Thursday, June 16, 2005

JLA #115

On the one hand, this was probably the most accessible issue of JLA in a while. On the other hand, it was so accessible because we've all been clouted about the head with the details of Identity Crisis for so long, we can recite them in our sleep.

DC has unofficially named Geoff Johns ubermensch for all things Infinite Crisis related and it's just as well -- most of the characters appearing in this issue had their solo book written by Johns for some length. As a result, everyone sounded vaguely familiar and the one thing you can't say about this issue is that anyone was out of character.

This month's story was a snapshot of a necessary point in time, the original JLA reunited to deal with the aftereffects of IC. It's a reasonable moment to focus on, although I'd have perhaps preferred this conversation to have taken place sooner after the fact, even if the second half of the issue was more time-sensitive. We never really saw that team-within-a-team after everything shook out and Johns does a respectable job of exploring the states of mind of the key players with respect to the mindwiping of Dr. Light and Batman.

At the time of IC, it was a shock to see the heroes acting so unheroically and that was part of the effect Brad Meltzer was going for -- an extraordinary act by a group not expected to behave in such a fashion. But now the intent of that moment (the mindwiping) is not surprise and revulsion, but instead it is the primum mobile of Infinite Crisis and, toward that end, Johns has to shift the focus from that specific action to the motivations behind it and the other actions taken since that have snowballed to the point where there is Brother I and a miasma of distrust surrounding and separating a formerly unified group.

This issue is not a bridge between JLA: Year One and IC, which at some place in the future may be an interesting story to tell, but it is helpful in terms of retconning those Silver Age characters into people who would make the decisions that they did as well as making those people recognizable in today's versions. More or less.

Now, years later, hindsight has only changed things so much. Ollie is full of guilt, Carter is annoyed at the second-guessing, and Zatanna is upset by the fact that she doesn't regret what she did. (Of less import: Dinah sort of wrings her hands in the background, Hal is still on his accountability kick, and Wally stands in for what Barry stood for instead of what Barry actually did.) I really liked Zatanna's horrified reaction, her surprise that she isn't as ashamed as she feels she should be and that she made the best decision under the circumstances. Carter's reaction is less complex, but pure Hawkman -- he has never (in this incarnation) pretended to be anything but a warrior and a smart soldier doesn't leave enemies behind to attack from the rear. Ollie... Johns has a different take on Green Arrow than Meltzer did, one that is more in line with what Judd Winick and Kevin Smith and the other GA writers have done. Meltzer's angle was to mix Ollie's liberal idealism with a cold pragmatism -- "how the world works" is sometimes truly ugly and requires a matching response. Meltzer, perhaps more than anyone else recently, saw heroing as a fundamentally selfish act as well as a selfless one and had Ollie willing to sacrifice his idealism for the safety of those he loved. I thought it was an immensely appealing concept and did wonders for making Ollie a likeable, complicated character and so I'm disappointed to see Johns take a more popular and simplified approach to him.

As for what happened as a result of all these darting glare and sharp words, I'm going to be generous and give Johns the benefit of the doubt (and the style of word bubble) and assume that that wasn't J'onn at Star Sapphire's bedside. Johns may not like the JLA very much -- his personal bĂȘte noire, Wonder Woman, was mercifully not relevant to this issue -- but he can't have so little respect for them that he'd have the Martian Manhunter acting so unilaterally and, well, stupidly. J'onn was still somewhat hypocritical; after the events of JLA: Year One, can you blame any of the others for wanting to keep him out of their heads?

I am perhaps getting a little too cynical for this storyline. My immediate reaction upon finishing this issue was not pleasure or disgust or anything less extreme. It was wondering which trade paperback collection this issue would be put into for the second round sales.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review - I have been getting this book steadily but reading only half-heartedly for many of the reasons you've identified in earlier reviews. I'm persuaded it was not J'onn at Star Sapphire's bedside, but rather a clumsy red herring (using the word bubble cue you mention). Whether you go with recent canon (the Burning) or with older canon (Despero and Year One), J'onn would not be so imprudent. I'm cautiously optimistic about this book at the moment, and I'll be curious to see how much story unfolds here. Note I also hope that when the dust settles we'll get a more permanent creative team. While many writers may have JLA stories in them, we need enough consistency of characterization to care. -Chicago

Thu Jun 16, 07:49:00 PM EDT  

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