombie Human Torch and (ULP!) liking it, then he's failed.
But all of this isn't to blacken the word stunt- because the current JSA story, a sequel the monstrously enjoyable Kingdom Come (1997) is just that. The upside is, after having nurtured these characters himself for eight years, Geoff Johns cares if it works.
Does it?
The fact that this supposed sequel has risen from and now flows alongside the growth of the newly gathered Justice Society tells me yes- loudly. Development on several fronts, such as bringing in old members and attracting new, all the while helping an aged, stranded Superman cope, are entertaining enough. Mysteries abounding in the background, however, show just how stratospherically more dexterous is Johns' pen compared with the rest of the industry.
Someone is murdering those who claim to be gods (metahumans, rekanize). The new Mr. America (his predecessor fell dead through the JSA's skylight- this one uses the front door) contacts the team, explaining that his investigation has turned up the word "GOG" at one of the crime scenes. What we've sussed out, thanks to bath-robe wearing, crumb-cake eating Superman, is that Gog was the inspiration for Magog, the man who ruined Earth 22 (where Kingdom Come was set). It would therefore behoove the JSA to make this douche their problem now, mitigating later catastrophe. As they engage in a multi generational squabble as to who is suited to fight this slayer of gods, the villain simply teleports into their headquarters. Then begins a mouth-watering Sistine Chapel of street fights, choreographed with all twenty-four heroes by the inimitable Dale Eaglesham.
By the end, they've teleported after the intruder into the jungles of the Congo (where we've been teased repeatedly by a giant stone face). I'll only say that I'm reminded, gleefully, of Angel season 4, in which an Oprah-esque deity brings unsolicited peace to the world. Also, at issue's very end, we get a "things-to-come" page, promising the return of Black Adam and Power Girl's creepy Earth 2 playmates- WAAhoo!


Kevin said...

"...comics are not, I repeat NOT, literature.

Perhaps you're reading the wrong comics?

elmo said...

Ha! I knew that line for a lightning rod. My complaint is against the current trend of getting novelists to "craft" these bloated six-part things for release in hardcover, so they can compete at B&N next to the latest Dan Simmons or W.E.B. Griffin.

And the last time I foolishly stepped outside of my genre (Black Hole by Burns), I was awe struck by the creator's audacity in having passed the thing off as something with pages meant to be read consecutively and understood.

steve said...

I agree that "Black Hole" sucked like a chest-wound, and I ANTICIPATE that Kevin's idea of the "right" comics will involve ... you guessed it! .... lesbian Serbian cancer victims! AND I agree that this latest issue of JSA was really good. My gripes?

1. My over-arching gripe about ALL comic story-arcs spawned from some popular storyline set in the future: it's slavishly unoriginal. No matter how much Johns liked "Kingdom Come" (and fess up, Kevin, you liked it too, even though it wasn't composed of 400 pages of emaciated characters having existential crises, ala "Blankets" and every other non-superhero piece of poo out there), no matter how popular the idea is with fans, and no matter how mouth-watering the prospect is of getting new Alex Ross 'Kingdom Come' artwork, it's still a cop-out: Johns should be doing his own writing from top to bottom, not vamping off somebody else's.

2. The team is just too damn big! Not just in terms of competing storylines but in terms of simple logistics - they're constantly tripping over each other.

3. Since when can Obsidian possess people?

4. Since when is the Sarge-Steel-descendant guy unmovable?

5. Since when does Liberty Bell have super-speed?

6. At the climax of the fight, Jay Garrick is gut-shot at point-blank range. How's come he isn't dead?

7. Although I appreciate the fact that the former Star Boy leaves the fight to save a dog (even if it IS a poodle), it's a pretty easy gimmick on Johns' part, since Star Boy would be able to end the fight all by his lonesome.

8. Hell, HALF the TEAM should be able to end the fight on their lonesome! Some strongman with an energy lance? Against Superman, Green Lantern, Power Girl, and the Flash? And their twenty super-powered friends? GMAFB!

But nevertheless, a treat of an issue! And those sneak-peaks! Why, the very thought of Gerry Ordway drawing Infinity, Inc again after all these years! Yum!

steve said...

Speaking of Gerry Ordway, will we be getting MCRG entries on any of the week's other titles? Like the new "Brave and Bold," for instance? I liked it quite a bit - and then, I shudder to think what your reaction to the latest 'Fantastic Four' must be, although I found myself liking it too. Mark Millar is 100 percent guilty of all the stuff you accuse him of ... but he CAN sometimes write effective dialog, I think ...

steve said...

ulp ... that should read 'Jerry' Ordway ... awk-waaaard ...

elmo said...

