Saturday, December 15, 2012

Just Sayin'--Can This Stop Being A Thing?

 It's been twelve years or so--Can the notion of "the black ops superhero team" please fuck off and die already?

 If there is another odious holdover from the Bush years than trying to use superheroes--those gaudy-coloured champions of truth and justice for covert action--dressing all in black and farting around a noirish world of ethical compromise and wetwork as a way of making a trenchant commentary on The Issues of Our Time or, as is usual, proving that Comics are Serious Fucken Business that needs to stop happening now, I really don't know what that might be.

 Not just because it reeks of "Oh man, I wonder what 24 would be like if Wolverine was in it!" but more because "black ops superhero" joins "jumbo shrimp" "military intelligence" and "widely-read comics blog Witless Prattle" in the pantheon of ridiculous contradictions in terms.

 Because superheroes are meant to be rather larger than life--they stick out. Yes, even darker characters like Batman and Wolverine and the Punisher are exaggerated caricatures of humanity, which is fine if you're writing superhero comics, but dropping them into the world of black ops is . . .well, you might as well hang a "please shoot the fuck out of me" sign around their necks.

 Conversely, Sam Fisher doesn't run around with his jockeys on the outside.Something to do with the fifth freedom or whatever, maybe.

 Let me pull back one remove and try to explain it to you like this:

 For all the chin-wagging about Christopher Nolan making a "realistic" take on Batman, there is no way Batman makes sense past a certain point without completely breaking either the character or plausibility, because in a "realistic" world, people don't dress up like fucking bats. There is no way around this: either you accept a world where people dress as bats is not equal to realism (and we wouldn't want it to be) or you find some grown-up shit to read and stop insisting that things that belonged in fucking childhood grow up with you because that impulse, like cholera, blights all it touches.

 Because really, it's just a dodge. For "Black-ops superhero" read: "I am a grown ass man still reading superhero comics. Rather than accept this as an effort on my part to connect with the child within or as a nostalgia exercise, I demand--nay, insist--that comics grow up with me, because the outside world terrifies me, and by growing up with superheroes, it is my hope that I will arrest the flow of time and never have to confront a world that requires adult judgment and adult modes of thought. Thus, I will grow larger, rather than older."

  It puzzles and baffles me that sooner than let a medium that gives free rein to imagination in ways that few others can do on the same personal level, instead of letting it work to make all wishes possible, we tear it down and insist it parrot the dull-ass world outside our window.  It's a shame.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I Read This--JUSTICE LEAGUE #13-14

 Y'all may not know this, and I have tried hard to suppress it in my soon-to-be four years of writing here at the Prattle, but I did the "angry guy on the Internet" shtick for quite awhile. Generally, I have tried to be more analytical, and when possible, far more positive than I was in those bygone days of nihilism.

 I like to think, most days, I succeed in this.

 Then I read comics like these two issues of Justice League, and I am compelled, to react thus:

 Oh yeah--I'm ripping this damn thing apart.

  Longtime readers (all three of you) will be familiar with my quibbles over Justice League, the anchor of the New52, a series which deliberately ignores every possible opportunity for characterization, tight plotting, action, or even a unity of time or coherent plotting and does whatever the monthly comic equivalent of laying there and rotting like a dead fish is.

 First, a brief history of the Justice League's run this far. The Justice League, largely comprised of assholes (except for Wonder Woman, who is written as a lobotomite), fussed and feuded and got in pissing contests about who was in charge, then in issue 4 or whatever, Darkseid showed up, farted:

 And then everyone stabbed him in the eye a bunch of times and Darksied sorta wandered off.The heroes decided to form a club based around their mutual interest in being insufferable ass-cocks and became the Justice League.

