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Reviews by Bruce Bachand

JLA #16
CAMELOT
*Writer: Grant Morrison *Penciller: Howard Porter
*Inker: John Dell *Letterer: Ken Lopez
*Colorist: Pat Garraby *Separations: Heroic Age

Well, the much heralded new JLA line-up issue made it’s way to the stands and direct sales shops this past week. This is the first part of a two-part story that concludes in JLA #17 next month. Speculation has gone on for the better part of a year as to who will be and who will not be part of the world’s greatest team. The story is titled “CAMELOT” and believe me, if nothing else, you are in for quite the ride. Action, snappy dialogue, and mood-rich art are lavished upon the reader from beginning to end. Readers beware: you are entering a spoiler-friendly zone!
JLA #16

Let me get one thing off of my chest that a number of readers will relate to; the fact that Captain Marvel did not make the final cut. This “tease” has been floating around since the WIZARD: JLA issue from a year ago. The new members of the team announced in this issue are a good blend of strength, skill, and resourcefulness that are mutually complementary. Fans who have read the aforementioned WIZARD: JLA issue will probably be quite shocked (refreshingly) as to the final choices made. When we last left off at JLA #15 Superman, Aquaman, and Batman had announced that the current League was officially disbanded. The last pages of JLA #15 are some of the best that this reviewer has read in twenty-some years of comic book reading. This is the set-up for JLA #16.

We are told that the activities in this issue take place three months after the disbanding of the JLA . Lois Lane is getting for a date with the Martian Manhunter. He is disguising himself as Clark Kent for the big press “invasion” taking place upon the JLA Watchtower later that day (where the new JLA roster will be revealed). The various media reps introduce Retro, a winner in the “Join The JLA For A Day” contest (though readers of New Year’s Evil PROMETHEUS know this isn’t all that lurks in the shadows). The press arrive on the Watchtower and are introduced to the new JLA (on pages 6-7). The line-up is: Wonder Woman (now Hippolyta, Diana’s mother), Flash, Aquaman, Plastic Man, Green Lantern, Zauriel, Huntress, Superman, and Steel. Batman and the Martian Manhunter, predisposed, fill out the full-roster, so far, as revealed in this issue. (Word has it that three other members will be joining the JLA next issue; for the answer as to “who” just look at the cover!) It doesn’t take long before Retro strips away the pretense and engages the JLA as Prometheus, his true identity.

Steel is the first JLA-er who shockingly (pun intended) experiences the power and nihilistic wrath of Prometheus.

Folks, I have got to say that at this point you should buy JLA #16 just for the content of pages 10 and 11. They contain the formidable plans and specs of the JLA Watchtower. This place is simply the best headquarters the League has ever had! They obviously weren’t on a budget. A moon-based station is brilliant. The design of their abode in JLA #16 is detailed and breathtaking. To think that they actually used a bunker in Detroit at one time! Those were the 80’s for you!

Our buddy, Prometheus, then proceeds to take out the Martian Manhunter, Zauriel, Huntress, and Batman(!). Our scheming enemy has destroyed the Watchtower’s oxygen production and air is quickly running out for the heroes and the news media. Superman directs Wonder Woman to take the group to the Jumpship Bay for emergency evacuation procedures. Meanwhile, Green Lantern and Flash are scouting around the ship to determine the source of the impending crisis. The last page of the issue reveals an unconscious Batman slumping to the floor as Prometheus taunts his “guests” with the comment “Five down. Who wants to be number six?”.

One thing that this story is not is boring or dull. Morrison continues to earn the praise generously poured his way. This translates into stories that are full of intrinsic detail, rich characterization, and truly creative tension that reaches points of white-hot intensity. I will admit that the process of determining how the current team was chosen could have, perhaps, better filled in issue(s) #16 (and #17) as a prologue to the current JLA #16. Three whole months have transpired since the last page of JLA #15! Despite this oversight, the issue does have plenty of stuff to chew on.
Superman seems to make an excellent host and ambassador. No doubt his presence adds as much dignity to the event as it does a strong sense of security. The idea of a JLA-er for a day does seem a bit trite in view of the traumatic changes following the “Rock of Ages” story. Regardless, Morrison deftly grabs our attention with vibrant narration and snippets of humor. Steel comes across as the novice who hasn’t quite adjusted to his present leap in prominence. Wonder Woman persuasively assures the crowd that they are going to be safe. Period. And Batman has that same seemingly steroid-saturated confidence that could peel titanium off of a bank vault.

