The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 19: DC Comics – More Justice Society!

Justice Society Of AmericaThe Justice Society Returns & The JSA All-Stars

These are both late ’90’s JSA stories that hold up pretty well today, though I wouldn’t say that either of them are essential to anyone other than die-hard JSA fans. Both of them are

The JSA return. Again.

“anthology” books, in that there is a storyline that begins and ends each book, with different creators working on smaller stories within the larger framework of the series. As with any such series, there is good and there is bad, but the strength of the creators (Geoff Johns, David Goyer, Michael Chabon, Howard Chaykin, Mark Waid, Michael Lark, etc) ensure that the hits far outweigh the misses.


Justice Society Of AmericaThe Golden Age

Ok, it’s hyperbole time. This may be the greatest JSA story ever. Not only that, but I would probably put this in any “Greatest DC Stories Of All Time” list. It’s epic. It’s technically an “Elseworlds” (Readers of my blog will know that for DC, Elseworlds is just secret code for “Lazy writing”) story, but most of this is so close to

The guy in red is actually Adolph Hitler's transplanted brain in disguise. Whoops, spoiler alert!

regular continuity that it’s pretty easy to just consider this as a regular JSA story. If it isn’t continuity by now, then it should be. This story has everything you could want in a superhero comic book: Plenty of action, some tales of redemption, and the transplanted brain of Adolph Hitler. James Robinson and Paul Smith have created that rare superhero story here: One that gets better every time you read it.

Justice Society The Geoff Johns Trades Part 1 (Justice Be Done, Darkness Falls, Return Of Hawkman, Fair Play, Stealing Thunder, Savage Times, Princes Of Darkness, Black Reign, Lost, Black Vengeance, Mixed Signals, Ghost Stories)

After the success of titles like Starman & Sandman Mystery Theatre, it was obvious that the comic book masses wanted more Justice Society. The Starman team of David Goyer and James Robinson started the new series, and quickly handed it over DC wunderkind Geoff Johns. When this series was on the stands, it was something I enjoyed quite a bit, and so I thought rereading it would just be a formality. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it for the most part, and I’m keeping the run. But Geoff Johns bites off way more than he (or any one else) can chew, and the constantly growing cast of characters are tough to keep track of, even for jaded comic book fans. Plots start and stop with no explanation, and characters show up and then leave with very little reason as to why they were there in the first place. The hits (finally making sense of Hawkman’s origin, slowly turning Black Adam into the most tragic villain in the DCU, Stargirl’s transformation into one of the DCU’s premier teen heroes) far outweigh the misses (Dr. Fate’s constant bitching), and this stands up as a pretty decent mainstream superhero title. Ghost Stories wasn’t a Geoff Johns story, but it ended this version of the series pretty well.

Justice Society The Geoff Johns Trades Part 2 (The Next Age, Thy Kingdom Come 1, 2, 3, Black Adam & Isis)

And we’re back. A few years ago, both the JLA and JSA books were cancelled, with new  versions of both comics starting back up almost immediately. In the JSA’s case, I’m not

Who is: Superman from Earth 22? Alex, I'll take: Reasons why nobody takes superhero comics seriously for a thousand!

really sure why a reboot was needed, since the writer for the new series was the same person who wrote most of the last one. Since one of the criticisms of the last series was that there were too many characters to follow, it only stands to reason that Geoff Johns brought even MORE characters into the mix. That being said, I would say that I enjoyed these trades more than the last 3 of 4 of his previous run, and Thy Kingdom Come is  definitely a worthy quasi sequel p to the landmark Kingdom Come mini it gets its name and concept from. Also, Dale Eaglesham’s pencil work is perfect fit for this book.


Justice Society The Liberty File/The Unholy Three

As I’ve written before, I don’t have a lot of respect for the “Elseworlds” concept. More often than not, it led to lazy writing as opposed to real storytelling innovation.

A bizarre alternate dimension where superheroes aren't quite so ridiculous.

Great stories are great stories, and should always be the top priority when putting together sequential art for a mainstream audience. When the strongest thing about your gimmick is the pitch, then it probably wasn’t that strong a gimmick in the first place. The Liberty Files, and it’s sequel The Unholy Three, are rare exceptions. In this world, the JSA are all secret government agents rather than costumed superheroes. The emphasis here is on telling a compelling espionage story rather than resting on the laurels of its high concept pitch.


Next up: Legion Of Superheroes, Lex Luthor, and Manhunter!!!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011: A brief interlude to discuss superhero comic books

When I started this blogging project, the idea was to talk about how my tastes have changed over the years, and how my changing tastes may be influencing my feelings towards comics I loved when I was younger. I’ve kind of gotten away from that a bit, and changed it into a history/overview of popular characters.

