Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Week 29: Nihilist Spasm Superteam

Look, I'm all for old people doing cool things that they've been doing together for a really long time. But I don't understand why the JSA still exists, or why there should be a new JLA, and this issue underscores why.

The ostensible reason there was a Justice Society in the first place was, you know, networking--a way that members of the then-nascent super-community could keep in touch with each other and compare notes, and maybe call on each other for help with super-type problems that were too big for any of them. Then there was the All-Star Squadron, who were nominallly on a mission to do their stuff on the home front during World War II because the Spear of Destiny blah blah. And after WWII ended, the JSA was once again a superheroes-working-for-their-mutual-benefit organization--and failed completely. Paul Levitz, in fact, wrote this story--well, it's not even pictured on the cover, although a good Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez-drawn Deadman story is--in which the JSA effectively disbanded after HUAC demanded they unmask, in a rather Civil War-like gambit (and by the way um wow click on this, although it's kinda NSFW).

This means, effectively, that the JSA totally failed at its mission to be an information clearinghouse and mutual support organization for super-types. You'd think that they'd have reorganized into something entirely different and more proactive, and that's more or less what the Justice League was for most of its pre-Infinite Crisis existence. The crucial phrase here is "monitor duty": they actively kept an eye out for situations that required multiple-superhero-type intervention, and went out and fixed them. That was at least the concept, although a lot of JLA stories don't suggest much of what the group is actually supposed to do. And its spinoffs have sometimes done even worse on the raison d'ĂȘtre front.

Given the existence of the JLA, there's no mandate for a JSA: they're not competing organizations, it's just that without the League's participation, the Society doesn't really have a point except as a sort of Elks Club for aging superheroes and their extended families. (Which is what it looks like here. Alan and Jay and Ted don't seem to have offered any kind of outreach or mentorship to the new wave of super-kiddies, they're just sitting around moaning and whining about them.) The structure and purpose of the League ultimately failed even more spectacularly: everybody got blindsided by Infinite Crisis and its lead-ins, and Batman was semi-responsible for the OMAC calamity, etc. If you'll forgive the slightly obscure joke, it's as if Joseph Avenol had invaded Finland himself.

When the League of Nations failed to prevent exactly the kind of catastrophe it was meant to prevent, it realized that its name and structure was worthless; it disbanded, and the U.N. formed. Something similar would be more appropriate here that what we're getting, I suspect. It makes sense that the League ceased operations--having its HQ reduced to smithereens by Superboy-Prime was kind of a signal. It makes a weird DCU kind of sense that there should be some kind of new superhero organization to do... well, some kind of coordination between cape-and-cowl types. But it doesn't make sense that it should be called the Justice League, or that it should be organized the same way, because Infinite Crisis demonstrated that that totally doesn't work. And what we've seen of the new JLA series so far--four issues of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman sitting around a table trying to decide who the group is going to be limited to, and working from the premise that e.g. they definitely need an archer--suggests that they're just trying to refine their earlier mistakes, instead of ditching the old, ineffective form of the organization and, ideally, the name along with it.

So the big news that leaked on Monday was that DC's got another weekly comic, called Countdown, that will be starting the week after 52 ends. Paul Dini's writing it, which is very good news--I've been loving his Detective Comics scripts lately, and he's got lots of experience with both the DCU and weekly serials (he's worked on Lost). Also, it'll still have the "real-time" gimmick, which I hope he's got some really clever idea of how to use.

(Am I going to be doing something like 52 Pickup about Countdown? If somebody pays me to!)

But that brings something else to mind. There's been a lot of chatter about whether Marvel's going to do a weekly title too, now that Stephen Wacker's over there; what a lot of people don't seem to have mentioned is that there already is a weekly Marvel series, and its circulation is much higher than even 52's. It's called Spider-Man Collectible Series, it appears in several dozen Sunday newspapers, and it's ending in a couple of weeks. It's not new stories--it's reprints of early Steve Ditko stuff--but the principle is the same.

