Saturday, March 12, 2005

JSA #71

... Right. So once I stopped retching at the Amazing and Wonderful and Everyone's Favorite Character* Mister Terrific taking on the KKK, what did I think?

I'm having the same conundrum with this storyline as I did with JSA: Strange Adventures, namely Talking Dog Syndrome: am I just thrilled to have Golden Age JSA (the dog talking at all) or is the story actually fun (what the dog says)? Ultimately, JSA: Strange Adventures proved to be the former, but I'm still holding out hope for the latter here.

Per Degaton stories should be like pizza and sex -- even when they're mediocre, they're good. Degaton is a gas as a bad guy in that he's ruthless, intelligent, and completely bonkers without being the sort of giggling psychopath who gets nothing done. He uses history in far more interesting and not-obvious ways than merely bringing in anachronistic technology to overpower the heroes (although he did that, too, Pre-Crisis). The idea of Degaton using knowledge of the future to destroy the people who would be heroes is consistent with his mission and clever enough; his foreknowledge of the JSAers attempts to stop him makes him formidable.

All that is in theory, though. In practice, the story is somewhat bogged down by Johns's need to put his own spin on the Golden Agers he doesn't get to play with in the contemporary JSA. From the mildly obsessive fangirl standpoint, it's distracting as all heck because he's blithely trampling everyone else's canon (Starman in particular is taking a beating) and official DCU dating because he's either too lazy to look anything up or too uninterested. This has been a failing of Johns's entire run -- it was laughably obvious when he finally got around to reading Matt Wagner's Dr. Mid-Nite origin story -- and, considering that this is the DCU's legacy title and history counts here more than in most places, hubris a poor choice of foible. The total effect is that Johns is working harder to cover his own ignorance (willful or not) than he would have had he looked stuff up and the story suffers for it in narrative and especially in characterization.

Nonetheless, as has been the case from the beginning, I liked the Starman-Stargirl meeting the best and the Sand-Sandman the worst, despite both of them being abominably and needlessly deviant from Post-Crisis history. Dr. Mid-Nite gets short shrift as ever, Mister Terrific is overexposed as ever, the Jakeem-Johnny Thunder meeting is a joining of two characters whose job is to be irrelevant and that lives up to its billing, the Hourman focus was fantastic until Rick Tyler showed up, and I want to like the redemption of Al Rothstein via his meeting with Al Pratt, but I can't because it's been such a discontinuous and non-intuitive path from Al's rejection of the JSA in Kahndaq. Especially after the reunion with the current JSA comes out so uglily -- why is Sand, who wasn't even present/sentient for the Black Reign arc, the one to snipe at Al when all of the others were very much involved and Courtney was the one who felt the betrayal most acutely?

I've been losing love for Don Kramer's art with each successive issue and this goes far beyond my still-burning torch for the Stephen Sadowski days. The two-page spread at the end, mirroring the money shot of the Return of Hawkman (JSA 23-25) arc -- among other 'This is the JSA' table portraits, suffers badly by comparison.

* Because this is the first JSA-related entry here at Blogspot, it's time to give the spiel. My reaction to Michael Holt is sort of like Marvel fans' reaction to X-23. The harder Geoff Johns tries to jam him down my throat as a character I am supposed to clamor for and be interested in, the more I rebel. According to Johns, Mister Terrific II is the Batman of the JSA, the all-brilliant, all-knowing genius who can get out of anything and has the best moral standards and more interesting personal demons than anyone else.

I'm not buying it.

The JSA as a group and JSA as a title stopped being fun pretty much at the moment Holt took over as JSA chairman. The legacy aspect of the team (the JSA's claim to uniqueness) disappeared completely, as did any sort of team chemistry.

There's no real need for half of the members if Mister Terrific can solve all of the mysteries and fix all of the problems on his own; Michael Holt tells everyone what to do instead of soliciting their knowledge and relying on their expertise, which is no longer greater than his own. Now it feels like half of the team, especially the older members, are around because they have no place else to go -- hanging on past their prime and their relevance, they are looking for any way to keep in the game. The younger set fare no better -- what purpose does Dr. Mid-Nite serve within the JSA if Michael Holt has already read his book and can do anything Pieter Cross can without the ocular limitations? Why does the team need a brawler if the T-Spheres are superior fighting tools?

The chairmanship of Sand also allowed for an exploration of the legacy nature of the team, which is, after all, their distinguishing feature. Sand, the adult Sandy the Golden Boy, sidekick to the Sandman, is the bridge between the Golden Agers (Hawkman, GL, Flash, Wildcat) he knew as a child in the 1940's and the contemporary inheritors of the mantles of the other Original JSAers who are at various stages of growing in to their costumes. The storylines with Sand as chairman were often legacy-related -- Johnny Sorrow, the Ultra-Humanite, Ian Karkull, etc. -- and reintroduced (sometimes for the first time Post-Crisis) old enemies into new times.

The legacy-related storylines since Holt's ascension to godlike omnipotence and the JSA chairman's seat have been flat and there hasn't been any story that couldn't be co-opted by a few pages of exposition on Michael Holt by the nominal lead character. Never more true than with anything involving Dr. Mid-Nite -- Dr. Cross having trouble in Portsmouth? Michael Holt's crisis of faith is the scene-hogging subplot; one of Charles McNider's old enemies coming after the new Dr. Mid-Nite? Michael Holt is there to assist in the surgery. Going back to ancient Egypt (the Fate and Hawk legacies)? Michael Holt is there, too. The current arc, which should have been all about everyone with a familial tie to the Golden Age JSAers is, instead, all about Michael Holt. Color me surprised... or not.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Halleluah! The JSA's treatment of Al frankly pissed me off and made them sound like a bunch of judgemental asses (Expect Dr. Cross, Go Doc!). If I were Al, after the mission was done and the time stream is back to normal, I'd say "Fuck you guys, I'm not staying on the team if you're going to treat me like shit." and go off on my own way to make up for my mistakes.
But I doubt Johns will do that, *sigh*. (Sorry Shrew, but I'm not a fan of Johns' writing.)

Sun Mar 13, 08:58:00 PM EST  

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