So I thought I should take a second to let you know how I’m feeling about superhero comics right now.

I hate them.

Well, maybe hate is a strong word. As I’m doing my culling, I’m still going out every Wednesday and buying new graphic novels, and I find that I’m getting far more

Superman. I'm pretty sick of him right about now.

satisfaction from reading books like Northlanders, Acme Novelty Library, Two Generals, or Grandville Mon Amour, than I do from MOST of the superhero stuff that I’m rereading. So why am I keeping so much? I think a big part of it is familiarity. It’s comfortable to read a Batman comic where you know who all the players are, know the kind of the story you’re going to get, and also know that eventually Batman is going to win in the end. Or be hurtled through time while his protegé fills in for him, only to come back but for some reason announce to the world that Bruce Wayne is funding Batman even though that would just open up any businessman to a billion lawsuits and also make people start to wonder if Bruce Wayne really IS Batman after all? One or the other.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still superhero comics being put out that I enjoy, and I will ALWAYS love superhero mythology. Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, Gail Simone’s Birds of

If you HAVE to read a superhero comic, why not make it one that isn't horrible?

Prey and Secret Six, Roger Langridges’ Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern and Superman: Secret Origin, and Jeff Parker’s Atlas are all fun and interesting, and totally worth your time. Other recent superhero titles such as J.M. DeMattheis’ Savior 28 or John Arcudi’s A God Somewhere attempt to push the envelope as to how modern societal complexities can be tied into the superhero genre, and are the equal of any of the pretentious European bullshit that I love so much these days in terms of emotional resonance.

I’m finding that as I go, my tolerance for “just ok” stories is waning. I’m definitely starting to cull more, and once I’m done rereading my entire collection (based on my current rate of consumption, I’m predicting that I’ll be done in May or June), I think I’ll probably go back and cull some previous keeps. I also expect to cull a lot more Marvel than I did DC for some reason, though we’ll see how that goes when I get to it. For those of you who care about such things (i.e. my wife), I’m actually currently almost done DC in terms of reading, though I’m still only in the J’s when it comes to writing about the project. Next will be Marvel. Then the really big part, which is my “indie” section. It’s sorted by writer, and includes everything from Vertigo books to indie autobiographies, and so-on.

I do think age has something to do with it. As you get older, its natural for most people to want their entertainment to evolve as they do. But because the North American comic

The X-Men. Things happen to them every month that you are expected to blindly care about.

market has such a fixation with superhero comics, the publishers constantly pump out books that kids can at the very least not be offended by, and tend to err on the side of caution when it comes pushing any type of storytelling barriers. Superhero comics HAVE grown up to a certain extent, and now deal with themes such as death, sexuality, and politics in ways that mainstream comics of 60’s, 70’s, and early ’80’s never could. But they still cater to an audience that wants it’s storylines wrapped up in a tight little bow. Not to mention that both DC and Marvel are owned by major media companies that will never willingly push the envelope when it comes to content when a bit of judicious censorship will do the trick. And while you often read posts in blogs and articles by comic book fans complaining about how they wish superhero comics could go back to the way they used to be, the sales don’t back them up, and even the most critically acclaimed books that cater to younger readers don’t last very long. That’s fine, if your sales are strong in other areas. But even the sales of top comic books (Batman, X-Men) are decreasing every year, and so the comic book companies find themselves placating an increasingly shrinking fan base, with no real strategy for attracting new readers. So if you’re a comic reader in your mid 30’s and you are finding yourself increasing dissatisfied with the superhero tripe you are reading, you have two options: You either broaden your horizons, and try new comics that don’t necessarily have tights or guns in them, or you quit all together. Sadly, most people are taking the latter option.

So what’s my point?

I guess my point is this: There are good superhero comics out there. Just like there are good action movies and good fantasy novels. But limiting your entertainment

A book I'd rather be reading than more "Justice Society"

consumption to one or two genres is like only eating cheese. It’ll taste good for a while, but soon your urine will start to turn orange and then your liver will burst. So if you find yourself discouraged by DC’s latest “We actually came up with a good idea that should have lasted 7 issues but because they sold well we decided to extend it to 107 issues through 30 titles and you REALLY NEED to own every one” cash grab, or Marvel’s latest “Character X just died in a thrilling 10 part cross-over that you really need to buy every issue of even though we all know that we’re just going to bring them back next year when sales are soft again” remember that superhero comics are only a very small part of what’s out there.

Next up: More superheroes!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 18: DC Comics – The Justice Society!