Imagine, though, if somebody did something that combined the bright ideas of 52 and Spider-Man Collectible Series: a weekly comic book, printed on cheap Parade-type stock and inserted into Sunday newspapers, with a suspenseful, tightly plotted serial as its lead feature (one that allowed jumping on at any point, and in which continuity with old and new direct-market comics was Easter eggs, rather than the central pillar of the plot), plus a little two-page "secret origin" backup feature... how great would that be? Has anyone even tried to do a weekly newspaper-insert comic book of new material in the U.S. since The Spirit?

In a lot of ways, this week's issue looks like it was reconfigured in a hurry: as a few people have noted, the solicitation involved the origin of the Joker by Waid and Bolland, and two pull-quotes, one of which had previously appeared in the solicitation for #25, and the other of which bears no relationship to anything we've seen in the series, and the issue's got a 22-page story that seems a little padded and no backup at all. And then there's the pearl problem, which I'll get to in a minute. Next issue looks fantastic, though, and I've got a lot to say about that cover...

More notes:

Pg. 3: The JLA and JSA have been in the habit of having Thanksgiving together--they've done it here and here. (There's also a reference to Thanksgiving near the end of Identity Crisis.) The image they're looking at in panel 3 is, of course, the cover of All Star Comics #3--that link, by the way, is not the original version, of course...

The Ultra-Humanite is a good one for Wildcat to be referencing here--he was pretty much the first super-villain in superhero comics, it says here, and fought the JSA and All-Star Squadron a few times. Of course, as Johns knows, he's dead too...

Extant's death may be one of the causes of time being broken--it happened here, as the result of Atom-Smasher sending Extant back in time to replace his mother in a Kobra-planned plane crash, thereby altering history, which I thought was one of those things you couldn't do. (Extant, the former Monarch and, before that, Hawk of Hawk and Dove, was yet another time traveler, and if I have to explain him any further I'll have to get into Zero Hour and Armageddon 2001 and nobody wants that. Let's just say he turned up as a zombie in an anachronistic costume early this year, in a Johns-written comic, and leave it at that.) But remember the Fifth Rule of Delicate Comics Foreshadowing: a quarter-page panel devoted to a four-word word balloon indicating that a character is dead is as sure a sign as you could ask for that that character is actually alive.

As for the time going out fighting rather than fading away, that was basically what they were doing as of the Last Days of the Justice Society special in 1986--permanently fighting Ragnarok. Anyone know if they even still remember that?

Pg. 5: Sylvester Pemberton, the original Star-Spangled Kid and originator of the team's name, was killed in the final issue of Infinity, Inc., which I'd link to here if were functional right now. Sorry. His parents adopted Merry Craemer (...Pemberton King), a.k.a. Merry, Girl of 1000 Gimmicks; Merry's daughter Jacqueline was the Gimmix who disappeared (killed by the Sheeda) in Seven Soldiers #0. But wouldn't Merry control the Pemberton estate, rather than her estranged daughter? Last we saw, she was alive and kicking and part of Old Justice. (In a story that involved the pre-Seven Soldiers version of Klarion, which Hypertime complexity I don't want to think about too much either. Practicing avoidance much this week, Douglas?)

Pg. 8: Yes, Obsidian is gay, but that "does not decrease DC Comics' ability to sell its products." The Milwaukee business happened in JSA #7.

Pg. 12: In the ongoing G.Mo Vs. A.Mo Slaying-The-Father-Stakes: I see Sivana's managed to add another pair of drumsticks to the turkey on the next-to-last page of Watchmen #1. In a scene prominently involving a watch and the Cold War, no less.

Pg. 13: I am totally stumped on Comrade Krabb; anybody have any idea where he's appeared before? Of course, his name might be something totally different, given that nobody in the production line caught "Khrushohev."

Pg. 14: Both "neat" (in the sense of "undiluted") and "washing up liquid" are Britishisms, and as far as I remember, Veronica Cale isn't British. But what's up with her not wearing her trademark black pearl necklace? That's her defining visual characteristic, and missing it is the kind of glitch that seems like it's either a significant story point or a significant screw-up... "I didn't realize they'd kidnapped Freud too": nice!

