Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Three From WWII: The Twelve #2, JSA #12, Project Superpowers #0

With JSA, The Twelve, and now Project Superheroes, it seems as if superhero narratives about WW II (or, rather, those of the capes-and-masks set who fought in the conflict) are the hot topic in comics. Not that they ever really were an obscure topic in the medium. Maybe there has been a continual hearkening back to that time of real heroes and villains because that black/white dichotomy was the fuel by which the comic book superheroes operated.

I've always been a big fan of the Justice Society and the All-Star Squadron. I consider Roy Thomas the master at these narratives, skillfully weaving the lives, personalities, histories, and words of a huge cast while at the same time crafting stories that both echo the past but somehow remain relevant.

There are three World War II superhero team books on the stands at the present (Image Comics' upcoming Next Issue Project possibly making it four). Let's take a quick look at their most recent issues:

The Twelve #2
The mini-series is billed as a "book-length thriller," and it certainly lives up to its name. Last issue dealt with a lot of exposition, tracing how this team of superheroes from the 1940s ended up in our present; but #2 really delves into the histories and motivations of the characters, setting up a number or intriguing bits that will most certainly be crucial plot points later on. The art in this book, by Chris Weston, is a stand-out; the full-page shot of Captain Wonder cradling his wife's grave is particularly exquisite. Looking forward to more.
Rating: A

JSA #12

I really wanted to like this issue -- I mean, with gorgeous covers like this by Alex Ross, how can you not like it? Several reasons. First, though Geoff Johns is certainly an accomplished writer, he clearly needed tighter editing in this book. The opening, with an ensemble cast futzing around at the boxing ring, was muddled and went on for far too long.

Plus, I have a really hard time believing that Jakeem Thunder, even given his young age, would spout out "Who's the Asian hottie?" when first faced with the new Judomaster. If there was any character who I pitied in this issue, it was her, being surrounded by a bunch of back-slapping assholes.

The sequence with John Irons was also in need of some editing/quality control; John's opening dialog with his wife sounded like pure exposition devoid of any human quality. And Dale Eaglesham's art, while reminiscent of that great Stephen Sadowski work on the previous JSA, has occasional difficulty in getting from point A to point B in the visual storytelling.

In fact, the only saving grace of this issue, as far as I was concerned, was the introduction of the new Amazing Man, a character I always liked. Clad in a new dasheeki-inspired costume and possessing a backstory interwoven with the Katrina tragedy, he is a character I want to know more about (and who bears more than a passing resemblance to Ving Rhames. Or Jim Brown. Pick your era.).

Rating: B-

Project Superpowers #0
Speaking of Sadowski, here he is in the debut issue of Project Superpowers by Dynamite Entertainment -- again with a cover by Alex Ross. I really enjoyed this book, and appreciated the unexpected twists and turns the story took. Project Superpowers has more in common with The Twelve than JSA, in the darkness of the storyline and the far grayer tone of the heroes' mission and morality.

That said, Jim Krueger's writing could have been edited down a bit, for the sheer volume of words used; though of course in any first issue there is need for a certain amount of exposition.

As for the look of the book, the art direction by Alex Ross for the book really shows. And the designs of such classic characters as The Black Terror, The Face, and "The Death-Defying Devil" are truly eye-catching and an added value to Dynamite's stable of properties.

Rating: A-


  1. That was Jefferson (Black Lightning) Pierce in JSA, not John Irons.

  2. Yeah, that "Asian hottie" comment was slightly jarring.

  3. "That was Jefferson (Black Lightning) Pierce in JSA, not John Irons."

    I think the problem is that Johns wants to make the JSA the catch-all group that every other DC team is rolled into/connected with. Actually having Irons & the Infinity Inc cast make an appearance would make sense to me, as the two titles were historically linked to each other. But to bring not only JLA but Batman and the need to have a realllly skilled hand to work within such a scope. I'm thinking a little past Johns and more like Busiek.

