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I’m serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer: Jog reviews superhero comics that were on sale at US retailers beginning July 18th, 2007.

Joe McCulloch

Ok, did I do the music title thing right?

Justice League of America #11: I can pretty easily recall when I really started enjoying the attention to concept that goes into Gene Ha’s art. It was his recent(ish) The Authority #1, loaded with moist, foggy color, determined to never quite allow anyone’s face to be glimpsed straight-on, dotted with gruesome blur effects right out of a 1994 issue of Spider-Man Unlimited – it did a great job of selling the sad slog of the book’s ‘real’ world setting all on its wordless own.

This comic is just as handsome, beyond even the broad setup, which sees Red Arrow and Vixen stuck in a tumbled building that seems to be crushing them, panels gradually getting narrower and narrower as the issue goes on. The real effect is in Ha’s lavish character art, so rich and vivid (Art Lyon’s colors are vital) it seems like a collection of bang-up superhero pulp magazine covers, all of it crunched into these teeny tiny spaces, sanded with dusty visual fuzz… he sacrifices visual characterization for broad, bombastic heroism, but it’s cruel to see such superheroic images made so pained, and it really bolsters the impact of the story.

Well, as much as it can. As good as the concept here is, there’s isn’t actually a lot done with it, save for the gradual tightening of panels, some nicely apportioned splash pages, and an inspired page where the reader is forced to literally turn the book around to simulate the characters’ movement through the ruin. That kind of stuff needs carefully measured writing to compliment it, but Brad Meltzer’s script doesn’t offer much beyond endless variations on desperation and struggle, which makes the story seem stretched from a great sequence to a thin issue. I can’t give it more than an OKAY, but you’d better believe I’ll still be looking at all future Ha.

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil #4 (of 4): Short observation #1 – writer/artist Jeff Smith’s revised character design for Mr. Mind is absolutely terrific. Sly, snot-green eyes, a mouth full of sharp cartoon choppers, and oh that headset… cracked me up every time.

Short Observation #2 – if you’re going to have a cutesy secret code thing going on in your comic, you should probably make sure the final message doesn’t translate to “TGE END.”

Anyway, I’m happy to say that this concluding issue throws its weight behind the series’ greatest strength: Smith’s keen grasp of childish daydream logic, tweaked with primal adolescent fears (icky bugs! abandonment!) as only an adult can understand them in retrospect. More than any other current superhero comic I can think of, this feels like a youthful frolic right from its core, and there’s real charm to that.

Less charming is Smith’s tendencies toward blunt political commentary, not so cloggy as last issue but still very present, which transform the book in a strike of lightning from an adult’s youthful fancy to an adult lecturing to those fancy youths. What a drag. It’s not that I’m against politics in young-skewing superhero comics like this one, but Smith’s handling of Sivana’s war lust slots the character firmly in the ‘Malcolm McDowell stealing elephants’ role for wholesome kids’ entertainment, and that clashes badly with the dreamstate fancy Smith otherwise handles admirably. So long as the Captain is growing to giant size and socking monsters, it’s great. So long as everyone reflects on how misplaced aggression and fear mongering is the true threat facing us today, I sort of wind up wishing Smith would at least get back to zippy gunplay-around-kids jokes.

Still, it doesn’t get the better of him for the finale, so VERY GOOD end to a GOOD series.

The Brave and the Bold #5: I do appreciate what Mark Waid is trying to do with this storyline, kind of a rolling snowball effect where troubles build upon troubles as more and more superheroes team up, with the big crash presumably coming next issue – it can be fun at times.

But it can also be very tiring, especially when the plot starts to wriggle out of Waid’s grip like it does this issue. Part of the problem is giving seemingly half of the 300,000 members of the Legion of Super-Heroes a panel to tangle unsuccessfully with Batman, which will probably delight established fans, though it basically snuffs any hope of less-acclimated readers getting a handle on the characters beyond “Oooh, this one’s bossy! Punch his face, Batman! This one can shrink but Batman still found a way to hit her! Hit them all forever, Batman!”

But even a less character-cluttered corner like the Supergirl/Green Lantern/Adam Strange meeting resorts to a backstory summary just to keep things flowing, creating less a sense of dynamite dramatic build than the book’s Wikipedia plot section getting updated right before your eyes. George Pérez is still aces with varied designs & environments, and his storytelling has enough flair that a few potentially creaky moments come off as slightly inspired (love how the reader’s viewpoint dances from faces-to-book-to-faces-to-eye-to-eye-to-faces in just four panels during the Book of Destiny sequence), but the scent of EH is rising.

The Order #1: I’m not the first to make this observation, but the debut issue of this new Initiative-branded series from Marvel seems remarkably similar to that famed first issue of Peter Milligan’s & Mike Allred’s X-Force revamp, from the cockeyed look at unheroic superhero media savvy right down to much of the field team being taken out of action right off the top. I wonder if there’s some deliberate homage at work?

If so, I liked how the particulars were tweaked a bit – there’s much more emphasis on the gulf between media people’s private and public lives, how fragile folks are made to seem hard and spotless in front of a world that needs gods of a sort (the ‘gods’ motif in the characters’ names was a good touch). Writer Matt Fraction is generally good with larger-than-life characters interacting in a warm, funny manner (see also: Punisher War Journal #4, the supervillain funeral one, best of the run by far), so the small moments play to his strengths, and he’s got a knack for fitting bits of Civil War fallout in with the work’s larger themes, like Tony Stark’s desire to keep the new team cleaner than he ever was.

The big action bits suffer from the issue’s pace, though, as characters keep getting introduced at a clip that renders too many of them nondescript when Fraction has them barking action dialogue – I get the feeling Milligan kept the introduction of the new new team for his second issue for good reason. Still, even these large fighting segments leech enough character vigor that interest is not quite lost, and Barry Kitson’s/Mark Morales’ line art manages a few touches of facial flair in wtth the workmanlike storytelling. GOOD, and I hope it gets better.

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