It's those costumes again.

*You’ve seen this linked already at Tom Spurgeon’s, at the very least, but I need to point out for myself that there’s a simply lovely review of Lost Girls up at ImageTexT, the University of Florida’s comics-devoted academic journal, which just released its newest issue to the web. They had some nice Alan Moore stuff up last issue too. But don’t look too far backward - you’ll miss interesting, lengthy current pieces on the architectural grounding of Elektra: Assassin and identity & metamorphosis in Kabuki, among other academic doodads and thingies.

And also from Tom’s - new Dave Sim!!

Justice League of America #1


This is the big relaunch from writer Brad Meltzer and penciller Ed Benes, though there was actually an issue #0 last month with a slew of guest artists. This ‘first’ issue is extra-big (38 pages of story, plus an 8-page preview of Meltzer’s new prose novel The Book of Fate), extra-costly ($3.99), and has a Michael Turner variant cover. It is probably going to sell a few copies, even though issue #0 had to settle for second place last month, well over 100,000 copies behind Civil War #3. Still, it’ll do ok.

Two things struck me about the book’s content.

First was the sheer melodrama of it all. This is superhero soap opera to the nth degree. There are no action scenes in this comic. There’s violence, yes, and also a woman-and-child-in-possible-peril suspense set piece; actually, those two bits are even intermingled for added punch. But all it did was take me back to the silent era of film, with D.W. Griffith busting out his famed ‘cross-cuts’ to get the audience’s collective pulse racing at the climax of another cannonball-subtle saga of love and tragedy and sacrifice and big gestures, big collapses, big tears.

Oh, there’s tears in here too, as Red Tornado’s beloved significant other has flashbacks to old stories whilst weeping and wailing over the hero’s artificial husk and remembering the beautiful times where they did the crossword puzzle in bed. He’s been dead six times before, and she just knows he’ll be back once again, d… darn it! You’ll recall Red Tornado most recently playing a very small but pertinent role in 52, and that’s not where the connections end: all of this plays out in front of Doc Magnus and a female Metal Man who totally has a crush on her boss and engages in clumsy yet allegedly endearing ‘robots trying to be human’ shtick, but then her head gets sawed off by an evil version of Mister Miracle, along with that of a male Metal Man. Mrs. Red Tornado and her darling adopted child (“Mommy, I got the cake ready. You bringing Daddy home now?” “I’m sure he’ll be home soon, muffin.” CUE FLOODS OF WEEPING) don’t get beheaded, though the threat of such is evident from the ‘cross-cutting,’ and we’re assured that shadowy villains have something so unspeakably atrocious planned that the Justice League will want to rip their very hearts out in retaliation.

There’s also stuff about Arsenal bonding with Hal Jordan and Green Arrow manfully stepping aside to let the next generation take charge, and an undercover Black Lightening interrogating super-drug addicts, and Vixen looking for the Question, who’s apparently not yet home from his 52 sojourn (why let the teases be confined to 52 itself, after all?). Almost every subplot gets a little listing of which characters are in it, which is handy considering that Meltzer looks to be picking up on 52’s interest in minor DCU characters; Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman spend all their time bickering over who to select for the new League, though Clark also indulges in a little internal narration:

Sure, Bruce loves control, but in this case… Bruce won’t say it, but I can see the way he’s staring at the photo. He wants the Captain because he’s good. Not just a good fighter. Truly good. And on a dark knight, a little light always makes you feel better. Even if you won’t admit it.”

Oh tumbling wit, take me away!

But even Superman thinking up vaguely dirty puns at the Justice League conference table with a contented smile on his face can’t draw much attention away from Red Tornado. Maybe it’s because the other minor characters and their plots are set up in a wholly perfunctory way, just getting the cards on the table for later issues - I’ll confess that I didn’t even understand parts of Vixen’s sequence until I looked up her powers online (and judging from the way her spine contorts to stick her butt out at the reader, I presume her default attribute is ‘serpent’). But floating around in some astral purgatory, looking down at his weeping lover and saying “Look how she holds my hand,” Red Tornado practically dictates the tone of the issue from on high: moistened character interactions under a cloud of assumed gravitas, villains creeping beyond the horizon and violence momentarily crackling into sight. He doesn’t even get an explanatory logo introducing him; he’s so vital, we all should know him already, I guess.

Which leads me to the second thing I noticed: I did feel like I ought to know who Red Tornado is by the end of the issue. Because characters kept telling me I should. Over and over. And I guess writer Meltzer is presuming that if the characters keep on trying to convince me that Red Tornado is very big and important, eventually I’ll believe it myself. Red Tornado! He comes back from the dead a lot! He’s a wonderful lover and father and very sensitive! Cruel villains snarl at the mention of him: “You’re scared of him, aren’t you? Half a day in his company, and suddenly you’re terrified of Red Tornado?” Oh sure, the baddie being addressed shoots that observation down as a misinterpretation, but that doesn’t stop villainy from attempting to seize the magnificent Red Tornado robot body! And how about Batman, who late in the issue seriously delivers a short speech to Superman and Wonder Woman about how bloody awesome Red Tornado is?

But if you want to talk untapped potential…”

Make it explicit, eh? This same thing happened in issue #1 of Moon Knight over at Marvel, where half the title character’s narration seemed geared toward transparently urging the reader to reconsider their prior thoughts on the greatness of Moon Knight. But at least he kicked a few asses and delved into hallucination; all we actually see of Red Tornado is, well, people talking about him as he floats around and talks a lot himself, and then he gets a body and people are understandably delighted to see him. The whole thing seems awfully overstated to me, almost as if the book's team needs to convince itself of what it's saying through repetition; why not have Red Tornado do more stuff in the ‘first’ issue rather than just pumping him up through verbiage?

Ah well, so it goes in the mellerdrammer - lots of sizzle over the steak for now. But boy does Meltzer like pressing those emotional buttons ("What about cupcakes? We should have cupcakes for him -- especially if he's coming back soon."), even though he sometimes misses and jams his finger on the emotional control panel. I will say that from a purely structural standpoint Meltzer constructs things quite handsomely - there’s eight narrators (nine if you’re including the omniscient one) employed at different points in the book, and it never feels jumbled or confusing, even when one of them seems to be omniscient and then cleverly returns to Earth for a while. There’s not a lot to say about Ed Benes’ art, beyond that it makes everyone look like they’re guest starring in a miscellaneous Wildstorm book from the mid-to-late-’90s, and that his staging doesn’t get in the way of the dialogue.

That's what's really big here - character interaction. I found it to be as often soppy or dashed-off or unintentionally funny as it was interesting or sweet or thrilling. It clearly wants to be big, deep, emotionally drenched and therefore weighty. But then, it also wants me to go crazy over Red Tornado, and from what it's showing here I'm only willing to meet it around halfway for now.