Before we begin, a brief history of the Justice Society. Well, maybe not brief. In fact, it’s actually going to be overly long and complicated, and it’s going to be so full of useless information that even my wife won’t be able to finish it. It might even cause bodily harm.  If you clicked on this link, you have no one but yourself to blame.

A ghost, a midget, and a reincarnated Egyptian pharoah walk into a bar...

The JSA was the very first super team, and were created in the 1940’s. They were originally a group of characters that National (now known as DC) owned the rights to, and they would team up occasionally to fight crime, Nazis, communists, the Japanese, Nancy Pelosi, and pretty much anybody that Eisenhower pointed them at. Originally the book was created to focus on National’s less popular characters (Hawkman, Spectre, Dr. Fate, etc.) and so bigger names like Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern were honorary members. Wonder Woman, despite her ability to bench-press a tank, was made the “secretary”, even though a super team needs a secretary about as much as a Chilean miner does.

This worked for about a decade, but when the public lost interest in super-heroes in the early 1950’s, the JSA went away. When the Justice League was formed a decade later, a lot of long-time fans wanted to know what happened to the JSA, and how the new versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, etc. related to the originals. And DC made the single greatest, and single worst decision that anybody involved in superhero comics ever made.

Retcon 1:

Batman and Superman finally admit their true feelings to each other. And there's some stuff with an alternate universe.

DC decided that the best way to deal with the different versions of their characters was to say that all of the JSA’s original adventures now took place on an alternate earth called “Earth 2”, and the reality that the 1960’s stories took place in happened on “Earth 1”. So now you had two Batmans, two Supermans, two Green Lanterns, etc. But if you’re going to come up with a great idea like that you must have everyone meet up right? So in 1964 DC published the first of many cross-over stories. For the next 20 years, DC would create endless amounts of alternate earths, with numerous versions of many of its characters. Great for long-term fans, not so great for newbies looking to read a DC comic for the first time and wondering why there were two Batman and one of them had a really hot daughter. During this time, the JSA proved quite popular, and so they were made the stars of their own book again, and a bunch of JSA side projects and spin-offs took place (Huntress, Power Girl, All-Star Sqaudron, Infinity Inc.). All of these took place on Earth 2.

Retcon 2:

Black Canary. AKA Earth Two Black Canary. AKA Earth One formerly of Earth Two Black Camary.

This one is pretty small, as it really only relates to one character. The Black Canary was part of the JSA in the 1940’s, but there wasn’t a version of her in the modern (1960’s) era. So eventually her Earth 2 character was brought over to Earth 1, where she would join the JLA and fuck Green Arrow silly. However, since it didn’t make sense that a character who was in her 30’s in WW2 was still in her 30’s in 1975, a slight retcon was created that would make her the daughter of the original Earth 2 Black Canary.

Retcon 3:

In 1985, DC decided to merge all of the different realities into one big uber-reality with an event called “Crisis On Infinite Earths”. In this new reality, there was a JSA in the 1940’s, and then many decades later, the JLA was formed. This was actually a great idea, except that DC didn’t take it far enough. What they should have done was literally start every title’s continuity over from scratch, and rebuild it from the bottom up. But they decided that

Crisis: This fixed/screwed up everything!

they would only do that with big characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and figure out the rest later. The problem with this was that those 3 characters are connected to pretty much every other character in the DCU, especially the JLA and JSA. According to the new reality, characters like Wonder Woman and Superman were just arriving on the scene for the very first time, so how could they have been part of the JSA in the 1940’s? Simple: According to the new retcon, they weren’t, although according to my comic book collection, they were.

Retcon 4 and up: Much of the next 10-15 years was spent trying to figure out how each member of the JSA fit into the new continuity, since so much of their histories conflicted with each other. Although a lot of it has been explained, some things still change regularly (Originally after Crisis Wonder Woman was NOT part of the JSA, but then it was stated that her MOTHER time-travelled to the 1940’s and became a member, and now they say that never happened. Gimme strength)

So now the JSA has a unique place within the DC character ranks, and has a healthy mix of original members, as well as the children and grandchildren of original members. It also has enough confusing continuity to choke a dead horse. I should also tell you that I’m more than a little surprised that you made it this far. Seriously. What were you thinking? Don’t you have stuff to do?

Justice Society – Justice Society Vol. 1 & 2

Power Girl's cleavage, and some old guys who fought Nazis or something.

Since the Justice Society’s appearances in Justice League of America were popular, DC gave them their own book within the pages of All-Star Comics in the mid 1970’s. This was written by Paul Levitz, who seemed to struggle with keeping the WW2 era charm and goofiness relevant among an increasingly modern era.

