Published on November 2nd, 2012 | by Michael Harris1
A Week Late #19: Justice League Problems
Note: I wrote this about a month ago and because of scheduling problems (read: laziness) I never posted it. Issue 13 didn’t really change much about my feelings. They still treat Steve Trevor like crap, all of the characters are written strangely, if not poorly, and despite a fairly entertaining story, I find myself not caring at all about DC’s flagship title.
After a year’s worth of books, (the zero issue doesn’t really count because its about Captain Marvel/Shazam) I have a few of problems with this new version of the Justice League that Lee, Didio, Harras, and Johns have given us. The book is still fairly young, nearly in it’s adolescence in terms of comic bookery, I suppose, but when it’s their most popular book, the most important to the new 52, and they still manage to burn a few panels an issue making a dumb joke or referencing a Martian Manhunter fight that seemed painfully irrelevant and a wasted use of character, I feel that I have a foothold to complain. Don’t get me wrong, its been an entertaining book. Lee draws some damn pretty comic books, the first six issues were pretty damn solid as far as a team introduction, and the narrative hasn’t been lacking for action or effort, but there are still quite a few problems.
They’re still not a team:
I thought the entire idea behind starting Justice League 5 years in the past was to establish how they all met and became the League, but we find out that they still are immature and don’t really realize what their doing. Aquaman even says in issue 12 “It’s time to be the team they thought we were instead of the team we’ve been these last five years.” What was the point of introducing Darkseid if not to make them a team? What was the point in referencing Manhunter “testing” them if not to make them a team? You could have done this conflict in issue 6 and saved everyone a lot of forced drama. Apparently, at some point the league decided that Batman was in charge, cool, that’s fine, he’s the smartest one there so he should act as the general. However, how they’ve decided to portray everyone is completely contrary to this. The characters that are written in this book would not have voted for Batman to lead them now, let alone 5 years ago when they had just formed.
I don’t know. It doesn’t really affect the story at all. It just was a very forced romance, and a very forced move. Like much of the “big events” in the new DCU, they’re trying to create sensation without building up a story at all.
The relationship between Batman/Superman and the world has always been one of good cop/bad cop and in this new universe it has become aloof cop/detached cop, completely negating the friendship and relationship that they had.
Superman works best as a character when he is that boy scout, when he is entirely alien and uncomfortably powerful but his soul and everything that drives him is more human than any other hero or character in the universe. He needs to have that attachment and desire to help his fellow man, because Superman was never the man, Superman was the mask that Clark Kent, the human, used to be a hero. Its something that has been explored in every great Superman story, its currently being explored alongside Justice League in Action Comics and even in the Superman main title, but that whole plot idea is ignored in this book.
Conversely, Batman has been written best when he is detached, driven, and possessed by his crusade. He is, at his core, oriented to the pursuit of justice to the point of self-destruction. He operates in shadows and removes himself from the world, wearing the mask of Bruce Wayne because he no longer identifies himself as properly human. Even the “family” that he surrounds himself with is kept at a great distance because affection is so unnatural to him. His desires and his purposes are higher, and it is an effort for him to put on a show of normal. Again, in counterpoint to Clark, Bruce is the mask that Batman uses to be “human”.
Superman and Batman’s friendship was compelling because Superman was the boy scout who knew without a doubt that Batman, a man who fought using fear as a weapon could be trusted implicitly. Batman, on the other hand, knew that while Superman was an alien and powerful enough to destroy the world and everyone in it, he was the one person who would never do that because his entire being was so grounded in compassion and honesty. They both distrusted the rest of the league for various reasons, but they never truly doubted each others resolve to be good.
In this new version of the league, there is a shadow of that relationship. The DC powers-that-be have decided to maintain Batman and Superman’s friendship, but alter the individuals to the point where it doesn’t work anymore. Yes, we are missing 5 years of history that this new DC timeline has hopscotched for the sake of storytelling, but the league is very different. Superman isn’t the moral compass of the League, he examines everyone else, afraid to let them know him (except for Batman). Instead, Batman has become that morality, the humanity of the team. Their roles have been reversed, or at the very least both steadily pulled into the intervening gray area between their once polar characteristics in a massive divergence of each character’s core conception.
The rest of the league is largely there as space filler:
In a complete relaunch, there could have been a massive move made to restructure the social power of each of the characters, but they have all nearly become the least compelling and least effective versions that they could be. (These are not my opinion of a perfect character, but just ideas that might have at least given some variance to the old model).