 Then nothing happens for five years book-time until David Graves shows up so Geoff Johns can indulge in his favourite of all his writing tics: Being A Hero Means Being Fucking Miserable All The Fucking Time. Like Chris Claremont's obsession with mind control and making sure every female character's arc is a word-for-word retelling of The Story Of O, this was OK the first maybe . . .six times he did it, and now it has become his go-to storytelling device. And it's good that he has this to fall back on, as he's willingly ignoring everything he ever knew about writing compelling characters or plotting things with any kind of coherence.

 He also managed to take 12-ish issues of Jim Lee art and completely strip the advantages of it's dynamism overcoming the shortcomings of the story because God knows all that action might get in the way of page after page of people looking sad all the fucking time.

 Anyways, David Graves shows up and makes all the heroes sad because they failed to save his family and he made a deal with the Ashuras and . . .man, I'm not really sure what was going on in that story and certainly, reading the book was no help there. As with all Justice League storylines (including this one) it kind of pisses itself away, bored with itself. At the end of it, Steve Trevor gets kicked to the curb by Wonder Woman so Wonder Woman can play kissy-face with Superman.

 That thread gets picked up in issue #13 and let me tell you: The "romance" between Superman and Wonder Woman makes Anakin and Padme's "romance" look like the kitchen scene in 9 1/2 Weeks, bled as it is of natural dialogue, genuine emotion, or even any kind of behaviour that reads as remotely human.  I was forced to ask, reading those scenes: had Geoff Johns ever talked to another human being before? Has he just lived in this isolated bubble and in his loneliness he invented "friends" like Sammy the Apple, and Bill the Paper Towel Roll and they all grew up together and he imagines people talk in the same way his friends talked because he never got to go outside and learn anything else, and it's . . .it's kind of appalling, but also kind of sad, too.

 But before we inflict a bunch of bleeding puncture wounds on the Superman/Wonder Woman romance, let's talk about the meat of this two-issue storyline (that feels like six, only you're missing three of them.) Because in THIS exciting story the Justice League gets into furry porn!

 Not pictured--mammalian characteristics. Also not pictured: dignity

 Yes, Wonder Woman is tussling with the Cheetah, and because JL is not a book that follows the "show don't tell" paradigm, we have to learn all the shit we should have known later. The Cheetah, Barbara Minerva is a woman who got an FA account was Wonder Woman's first friend in the outside world, unfortunately, while puttering around the Congo she found a knife that was cursed (as well as being made on an entirely different continent besides Africa) and became the Cheetah.

 Oh, and 13 issues in, Cyborg actually gets featured and strained attempts to characteristic him as something other than the black guy the tech guy ensues. Cyborg says he sometimes thinks he's a machine that thinks he's the man he used to be.

 Silly Cyborg--everyone on this team is a goddamned robot.

 No he isn't, Cyborg. Don't LIE

  Issue #13 ends with the thrilling cliffhanger that the Cheetah has bit Superman and turned him into Super-Cheetah-Man and I'll spoil it now--the problem is so hastily brushed aside next issue, you'll feel like an idiot for even caring about it in the first place. Not that you did--that would require knowing more about Superman as a character you invested in emotionally. To you, Geoff Johns says, "eat my ass."

 Before I can move on to the second issue and speed this suffering along, let's have a brief glimpse at the backup tale this issue. Previously in this space, Geoff Johns had been working diligently to make me care even less about Shazam than I had previously and from there, hate the entire world for creating such a bleak, nihilistic story featuring an utterly unlikeable little shit of a hero surrounded by a cast of jerkwads, and opposed by assholes. But more on that in a bit.

 This issue trails Justice League of America #1, in which, it is assumed, Steve Trevor, fresh off of being cockblocked by Wonder Woman decides to fuck off and make his OWN Justice League, with blackjack! and hookers! And this shitweasel:

 And the winner of 2012's award for Most Punchable Face goes to . . .

 Now, in a different book, one that perhaps dealt with such things as "excitement" or "interest," this back-up story might tease the actual team, and whet one's appetite for seeing the team in their own book. To those people, Geoff John's says, "fuck your wants."