Although I enjoyed reading these stories again, I can’t say that there was enough to keep my interest and justify keeping them. Even some wonderful art by the likes of Joe Staton and others art wasn’t enough to keep these in my collection.


Next up: More Justice Society!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 17: DC Comics – The Last of The Justice League!

Ok, I know I said that the last post was the last Justice League post, but I may have been lying. Or drunk. But I pinky swear this is the last of the Justice League.

Justice League The Lightning Saga and Tornado’s Path


Justice League - This Time It's Personal!!!

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the Justice League’s Magnificent Seven years started out well, but eventually fizzled out, as these things often do. A new direction was launched, with Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes at the helm.


Although it seemed to start with a bang, I felt upon rereading that the series underwhelmed me a bit. Brad Meltzer gives us some nice character moments here, and Ed Benes always does a nice job. And while it’s definitely a readable story, this never really seems like “THE JUSTICE LEAGUE”. This incarnation isn’t out patrolling or saving the world, they’re essentially dealing with their own personal drama and letting the bad guys come to them. That’s fine for groups like the X-Men and the Teen Titans, which only exist because of interpersonal conflict. But the JLA isn’t supposed to be about personal drama, it’s supposed to be about gods fighting over the earth.

Keep (Barely)

Justice LeagueThe Injustice League


As a wedding present, we're going to act a lot dumber than we normally do.

So the biggest thing that Dwayne McDuffie accomplished with his run on the League was to get me to STOP buying JLA comics after a decade of faithful service. Yep, that’s how crappy this is. In fact, I haven’t bought a JLA trade since. The biggest problem I had with this was the complete lack of editorial guidance. To clarify: At this point, DC had decided to marry Green Arrow and Black Canary, and writer Dwayne McDuffie decided to make his first arc about their bachelor/bachelorette parties being invaded by a group of super villains. The heroes fight off the villains, and then decide to get married later on the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special. But if you actually read the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special, you will notice that some of the very same super villains attack them AGAIN, but with no mention of the previous attack at all. DC, if you don’t even read your own books, why should I? Not to mention how dumb Lex Luthor’s plan is, which seems to be summed up like this: Us attack heroes. Us kidnap heroes, drawing other heroes to our base. Heroes come, and we attack them, hoping beyond hope that we will beat them this time, even though we’ve been trying dumb shit like this for decades and it never works.


Anyways, this was the book that made me realize that the JLA wasn’t going to get any better. This was an inane storyline by a writer that I have a lot of respect for.  If I think about it, this (and a lot of the other stuff that DC was doing at the time) was actually the start of my major disillusionment with superhero comics.


Next up: Finally, no more Justice League!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 16: DC Comics – Yep, still more Justice League

Justice League Justice Vol. 1, 2, and 3.

You can tell that when Alex Ross and Jim Krueger put out their ambitious Justice project, their goal was to produce the greatest non-Silver Age Silver Age DC story of all time. However, that honor goes to Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier, and although I hate to be flippant about a book that looks as good as Justice does, I really can’t help but put it in the “just ok” pile. It does have an interesting concept going for it:  DC’s supervillains get visions of their heroic counterparts destroying the planet, and team up to stop them.

Alex Ross’ art is as gorgeous as always, and seeing him apply his love of the DCU to the Silver-Age versions of these characters is a lot of fun. But while the story has potential, the plot is overly complicated with FAR too many characters to keep track of, and it quickly gets bogged down by it’s own cleverness. It doesn’t take long for it to become  a fairly straight forward simple punch ‘em up. The whole thing is entertaining however, and the only real awful moment of the series comes when Alex Ross decided to pick up a call from DC’s toy department, which resulted in all of his heroes wearing suits of armour for some godforsaken reason.


Justice League JLA & JSA: Virtue & Vice

Thanksgiving, super-hero style!

Team-ups between the JLA and JSA have become fairly common over the years, to the extent that DC has made it canon that the teams spend Thanksgiving dinner with each other every year. Now, you may argue that someone who spends 364 days a year dressing up like a loon and fighting crazy people might want to spend the holidays with their actual families, rather than the same fetishists they spend the rest of the year with. You’d be mistaken however, and since the idea has produced some entertaining stories, who am I to judge?

Virtue & Vice is a pretty standard team-up book, but it’s a VERY well-crafted standard team-up book. Though it would never go on my list as one of DC’s truly influential or important graphic novels, it’s definitely one of the stronger JLA/JSA stories in the canon, and Carlos Pacheco’s penciling never looked better.


