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Graeme’s 2010 Guilty Pleasure: Justice League of America

Graeme McMillan

Apropos of nothing, I re-read James Robinson’s run to date on JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA over the weekend – in part because I hadn’t read the latest issue by that point, and wanted to remind myself of what was happening before I did – and, as I did so, I realized two things. Firstly, it’s actually a book that I’ve come to really love, despite itself. And secondly, I can completely understand why that “despite itself” might be such a problem for everyone else.

Let’s get this out of the way first of all: Robinson’s JLA is very, very different from his Justice League: Cry For Justice. It’s not as overwrought or, thankfully, as overwritten, and tonally it’s much lighter and more constructive than the mini that preceded it. In fact, one of the things that I like about it is how much it’s contributed to the DCU, whether it’s a new German superteam (The Elite Guard, who are apparently using repurposed Rocket Red technology) or a new magical society on the dark side of the moon, ruled by the golden age Green Lantern. He’s also brought in STAR Labs for the first time in a long time, it seems like, and uses forgotten or underused characters like Naiad, Josiah Power or Sebastian Faust in a way that feels less like Easter Egg cameos but something more organic, and I really enjoy that – That he makes JLA into a book that’s somehow bigger than the team itself, and more of a book about the DC Universe.

It’s something that spills into the story arcs, which skew towards the epic wherever possible: Something is destroying the multiverse! Something is causing all the people with environmental superpowers to go insane! There’s an ambition to what Robinson’s trying to do, and it really appeals to me. So much so, in fact, that it allows me to overlook the (admittedly, fairly obvious) problems with the book. For one thing, there’s the scattered nature of the plotting – Less so now, thankfully, but the first six issues of Robinson’s run was marked by some amazingly disjointed plots and two complete overhauls to the team’s line-up, one happening midway through the third issue of the new line-up and essentially happening off-panel with little explanation. Presumably, a lot of that was editorially mandated (Even if some of it makes little sense: Cyborg was seemingly written out to go… nowhere?), and a plot that started his run took two issues off before continuing for three issues before disappearing for another six issues.

There’s also the issue of the art. JLA has been a book that’s historically never really worked artistically for me since maybe Adam Hughes’ JLI run way back when (with the exception of Doug Mahnke’s art in the last run), and viewed in that continuum, Mark Bagley’s art is definitely better than Ed Benes’ or Howard Porter: Characters are in proper human proportion, and page layouts are clear and understandable. But – and this may be inking, in part – there’s a generic quality to the faces, and everyone looks about seventeen years old. Which, you know, works great on Ultimate Spider-Man, but not so much here. Things aren’t likely to get better with Bagley’s departure, as Brett Booth – one of the few comic artists whose work I’d honestly classify as ugly – is set to take over as regular penciller. I hope it’ll surprise me, but I’m not holding my breath.

I know that I should classify JLA as a guilty pleasure: I’m well aware that it has large flaws, but there’s something about its spirit and ambition, about its sense of fun, that makes me love it nonetheless. Much like the equally-flawed-yet-addictive X-Men Forever, it’s something that I find myself looking forward to, and wanting more of as soon as I’m finished with each issue. Objectively, I know that it’s probably only Okay, but for whatever reason, I wouldn’t feel right calling it any less than Good.

Coming up next: My 2010 Guilty Non-Pleasure.

18 Responses to “ Graeme’s 2010 Guilty Pleasure: Justice League of America ”

  1. The art issues on JLA have always been handicap for the series. I’m with you on the idea that Robinson’s writing has been good on this, but the inability to find the right artist for the book kills me; the Bat offices seem one of the only places in the DCU that they can keep a good health bench of artists.

  2. Here’s a question for you, Chris: Which artist, currently at DC, would work for you on JLA? I’ve been racking my brains, and I’m not sure I can come up with an answer. Which may speak to DC’s problem in general…

  3. Justice League is a franchise with historical art problems for whatever reason. It has a roster of artists that reads like a roll call of serviceable journeymen with the occasional, brief star turn.

  4. Exactly. DC seems to be going for “bland” with the art on so many of their books. I’m all for a house style if that style is something exciting or pretty… but bland sure isn’t something to shoot for. There are very few artists doing DC books right now that really catch my attention. Francis Manapul on Flash… but his books tend to be slow to come out. Sami Basri on Power Girl has a really fresh look. Is it right for the Justice League? I’m not sure… but I could be convinced. Giffen is always fun as an artist. And always on time. Send him off the Outsiders and put him on JLA.