If only I'd wasted money on FF. Shame we no longer get it reliably at the store. I understand there was an anti-Galactus contraption? So that Reed can kick him in the nuts with an mechanized boot- I assure you, it's coming.

steve said...

No! It was actually BETTER than it sounds! AND there's some pretty good dialogue, like in the scene between Reed Richards and Alyssa Moy (yet another inspired creation from Chris Claremont's brief run on the title ... a run I really wish Marvel would collect), in which she basically makes her case to him, that they 'married the wrong people.' She says, "Oh, c'mon. We both know it's true. Ted has the intellect, but none of the passion. He might talk positrons in his sleep, but could you really imagine him hijacking a space rocket? As for Sue: well, she's very sweet and very pretty, but she'd hardly be described as engaging conversation. Same with Ben. Same with Johnny. I'm the only one you can talk to without the child-lock on. She complains you're always in the lab, but any fool can see you're just avoiding her! You're chalk and cheese! You got married on the rebound! We only get one life, Reed ... why spend it with someone whose eyes glaze over when you talk about your passions?"

And he gives her the only possible answer: "Because I love her, Alyssa."

Now I ask you - that's not COMPLETELY horrible, is it?

L. Simpson said...

Some might say that pizza and master blaster still are your main goals.

Kevin said...

That bit of Reed/Alyssa dialogue sounds very Millar - and not terribly impressive, to me. Didn't we get past the idea of Sue being just a pretty face 20 or so years ago during Byrne's run? Not to mention the rather limp response - If my wife overheard a similar conversation, she would, I imagine, expect me to come up with a better defense. Reeds essentialy validates the criticism of Sue.

Kevin said...

I was signing autographs at the Detroit Comicon last weekend (believe it or not, 4 or 5 people not related to me stopped by my table to get their Badgers signed), and while looking across the Con at Claremont's booth, I wondered if I should approach, and what I would say if I made it to the front of the line.

Thank him for lighting my passion for comics in the first place? Be careful not to mention that I find those wildly over-scripted pages very difficult to get back into, today?

Then a thought sprung into my head. Has he ever thought of taking over the writing chores on the Legion? A mega-multi-character sci-fi melodrama - is it just me, or would that be a pretty great fit, and a potentially exciting draw for more fans to the book?

I know, I know - its a bit early for giving up on Shooter's run - though he has put out a series of underwhelming issues lately. But the idea intrigued me.

No, I never built up the nerve to speak to him.

Kevin said...

Now, as far as 'literary comics' goes...

I enjoyed Black Hole quite a bit - found it delightfully moody, and a cunning take on the awkwardness of 'coming of age'.

Shall I name a few others (and not a Serb or cancer patient among them)?

How 'bout Louis Riel? Graffiti Kitchen? Cages? Exit Wounds? Hicksville? Or maybe one that even Cape Zombie Steve enjoys - Age of Bronze?

I do hear ya on the novelists-turned comic-writers (although I have a soft spot, still, for the uber-quirky Omega the Unknown). And yes, I did enjoy Kingdom Come. Liked Uncle Sam, too. Wink wink.

elmo said...

Oh, MAN! I just finished lovingly rereading Uncanny 221-280, and I would have been all over the guy. Incidentally, the only issue from the run I bounced from my collection was the one drawn by Liefeld.

Kevin said...

220-280 huh? I do like that period, though it's not my favorite (I'm a bigger fan of the original JRJR run). There are some dicey issues in there (including 'Inferno' and the stint in Australia, as well as some real clunkers toward the end).

I do like the way he broke the team further and further down from the uniform-wearing, mansion-dwelling, 'all new, all different' team - making the promise of the more and more scattered parts rejoining the reason you kept coming back - though once that occurred (at the end of the run in question), the (Claremont-free) result was a major letdown.

In some ways, what I like about Claremont's deconstruction of the X-men (as well as Byrne's Alpha Flight and Giffen's Legion) is exactly what I don't like about a lot of today's Super books - everyone seems to be bent on recapturing an era they like best on a character (from re-iconic portrayals of the Justice League to Bendis's obsession with 70's Marvel) rather than letting the characters and concepts grow and evolve.

elmo said...

True dat. For years Uncanny simply rotated individual characters in and out of the spotlight, and the flesh-outs became more cinematic. I even love Forge in the sewers.

I do hope that somewhere, someday soon, a book slips the reins and heads into waters not editorially conceived, the way Legion did.

I almost want to say that Astonishing X-Men could do it, if Ellis is on his game and doens't get cynical or abandon Whedon's set pieces.

Kevin said...

Here's hopin'!

This blog rules. Keep posting!