Justice League JLA Vs. The Avengers

Every single superhero fights each other for no reason at all

There have been numerous cross-overs between DC and Marvel over the years, and for the most part they’ve been about as readable as a Tea Party manifesto. This four-part epic featuring comicdom’s two greatest supergroups teaming up for the first time ever, is one of the few exceptions. Quite simply, Kurt Busiek and George Perez put together the greatest cross-over story most fans could possibly hope for.

Note that I said “most” fans. The problem with a story like this is that you will NEVER please everybody, and as thanks for your efforts will probably end up pleasing no one. So although there are scenes here that caused “controversy” (“Superman is stronger than Thor.” “Is not.” “Is too.” “MOM!!!!”) at the time, Busiek’s emphasis on characterization ended up making this a home-run for me.

That’s not to say it’s without it’s faults. To say that’s it’s overly complicated and dense would be an understatement. Keep in mind, some pages feature dozens, if not hundreds of characters, with the characters often changing costumes multiple times in a single page. This book is NOT for the superhero rookie, and even I had a hard time keeping track of what any of the characters were trying to accomplish. Usually that would be a turn-off, but in this case  it simply served the grandiose nature of the story that Busiek was trying to tell.

George Perez is one of the most critically acclaimed artists in the comic industry, and while I’m not really sure what motivated him to produce what ended up being the best work he had done in 20 years, I’m glad that he did. Although Perez has done some fine work since this came out, I think this will end up being being a fine epilogue to an amazing career.


Next up: The Justice Society!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 15 – DC Comics: More Justice League!

As the Magnificent Seven version of the JLA took off, DC felt that it made sense to completely glut the market with an endless series of one-shots, OGNs, and mini-series. Some of these (Christopher Moeller’s under-appreciated League Of One, and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s still-excellent Earth 2) were worthy of being part of the canon, but many of these were not.

As my last post showed, there are some good Justice League stories. As this post will show, there are a LOT of really bad JLA stories as well. Team books are hard to write, and I think it’s difficult for some writers to resist the urge to delve into each character’s psyche. You only have 25 pages, and you have 7-10 characters to cram in, PLUS villains, PLUS back story, PLUS plots. If you’re not careful, it can get all get away from you. These are some of the ones that got away.

Justice League Odds & Ends Part Two: The Elseworlds Stories ( The Nail, Another Nail,  Created Equal, Destiny, Act Of God)

Superman as Amish Farmer. For realsies.

Elseworlds is a tag that DC used to use to tell their “What would happen if?” stories, without disturbing their already much-disturbed continuity. At Marvel these are called “What If” stories. Usually this involved some goofy concept that may have been interesting enough to share a beer and a couple of laughs over (So get this…ok, are you sitting down? Dude, I’m SERIOUS. This a great idea. Ok, Ok. So you’ve got Batman right? Yeah, Batman. You know how usually Batman is really angry? Yeah, what a dick, right? Well, what if instead of his parents being killed, it was only his puppy. I know, right? His PUPPY for chrissakes. No, the puppy doesn’t have superpowers. That would be ridiculous. Dude, I’m trying to tell you something. Ok, maybe it’s not his puppy. What about nobody dies, but he’s gay. Yeah, gay. Who’s his first what? I dunno. Alfred I guess? I haven’t really thought it out. I’m big picture, you’re details. Dude, grab a pen!), but usually ended up not being interesting enough to actually publish a comic book about (Batman as King Of The Vampires? Sure. Superman as Amish Farmer? Not so much).

Superman shares his seed with a grateful nation

The premises here are flimsy (What if Superman hadn’t been raised by Ma and Pa Kent/ What if everyone lost their powers,/What if Superman and Batman never existed at all/ What if all men on Earth died except for Superman/What if Batman was promised a talk-show at 11:35 but Superman plotted behind his back to actually take the show BACK after Batman only had 7 months as host, etc. ), which is fine IF you have a noteworthy tale to tell, or interesting questions to ask. But most of these only delve into unnecessary surface issues (i.e. What kind of costume would the Flash wear if Superman was actually a Chilean miner), rather than anything of real consequence. Only Destiny can claim to having any weight whatsoever, which is interesting because it’s the story that deviates the most from the regular DCU.  I hate to say it, but most of these are utter garbage. Other than Destiny, the only stories here even worth a first look are The Nail and it’s follow-up Another Nail by the usually wonderful Alan Davis, and although his artwork is brilliant as always, the story is so utterly nonsensical (See: Superman as Amish Farmer) that it’s beyond saving. And that’s just The Nail. It’s sequel is even worse.