  5. I’m right with you on the art problems. I’ve never been a Bagley fan and have been ignoring Justice League (and the rest of the DCU, aside from Grant’s Batman). Recently, I read that Robinson would be bringing back the classic Eclipso for a big storyline. That’s something that would get me to at least flip through an issue at the store, but not with Brett Booth on art. I’m at a loss for why he’s getting what should be (but often isn’t, unfortunately) a very high profile assignment. It can’t be mid-90s Stormwatch nostalgia (right?), and the Anita Blake books are directed at an entirely different audience (who, I’d imagine, are more likely to overlook mediocre art out of loyalty to the central character). That said, I really can’t think of a top flight artist who can consistently put out a monthly book and isn’t currently under contract with Marvel. DC has lost some great superhero artists in recent years (Ed McGuinness, Carlos Pacheco & Dale Eaglesham come to mind). They should try to steal back someone like Chris Bachalo or Phil Jimenez. I’d also like to see Cliff Chiang on a series again.

  6. Jim – Jiminez is back with DC and on a monthly book as of… next month, I think? Maybe February? He’s going to be doing Adventure Comics with Paul Levitz.

  7. That’s what I get for not having scanned through the upcoming solicitations yet. Well, good for DC (and Jiminez). As Murray said, they’ve settled for bland far too often as of late; this is a step in the right direction.

  8. Patrick Gleason would be good on JLA. I actually thought Porter’s run was seminal.

  9. Here’s a question for you, Chris: Which artist, currently at DC, would work for you on JLA? I’ve been racking my brains, and I’m not sure I can come up with an answer.

    Phil Jiminez is ideal. Not sure what they’re doing with George Perez at the moment. Or Jerry Ordway either. I think Nicola Scott would be perfect too; better with Robinson on JLA than Krul on Titans, really. Dan Jurgens is better than Booth too, come to think of it…

    Last round of solicitations, I went through specifically looking for artists DC has on monthlies that I like better than Booth and who AREN’T doing best-selling books (Paquette, Mahnke, Gleason), and here’s what I came up with: Howard Porter, Francis Manapul, Frazier Irving, Amy Reeder, Andy Clarke, Dustin Nguyen, Keith Giffen, Bernard Chang, Pete Woods, Chris Batista, Francis Portela,Moritat, Tom Derenik, Scott Kolins, Freddie Williams II, Kevin Maguire or Jamal Igle.

    I like Bagley’s work though; I think JLA looks better now than it has since…well, since it got a new #1, really.

  10. Nicola Scott would be perfect.

    But is Kevin Maguire doing a monthly? I’d love to see him back on the Justice League (especially with the honing of his skills between JLI and Formerly Known As), but I’d love to see his work virtually *anywhere.*

    I’ll agree with the notion that Porter’s run was great, but I can totally see why it might not have worked for some. (I think it took me a little while to warm to it myself, with all the weird anatomy, strange acting, and the often-bizarre panel layouts that necessitated even more bizarre mise-en-scene arrangements.)

    At any rate, the mere mention of Eclipso makes me want to go on and continue ignoring the current JLoA. And for reasons that are probably completely stupid, the plenitude of gorilla-themed characters sort of bothers me in a universe where Gorilla City exists.

  11. Mikoyan,

    Well, Maguire’s not doing 22 pages per month, but he’ll be doing a comic story a month (ten pages, maybe?) starting…whenever the new Weird Worlds series starts.

  12. I tried giving the comic a chance but one of the reasons I began buying it was due to the initial line up, and when they gave me the bait and switch I decided to drop it. When I have to pay $3.99 a month for comics I have expectations and when the writers and/or editors pull a fast one on me I am not very forgiving.

  13. the art gives JLA a made-for-TV movie or direct-2-video vibe. not good.

    DC could cover a multitude of sins with more judicious use of good artists.

  14. “When I have to pay $3.99 a month for comics I have expectations and when the writers and/or editors pull a fast one on me I am not very forgiving.”

    It was $3.99 for 30 pages of story, as opposed to 22. You weren’t getting ripped off on a strictly price-to-page-number basis.

    As for quality, that’s a different matter.

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  16. After the drubbing Robinson took on “Cry/Gay for Justice,” nice to hear I’m not the only one enjoying the book. There’s very good Robinson (early/mid Starman, The Golden Age) and not so good (WildCATS)and this seems to be falling toward the better for me. Maybe the cast rotations are annoying for some, I enjoy the seemingly routine shakeups. Bagley is serviceable and will miss him. I’d say Hitch was a good JLA artist who might have helped, there should be plenty of fine artists who could do it right. Fingers crossed on Booth.

  17. Thanks, Caleb! I didn’t know that series existed/will exist. Cool. (I’ve recently been working through the years’ worth of EDILW, by the way. Always fun.)

  18. [...] • At Savage Critics, Graeme McMillan names Justice League of America as his 2010 guilty pleasure. [...]

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