Good Superhero Comics: Week of April 25

DC wants me to talk about Justice Society of America #5 and Amazons Attack #1. At least, they sent me copies, and that’s my presumption as to why.

I don’t want to read them, though. I’ve raised my standards really high when it comes to superhero comics, because I’ve already read more than my life quota. I don’t expect to enjoy most of them … they’re not offering what I’m looking for, and I don’t like the work of any of DC’s current first-string team of writers. The characters don’t resemble those I knew, and I disagree with their treatments and motivations. I’m also dismayed by the increasing repugnance of what they consider appropriate content, with the raised levels of violence and sexism, far beyond what should be included in juvenile escapism.

Justice Society of America #5 cover
Justice Society of America #5

Mostly, I just don’t care. They leave me cold, and it’s all pointless, subject to be reversed at the next event’s whim.

I’m sure DC would want me to mention, although they didn’t care enough to point it out on the cover, that Justice Society of America #5 is part two of a crossover with JLA that also involves the Legion of Super-Heroes. (The cover is a murky, boring Alex Ross painting of a character who appears for all of three pages. What a waste of an option to do a great, dynamic team shot.) As is typical of an early section, what’s here is explanation and setup, and most of it I already knew, since it revolves around explaining the Legion. I suppose that’s necessary, given how many times the story and the universe has been changed.

Amazons Attack #1 cover
Amazons Attack #1

Speaking of which, Amazons Attack #1 has brought back the dead Hippolyta, Wonder Woman’s mother. I find this a bad choice. DC doesn’t know what to do with its best-known brunette in star-spangled swimsuit — why would they want two of them with little distinction in background or character?

See also previous remarks about too much violence. The story begins with the cliche of “oh, this is really serious, someone dies!” as the Amazons take over Washington. Fundamentally, though, this is not a story I want to read. I don’t want a group of female characters I always appreciated (for their sisterhood and the imagination of their private island) turned into cardboard villains. There aren’t enough good women in the DCU for so many of them to be thrown away this way. It’s a really bad idea, given how many stereotypes superhero comic writers use and rely on, to base a story on women vs. men — they just don’t know how to do it and they have no basis for the reader’s trust it’ll all turn out ok.

Then there’s Astro City #3… Kurt Busiek gets a lot more slack from me, but when I saw on page two the naked black woman calling the white guy master and having sex with him (although he got to keep his pants on) so he could get the power he needed, I just couldn’t cope with the symbolism. Even if Busiek is just replicating the power structures of the 70s comics he’s emulating, I don’t need to see it again.

X-Men First Class #8 cover
X-Men First Class #8

So what was good? Best of the week was the final issue of the miniseries, X-Men First Class #8. (Thankfully, it’s been turned into a continuing series, so no need to fret over its loss.) I expected as much — Jeff Parker’s writing is classic, fun, and self-contained. The X-Men are heroes, and they have distinctive personalities and voices.

I have no idea if Gorilla Man is an old-fashioned Marvel character from history somewhere — I suspect he is — but I don’t need to. He works here well either way, especially as a foil for Beast. The two have a lot in common, with enough differences to remain distinct.

I’m harping on that because too many creators aren’t able to maintain it. They draw boys who look the same except for the color of their hair and underwear suits. Or all of their characters “sound” the same in dialogue. Parker’s skill is refreshing, even as he works further into the core of the superhero universe.

Oh, plot. Professor X is missing, so the team heads to Africa, the last place Jean had a psychic connection with him, to find him. Basic idea, well-executed, and (old-fashioned as it is to look for this) even a meaningful theme underneath it all. That’s something the reader can take away beyond the temporary enjoyment of the adventure.

Fantastic Four #545 cover
Fantastic Four #545

Also good, although less focused and more continuity-hindered, is Fantastic Four #545. I didn’t care about half of it, but it was nice seeing Reed and Sue acting like a couple; a powerful Storm contributing to the fight; and an uber-competent Black Panther who’s not a jerk to his wife and everyone else around him. There’s a shot of him riding the Surfer’s board that really channels Jack Kirby; kudos, Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar.

The big deal event here is the return of Gravity, killed a couple months ago in Beyond (also written by Dwayne McDuffie). Sadly, I fear he may be losing most of what I found appealing about him; he’s given some kind of cosmic power to make him a Quasar replacement. (Or maybe it’s just my natural antipathy to such stories; bigger is rarely better.)