 This is six pages of grumpy people taking meetings and sitting in bars and apparently DC has their own ersatz version of S.H.I.E.L.D. now, running things behind the scenes.

 How do I feel about this plot development?

Oh, right.

 Thank God, Issue #14. The end of my agony is in sight. Anyways, back to the story, it's not hard to find/ ninja's not just of the body/but of the mind Cheetah-Superman is kicking the ass of the Justice League on the first page, when the lost tribe that created the Cheetah curse shows up, lest a sustained action sequence break out or anything:

 You know she's in charge because she's wearing the ONE bedsheet the tribe has.

 Speaking of sartorial changes, the Cheetah is also wearing a loincloth now because her absence of bits was freaking everyone out.

  For reasons I don't know, whenever the loincloth is drawn for the rest of the issue, it's drawn at that angle. EVERY TIME. Even when Aquaman tries to drown her.

 Cyborg manages to incapacitate Superman while Not-Storm from the Whogivesashit Tribe of the Outer Congo magics off the Cheetah VD or whatever the hell Superman has and Wonder Woman punches the Cheetah very hard and Aquaman tries to drown her. Ho ho ho, I tell you what, this Justice League, they really ARE the world's greatest heroes.

 This is all a set-up for another of Geoff Johns pet tropes: the idea that Not Everyone Be Saved, Because People Are Basically Shits. You see, apparently, despite being a crippling condition that turns one into a sexy Thundercat, the Cheetah was once the tribe's goddess of the hunt, but then Barbara Minerva came along, and was such a greedy bitch that she's now turned the Cheetah into a bloodythirsty monster.

 Because hunting and killing is totally OK otherwise, until you get too far into it and then you fuck it up for everyone. Lordy, Geoff Johns loves his irredeemable shitheels.

 There's also a suggestion that getting captured was part of the Cheetah's plan to get captured, which . . .yeah, like it's that hard to put one over on the Justice League. But anyways, Wonder Woman gets all mopey because Barbara wasn't really her friend and maybe she's right and everyone's not worth shit, and Superman comes along says "there there, none of that" and takes her to Middle America Stereotype Cafe so they can have breakfast and he can show her that this wonderful (and 95% white) world is worth protecting and it's full of good people, kind people, white people, real down-to Earth people.

 "It's just that simple," Superman says, in the very way that people don't and never have or will do, which leads into this stirring moment:

 Everything's "just that simple" when you're a simpleton!

 Anyways, they do a lot of (mercifully dialogue-free) smoochy-smoochy in the amber waves of grain and Batman is watching and scowling on a computer, because he can't fap to that.

 Later, Wonder Woman writes a letter to Princess Celestia, in which she explains that she didn't learn a damn thing about friendship or anything like that, but does add that she didn't get the point of the Cheetah wearing a loincloth if the damn thing's flapping around in the breeze all the time. Thus is Wonder Woman barred by judicial restraining order from entering Equestria. Best thing for all concerned, really.

 You may notice that I left artist Tony Daniel out of the line of fire in this scathing invective. It's for a very obvious reason: if Jim Lee couldn't make this shit work on the page, no one can, and Daniel does what he can with it, but it just kinda sits there, and isn't very exciting at all. In the olden Image days, artists could overcome weak scripts by being dynamic enough to at least make the book look cool enough that one didn't dwell overmuch on the fact that the plotting was mud-puddle shallow. Not given such opportunities here, he did the best he could.

 It's Johns who shoulders most of the blame for this shambolic mess. First of all, injecting a best friend we never heard of just so she could go bad and make Wonder Woman sad is a stupid hacky trick that I recognised was a stupid hacky trick when they did it in Knight Rider (or was that Street Hawk?) and he should fucking well know better. For another, reducing the role of heroes to treating their role as protectors of the earth the way one might cope with being handed a shit sandwich because it always sucks and people aren't worth putting yourself out for anyways boils the books struggle down to dickheads fighting jackoffs about bullshit, and nothing anything.