  4. So instead of oops we get that having Steel in the issue would have been better than Black Lightning?

    he he

  5. Wait, what is Project Superpowers?

  6. So instead of oops we get that having Steel in the issue would have been better than Black Lightning?

    --exactly. now you are catching on.

    but also, had the book been more engaging and actually made me care it would have been easier. by the introductory boxing scene my mind was glazed over.

    It's not a company-specific thing, I had the same problem with the latest Ultimate Spider-Man. Every girl I saw in that book I thought was Mary Jane.

  7. Ha Ha. I don't even get what you are trying to say in regards to JSA.

    You mistake John Irons for Jefferson Pierce and then suggest that John Irons would make a better fit to cover this mistake.

    This goes against the "subtle" Kingdom Come storyline that Johns is doing and also the 52 storyline when they turned away from the JSA.

    It also seems that the legacies they are focusing on right now are inherited powers. It's also would completely go against the themes that Milligan is working at in Infinity Inc.

    Do you read the comics you write about?

  8. I think a bit of exposition is necesarry when introducing a new character like Lightning(or whatever they're going to call her). Johns had the unenviable duty of introducing a character we've never seen on New Earth before while the character to whom she is tied as a legacy isn't under the JSA umbrella.

    If he had used Black Lightning beforehand he risked telegraphing Thunder joining the JSA, leaving the previously-unseen Lightning as a cop-out that would disappoint people

    A little forced exposition, disguised quite reasonably as explaining the situation to her future mentor, is completely excusable.

    While I like the idea of trying to make Amazing Man a relevant character(and I think JSA is the perfect place to do so), I'm not a fan of the dashiki. All the old costume needed was a little update, not a complete overhaul.

    Dashikis just make me think of the dude in CB4 who did the whole "Back to Africa" thing when the group split up.

    Out of all the new Legacy characters, I gotta say I like Mr. America the most, but some of that might just be my relief that this one didn't suffer defenestration and thus it appears that he may actually survive this adventure.

  9. Eh, I've been enjoying this run of JSA and I particularly enjoyed this issue, both for its Kingdom Come wank as well as the introduction of these new heroes. While I understand the fears of others that the team is too large and unwieldy, I like the idea of using JSA as a sort of JLU concept, getting as many heroes as you can onto the team to do as much good as possible. It makes me wonder why no one else has tried to do the concept before.

    I do wonder where Jefferson Pierce found all the time to have and raise three kids, however. ^_~

  10. I haven't read as much Legion of Superheroes as I would like, but hasn't that JLU-style approach ever been tried? Because it really ought to. I got lost in Mark Waid's second revamp of the series and couldn't keep track of everyone and their romances, etc. I like the idea that Johns is introducing a bunch of dynamic characters that can be explored and then just live in the series.

  11. "This goes against the "subtle" Kingdom Come storyline that Johns is doing and also the 52 storyline when they turned away from the JSA."

    "Do you read the comics you write about?"

    I read comics to enjoy them. When they become this arcane continuity-wise, when a single issue of JSA requires a knowledge of Kingdom Come, Infinity Inc, Batman and the Outsiders, JLA, and, I suppose, some rudimentary Death of New Gods and Pre-Final Crisis knowledge, it stops being enjoyable for me.

    You obviously possess more obscure DC continuity knowledge than I. My obscure knowledge stops at the old Infinity Inc series, which was closely tied to the old All-Star Squadron series, which was basically what JSA is now. That's why I thought Infinity Inc was connected with JSA, and that John Irons was a good fit.

    I'm so sorry I don't collect Batman and the Outsiders, Infinity Inc, Countdown, Death of the New Gods, and JLA so I can understand a single damn issue of JSA. Next time, I will try to spend about $25 dollars a week just on DC books so I can understand what is going on.

    Then I will say: "I understand the continuity! I get those subtle hints Peter Milligan have been throwing at me all those issues in Infinity Inc!"

    This is besides the issue that some white comic creators create bland African-American characters.

    Where is the African-American Guy Gardner? Where is the African-American Batman? Where is the African-American Joker? Booster Gold/Ted Kord Blue Beetle? Oracle? Wolverine? Spider-Man?