Cyborg was great when he was a member of Teen Titans, but he’s never been a particularly compelling character on his own. I’m still not sure why they chose him to be in the league or what role he’s intended to play but I haven’t seen really anything of significance from him yet. There are plenty of roles that he could have played within the league: he could have been the voice of youth, acting as a conduit for introduction and explanation, or he could have been the moral compass when the others are jaded and overconfident. Instead he receives a watered down version of Superman’s regular story where he is struggling with his humanity. They could have even taken his machine nature a bit further, trying some legitimately interesting scientific concepts (that Marvel is doing quite well all of the time these days) making his consciousness digitally transferable, commenting on his nearly infinite processing ability which would make him think and analyze battle faster than the Flash, or giving him the ability to create, interface directly, and/or control any number of machines with his incredible knowledge. That would have been at least interesting, but he just coldly makes remarks about being relatively omnipotent and proceeds to be surprised/defeated by a sadness monster.
I really don’t understand why they expect anybody to care about Cyborg or his subplot when he is the only League member who doesn’t have his own book and therefore doesn’t have any of the back story necessary for any emotional connection.
Johns’ Green Lantern has been growing steadily more disappointing over the past few years. He took the spirit of Hal Jordan, the one that made a regular man worthy of the power of the ring and at every opportunity made him seem like a (for lack of a more accurate term) assbag. Hal was never encumbered by an overwhelming desire for planning, which was his greatest flaw, and he would rush into a situation without heed of why or what he was going to do, but he did so because the idea of sitting back and not taking action against an enemy was offensive to him. To Jordan, inaction was the greatest sin.
However, Johns has transformed that impetuousness and misdirected chivalry into a rampant egotism and suppressed self-loathing that makes Hal oppressively dislikable. They tried to redeem him in issue 12 and they might have succeeded if it wasn’t such a late effort. Hal takes on the “hero we deserve, not the one we need” mantle from The Dark Knight and takes the blame for the league in-fighting, but he does an insubstantial reason, with no allowance of discussion, and which makes no mention of the 4 other Earth-based Green Lanterns that already protect Earth and the sector.
Flash, for the most part, has remained solid. I’m not a fan of them writing out Wally West, even though I see the logic behind the move on a creative level, but Barry Allen as an individual has remained very strong and has even improved through the reboot. The Barry/Iris relationship is gone and replaced tenuously by a Barry/Patty Spivot relationship which I guess makes just as much sense and affects the character on the same emotional level without having to bring in Wally, and he still cracks the same jokes and brings a good amount of sanity to the team. The character, though, is much more focused on the forensic analyst and detective this time around, which seems redundant for the league that has Batman, Cyborg as a techno-forensic-analyst, Superman as an investigative journalist, and Green Lantern who is also a galactic police officer (with whom he is friends for vague, unsubstantial reasons).
All of this is irrelevant, however, as for most of his page appearances he is relegated to the fast, funny guy for the team with the on-page depth of a potato, albeit a very quick potato.
Possibly the most disappointing secondary member of the league, mostly because her appearances and role in the book have been used as a development tool for Steve Trevor. In the first few books, every character has their bad-ass first appearance moments, but then were all put backstage while Batman and Superman did all the hard thinking and had all of the interesting conversations. For a character that was raised on a magic island with an army of warrior women and who has fought with and against gods and other supernatural weirdos on the regular, you would think that her opinion would be more important. What happened to the Trinity?
It is fairly wonderful when the most powerful and significant female presence in the entire DC universe, possibly the most prominent female superhero in existence, and possibly the only prominent one that has been (at times) portrayed as a sexually ambivalent entity is, in the flagship book, completely viewed in relation to a man/men. And even when she leaves that man in issue 12 for almost entirely selfish reasons, she immediately moves on to Superman with whom there was extremely sparse relational history for no reason other than super-powered loneliness. She clearly has already experienced the events from her main title, because she knows that Zeus is her father, but she has also clearly forgotten everything that makes her character strong in that book. Johns doesn’t seem to know what to do with her, remembering her strength only when she needs to punch something and completely abandoning the character’s willingness to stand up to her entire nation, including a number of gods, for the sake of justice.
Steve does only slightly better than Wonder Woman, having been given some fairly good character moments in his own right and already displaying more moral fortitude and strength than anyone in the actual league during the issues where he was captured/tortured. I actually care about this Steve Trevor who was nearly non-existent in the pre-reboot DCU. Fair play to Johns & Co. for writing him well, but they quickly rectified that good move by moving him to another book.