 But maybe that's the point. Maybe this is some sort of Dadaist detournment experiment, where we're just supposed to break though our preconceived notions and recognise it for the absurdity it is--that indeed, all human endeavour is. Maybe Justice League is a vehicle to expand our collective consciousness and accept that life is fleeting, truth meaningless, and humans ultimately impotent, ad we cling to the skein of a planet spinning out of control into the infinite darkness and only through embracing life's bleak meaninglessness can we truly live.

 I'm kidding--this comic can go fuck itself.

 Anyways, let me wrap this up briefly by addressing the brutally pointless yet interminable Shazam! back-up in this issue. I'm not one of those people who whinges on about how Captain Marvel works best when it hews to its classic paradigm . . .I don't really care, actually. They weren't publishing it when I read comics early on, so a vital connection was never forged. All I know, is by and large, in my lifetime, Captain Marvel/Shazam/Photon/Whatever has been in a lot of shitty comics.

 Shazan is mercifully fourteen pages of a shitty comic, featuring hateful characters doing mean shit to each other. Black Adam and Sivana show up looking for the Wizard Shazam, who's already given Hateful Shit #5, Billy Batson the power of Shazam, who is Shazaming it away on Shazam like a coat, which is also named Shazam, because I'm getting mighty god damned tired of typing the word "Shazam."

 Black Adam throws some guy out of a window because Geoff Johns would break into each and every one of your houses and ruin something you loved before your tear-stained eyes if he had but world enough and time. Black and Adam and Sivana recruit one of the Seven Deadly Sins, Sloth (Chunk is nowhere to be seen after their bitter break-up twelve years ago) Nothing much happens, and we are not lead to think anything interesting will happen any time soon. Join us in issue #15 when Sazam looks at things, Black Adam takes a shit in a Salvation Army kettle, and Sivana ponders the deeper meaning of Taco Tuesday. The new DC, ladies and gentleman: There's Nothing Interesting Us, Now.

 God, this comic is a big thick brick of depressing. It somehow manages to break through being mediocre, past being bad, into this lower strata where everything is stupid and pointless and Before Watchmen sounded like a good idea. No attempt is made to make anything interesting, or even bad in an entertaining sort of way. It's done with all the craft, care, and attention to detail of a DMV clerk looking down the barrel of a three-day weekend and who couldn't be less present in the moment if they were quantum-locked.

 I did not care for this book: I guess that is what I am saying.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Just Sayin'--Seasonal Affective Backlog

 Well, I guess I let this lie longer than I thought. Once again, 'tis I, I'm back and I had two months worth of comics come in this week, so it's high time to look 'em over and see what's what.

 All except Justice League #13-14. They were a special kind of terrible that must be handled in its own very special. Really. Just . . .awful.

 Anyways--let's get down to it!

 HARBINGER #5-6: So we're getting more into the classic mode of Harbinger storytelling, as Pete Stanchek finally escapes from Harada and strikes out on his own. Out of a window.

 But before he can get too far, he's interrupted from his suicidal FU by Zephyr, and man, did I ever miss characters like Zephyr. As she was in the OG version, she's quite into the idea of being superpowered, which is good, because in this version a little leavening of the angst is always good (not that I'm complaining--one of the the things I'm enjoying about the new Harbinger is that it makes no bones about the idea that Stanchek is potentially just as bad as Harada actually is at the moment) and . . .

  . . .given that in the very next issue things are heating up plot-wise, that's a good thing. Issue #6 brings us back to Kris Hathaway, who you might remember Stanchek mind-controlling into loving him (remember how I said he was potentially a shitheel? Crap like this is why) in the original book, Kris was the glue that held the team together (in ways both overt and covert, but no reason to be beholden to comics more than twenty years old now) In the new version, Stanchek, guilty about manipulating her, offers to let her kill him.

