Saturday, April 30, 2005


The problem with Bill Willingham is that for every Fables, there is a Robin. For every Thessaliad, there is a Thessaly: Witch for Hire. Willingham is inventive and clever, but he holds too tightly to the maxim that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and the end result is that you never know what you're going to get out of him.

On the face of it, Willingham is the perfect writer for this offshoot of the Infinite Crisis prequels -- it's about the magical and mystical and those have been the domains of his best funnybook work. On the other hand, this is also mainstream DCU and Willingham's run on Robin has been shockingly and unremittingly wretched.

So which Willingham showed up for this book? The one who did good things in Neil Gaiman's Sandman universe (see Sandman Presents: Taller Tales), which seems like the best choice for this first issue, although I am not sure how well it will mesh should this storyline touch too closely to the unmagical DCU. The dissonance could be felt a bit with Detective Chimp -- a character who would have been completely unremarkable either in the Dreaming or in Fabletown, but who is nothing short of ludicrous in a world with Mister E and John Constantine. He's a solid character, but almost needs to be played for yukks considering his co-stars and environment and that takes away from things because this isn't really a giddy sort of story. Negotiating the line between the right place and the wrong place for humor-in-the-face-of-horror has been Willingham's undoing with Robin -- his Tim Drake and Bruce Wayne are perky and chatty and it's distracting. So, to quote Han Solo, I've got a bad feeling about this. And that disappoints me because I shouldn't be waiting for this all to turn to poo in my hands.

Disconnecting Day of Vengeance from the larger universe and Willingham's past work, how did it do? I mostly liked it.

* Five pages in and Willingham had me convinced that Ragman should be the sole modern-age inheritor of the Spectre's role -- I have a long-standing problem (that won't be gotten into here) with the Spectre in a DCU that overlaps with the Vertigoverse and I thought Willingham's treatment was much closer to what should have been done with Hal Jordan following Day of Judgment. My ultimate hope is that the Spectre is done away with after this series and the role of agent of divine vengeance falls to Ragman in the mainstream DCU and Raguel or his minions over in the places where Tim Hunter, Lucifer and Mazikeen, and the Trenchcoat Brigade play.

* Jean Loring's story arc has made no sense ever since she was revealed as the murderer over in Identity Crisis, so how much more nonsensical is it to make her the new Eclipso? Just as NASA is constantly mapping new areas of our solar system, the folks at DC constantly discover new planes of ridiculousness. Or, to put it another way, what do you do with a bad gal you've created purely out of logical loopholes, handwaving, and a heavy dollop of undiluted randomness? You match her up with one of the vaguest and most unnecessary legacy villain roles you have lying around.

Eclipso must have had a function at some point, but it has long since been rendered moot. The black diamonds that create Eclipso are now nothing more than the DC's version of the Ring of Power, turning minor characters from Smeagol to Gollum so that they can die a tragic, regretful death. Geoff Johns wasted plenty of pages in JSA during the Princes of Darkness arc making an Eclipso out of Alex Montez and then killing him, all without a point because nobody cared about Montez, who was created solely for the purpose.

Recycling Jean Loring to be Eclipso doesn't work for the same reason: it doesn't have any impact. It's not Hal Jordan going sproing! and becoming Parallax; there weren't many of us who cared enough about Ray Palmer to react to his ex-wife turning insane during IC and repeating the experiment now that everyone else knows who Jean is doesn't guarantee better results. She's a custom-made villainness and, almost by definition, she's inert because she's unfamiliar and she's doubly inert because who the heck cares about Eclipso?

* I bailed on JLA: Black Baptism before Enchantress was revivified as Soulsinger, so the last I saw of her was in some Green Lantern issues, where she was cheerfully bonkers, and then Day of Judgment, where she was killed in fine fashion. I don't know if she had already gone back to calling herself Enchantress before Willingham got his paws on her, but I'll accept her as a cross between Thessaly's cold-hearted pragmatism and Zatanna's proactiveness. She's got a pleasant sort of recklessness to her and Willingham has done right by those sorts before.

* As for the rest of this B-team of magical types... Willingham is going to have to give me a good reason why all of the big guns who cameo here -- Doctor Occult, Deadman, Jason Blood, etc. -- are not going to be involved. Sure, the Spectre turned the Phantom Stranger into a mouse, but that's not stopped any of that like before. I will give Willingham and artist Justiniano brownie points for the sheer breadth of the cameos. (Did the Janissary ever appear anywhere else but in that JLA annual?)

We shall see what Willingham does with this story. I'd like to be an optimist here, but I've been fooled before by him. All bets are therefore hedged.


Blogger Rick Jones, really said...

Yeah, but, I mean, come on. How could you not like the idea of a team of magical misfits being led by a talking chimp on the bad end of a 50-year bender?

Pure magic.

Now it's all down to execution.

Sun May 01, 11:28:00 PM EDT  

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