    DC's African American characters are either created to be the only person of color on a team (JSA, JLA, Teen Titans, Green Lantern Corps), or by editorial fiat to fill a diversity need (Firestorm).

    Ergo, they are usually uninspired and only have life breathed into them by writers who truly understand and see them as a character first and not a "diversity representative" (ie Dwayne McDuffie with Black Lightning).

    I would argue that while certainly well-intentioned, Johns is not the most skilled in this regard.

    Oh wait, he DOES have Jakeem Thunder who spouts out racist/sexist comments to fellow teammates. Excuse me.

  12. Val, I wouldn't say we have token blacks on JSA.

    -Jakeem Thunder: street-smart kid with a chip on his shoulder but still heroic and has a history of making remarks like the one you took issue with.
    -Amazing Man: Heroic legacy who seems to be focusing in on disaster relief and aiding those who have been failed, yet won't let someone use that disaster as an excuse to murder.
    -Lightning: Teenager with a more level-head than Jakeem or Cyclone
    -Mr. Terrific: Third-smartest man on the planet.

  13. I review for the Superman Homepage, and I made the same mistake, only about the daughter. The problem is too many characters, too little forward motion, though Johns is so good, he hides it, y'know.

    But people'll bust your ass on it anyway. 'Cuz they're dicks.

    My favorite part of the criticism of the reviews of this issue, for my part, was people who complained that I missed minor, irrelevant details, and then didn't see my correction in the comments (a minor, irrelevant detail) before they wrote in to bitch.

    Don't let corrections get you down. Please, more reviews.

    BTW, love... this... blog.

  14. I liked JSA 12 quite a bit. But I have to admit, most of my good feelings are due to the awesome Amazing Man.

  15. After I read JSA#12 the only thing I was left with was "why". Why do they need 30 members on this team? And why do they all have to be legacy characters? Jeff Johns (who I usually love) is starting to make me wonder why this team even exists.

  16. Forgive me for not following your argument, but what does you not being able to tell Jefferson Pierce and John Irons apart have to do with black characters in comics being bland and uninspired (unless written by black authors, of course)?

    Besides the argument that black characters are bland and uninspired being, at best, completely off-base, it's an incredibly ignorant thing to say.

  17. Where is the African-American Guy Gardner?

    Luke Cage previously, Anarchist/Tike Alicar, John Stewart

    Where is the African-American Batman?

    Night Thrasher, Black Panther, Orpheus

    Where is the African-American Joker?

    Pick a Milestone villain I guess, they made a bunch of black characters

    Booster Gold/Ted Kord Blue Beetle?

    Quantum & Woody, Tommy Monaghan and Natt the Hat


    Black Panther





    DC's African American characters are either created to be the only person of color on a team (JSA, JLA, Teen Titans, Green Lantern Corps), or by editorial fiat to fill a diversity need (Firestorm).

    Jakeem Thunder was created by Grant Morrison years ago, not as a token character for the JSA but to be the latest legacy character for DC. Him saying "Asian hottie" isn't necessarily a sign of being a misogynist jerkoff so much as a) a kid in his teens and b) a kid who pretty much had to raise himself because his parents were dead.

    John Stewart is the token black GL? He's one out of four human GLs, that isn't too bad. You could make the case that all four of them are tokens.

    Being created to fill a diversity need or by editorial doesn't necessarily make a bad character. Jaime Reyes had his genesis as an editorially-mandated character, after all. Firestorm had a shockingly good series despite being "the black Firestorm."

    Also, the idea that we need "black [established hero here]" is ridiculous. Why would I want a black Spider-Man? I've got a Spider-Man. Give me a new character with a new gimmick instead of some ridiculous tie-in. That kind of navel-gazing is tokenism.

    John Henry Irons was "the black Superman" when he first came about, but Weezy Simonson and Priest's writing elevated him and his niece above that beginning.