JLA Odds & Ends Part Three:  Welcome To The Working Week, Gods & Monsters, JLA/Witchblade, Primeval, Foreign Bodies, 80 Page Giant, Seven Caskets,  Gatekeeper, New Maps of Hell, Justice League Elite)


Although these happen in “regular” DC continuity, you may wish they didn’t, due to the rampant mediocrity that seems to be a point of pride for many of these books. Although these technically aren’t “What If” books, they still use the same premise, and most of them rest on the artificial conceit of putting our heroes in somewhat silly situations (Justice League as Cavemen! Justice League on a Dungeons & Dragons Quest! Justice League as Justice League, but they switch bodies! Justice League as Gods! Justice League as Demons! Justice League as socially moderate fiscal conservatives!), rather than actually crafting an entertaining story for them. Many of these are dreadful, and not worth owning, reading, or even reading about.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are some decent stories here. Warren Ellis’ New Maps of Hell is a rare mis-step for him, but I could see Ellis completists enjoying it. And while Joe Kelly’s Justice League Elite did say a few interesting things about what a superhero’s role in contemporary society would be, I can’t say it had enough to keep me from putting it into the cull pile.


JLA- Odds & Ends Part 4: I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League, Justice League International Vol. 1, JLA Animated Vol.1)

I Can't Believe I Got Published!

In my previous post, I gave a shout out to Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMattheis’ much loved JLI. I have to confess that I’ve always liked the idea of the JLI more than the actual comics themselves.

I have NO problem with humour being inserted into mainstream comics, and in fact I wish it happened more. But this book quickly devolved into a sophomoric “I can’t believe that they’re actually letting us put this out” quip-fest that completely steered away from it’s prime job: Being a super-hero comic. To make things worse, a series of ill-planned sequels came out a few years ago, the worst of these being I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League, a non-stop joke fest that has almost no emotional impact at all. That would be fine for a comedy title, except that it’s not really funny either.

JLI Volume 1: Keep. I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League and Justice League Adventures: CULL

Whew. I hope it’s a very loooong time before I have to read another DC team book.

Next up: More Justice League!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 14 – DC Comics: The Justice League!

This one almost killed me. Seriously. It turns out that no other book demonstrates how good DC comics can be, but also the horrible depths that they can fall to the way that Justice League does.

So before I start I need to give you some Justice League context.

1960-1984 – The “Let’s All Be Superfriends” Years:

Putting all of their popular characters into one team along with a few fresh faces worked 

The JLA's first enemy: Telepathic Space Seafood

well for DC in the 1940’s with the Justice Society, and so DC decided to do it again in the early 1960’s to coincide with the resurgence of the superhero genre. The book originally starred Superman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and the Martian Manhunter. This is important to remember. The line up changed over the years, with some members going away for extended periods of time, and some new blood joining. But the core premise was always that this was earth’s premier super team, and so it always had a core roster of earth’s A-List heroes. They did bring lesser known heroes onboard occasionally (Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Firestorm, Zatanna), but for the most part, this book focuses on big epic adventures, and didn’t spend a lot of time dealing with its heroes personal lives. Although this era is fondly remembered, I find that when I reread these stories very little sticks with me, and it comes across as a faceless blur of spandex.


1984-1986 – The “Why are there homeless people on the team?” Years.

The greatest Justice League tribute band in the mid-westAt the time, Teen Titans and X-Men were selling like crazy, and so DC attempted  to add some teen angst drama to its flagship book. The old JLA disbanded, and a new team was formed, composed of the 3 LEAST popular members of the old team, a spoiled trust-fund baby, an offensive Latino stereotype, and a homeless person. To no ones’s suprise, everyone hated it, and it didn’t last long.

1987 – 1996 –  The “Never met a cheap laugh we didn’t grind into the ground” Years:

And now the strangeness begins. There’s some context to note here. DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths megacrisis happened in 1985-1986, and it really did a number on JLA continuity (If Wonder Woman is just becoming a hero now, how was she a founding member of the JLA? If Superman is a fairly recent hero, how was HE a founding member of the JLA?  If Hawkman is just arriving from Thanagar, who was the guy wearing wings in the JLA in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Questions, questions. ) For now, DC decided to ignore a lot of those issues, and rebooted the team again, this time calling it the JLI (Justice League International).

For this version of the team, they went for a combination of veterans (Batman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary), recent A-listers who had never actually been part of the JLA before (Guy Gardner, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate), and new faces who were a prominent part of the new universe that DC was creating at the time (Dr. Light, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold), etc. They also decided to make this book funny. Yes, funny.

Although the line up changed a lot, this was the direction of the book for much of the next decade, as well as of its sister books, Justice League Europe, and Justice League Task Force. Although there are some good stories from this decade, I found that the increasing focus on comedy, as well as the ever decreasing focus on having A-listers on the team, made the JLA pretty much irrelevant.

