JLA: Paradise Lost
A review by Bruce Bachand
With all the hype and excitement surrounding the JLA the past year and a half, it was only natural that a couple of JLA mini-series would be released. Of course DC Comics wants to capitalize on the success of the title. Not to blame them either.
JLA: Paradise Lost is one of these recent mini-series (in addition to JLA: Year One and JLAs New Years Evil: Prometheus). It is a story that takes place in the present timeframe. Ironically, it doesnt concern the JLA so much as it tells the tale of Zauriel, former angel and his experiences that lead to his inclusion in the JLA roster. The story was a three-issue, one-shot series. The last issue only came out this past January.
The first thing that I want to bring attention to are the covers that grace each of the issues (special attention noted on issues #1 and #3). They are simply absorbing and brilliant. If I wasnt already a fan of the JLA I would definitely have pondered buying these comics as a result of being drawn to the great cover art. They are beautifully done and snagged my attention right away.
The storyline is basically as follows. San Francisco is the setting that opens the first page. A now-former member of the PAX-DEI (rule of God) named Zauriel visits Shannon, a human woman, whom he loves and cares for. We are told that he has willingly given up his angel-status to be with her. His now no longer possesses most of his former powers and strength as an angel. Shannon is overwhelmed and struggles throughout the series to come to terms with her own feeling for Zauriel.
Meanwhile, Asmodel, the chief bull angel, and Neron, a lord ruler of hell, plan of a takeover of heaven from God. Apparently, only Zauriel knows of their plans so he must be eliminated. Asmodel takes actions necessary to accomplish this end (enter Etrigan the demon). Concurrently, Asmodel dons a flesh-suit ( a specific one that makes him appear as a boy) and attacks the JLA Watchtower, knowing that the JLA is the other serious challenge to their plans. Only on page 21 of issue #1 is the JLA finally introduced ( and then only one member). At this point the JLA on duty is brutally attacked to the point of being at near-death.
The remaining two issues of Paradise Lost continue along this storyline. We are introduced to; Jerry, a male nurse who is Shannons recent boyfriend; Michael, the former archangel of biblical recognition, who is no longer an angel and lives a somewhat unassuming life in California; the JLAers Batman, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aztek, Aquaman, and Green Arrow; and the hosts of heaven and hell, who end up engaging in a furious struggle for the control of the rule of God. The tale concludes with painted strokes of love conquering doubt, forgiveness, redemption, retribution, betrayal, loyalty rewarded, and the punishment of some of the wicked. The key players also are set for new beginnings in the midst of closure with the past.
Looking at the series as a whole, I am very impressed by the mature handling of the characters (for the most part) in Paradise Lost (PL). Zauriel, in particular, comes across as having found love for the first time and feeling very alive as a result. Shannon has been the object of his sacrifice and care. Whether most readers will be convinced that an angel of his status would not have experienced the love of God as a result of being in his presence is another thing. Regardless, there is a quiet resolve to Zauriel that runs deep through him. He does not need to prattle on to be heard. He can say much with few words. Wisdom seasons his character and person. Mark Millar has done some mighty fine writing here. The writing for Zauriel, Shannon, Jonn Jonzz, and Neron is sharp and crisp. His use of narrative is equally strong.
One criticism of Millars writing is with the characterization of Michael, former archangel. It is just way too much of a stretch to think that an angel and spiritual being of his status is going to give up being an angel for a movie stars love! Come on! The archangel! This is a case of anthropomorphism at its worst; that is, taking a holy and heavenly creature and turning him into a joke of a character. He is then given all sorts of human foibles which are supposed to make him easier to relate to. You know what, if we are honest we are not expected to relate to what it is like to be an angel. I do take the existence of spirit being to be real and this characterization is uninspiring, unbelievable, and an insult to revealed religion. That being said, the dialogue for Michael was funny at times. Needless to say, if writers want to use historically-based characters in their stories then they need to handle them responsibly and with maturity. It simply seems incongruent that a creature of a million years of age wouldnt be wiser and more sound. Oh well, eh , artistic license!
The scenes that included the JLAers were exceptionally strong in view of the little space that they really occupied. The concern that the League show for their fallen comrade is moving and wholly believable. After losing Wonder Woman recently the last thing that they want is to see another friend die. At this point in the crisis the JLAers come across as a team of caring, committed, and concerned people who know all too well the finality of the sting of death. Great stuff, Millar!
Asmodel and Neron (whose name is represented by 666 in Roman numerals, as was the name of the mad emperor Nero of ancient Rome, ) are your somewhat typical bad-boys who want it all! In my opinion, Neron is far better written. Where as Asmodel is a more two-dimensional, Neron is shrewd, cunning, and intelligent. His sophisticated plans involve options that end up startling Asmodel (betrayal) and giving hope to Zauriel. With Neron I feel that Ive actually looked into the self-serving, socio-pathic personality face of evil, and not a cardboard character. It is one thing to debate the existence of good\evil and God\Satan, abut it is another thing to come face-to-face with sophisticated evil that radiates power, willfulness, and corruption. Neron embodied these qualities in a solidly-crafted manner.
The use of religious symbolism is always controversial. Paradise Lost hinges a great deal on these premises; specifically, biblical imagery. This includes; angels of different classes; the bull, lion, eagle, and human images from the Book of Ezekiel; the flaming swords and flaming arrows; Michael the Archangel; the many-eyes outfit that Asmodel wears (also from Ezekiel, loosely);an upside-down cross on Nerons throne (the cross being a biblical image); and the literal existence of heaven and hell.
It is interesting that all of the angels are blatantly male in appearance. Historically, angels are understood to be spirit beings who lack bodies and are asexual in identity. They simply assume physical forms so that they can communicate to humans. Apparently Millar thinks that women angels are not worth including for whatever reason!
Somewhat strange is the mix of biblical imagery with New Age imagery\philosophy. Whereas the Bible assumes that God is a personal being who always has had a name and takes the initiative in contacting humans, pantheistic theology looks at God as more of an impersonal force that sustains the universe. These views are mutually exclusive and yet they are mixed together in a way that did not satisfy this readers suspension of disbelief. The God of the Bible is not reduced to being in rocks and trees as far as I know. This simply seems to be a weak use of religious themes. Thus, when the final battle in heaven occurs we find out that God isnt even home!
In conclusion, a few concluding remarks. The art and colors are very good. Definitely as good as the work being done in the JLA series. The shots of the Leaguers are especially rich in detail and scope. Superman does look sort of like a zombie in his first appearance (what do you think?) but is well-rendered in the remainder of the books. Jonn looks powerful and passionately alive. Zauriel is still glorious in appearance. Heaven, sadly, looks somewhat washed out and dull in color. You would think that that would be the one place where the colors and textures use would be overwhelming in depth.
Despite this being a story about a former angel this is a very human tale about people who you grow to know. The action is adequate but it is the personal interaction that , in principle, propels things. Whether it be Zauriel, Jonn or Neron, the characterization is what was the drawing card for me. Yeah, the action really was cool, but the meat and potatoes was the well-crafted story. Or so this reader thinks.