The story itself, though, has some obvious flaws and blunders in it. For instance, one would think that the transport units that the Watchtower uses would have the sophisticated ability to detect any object with the shape or energy signature of a weapon. This is simply basic security precaution #1! As well, on page 12 why would John not destroy (with Martian vision) the disc that Prometheus is placing into his helmet as a security measure? Why let him blab away without taking swift action. Better yet, why not approach Prometheus as invisible and simply grab the disc. Prometheus was obviously not simply looking for the bathroom by seating himself at the computer mainframe console! And don’t these guys have back-up security or robot sentries to provide added protection for the event? We do have over a 100 guests on board. I also find it difficult to believe that emergency fire-sprinkler equipment not have been installed. I am compelled to say that, despite the situation errors and inconsistencies, the JLA as written by Grant Morrison is still the best bloody superhero team bar none!

There are other points of contention. Huntress and Batman seem to have be taken out way too fast for being stealth-trained detectives. Morrison should knows this. In a crisis, Huntress would have first disabled a foe who is in a highly secure area who is accessing the JLA’s mainframe and then asked questions . And why didn’t Wally make an immediate quick run of the station AS WOULD BE NORMAL IN EVERY OTHER CIRCUMSTANCE?! This is simply too contrived and out of character. The Watchtower is down to less than a 50% air supply and the fastest man alive is content WALKING around the place with Green Lantern (who is also JUST WALKING). Come on! That ring is the most powerful tool in the universe. Somehow I also think that Aquaman is more than capable of handling the press and media so that Superman can then personally attend to the crisis at hand elsewhere on the Watchtower.

The choices for new members are engaging. It is worth noting that I do not think that the team has to have an affirmative action policy in effect to encourage diversity. Advance talk about the new line-up has included passionate remarks that “more women” and “more minority representation” is needed. Generally, I would agree. When Wonder Woman “died” I was disappointed that it was now the men’s club (not forgetting that John isn’t really either sex, technically speaking). As Rabbit noted in last month’s FANZING, there are a lot of under-used quality woman superheroes at DC. Though I think it is very healthy for the JLA to have women and minority representation I do not believe that quotas are the best or most valid option. If all the best trained applicants were women or were all blacks or were all Latinos or whatever then so be it. Who says that there have to be any white males on the team! The JLA is about superhero battles and challenges of global importance, not social engineering policies.

On the other hand, the team does seem “better” if it is as diverse as possible; in strength, tactical ability, powers, perspective, and aptitudes. This new team has the latent talent, a fresh opportunity, and the raw courage to really apply the saying “carpe diem”. Here’s hoping that they make the core JLA-ers proud.

Howard Porter has done some truly fine work in this baby! The splash on pages 6-7 is stunning and regal. His art work may not quite be enchanting but it is genuinely inspiring. The Watchtower work and the first shot of the new Leaguers are fully absorbing. Each of the heroes is drawn in a manner that really seems to nail their specific characteristics and particulars. The colors used throughout the book bring the drawings to life as much as skin, muscle, and sinew bring to life a powerful skeleton. Dell and Garraby are to be commended for exhilarating efforts and rousing results on the colors and separations.

The new look for Wonder Woman is current without being trendy or weird. Welcome back! Huntress appears to be dark and reflective without the gritty gloominess of Batman. Good contrast. She, too, is long overdue as a member of the JLA. Plastic Man doesn’t especially thrill me but his work in the “Rock of Ages” storyline was of penultimate importance. As a result, I am more optimistic that he may work out just fine. Zauriel; not much to say. I will wait and see. The addition of Steel, I hope, ends up being wise in the long haul. He has not impressed me as being of JLA quality… yet! Give him another couple of years and we’ll see. Adding Firestorm, Captain Atom, or Black Lightning would have been more competent choices from my perspective. Even the return of Maxima would be thrilling!