1996 – 2006 – The “Magnificent 7” Years:

DC apparently agreed with me, and in 1996 decided to bring the band back together. So

The band reunites to play at Aquaman's wedding reception

now the JLA was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, the new (at the time) Green Lantern, and the Flash (Not the original silver age Flash who was a founding member of the original JLA but his young partner who was originally Kid Flash but took over when his uncle died in the Crisis On Infinite Earths. Except for the fact that we just found out recently that he didn’t die and he’s now back.) After an initial mini-series by Mark Waid, DC brought Grant Morrison on board to write this new JLA. And it was epic. Huge battles, huge concepts, huge EVERYTHING. The only personal issues that the JLA faced in this book were the ones that had to do with the team. This remains a high benchmark for the concept, and remains my favourite incarnation of the league.

2006 – 2010. The “I’m sure we’ll figure it out eventually” years.

It’s no secret that the League has struggled creatively in recent years. Revolving creative teams, and revolving team rosters, have devalued the League’s effectiveness. James Robinson seems to be trying a lot of interesting things in today’s League, but I can’t say it’s doing much for me. That being said, the concept is still a sound one, and eventually the League will be on top again.

Which brings us to the books. Although there are MANY JLA trades out there, most of the ones I own have to do with the Magnificent Seven incarnation of the League. I’ve got a LOT of them, so I’m splitting this into several posts.

JLA The Magnificent Seven Years as written by Grant Morrison (New World Order, American Dreams, Rock Of Ages, Strength In Numbers, Justice For All, Rock Of Ages, World War 3)

So as I mentioned earlier, this a League full of A-List heroes, tacking A-List threats. I have never been quiet regarding my criticisms of Grant Morrison’s writing, and so it was a great pleasure to discover just how much I still loved his run on the JLA when I reread it recently. I have never felt that Morrison was a character writer. I don’t mean concept, he’s great at those. I mean character. But character is a BIG part of why this book works so well, and I think that a part of it was that Morrison didn’t have to focus on it much. Because this wasn’t a book about how Superman gets through the day with Lois, and the Daily Planet, and all of that nonsense, Morrison was free to focus on loftier concerns (How does Superman deal with having every single hero on earth look up to him?) There are character moments here, but they all are related to how these characters deal with each other, not how they deal with their own private lives.

As I mentioned before, Morrison’s League dealt with universe-destroying threats on a daily basis, and this book remains a highlight in the history of the League.


JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years as written by Mark Waid (Tower Of Babel, Terror Incognita, Divided We Fall)

Arguably the greatest JLA run of all time is done, and the question is, who do you get to take over? Mark Waid of course, and he knocks it out of the park.

His League is of a slightly smaller scope than Morrison’s is. He’s using continuity more than Morrison did, and character interaction is slightly more front of mind in his run. Which brings us to “Tower of Babel“, the highlight of his run. Not only is this one of the great JLA stories, it’s also one of the best Batman stories of the modern era. Although Waid’s run wasn’t very long, it’s still holds up extremely well as a worthy successor to Morrison’s arc.


JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years as written by Joe Kelly (Future Imperfect, The Golden Circle, Obsidian Age Vol. 1 & 2, Rules Of Engagement, Trial By Fire)

At the time, Joe Kelly had a well-regarded run on Superman, and so I guess it made sense to throw him the League. But he had some pretty big shoes to fill. Although I remember thoroughly disliking his run when it first came out, upon rereading it’s obvious that was just a reaction to some of the small changes Kelly made, as opposed to his run overall. It turns out that this was a solid run, with a bigger focus on character development than either Waid’s or Morrison’s. Of course, the highlight here was the incredibly ambitious Obsidian Age arc, a sprawling epic of time travel, death, and betrayal, with some beautiful art by Doug Mahnke. Probably the biggest misses here are the new characters that Kelly brings into the team. They never really gel with the existing cast, and didn’t seem to serve any real storytelling purpose other than for Kelly’s own ego.


JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years – The Rest. (World Without A Justice League, Tenth Circle, Pain Of The Gods, Syndicate Rules, Crisis Of Conscience)

Crucifer is upset because he's in the worst Justice League story ever written

Joe Kelly was the last regular writer on this version of the JLA, and the rest of the run was a rotating cast of different creative teams. Most of this was absolute crap, with the worst of the bunch being a truly awful excuse for a vampire story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, who seemed bound and determined to make you forget how much you loved their X-Men run when you were a kid.

