Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The darkness is over, Dad

JSA: Princes of Darkness (#46 - #55)

First, congratulations to DC on fitting in the names of twenty-one senior corporation executives onto the inside cover of this one. While I'd love to believe that, for instance, Lillian Laserson, Senior VP and General Counsel, had a big input into the production of this trade paperback, I'm reluctantly forced to concede that this is more likely to be an exercise in corporate ego. Sticking the name of all your company bigwigs into every book you publish is a masturbatory tickling of your own G-spot. It reeks of briefing documents, steering committees, Darwinian struggles for reserved parking spaces and lavishly furnished executive washrooms where wide-eyed exotic beauties hand out silk-embossed personalised toilet paper. There's a reason, DC, why I didn't see the name of Kellogg's VP of Sales and Marketing on my Corn Flakes box this morning. It's because they realise that (much as I abhor the use of coarse language) I don't give a flying fuck what their name is.

There is an argument going round that, these days, all the stories written for monthly comic books are actually just installments for their future TPB. If so, there's not much sign that Geoff Johns, the writer, is paying any attention. The book begins in the middle of a battle, which then continues for 160 pages or so. Then we have a completely different story lasting about 40, and then two further stories lasting about 20 pages each. If this book is taken to be a coherent whole, then the finish is about two-thirds of the way through, and the rest is padding. No, this is ten contiguous comic books stapled together. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I'm falling for the JSA. I've been reading DC for a few months now, and they've made far more impression than the JLA, who appear to be constructed out of cardboard. If I were to speak in Marvel terms, I'd say there was a Thunderbolts air about this book. You get the feeling nobody is particularly safe, that members are going to come and go, and that generally things aren't caught in the permafrost of relationships in which the big books (both Marvel and DC) are stuck.

The problem for the new reader is simply the volume of members of the JSA. A priceless introduction explains a little about its fourteen members and five friends. Most seem to have convoluted origins involving wizards, aliens, ancient Egyptians and, er, genies. And let's not forget the fabulously named "Cosmic Converter Belt" sported by group cutie Courtney Whitmore. There's also a complex web of familial relationships which I don't come close to understanding. In the long run this is good, if you haven't already thrown the book away in frustration. Like how come Hector Hall looks about twenty years older than his father?

The male/female balance of the book is badly out of kilter, though - there are only three women, and one, Power Girl, is a rough-tough "touch me and I'll snap your spine like a twiglet" type and another, Hawkgirl, well, is she a stroppy teenager in a huff? Because she never seems to do anything but bristle.

Anyway, I'm getting to really like the JSA, but I think this book has problems. The main one being that most of it is one long battle. One hundred and sixty pages of wham! thud! slam! haha and now I'll move the moon from its orbit! Now I'm a decompression fan - I like my heroes sitting on comfortable settees talking to each other, with battle scenes used sparingly. This prolonged fight was like being shouted at by a small, aggressive, Scottish sergeant-major standing one inch from your nose. It's not necessarily that what he's saying is wrong, it's just he needs to calm down a bit, otherwise you're just going to conclude he's a twat.

I couldn't begin to explain how our villains, Mordru, Eclipso (surely the name of a refreshing pineapple soft drink?) and Obsidian get defeated. Obsidian turns out to be the son of one of the JSA: he gets off lightly with a small spell in hospital supervised by a skull-faced doctor. Apparently attempting to destroy the world doesn't result in a custodial sentence. And then there's Kobra, named as a villain at the front but who only appears once, when he is summarily executed by Black Adam and Atom Smasher. His connection remains opaque to me. Nice hideout, though.

And then there's Mordru's fiendish plan to destroy the earth by plunging it into permanent darkness by putting the moon in front of the sun. I don't want to come over all hyper-critical, but this doesn't make any sense. The moon is smaller than the earth: it can't block out all of the sun from every point on the earth's surface. I think perhaps DC have a vacancy for "Executive Vice President of Science (The Bleedin' Obvious)".

Moving on to our second story, we have the Crimson Avenger on a mission to kill Wildcat. I couldn't quite decide if Crimson Avenger was scary, as she is given to appearing at random and shooting people, or a bit ridiculous ("me guns, me guns, I can't control me guns"). And the way Wildcat actually turns out to have nine lives - you've got to respect the courage of a writer who would build that into a character.

And then the last two parts - one is a special Thanksgiving tale, the other a special Christmas tale. Isn't there a certain amount of redundancy here? And who was the woman who used to become a superhero by putting a pan on her head? Certainly has me baffled.


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10:26 am  
Anonymous Greg M. said...

And who was the woman who used to become a superhero by putting a pan on her head?

That would be the original Red Tornado, Ma Hunkel (I presume; I haven't actually read these JSA issues in question). WHO SAYS SUPERHERO COMICS AREN'T EASY FOR NEW READERS TO UNDERSTAND?!

2:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hector Hall...oh boy, there's a looong story.

In brief: Hector Hall and his wife Lyta were originally Earth-2 chars; like many such, their continuity got SCREWED in the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

It would take too long to explain the whole thing in detail, but suffice it to say that Hector died before the JSA series began, then was reborn in a new body during one of the early JSA arcs; he also became the new Doctor Fate at that time.

(And he and Lyta are the parents of Daniel, the new Dream of the Endless, but that's another story...)

Carter himself was also reborn after having been dead, so now their ages vary from each other. (This was part of the effort to resolve the UTTERLY MESSED UP Hawkman continuity.)

Male/Female Balance--The JSA never had many women, and since Wonder Woman and Black Canary are no longer members in current continuity, that makes it worse.

Obsidian is basically defeated by his father, Sentinel / Green Lantern I/ Alan Scott, knocking out his powers with his own powers.

Ma Hunkel was basically a JSA sidekick; she now runs their facilities for them. Ma cleaned up her neighborhood by putting a pot over her head, wearing a red outfit, and using her superior body mass to crush all opposition; she basically starred in a humor strip back in the Golden Age.

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