Have a drink. It might help that mortis attitude of yours.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Raiding the (Story)Arc: Justice League of America #0-12

The last issue of Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America hit the shelves this past Wednesday and boy were people happy that the writer is leaving. To hear people’s reaction you would have thought that I had stumbled into the magical land of Oz and some witch had been crushed by a house. I mean there were whoops and cheers and lots of “Don’t buy it. Just wait a month.” I was baffled. I couldn’t understand why everyone was getting ready to take to the streets, make like sailors and kiss some nurses. I mean, it did not work but it was not the worst thing I’ve ever read in comics.

So I asked.

This was Scipio’s reply, “As a writer, Ben, you should be the most offended.”

Before we go on let’s clarify one thing: I’m only kind of a writer. I mean I’m just a thesis away (due in October!) from an MFA in Creative Writing but I haven’t been published or anything. Still Scip’s comments to me felt like a challenge to try and approach Meltzer’s run as I would approaching a more literary piece of work in my studies.

Before I start I want to say, aside from this moment, you will not see me mention that the Leaguers call each other by their first names, nor will you see me use the words, “It’s just not the JLA.” Yes, I believe the spirit of a book is very important but there have been so many iterations with so many vibes *ahem* who can really say what the “League” is. The Satellite League had some ridiculous adventures. The Bwa-Ha-Ha League had some ridiculous moments and the Detroit League was just ridiculous. However, all the teams showed respect to the title Justice League of America. If there is one thing that Meltzer has done correctly in his time as writer it is to show proper reverence for that which has gone before. With that respect in mind, he set out to create the best contemporary league possible.

He failed. Yet, not for the reasons you think.

Meltzer ends his first issue with the following lines: “This is a story about history and destiny. And love and coming-of-age. And friendship and passion. And my name is Red Tor—My name is John Smith. And this is the story of my life.”

Inherent in these few not-so-complete sentences is the weakness that plagued the comic, kept it from being all it could be. Justice League is a team book but Meltzer wrote it like a series of interlocking mini-series. The pages about Vixen was the Vixen story, the pages about Black Lightning was the Black Lightning story, and so on. It was always someone’s story and never the League’s story. This lack of cohesion, of separate storylines going at their own pace, is the same thing that bothers people about Countdown. However, Countdown never claimed to be a team book.

Exacerbating this issue is the fact that not every character had a storyline to plot out. Some characters felt simply stuck on because they were. Red Arrow and Geo-Force got so much page time because Meltzer obviously had something to say about them. He had no idea what to do with Black Canary. Thus she was again reverted to a supporting role to an archer, same thing for Green Lantern. Wonder Woman and Superman did little more than punch things and Batman became the voice of exposition. If a team book is going to be driven by individuals then every person had better be important. It is the danger in doing a team book this way.

Finally, Meltzer failed to pace his character progression correctly or realistically. Comic readers can suspend belief about people flying or punching through walls; they have a harder time suspending belief about how characters act. Red Tornado wants to be human so badly. When Meltzer writes him as a robot during the flashbacks he still acts pretty human. The “proper gander” sequence is a good example of this. After his spirit is returned to the robotic body he has less personality than Data from Star Trek. When did his chest open up? Similarly, the Red Arrow and Hawkgirl arc stayed pretty much “playful banter” until the pages of issue 12 when she finds out he has a daughter. Then she can’t wait to get into bed with him. If the writer is going to make the team book driven by the individuals, all their development had better be authentic.

This lack of the individual supporting the team is why Meltzer wrote in so many splash pages of the characters as a team or shaking hands or gearing up. It is why he devoted so much time to the team standing with each other, thus slowing the overall stories. It is why he ended his run with “ –for all its changes—the league never really changes.” Not only does this sentence not really work, but also it is Meltzer forcing the idea of a cohesive team on us because we do not see it occur naturally on the page. To phrase it differently, Meltzer is telling us the group is the JLA rather showing it. At a time when, thanks the One Year Later reboot, the League should have been at the center of the DCU, the title was floundering to find its own footing.

There are a couple other missteps throughout the thirteen issues: a flat joke, a poorly paced scene, and some repetitive dialogue. These are issues that most writers have from time to time but if the core of the comic is not strong enough then every other problem becomes that much worse. I am not doing backflips over the fact that Meltzer is off the book. I like the author, I think his run on Green Arrow was awesome and enjoyed Identity Crisis. I also think there were good moments in his run. It is a shame that his ideas were so poorly executed and so publicly. Perhaps given more time he would have found his stride but he did not get it. So let’s all take it for what it was and look forward to McDuffie’s upcoming run.


Blogger Christopher said...

Well, I admit the new JLA run wasn't my favorite but it was okay. I think you had to consider it to be an extended character study of the interactions between the heroes included. Not conventional and not quite a breakneck action story-but it served to kick-off the JLA in high-fashion to keep them in the top 10 for their first year. Which frankly, is more than you can say for any of the other reboots....Wonder Woman, Flash, even JSA I don't think did as well for its first year as JLA did financially.

and if Meltzer keeps the JlA from degenerating into another sad echo of its own self then so be it!

12:46 PM

Blogger Gyuss Baaltar said...

Did Meltzer script the fight with Slade in Identity Crisis?

I thought that was one of the great VS. moments for the Justice League I'd ever read. Everyone in character and thrilling panel by panel.

2:06 PM

Blogger Benhatt said...

The fight was all Meltzer for all I know.

2:08 PM

Blogger Scipio said...

"an extended character study of the interactions between the heroes included. "

Or, as it is more commonly called, "fan fic".

1:49 PM

Blogger Rambo said...

"Meltzer's writing fan fic, Meltzer's writing fan fic!"

Who cares?! *sigh* It irritates me that everybody complains about this one specific thing. Why is it fan fic? Because he put on character's that he would like to see? but don't necessarily belong on the team? Wouldn't we all do that, take the characters that we love and put them on the Justice League? Scip, do you honestly mean to tell me that if you had a chance to write the Justice League, Vibe wouldn't be on the team? C'mon.

I just get a little irritated hearing the cries of "fan fic."

Was his run good? No, I did not care for a good majority of it.

Was he writing fan fic? No I don't think so, but then again, what does that even mean? Can someone please give me this definition of the phrase? Not trying to flame anyone, just a little frustrated.

11:13 PM

Blogger Rob S. said...

Meltzer has been such a driving force on the book that I think people are letting Ed Benes off easy. If he could draw a credible human emotion, I suspect Meltzer's writing would have seemed more genuine and less schmaltzy.

12:17 AM

Blogger Derek said...

Rambo, "fan fiction" is putting putting characters in your story that don't belong, just because you like them.

My favourite DC characters are the Question, Blue Beetle (old and new), the Riddler, and Mr. Terrific. And no, if I were writing the Justice League of America, I absolutely would. not. put them on the team. They don't belong.

"Fan fiction" is having events happen just because you think they'd be cool. They don't advance the story or even offer valid character moments.

This was a major complaint about Meltzers run. Nothing happened. Issue after issue, page after page, events were taking place but nothing happened.

"Fan fiction" is selfish self-indulgence. Writing what you want about whom you want because you think it'd be neat but you'd never see it in the real bodies of work.

When you get tapped to write Justice League of America, or really any comic in the big two, you have a responsibility to your readers, to your editors, and to the writers who come after you.

Meltzer ignored all of those and wrote a story for himself. That's "fan fiction".

1:51 AM


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