Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reviews of SUPERMAN/BATMAN #79 & #80 and JLA #53


Writer: Chris Roberson
Artist: Jesus Merino
Publisher: DC Comics

"It's all down to quantum fluctuations and the uncertainty principle. All around us, all the time, virtual particles are spontaneously generated out of the vacuum--always in particle and anti-particle pairs that destroy each other immediately." -- Superman

Wow. Read that quote again. Usually, Grant Morrison is the only writer who seems to remember that Superman is super-smart as well as super-strong. But that only makes sense here since this 2-part story written by Chris Roberson is a bit of a doe-eyed love song to Grant Morrison. And, if this story is any indication of how Roberson plans to approach the character in his new run on the main SUPERMAN title, then I say the faster he can pull himself away from the misguided "Superman Walking" storyline and go his own way the better.

I can't rave enough about this 2-parter. If you haven't picked it up yet, go buy both issues and sit back and enjoy.

What's to love, you ask? First of all, it really is a story that doesn't require knowing anything but the basics of who Superman and Batman are. Second, there are teases and glimpses of the vast, wonderful mythology that Grant Morrison introduced to Superman within the DC ONE MILLION event back in 1999 and expanded upon with the classic ALL-STAR SUPERMAN series.

What Roberson does with these two issues is utilize Morrison's Superman work almost like his own personal Philosopher's Stone and with that magical stone he can now transform all the dead elements weighing down Superman into reenergized wonder and fun.

The plot tool he uses to accomplish this feat is that time-traveling tool known as "Epoch, The Lord of Time." He's a throwback villain from the waning days of the Silver Age villains. Ridiculous costume, uninspired characterization, and yet...Roberson and his magic stone breathe new life into him. Our time-traveling villain is captured by the Justice Legion A's Batman and Superman of the 853rd century and promptly traps them inside some sort of temporal loop while he jumps back to the past to defeat the silver age Superman and Batman (with Robin, the Teen Wonder). He does so, because in his time-travelling he has seen a reference to The Lord of Time ruling the world at some point in the early part of the 2000s.

I loved the interaction between Epoch and the Superman/Batman team at this point of their careers. This is Batman in full blue, gray, and yellow oval super-hero-ness and Robin is wearing his elf shoes and riding a cool red motorcycle. Robin is especially enjoyable in this comic book where he is in full "Burt Ward" mode smacking his fist in his hand as exclamation. Watching Superman and Batman intellectually working out a solution to escape an inescapable trap was one of those moments that made me wonder why we can't get comics like this anymore. There were moments of joy when the story took me into the future Batcave, Fortress of Solitude, and JLA Trophy Room. I got a thrill at the glimpses of those in the Phantom Zone and the Unknown Superman, the Superman of the 5th Dimension, and the Second Superman foretold in ALL-STAR SUPERMAN.

This is super-hero comics at their best. Smart, funny, imaginative, and most of Jesus Merino is a fantastic artist and he brings his A-game to this story. Every character looks great. His layouts and storytelling never detract and only further my enjoyment of the story. Roberson and Merino set a high bar in this story on how to write within DCU continuity without being crushed by it and embrace all the wonder of what a world with a Superman...and Batman...really could be.

I can't wait to see what Roberson does with his run on SUPERMAN. If this story is an indication, then I have the highest of expectations. This is a writer who understands what makes Superman great and how to challenge him. LEAGUE OF AMERICA #53
Writer:  James Robinson
Artists:  Mark Bagley (pencils) & Rob Hunter, Norm Rapmund & Don Ho (inks)
Publisher:  DC Comics

"I'm young, hot and I have the powers of a god.  I want out from here.  I want some fun."
-- Supergirl

Okay.  I am just going to say this up front:  I can read the forums and the bloggers.  I KNOW that nobody else out there likes the current run of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.  But you know what?  I don't care about everyone else.  I frackin' love it!  Get over yourselves.
Some 15 issues ago, when the team of James Robinson and Mark Bagley first took over the JLA, I was a little unsure at first.  The writing was certainly different than what had come before and most of the big guns were unavailable for the team, so Robinson peppered it with second-stringers and wannabes.  But when I recently started thinking back on the run, I realized that every single damn month I was throwing this series to the top of my list for reading.  That's often a difficult choice, especially if, like me, you may only pick the comics up once a month so the order in which you read is very important.  Not only do I like this series, I love it.  I love everything about it.  I like the way Robinson uses the multiple narrative balloons.  I love the second generation line-up.  I love Jade.  I love Jesse Quick.  I love Dick Grayson's Batman as the leader of the team.  I love Congorilla.  It shouldn't work, but it does. 

And this issue concludes a multi-issue storyline with the current JLA in conflict with the Crime Syndicate of Earth 2 and the, rooted in Fourth World tech, Omega Man.  Of course, the charm of a story like this is not wondering whether the JLA can defeat the villains, but HOW they will defeat them.  I don't want to spoil it, but it really boils down to the fact that Owlman is a Bruce Wayne analogue and not a Dick Grayson analogue.  Oh, I think this issue settled it for me in terms of how much I really love this incarnation of the JLA.  If DC decides to force the big guns back into the JLA, my hope is that Robinson will be free to take this same team, give them a new name, and keep going in their own title.

Mark Bagley is one of those artists who, for whatever reason, seems more suited for Marvel comics.  I can't explain it.  It makes no sense.  However...I was month-to-month-to-month pleased by every line he contributed during this all-too-brief run on JLA.  He will be missed and I'm grateful he stayed long enough to finish this last story.  I hear his replacement is Brett Booth.  I dunno if that's just rumor or official.  I'm not familiar with Booth as an artist, but he has some big shoes to fill here.  Good luck.

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