Crisis Of Conscience, Syndicate Rules: KEEP. World Without A Justice League, Pain Of The Gods, Tenth Circle: CULL



JLA – The Magnificent Seven Years : Odds & Ends (JLA: Earth 2, Superpower, Age Of Wonder, World Without Grownups, Secret Origins, A League Of One, JLA Year One)

Because this version of the Justice League was so popular, DC pumped out an endless amount of one-shots, mini-series, and tie-ins. Most of these were wretched, and are covered in my next post. But there were a few that actually still hold up well today. Age of Wonder was one of many Elseworlds JLA titles from this era, and honestly the only one worth a damn (Justice League as Steampunk scientists: Hooray!). Although Year One, and Earth 2 still gets a lot of praise, A League Of One was a pleasant rediscovery, and I would go as far as to say that it’s one of the best Wonder Woman stories of the past decade.


Next up: Lots of really bad Justice League stories!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 – DC Comics: Hitman, Joker, and Jonah Hex

The more observant readers among you will notice that I reviewed my Huntress conics in the last post, even though alphabetically they come AFTER Hitman, and therefore should in fact be in this post. That’s true. But only if you live in this dimension. But if you’ve been to Earth 7 (somewhere I travel to often for business), you’ll know that due to baby Kal-El’s being sent to a small farm outside of Windsor, Ontario as a baby, the alphabet has evolved in different ways, and in no way did I make a mistake that makes me look like I can’t spell.

HitmanHitman, Ten Thousand Bullets, Ace Of Killers, Who Dares Wins

This is a mid ’90’s series by Garth Ennis and John McRea that doesn’t get discussed much today, though it was a critical success, and for good reason. It’s about Tommy Monaghan, a Gotham-based assassin who has the power of telepathy, and X-Ray vision. Simplistic as superpowers ago, but pretty much perfect if your chosen field is sneaking up behind people and killing them.

Hitman still stands up today as a well-written, character driven, action-comedy comic. Now, critics of Ennis’ writing will say that it’s got all of the Ennis tropes: Good ol’ boys hanging around a bar acting tough? Check. Lack of a three-dimensional female lead? Check. Lots of violence and gore for the sake of violence and gore? Check.

But I don’t mind. At least for this series. In later years Ennis would take all of these characteristics of his writing style and turn them into full-blown clichés (Cough…The Boys…Cough…) but in this context, they come across as genuine and charming.

Pretty much the only negative thing I can say about this series is that it’s not served well by being part of the regular DCU. Better known DC characters like Batman or Green Lantern rarely appeared, but when they did, they were portrayed as goofy parodies of themselves, and rarely served the story. Currently only a small part of this series is available in trade, but hopefully DC reprints the rest soon.


JokerGreatest Joker Stories Ever Told

How is it possible that the Greatest Joker Stories trade is better than the Greatest Batman Stories trade? I think it’s probably history’s fault. With the Batman volume, the editors tried very hard to include stories from every decade, and also limited their option to single issue stories. Great, except that meant leaving out so many truly great Batman stories, and including quite a few that really aren’t that great when you consider them from a big picture standpoint.

All in all, this stands up as a pretty great collection for Batman fans, though I’m still hoping that they eventually reprint all of the stories from the great Joker ’70’s series in one trade.



This is a stand alone graphic novel that Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo did last year to capitalize on Heath Ledger’s performance in the Dark Knight film. Azzarello pulls off a nifty trick here, writing a story that could easily fall into either the Dark Knight continuity, or into mainstream Batman continuity. Great for new readers, but I would also say that it’s one of the better recent Joker stories, though not on the level of Paul Dini’s amazing Detective Comics run from a few years ago. There’s some beautiful painting from Lee Bermejo as well.


Jonah HexLead Poisoning, Only The Good Die Young, Face Full Of Violence, Bullets Don’t Lie, Guns Of Vengeance, Origins, Luck Runs Out, The Six Gun War

I’m not really sure how Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have convinced DC to let them continue with this gem of a series for so long, but I’m not complaining. For those of you who were lucky enough NOT to watch the sink-hole of a Hex film that Warners put out early this year let me tell you the concept: Tough, bad-ass gunfighter in the old west, beats up other tough, bad-ass gunfighters in the old west. That’s it. Now, you’d think that would be enough, but no. Gray and Palmiotti constantly outdo themselves on this series, and I really think it’s gotten better as time has gone on. And since most Hex stories are contained to just one or two issues, it allows the writers to have a wide array of excellent artists working on the book with them.

Probably the only time where the series falters is when Hex stumbles into supernatural adventures. Although magic is something that the character has often had to deal with, dating back to the original 1970’s series, I don’t think it worked then, and it works even less now.


Coming up next: More Justice League stories than you can shake a stick at! Many of them are terrible.