Pg. 15: What Cale is quoting here sounds like a quote from the Crime Bible to me. (EDITED TO ADD: Duh: it's from the actual Bible. See the comments.) Cf. the blurb-line from the Week 31 solicit: "Superman being out of the picture was the key. One of two keys, if you want to be cute about it." "A star from the sky which had fallen to the earth" sounds like some variety of Kryptonite (or the Starheart that Alan's lantern is made from), and also recalls Supernova's costume and the scene with him in Wayne Manor.

Pg. 16: Back in Week 25, he was Chang Tzu; now he's Chung Zhu; on the next page he's Chung Tzu. Curious. And slightly irritating that this issue seems to have it in for both vegetarians and macrobiotic types, given that I'm getting ready to put the Tofurky in the oven.

Pg. 17: A number that doesn't even have a 52 in it!

Pg. 21: And here I was, hoping that Kala was going to arrive by hovercraft this time. Would Gabe (or anybody outside the superhero community) know that Dr. Cross was Dr. Mid-Nite? At least we're getting one sympathetic cameo by a vegetarian this issue...

Pg. 22: Interesting that the cliffhanger this time is something we already know to be false, since we've seen Luthor turn off powers with the press of a button.

In the Dept. of Unfinished Business: reader "Reverend" Jack Zall sends along a link to an image of Dragon's Fists, the novel in which Richard Dragon first appeared: it's here. Thank you, Jack!

Next week's issue, I'm told, will actually be out Wednesday, but next week's 52 Pickup (and the following week's) are likely to go up very late in the evening or sometime Thursday, thanks to my travel schedule.


At 12:20 AM, Blogger justinshock said...

re: page 15

as for whether that quote is from the crime bible, well it may be..

Revelation 9 WEB
1 The fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from the sky which had fallen to the earth. The key to the pit of the abyss was given to him.

2 He opened the pit of the abyss, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke from a burning furnace. The sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke from the pit.

At 7:41 AM, Blogger webrunner said...

Maybe the powers have both an off button and the ability to give them expiration dates.

Think about it: Give them expiration dates, and when they stop working PR spin it as the unpredictability of a new science, and when people come back to get recharged you really have them. It's like a drug, except it's control over people instead of money.

Hm, word verification was vgjwe, in green. vgj. Veg-j? COINCIDENCE?

At 1:11 PM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

From 5.2 Or So About 52:

"Newsarama: So - Day 1 is Wednesday after all, huh?

Michael Siglain: Sometimes. Day 1 is Wednesday this week, though it really does vary from week to week.


MS: Allow special guest star Greg Rucka to explain:

Greg Rucka: Normally, it falls on a Sunday. Sometimes, it falls on a Wednesday.

I know that's not a satisfying answer, but -- for the most part -- the actual day of the week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc) hasn't been the important thing, more its place in a sequence. In this instance, where we were dealing with an actual, locked-in, everyone knows the day in the real world date, it becomes far more problematic."

This is completely ridiculous. Using this reasoning, week 29, day 5 could be the same day as week 30, day 1. I know time is broken but this is just stupid.

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

Time is broken, dude.

Honestly, I've got nothing this week.

Here: Ain't it Cool News Comic @$$holes (of which I am one) Discusses 52 - if nothing else, there's a fun title image.

At 7:07 AM, Blogger creativename said...

Don't know that the cliffhanger is false. The two ways of losing the powers are not mutually exclusive. And it would explain the bodies falling past Luthor's window in our near future.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

From All The Rage:

"The New Gods will be playing a big part in the DCU in 2007. The classic Jack Kirby characters will be revamped by creators like Grant Morrison and Jim Starlin.

Seeds for these storylines will be planted over the following months in numerous titles including: Firestorm, Blue Beetle, 52, and Mystery in Space."

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Squashua said...

Holy crap, there's NEW GODS involved in 52???!!!???

That was sarcasm. :-)

At 9:24 AM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

That news seems to make it unlikely that the New Gods will play heavily in the denouement of 52, as many have speculated.


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