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JLA Casebook

Review of JLA #50

by Bruce Bachand

Last month (January 2001) marked the release of JLA issue #50. But I assume that most of you know this (unless you are like Mark Gillins and are going to buy two years worth of issues and then read them all at the same time; don't ask me, ask him… heh, heh, heh). I've got to tell you that I actually really like Mark Waid's writing in general. Back in the 80's I was a diehard fan of his Captain America stint (this was ironic considering I hated Marvel books for the most part; the only other Marvel title I collected periodically was The Avengers). One could tell back then that Mark had a knack for writing solid characterization. In fact, that's still one of his best strengths as a writer. Despite the seeming plethora of naysayers about Mark's writing for JLA, I've especially enjoyed his stint to date (it is sad that it will only last until about issue #60; at that point he is at CrossGen exclusively). His style, pacing, dialogue, and subplots are substantially different than those of Grant Morrison, the JLA writer prior to Mark. That makes for compelling story telling in this readers' opinion.

Let me get this off of my chest: while I wish the new art team would do all of the art for each of the issues they at least do some art in them (that team being the exceedingly-talented one of Hitch, Neary and Davis). Issue #50 was an extra-large issue and that just means (these days) that the art chores are going to be split between two or more art teams. It wasn't always that way. It only seems to have been in the past ten years that this has become more of a trend. It's a shame. It can disjoint the tale and turn-off readers/buyers from picking it up. That being said, I think that the Waid/Hitch scenes were breath taking in subtlety and visually resonated the beauty and mystery of friendship in a DC/World's Finest kind of way. Mark and art team, I tip my hat (Harley Davidson baseball cap, actually) to you, man. Damn straight!

The art. Right.

The art grabbed me and fleshed out the story capsules vividly. The use of shadows and strategic lighting in the Batman/Superman scenes were exceptional. And let's give credit it where it is due. Neary and Davis transform Hitch's black-and-white gems into glorious renderings full of light, scope and brilliance. This is not a slag on Hitch. It is meant to simply affirm the fundamentally important role the three of these people bring as a collective art team to anything they put there eyes and hands to. The rest of the art I issue #50 was solid in rendering and in inking. Yet it was the Batman/Superman scenes that blew me away. I thought I was seeing a real Batcave at times!

The story. Gotcha.

This story was especially important to me. I also believe that it could be a cornerstone for a new season in DC comics. What am I referring to you say? Well, this is the rub. If you haven't read the issue then beware of major

SPOILERS

By the end of this issue the JLA must respond to an invitation… from Batman…and from Superman… but also from… more importantly… from Bruce Wayne and from Clark Kent. What has been the key issue the past few months in the post-Batman JLA? Well, it has been how can they trust him again! Isn't that an issue we all struggle with. Perhaps daily in less significant ways but from time to time we either shatter someone's trust in us or we have our trust in others shattered. Serious breaches of trust are never resolved overnight. It takes time, forgiveness, healing, resolve, and grace to overcome betrayed trust. That is the issue that Mark Waid deconstructs this whole matter down to. Trust.

It is from that vantage point that our story opens and unfolds. Think of this: if we are the instruments who destroy trust wouldn't we want some mercy at some point to get on with life… perhaps, to even repair the relationship or else start it from scratch? Yes. We do. Then why are we so damn cheap when it comes to giving that same mercy to those who wrong us? That is a complex question (though sometimes it is simple: we refuse to grant healing to another human being so we hang on to our pain/anger/frustration and nurture it and feed it and make it our "friend"… and blind ourselves and de-humanize another person of flesh, blood and feeling in the process). This is what Waid has been building up to.

This team has been pained with grief and rage over the revelation that Batman had secret plans/means to "take down" each JLA member should they ever become a rogue or threaten the world while being controlled by someone else. That seems sensible to me. Mind you, he could have told the League he had plans without revealing their details (that was a bad call on his part, I believe). By doing things in that manner he would have maintained an air of trust and one of prevention. Diana and Arthur had valid reservations in this regard to Batman's actions. Plastic Man seemed a blatant hypocrite in light of his own criminal past and yet here he is, in the Justice League of America! Go figure, eh? I think that he made his "thumbs down" on Batman more out of acting strictly out of his emotions in the affair than out of really thinking things through carefully and getting an intuitive/emotional track on it.

So what does Superman propose? Here is the brilliance. You don't re-build trust by taking the "higher ground" and remaining aloof/self-righteous. What you do is stop trying to control everything… and then take a risk… and , finally, do what it takes to make things right. That is costly. It's vulnerable. It doesn't guarantee that things will mend. But it does put things on equal footing… or at least allows for that to be the case.

So Superman challenges Batman to take the ultimate Batman-risk… that is, to reveal his identity as Bruce Wayne. Batman bites. But he also challenges Superman… or should I say Clark Kent… to do the same thing. Pretty wild, eh? I think my breath was taken away when I read this the first time. This marks a significant blow to the Urban Legend… to the post-Crisis notion that Batman would now have to be an anti-hero loner from now on. While it initially made for some interesting stories, Batman seemed to become a one-note tune after awhile. He trusted no one. Acted as a self-righteous authority who was accountable to no one. Damn, he just became more and more bleak. Even nihilistic at times. The story (and conclusion) in JLA #50 marks a significant departure for Batman in a sense.

Think about it. He didn't have to do it (i.e. reveal that he was Bruce Wayne). But he did anyway. Why? Because he thought of others… dare I say his friends… as being more important than himself. He tenaciously guards his secrets (that's what got him into this trouble in the first place). Yet, he willfully lets down his defenses enough to see that the JLA would not recover from this Babel affair if Batman… Bruce Wayne… didn't radically intervene.

I'm going to leave my review at that. There is more than could be said about the individual characterizations and the surprise ending (damn, WHAT A HELL OF AN ENDING!). But this review purposely dwells on the thing that stood out to this reader about #50 the most: reconciliation. If we refuse to give people a second … and a third… and a fourth… chance then they are hoped. We've damned them. We've told them that they will never change and neither will we. What kind of hope does that give kids growing up (let alone adults still growing up)? Not much.

Buy this comic. And if you enjoyed it please write Mark Waid an e-mail at Mwaid@aol.com and let him know your thoughts. Take care and have a great month!

 
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