While I’m being suspicious, I find it awfully convenient that there’s a storyline with Galactus and the Silver Surfer just as they’re starting up publicity for the movie that features the same two characters. Nothing wrong with that, only I’m not that interested in the pair as a reader — it feels to me like their story’s been done enough times already.

Mostly, the reason I didn’t enjoy this as much as I hoped was that it wasn’t a story, only a chapter of some larger attempt at an epic. Too much fighting, not enough of the other stuff that makes it meaningful. Some good chocolate chips, but in the wrong cookie for my taste.


13 Responses to “Good Superhero Comics: Week of April 25”

  1. caleb Says:

    Did you not read JSA #5 then? If not, you should at least flip through until you get to the Dream Girl panel, which is the ickiest thing I’ve seen in a DC comic in…quite a while, actually. Made ickier by the fact that the chained, unconscious superheroine being licked and molested is named “Dream Girl.”

    Here’s the panel.

  2. Johanna Says:

    No, I read it — that sort of thing’s just become so common in DC comics that it didn’t really jump out at me. Which is a sad indictment of the depths to which they’ve sunk.

  3. Justin Says:

    I don’t know… seems to me they could pull off the Silver Surfer/Galactus pairing in the Adventures line. It would sell to lower circulation. But it might actually sell to the more interested group. I am sad to hear that Gravity got an update. Might still check it out though.

  4. Dwight Williams Says:

    In addition to the stated concerns, I’d add this: the set-up for Amazons Attack seems oddly chosen, given that the circumstances of their departure during Infinite Crisis would provide a much clearer set of reasons for this particular war…

  5. Tim O'Shea Says:

    Geek moment–is Paul Pelletier the first FF artist to let Johnny keep his wavy locks while on fire? Maybe others have, but it’s the first time I noticed it. Plus, it’s odd to have Ben Grimm toss out words like “facetious”. Nonetheless, it’s the first time I’ve consistently enjoyed FF since Waid’s run ended.

    (full disclosure, prior to my next comment–I interviewed Pfeifer regarding his new Amazons Attack miniseries)–it would have been nice if the editor on the mini and the editor on the ongoing got together on the pivotal Diana meets her resurrected mother scene. In the mini, her reaction is “Mom?” (which read off to me) versus the more natural reading of “Mother?” in the ongoing. A lot easier for me to monday morning quarterback, I know. Oh well. Honestly, I’m just looking forward to where Simone takes the WW dynamics.

  6. John Says:

    I find most of the output of DC Comics these days to be loathsome and more than a bit disgusting, with a couple exceptions. Can’t even read most of the stuff, which is sad. Other than old time male fans, I’m a bit confused as to who the market is and why pathetic sales figures haven’t caused the money people to do make some heads roll. I find it astonishing that they market toys to kids and the actual products are totally inappropriate . . .

  7. Dwight Williams Says:

    There does seem to be some degree of “roll back the clock” syndrome in play there…

  8. Alan Coil Says:

    What John says above goes for me, too, only with Marvel, not DC.

    Maybe, just maybe, things are a-changin’ and we are all being left behind. {sob}

  9. John Says:

    Yeah, actually I haven’t even been able to bring myself to read any Marvels in years . . . the art looks too icky.

  10. Matthew Says:

    You mean you haven’t read Agents of Atlas?

    While its continuity heavy, the ‘continuity’ is really just incredibly, old stories that are pretty much collected with the giant hardcover.

  11. Ray Tate Says:

    I so agree with you on the DC team books, Joanna. They too leave me cold. The characters lack even the hint of a personality. You may as well just lump them all into one team and call them JSOutitamate.

    That said, I concur with Matthew. Agents of Atlas and Spider-Man/Fanastic Four written by Jeff Parker who also writes the brilliant Marvel Adventures: Avengers is fantastic.

    Marvel just collected Agents and included the what if they first appeared in as well as their original golden age appearances in a nicely priced hardback. Best of all no ads to interrupt the flow of the story.

  12. Flaming Dork Says:

    I just have one thing to say about Legion #5 and Astro city #3. This is why I don’t read mainstream comics anymore. They have gone all Jerry Springer on us and quite frankly, I feel we are above that.

    Oh, and the Silver Surfer/ Fantastic Four… Whatever it is, how can we accuse them of shameless movie promotion? It’s not as if Spidey changed his…

    Oh, hold on…

  13. Johanna Says:

    Matthew, I flipped through the first issue of Agents of Atlas (because I enjoy Jeff Parker’s writing so much), but as you say, it’s continuity-heavy, too much for me. Putting the previous stories with it in the collection is a great idea.

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