Musclemen in stretch pants.

*In keeping with the venerable online tradition of providing short fiction to comment on comics controversies, I present to you a little tale I like to call The Third Miracle of St. Douglas Internet (or: I Tremble for my Fandom When I Think that God is Just). With any luck it’ll put an end to allegorical short fiction forever, but at the very least it might be one of the better stories about a young man attempting to assassinate an angelic being with old issues of Iron Man in order to prevent him from saving the Internet from itself that you’ll encounter this weekend. I hope.

JLA: Classified #11

It occurs to me that this might have made a real decent double-sized introductory issue, had it been attached to #10 and released as a single unit. Writer Warren Ellis is working through the team lineup, getting them all involved in the oncoming danger, giving them all a chance to narrate, and otherwise acclimating us with his spin on our familiar heroes as they investigate a common problem (pithy witticisms abound, as you'd expect). As a single issue, though, it’s less satisfying, as a lot of splashes and Big Action occur, which makes this chapter seem awfully light on content. It’s set up as a way to join the team together, yes, but the constant barrage of explosions and discoveries of mysterious green things might seem more repetitive than rythmic, depending on the mood of the reader.

The book does give us more of those huge superhero moments that Ellis has been promising, with Superman boldly flying to the rescue and the Flash blasting away flames with his speed (the science breathlessly explained via caption, of course), and Green Lantern forming lovely and helpful green shapes and all that. And then - Martian Manhunter! Oracle! Along the way, Lois reveals the shocking connections between those recent suicides: they were all working on the same project! Somehow, I’m not sure that warranted the huge chart we saw her working with last issue, but hey, I arrive at simple solutions in complex ways too. At least she has a particularly good line, in reaction to news of a space satellite in danger: “I’ll let you take that one, so you don’t feel totally useless.”

And that’s it. If coupled with the humor and rampant Ellisisms of last issue, this could have seemed a lot better. Ah well, look to the trade, you know? Eyes on the prize! Butch Guice’s art still seems appealingly scratchy and muscular to me, about the sort of thing a bicep-flexing superhero story like this needs, though never crossing the line into distraction. DC’s marketing department or whomever is cooking up these cover taglines is still doing a crappy job. “Personal Hell!” Um, what? Explosions and glowing green rugs are the personal hell of the JLA? Or was that the title of this chapter (which means it still makes no sense)? No no, enough nitpicking. The book’s ok stuff, so long as the fact that the story is now 1/3 finished and we’ve just completed the obligatory ‘introduction of the team’ sequence doesn’t bug you too much.

Astonishing X-Men #12


Well, first things first - Dan Coyle called this one months ago, so credit where credit’s due. At the time I really wanted to believe that what writer Joss Whedon seemed to be working toward was simply a bit of narrative misdirection, since the alternative was that the book was going for just about the most obvious 'twist' imaginable, but gosh, should I have been expecting anything more from a best-selling X-Book?

Well, in a word, yes. Maybe that’s a personal failing on my part.

So anyway, apparently Emma is a villain again or something, and the Hellfire Club is back, again. I strongly doubt Whedon will be able to resist milking a little ‘is she or isn’t she’ anticipation out of Emma’s position on the team, but yeah, this is pretty much the easiest path to take, and not one delicately foreshadowed either. Of course, such complaints perhaps underline the status quo of Whedon’s run on this book - editorial fiat or not, it’s mostly been about restoring the old ways: old costumes, old characters, old motivations, while queuing up a collection of The X-Men’s Greatest Plot Point Hits (mutants back from the dead! an apocalyptic future! the Danger Room gone berserk!) without any of that nasty talk of changing for the future, a la Morrison. Even the deployment of the revelation itself this issue involves a well-worn supercomics trope: shoring up a piss-poor storyline by plopping a Major Twist at the very end, hopefully stringing the readers on to the next thrilling issue, pay no attention to the four shitty issues before.

Anyway, there’s more to this book than the Emma stuff, not that any of it’s good. The X-Men are menaced by a big scary Sentinel, which Danger (the evil Danger Room entity) has uploaded herself into. Except, she hasn’t totally done that, since she can still remotely control her body, and even grow parts of it back (from what, scrap?). Fortunately, the Beast defeats her by... umm... leaping at her and scratching her a lot, I think. “...when you’re surrounded by psychics... you gotta work on instinct,” Hank proclaims, having apparently forgotten that the team tried this precise technique back in issue #10 and got their asses handed to them, but I guess it works here because it’s the end of the story. Also, wasn’t Danger’s whole ‘thing’ the fact that she had analyzed all of the X-Men’s techniques from seeing them in combat? That’s ignored too. And then she apparently takes over Hank’s body (?), but then she doesn’t because Kitty jumps into the big scary Sentinel’s body and makes him feel really guilty about killing Genosha (via a convenient keyboard/monitor terminal) so he flies away into space with Danger stuck in him.

I assure you, this issue is exactly as stupid in action as it reads in summary. And just forget about the eye-rolling angst of that post-battle coda, with the whole team chewing out Prof. X for oppressing a sentient form of life by keeping her all cooped up in the Danger Room. “She should have killed us,” Cyclops declares, which you wouldn’t think would go over well when surrounded by people who just spent hours and hours desperately fighting a threat that put hundreds of children in danger along with themselves, but no - everyone sides with him, since (again), it’s the end of the story, and we’ve gotta ramp up the conflict for that Major Twist. Not that I’ll be around to see how it all pans out.

So au revoir, Astonishing X-Men. You never lived up to your title, but at least you provided about seven or eight issues worth of passable entertainment. I guess John Cassaday and Laura Martin’s art and color still look nice, though Cassaday's work looks more and more rushed with each issue (just look at that panel with Kitty getting tossed in the air - she’s basically standing still with a bunch of speed lines behind her). The visuals just aren’t enough here, and putting up with this crap is bordering on masochism already. I really should have dumped this thing months ago. No time like the present, I guess!