Some final thoughts. I think that my first JLA story was #92 of the first series. It had an energy-sucking vampire in it. From then until today I have been a diehard JLA fan. It was embarrassing to follow the title in the mid-to-late 1980’s. The stories were soooooooooooooooo bad. It is good to see that Morrison is incorporating different elements of the various versions of the JLA on his recent stint with the title. Porter is providing the art that seems to compliment the writing. This book is definitely a late 90’s JLA but it really has had that retro feel (no pun intended) the first sixteen issues, too. Specifically, issue #16 has been hyped-up for the better part of a year and the wait has well been worth it. Yeah, there are plot errors and everything is not perfect. But there is a reason that this JLA is now in the Best Ten Titles lists. This issue provides evidence that supports that contention more so than less so. And that is the opinion of one reader.

My rating for JLA #16 is 9 out of 10.


LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE #2 (featuring Superman)
U.L.T.R.A. HUMANITE: Part II “MAD SCIENCE”

*Writer: James Robinson *Penciller: Val Semeiks
*Inker: Paul Neary *Letterer: Janice Chiang
*Colorist: Kevin Somers *Cover painting: Gleb Orbik

A new title has hit the market the past couple of months. It goes by the rather catchy name LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE. The stories take place outside of the regular DC Universe’s continuity. Assistant editor Maureen McTigue puts it this way “It was decided that the rest of the DC Universe should have the same outlet that the Dark Knight has had available for over 100 issues; an outlet where the possibilities are endless… LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE is an outlet to showcase top-grade talent who might not have the opportunity to work on a monthly book or who wants to work on a particular character.” How clearly and succinctly put. We are also told that future issues will feature Batgirl (Barbara Gordon, no less!)and Wonder Woman. The title is quite promising.
Legends #2

The painted cover definitely has that Golden Age look to it with Superman holding back a locomotive at bay merely with his left-hand. The logo for the book is attractive and eye-grabbing. Despite the fact that I have not read issue #1 (which is the first part to this tale) I found that the story in issue #2 was sufficient in itself. Part three concludes the story line next month.

Lex Luthor (who else, eh…) greets the reader on page three with a look of seething rage. Basically, the story is as follows. Someone is sabotaging LexCorp’s computer software to the point of costing the company billions of dollars in out-of-court settlements. A hair-clad Lex rants and raves to his minions (i.e. chief employees) about the need to end these actions ASAP. Throughout the book Superman puts out of commission a rogue construction droid, exchanges information with a lovely Lois Lane, has a cautious meeting with the head of LexCorp’s security division to gather needed info, intervenes with assailants who are attacking Lois at her home, discovers what the U.L.T.R.A. project is all about, arrives at an accident to have “stopped the train just in time”, and ends the issue by showing up at LexCorp to find the U.L.T.R.A. humanite is dead.

This story contains a lot of dialogue. Personally, I enjoy big chunks of dialogue if they are well-written, relevant to the story’s outcome, and layer the depth of the overall tale substantially. Rest assured, such is the case in LOTDCU #2. This story actually surprised me as to how interesting it really is. Such lines as Lois asking Superman if she will see him again and him replying “Lois, I think we’re fated to see a lot of each other ” ring true rather then simply sappy. James Robinson has written some mighty fine dialogue here. It really came across to this reader that Robinson really enjoyed writing this story. It would definitely be in DC’s interests to seriously ponder letting him at a JLA one-shot or a some similar project.

Val Semeiks does some equally strong work in the book. The villain Madness looks completely loopy. Supes looks so good “back” in the old red, blue, and yellow! He is drawn as if in peak shape and fitness. I especially found pages 16-17 captivating. The use of shadows and dim lighting in the story creates a great artistic challenge that Semeiks’ more than capably illustrates. The style of train drawn on page 19 is classic vintage-futurism. Perhaps the only blatant week spot is the final shot in the book; the corpse looks too two-dimensional. But that is only a trifle point.

It is worth noting at this point how well the colors have been filled in. The book ranges from brilliant splashes of life to grittier scenes of forboding dialogue and mystery. Simply beautiful, Kevin Somers. I look forward to your future work.

Overall, the issue is a strong effort. The excellent cover, the involved story line and narration, radiant-looking art, and Supes back in the old costume has resulted in my giving this story a thumbs up. I am determined to pick-up issues #1 and #3 in the next weeks.

If you want a change from Superman Blue\Red \Pink\Turquoise then give LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE a shot.

Final rating: 8.75 out of 10.

Article © Bruce Bachand 1998
Layout and text © Fanzing 1998
 
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