    What bland black characters are you talking about in specific? Irons is Superman's gadget-man, which is pretty non-bland. Black Lightning is turning out to be crazy powerful, which definitely isn't boring.

    Who are you talking about when you say "This is besides the issue that some white comic creators create bland African-American characters."? What characters?

  18. I think the Twelve is fantastic and the best JMS thing I've read since maybe his first Spider-Man storyline? Rising Stars, perhaps?

    Too soon to tell on Superpowers but it looks like fun and it's cool-as-hell to see the GA Daredevil being used again.

    JSA...haven't read it for a while. Johns' work just smacks of so much wish-fulfillment fanfic that it ruins some otherwise pretty cool-sounding ideas (Sinestro Corps? Good idea. Cyborg Superman, Superboy Prime, and Anti-Monitor running the show? The stuff of fanfic). He's taken what he and Goyer and Robinson built in the old JSA series and has ruined it with his need to both lean on the crutch of "legacy heroes" and to try to keep the "Kingdom Come" party going as long as it possibly can.

  19. Okay Val,

    My problem is not being aware of some Arcane history, but the fact that you decided that your storyline or character change would make much more sense than the work being done by several people. You yourself suggested inserting a set of characters that have previous history, because you believe it made more sense.

    I told you why it was a bad idea. If you are going to review a book and critique the writer's decision, then maybe you should understand why the writer made his decision, instead of just assuming that you are right.

    I personally can't stand JSA this week for different reasons that I won't go into here, but if I'm going to question decisions, I want to at least do my homework so my comments are at least based in some reality.

    It appears that David Brothers has replied to your comments, but thanks for completely misreading two great black characters as bland. John Henry Irons and John Stewart have great runs, series, and appearances. IF they appear bland, it is because the writer who was on it wasn't very good.

    Any character can be bland if the writer can't write him. This isn't exclusive to black characters. I mean for god sakes, I've read bland Scott Summers and Plastic Man.

    Also, thank god Dwayne Mcduffie came along to save Black Lightning from his awful white creator who made him so bland and boring.

    Come Val, give it a rest. You're way off base on all of this.

    Twelve was still awesome.

  20. Also, In all honesty, I'm suprised Jakeem Thunder didn't say something more inappropriate.

    My favorite depictions of Black people are ones that portray them as real people. Not everyone is as noble as Mr. Terrific, as smart as John, or as calculating with their words as Amanda Waller.

    Even though he tries to better himself, he doesn't have the filter a grown adult has. Jason Rusch wasn't perfect either and said something similar also.

    It's okay to show black people have flaws. It makes them more interesting characters.

  21. Pedro done said a thing

  22. The conversations in JSA were pretty bad, hopefully it was just that issue.


  23. "Jakeem Thunder was created by Grant Morrison years ago, not as a token character for the JSA but to be the latest legacy character for DC."

    Actually, JJ Thunder is in Kingdom Come. Just like a lot of other JSA-related characters, including Northwind.

  24. "JSA...haven't read it for a while. Johns' work just smacks of so much wish-fulfillment fanfic that it ruins some otherwise pretty cool-sounding ideas (Sinestro Corps? Good idea. Cyborg Superman, Superboy Prime, and Anti-Monitor running the show? The stuff of fanfic)."

    I like that Johns is consolidating the Green Lantern-related characters into one cohesive mythology. In particular, I like what he is doing with the Zamarons, making them the creators of the purple lanterns. The Anti-Monitor now powers the black lantern, and Superboy-Prime killed tons of Green Lanterns and was in their sciencell. Cyborg Superman destroyed Coast City, so it makes sense to have him involved in this consolidation campaign. Johns is very much about making things be connected and make sense without losing the fun.

  25. Pedro: Why so confrontational?

  26. Pedro, you don't really care about story integrity or my integrity or about defending Black Lightning or Geoff Johns.

    You just want to feel like "somebody" for instigating and winning a "debate" on teh internets.

    Sir, it is a dick move.

    Go on the Newsarama boards and pick a fight with some comic writer. I grow weary of you. Good day.