  Kris sees right through it, of course--he's giving her permission, and that's bullshit. It's a good scene, and Dysart really does well with the implications of everything, and as much as I like Zephyr, I really came around to Kris this issue. While, yeah, it took them six issues to get where the original got at by issue four, I don't mind decompression if you use it like this: wherein a character in the story encapsulates what the book is really about: who has power, how do they use it, and what about the people who get caught up in their wake.

 I'm really enjoying this book.

 GLORY #29-30 Speaking of books I enjoy (gonna be sad when this one finishes soon) Glory's quest to deal with her father enters its final act, but before then, she's got to swing by Paris to enlist her sister, Nanaja, who curses up a storm and, it must be said, is more than a bit murder-happy. That works OK for this book, as it's an excuse for Ross Campbell to draw some ultra-violence (in addition to drawing woman who are built like brick shithouses, Campbell does a phenomenal job of drawing impacts--you can feel and see the heft and effect of every punch thrown) which, bless him he does so very well indeed.

 I enjoyed the little Fantomas bit at the opening of Issue #30--it was a good palate cleanser before the Glory/Nanaja fight, and made for a fun little contrast as well. I quite enjoyed these two issues, and I'm intrigued to see how it comes along as we go through the home stretch.

 PROPHET #30-31: I wonder if Rob Liefeld is impressed that his Captain America/Iron Man analogue, Diehard is being used in the entertainingly bizarre way he is in these stories. As much as I appreciate the bizarre imagery that's all over these two issues, I think I appreciate the meditative pace even more, as it makes the surreal images that saturate this book even more dreamlike. I have no notion of where it's going, but it's to Brandon Graham's credit that I am really enjoying the journey.

CYBERFORCE #1: Well, it was free, so there's that. I've always had a strange affection for Cyberforce, one of the vanguard of the early Image books, back when superhero comic's top-flight creators all simultaneously decided to create knockoffs of the X-Men and publish them for the purposes of making lots of monies (I kid, I kid) partly because I was at the ideal age to get fired up by those comics, and partly because this is the book that introduced the man, the myth, the legend--WARBUK to a world that had been waiting for him all their collective lives.

 Cyberforce, you might remember, was resurrected as a free comic thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, and apparently, I'm not alone in my love for the comic.

 Unfortunately . . .this is kinda not good. It's confusing, enervating, hatefully opaque with regards to the plot, and doesn't really intrigue me enough to  think about reading more. There's none of the ferocious energy and slick action that characterized the original book, and it's not like Prophet or Glory where there's a sufficiently imaginative take on the material to offset that, and I can't really pick out any character apart from maybe three (Velocity, Ballistic, and Aphrodite IX)

 And also. . .no WARBUK.

 I think you could launch Cyberforce again in a way that would really grip one's shit, but I'm not really sure this is the way to do it.Nice to see it back for the 20th anniversary of Image tho, I reckon.

 BATWOMAN #13-14: Now how do I review this? It looks beautiful, oh my God does it ever look gorgeous. I love that J.H. Williams III is able to do these ornate spreads that are visually striking and still move the story along.

 I do, however, wish the story in question was actually interesting and hadn't been plodding along, to one extent or another in near-perfect stasis, for the past ten issues now. While I appreciate that Wonder Woman's teaming up with Batwoman (and thus giving Batwoman some legitimacy and integrating her with the DCU independent of the Batman family), and the Flamebird plot is moving forward (slowly, my God how slowly) and the various other subplots are ticking over, I find myself intensely frustrated because it's been ten fucking issues and we're just now seeing Medusa and I kind of just want it all to be over now and move on to something else that doesn't run so long and get so baroque that I don't care anymore.

So that's my comic haul. Join us next time when I rip into Justice League #13-14, featuring furry porn, every Geoff Johns tic I can't stand, plotting so static it could be late-model Claremont at his deadly worst, female characters that make the cast of Tarot seem enlightened, romance so lifeless it might as well be necrophilia, and more of the utterly god-awful "Shazam" story. If you missed the days when I would rip shit out of a comic I bitterly loathed, well, that time is now again.