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Sunday, August 27, 2006

League time

If you read SuperFiancee's blog (and if you don't, you're a chump, I mean, straight up), then you probably already know that she's spent this weekend spoiling me rotten. Which is fine with me, but, you know, sometimes I like to spoil her rotten, and she always fights me on it, way way more than I do when she wants to spoil me. And, anyway, she pretty much spoils me rotten all the time.

Anyway, she went over to a local video place on Friday to get ANGEL: SEASON FOUR on DVD. The local TBS station had been showing it in syndication, but we forgot to tape it sometime last week, and ended up missing out on about six vital fourth season eps, so, after she absolutely forbade me to just order a set from a cheap DVD site for her (money is tight these days, and has been for months, and will be for months to come, it looks like), this was what we ended up doing. And while she was over there picking them up, she snatched up the first season of the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon for me, too.

Plus, Saturday we stopped off over at Great Escape and along with a few other items, I picked up Brad Metzler's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1.

So, it's been pretty much a Justice League weekend here in Castle Anthrax. (I know, I know, could I please stop mixing my geek references? The blog title is from BUCKAROO BANZAI, I'm the Highlander, and now I call where I live Castle Anthrax? What's WRONG with me? Well, let's just say SuperFiancee does a pretty good imitation of bad, wicked, evil, naughty Zoot when she's a mind to, and move on.)

On Metzler -- I heard so much trash talked about IDENTITY CRISIS, the miniseries that put Metzler on the map, that I had pretty much decided I never needed to read it. For some reason, I had it cross associated in my mind with another miniseries that had come out from DC at the same time, and that I had also heard was dreadful, called HUSH. And while I'm fairly certain that HUSH really is appalling and I pretty much never will actually read it, I ran across a copy of the IDENTITY CRISIS collection at the library a month or so ago, so I took it out, and I read it, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually excellent.

I may have liked it better than most fans because I'd heard spoilers and thus knew what the big suprise ending was before I even started reading the series. Virtually every bad opinion of the series I heard went something like "It was actually great until that last issue, but the last issue was so bad it made the rest of the series suck, too". Which I can understand -- I feel much the same way about the fifth season of BUFFY, which is fabulous up until the last five episodes or so, but those last five episodes are so truly bad that they nearly wreck the entire preceding season.

Anyway, I liked IDENTITY CRISIS fine; within the context of a metareality like the DC Universe, I didn't find Metzler's final solution to the series' locked room mystery to be particularly difficult to believe or accept, and I was delighted to discover that Metzler himself is a fabulous writer with an intimate knowledge of DC continuity, including Silver Age continuity, an obvious love of and respect for DC's older characters, and a lot of natural talent for writing naturalistic, and often quite funny, dialogue. He also excels at that thing that is, in many ways, the essence of writing established characters well -- he can, apparently effortlessly, take cliche situations and very familiar characters and present them to us with a new twist, or from a completely unexpected angle, in such a way as to make us see those situations or characters in an entirely different light.

It's something that writers like Alan Moore, Geoff Johns, Neil Gaiman, Tom Peyer, Steve Englehart, Roger Stern, Alan Brennert, Steve Gerber, Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, and Kurt Busiek all do with varying degrees of expertise and success, and I was delighted to be able to add a new name to that roster of comics scripters. Which was why, when I heard Metzler was going to be writing a new JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA title, I was determined to buy it.

To date, we've actually seen two issues of the title: #s 0 and 1. Neither has been a disappointment to me, despite the fact that in both issues, the 'present day' action has been pretty much confined to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman sitting around in a cave somewhere yammering about whether or not there should be a Justice League, and if there should, who should be in it.

Issue zero flashed back and forth between past, present, and future. The future events were all vague, and the sort of thing that someday writers on the title can pick up on and flesh out, or completely ignore, as suits them. We know there's supposed to be a funeral for someone that will, again, break up the League; we know the League will be getting a new satellite HQ, we know Hal Jordan will be getting married and Wonder Woman will be getting engaged (to a man, even). Even more fun, for me at least, was seeing the past flashbacks -- we got to see Batman's initial reaction to the League's first adventure (and thus, have confirmed that once again, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have all been restored to their rightful status as charter members of the League, and not only that, but the details of the League's origin story seem to have been restored, as well, to what they once were). We got to see Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all reacting with varying degrees of horror and approbation at the inception of the stupidity that was the Detroit League. We even get a glimpse of the three's amusement, as Wonder Woman and Batman recount for Superman how Batman punched Guy Gardner right in the jaw during the even more appalling period when the League was little more than a situation comedy under Giffen, de Matteis, and Jones.

But all that was just prelude. In JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1, we get... well, we get all kinds of riches. We see the Metal Men again, albeit briefly. We see Jefferson Pierce having a conversation with the Signalman in a bar, which, honestly, I thought was just cool. Kathy Sutton, the Red Tornado's long time squeeze, comes off as a real, four dimensional human being for the first time EVER -- Metzler is such a good writer, he can even put in three flash back panels full of terrible Len Wein dialogue and still make the characterizations work. Now that's talent.

There were a dozen other fabulous little bits in the book -- Hal Jordan's interactions with Roy Harper, Superman's assessment of just why Batman wants Captain Marvel in the League so badly, Vixen's confrontation with a couple of shapeshifters in a Hub City bar, a throwaway line about Batman taking a look at the circuitry in Superman's Legion flight ring, a flashback scene to Red Tornado's first 'death', cameos by Boston Brand and Felix Faust... an enormously dense flood of background material, all of it handled deftly and surely, without a false note sounded anywhere.

But the real joy of the issue, at least for me, was Red Tornado's transformation into a flesh and blood human being. Yeah, you could get pissy about the details if you wanted to (although I'll point out, all the details we were told by 'Boston Brand' could be lies; it's pretty obvious someone is going to a great deal of trouble to vacate the Red Tornado android body for their own purposes, and they could have whipped up a human body for him through other means and then made up a more innocent story to assuage Tornado's conscience at taking it over), but what works for me is how well Metzler conveys the emotions here -- the feelings Tornado has about at long last being fully alive, the amazement his lover and his adopted daughter both feel at realizing that, for the first time, his hands are warm as he touches them.

I've been a Justice League fan for a very long time, I've read hundreds if not thousands of Justice League stories, and all my life, Red Tornado has been a forgettable, even regrettable character, one whom I could seriously see myself applying Byrne's derisive 'toaster' label to, given just a little bit more impetus. And yet, with this issue, Metzler has, quite literally, made the character real for the first time. He's made him human... on every level. And if that was all this issue had, I'd have been enormously satisfied, and eagerly looking forward to seeing what else Metzler has in store for this version of the League.

But there was so much more.

I honestly can't see how Metzler can continue to provide us with this level, this depth, and this breadth of characterization and story content in each issue, but I'm sure looking forward to watching him try.

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