DC almost fooled me. They almost made me believe that Aquaman was going to matter in the new DCU. Sure, in his individual book he is pretty awesome. He gets stuff done while bearing the weight of the entire world while everyone (including his former aqua-squad teammates) seems to dislike him. However, in this issue 12, which was widely advertised as “Aquaman steps up and takes charge” he gets berated and insulted by pretty much every single league member in the immediate area. Aquaman taking charge amounted to him putting his name in the hat for being the leader and being immediately and very patronizingly denied that opportunity. He seem to have been doing the superhero gig longer than anyone else in the league. He even has a dark past where he beat up ocean-themed enemies with a team of artifact-laden super pals. Cool. At every turn, Johns has consistently shown us that public opinion and even the opinion that the rest of the league has of him is still that of a joke while simultaneously Johns is trying to convince us that he is everything but. His joke-superhero reputation doesn’t seem to be based on anything but non-comic book preconceptions by the general public and the writers are doing nothing to try to change this by making jabs about talking to fish.
Aquaman has been seen as useless in past years because he has been written that way, he was never given the positive modern reworking that Batman, The Flash, or Wonder Woman was given (or attempted). Very few arcs in his nearly 72 year career have garnered significant acclaim and even great writers like Kurt Busiek and Peter David were only able to have minor revivals before experiencing sharp declines in quality. Instead of a proper story trying to re-imagine the character (its worked for Namor, it can work for Arthur Curry) he was given silly themed pets, a hook hand, and a beard. He doesn’t have that anymore. He’s interesting. He’s useful. They need to stop writing him as a burden and using him well.
Actually, my biggest problem in about Aquaman is that one man can create two very different versions of the same character, in the same universe, at the same time, and not seem to realize he’s doing it. New DCU Arthur Curry feels far too much like old DCU Hal Jordan. Maybe Johns is only good with one character model.
I get it. Batman and Superman are the most popular characters and are, in turn, going to get the best character moments and do the coolest things, but after 12 issues of the league standing around and talking about how awesome they all are, the most significant things anyone else has done is to watch admiringly at Bats & Supes, saying “Look how good he thinks!” or “Look how hard he can punch!” while fighting secondary baddies.
Have I mentioned that I hate that Superman doesn’t walk anymore?
The future of the series:
The hints at the end of issue 12 don’t leave me much hope for the book to improve.
- Amanda Waller might be my least favorite character in all of DC Comics. She is an entirely unlikable version of Nick Fury who operates under the sole assumption that the best backup plan is to find a way to kill everyone that can actually help. Her appearance gives me only apprehension.
- Apparently Gary Frank is taking over drawing duties until David Finch steps in, or at least that’s what it looks like. I should really read the news more.
- Wonder Woman and the rest of the league, if not written poorly, should never have a problem subduing someone like Cheetah.
- Aquaman is going to decide to try to save the world on his own with the Atlanteans, or he’s just going to attack the world Namor-style because nobody will take him seriously.
- I’m slightly interested to see the proper introduction of
Captain Marvel…Shazam into the universe but I haven’t liked how much of a little jerk that they’ve been writing Billy as.
- A dangerous JLA? I’m glad that Manhunter is being brought into the fold, And Hawkman and Green Arrow are always good parts of the team. I love Stargirl being in there, but I wonder at her role because she was drawn sans-cosmic staff. I can even understand putting Steve Trevor and the new Green Lantern Baz in there, but you don’t need Catwoman on this team, you don’t need Katana on this team and you certainly don’t need Goggles McCrouchstare (Vibe) over in the corner…wasn’t he dead a couple times.
By the way, I call the Martian Manhunter fight irrelevant for a few reasons.
- The flashback fight carries no importance, because we know that they beat him (kinda…at least they survive).
- It would have been much better served as each of them meeting him separately, being beaten by him and them all having to fight him together later to realize that they need to work together. They could have actually used Manhunter as a Justice League proving ground.
- The fight has no importance, because we know he’s not actually a bad guy (see: Stormwatch).
- If it was a test by the Manhunter of the league’s preparedness to be the league, why would he only test them once?
- Manhunter was always misused on the league because he was essentially a green Superman who could shapeshift. His main difference being one of the very few telepaths in the DCU. Instead of making him a villain, they could easily have changed up his power set and made him the watcher in the tower who coordinates their attacks. I don’t like an agressive, hostile J’onn J’onzz