Friday, August 26, 2011

NEW TO ME: JSA volume 2 – Darkness Falls

Thanks to Comic Geek Speak, I’ve heard a number of glowing things about this run of comics – begun by James Robinson & David Goyer and continued by Goyer & Geoff Johns – through their series of “Footnotes” spotlights on the initial twelve issues of the run (discussions of issues 1 -11 are currently available at their site, with the twelfth issue’s discussion yet to be recorded). So, seeking out something new – for me – in the world of superheroes, I chose to start reading, and writing about, this series and Grant Morrison’s JLA.

JSA: Darkness Falls is the second collection of the acclaimed relaunch of the Justice Society from 2000, and I have to applaud DC comics for offering ten issues of the comic, in this trade collection, for only $19.95 (and if it has gone up since it was initially published, I apologize). But I have to say, the stories inside left me wanting for something more.

The biggest problem I have with this series is that I don’t care about these characters. Having not read Infinity Inc. or Young All-Stars back in theday, or the Justice Society even further back, my knowledge of them is meager, to say the least. And the writers give me little within these first fifteen issues to grasp onto and make me care. There’s a lot of exposition, and I learn a bit about these characters and am told a number of times how dire a situation may be, but I never feel it, with the exception of one, single moment:

The JSA have captured Kobra, who opened that particular story arc by destroying a passenger jet upon which Atom-Smasher’s mother was journeying. Atom-Smasher, aka Al Rothstein, who has been trying to deal with his mother’s death, grows to a size he’s never achieved before (pushing his psyche and his physical body to limits his friends know to be dangerous) and is ready to crush Kobra in his hand. Jack Knight (Starman) flies up and tells Al to stop. But he doesn’t want to listen; he’s apoplectic with rage and heartache. And Jack tells him, “I know it’s not fair, Al. You’ve dedicated your life to saving people. I know. My brother was killed by the Mist’s son, Kyle. And then I … I killed him. In battle … it was … there’s not one day that goes by that I don’t wish my brother was here with me, Al. That I was there to save him. But you know what? There’s also not one day that goes by that I don’t think about Kyle. You don’t want that, Al. You don’t want your mother’s memory tainted like that.”

It really is a beautiful little moment, but one that is ruined by the overt melodrama seen when Atom-Smasher returns to normal size damning Kobra as he sheds tears for his dead mother. (I don’t’ know if it’s the art or the writing that ruins the moment here, but it goes from subtle to “hammering over the head” very quickly).

The stories also suffer from some horrible one-liners:

  • Dr. Mid-Nite: “Nice wing chun, Canary.” Black Canary: “Flattery will get you everywhere, Doc.”
  • Mr. Terrific: “Extant didn’t create this world with sugar, spice, and everything nice.”
  • Atom-Smasher: “All right, guys. For once, leave the flying to me.”

Dialogue like this included in such “end of the world” situations as the writers throw at us, the audience, make this feel like a schizophrenic series – does it want to be a comedy or does it want to be high drama? It’s frustrating and I would cringe every time I came to one of those “quips.”

And, with the final chapter, the writers make a poor storytelling choice by opening that chapter with the Star-Spangled Kid writing about the outcome of their battle with Extant in her diary. Her description tries to accentuate the dire position she and the other heroes were in, but by having it told from the perspective of someone who survived the ordeal, it bleeds all the tension from it that the creators have built up over the course of the previous issues.

There are, ultimately, some interesting panel layouts when we see the heroes battling Extant, and the climax provides an intriguing moral decision – utilizing the Worlogog’s time-bending properties to switch Kobra for Al’s mother as the plane from the opening chapter crashes – on the part of Atom-Smasher that could very well provide fascinating stories down the line (a moral choice that is made more profound and powerful if one is familiar with Geoff Johns’s personal tragedy). But, overall, I found the stories to be rather dull.

The art, again, is serviceable but Stephen Sadowski’s pencils lack the dynamism that could, in my eyes, elevate these stories. Buzz coming in to do a couple of fill-in issues is very much appreciated (this was my introduction to Buzz, a favorite of CGS). His beautifully feathered linework and facility with anatomy really shine in his two issues. And I greatly appreciate his ability to convey a realistic martial arts battle (see above). That was just fantastic stuff.

But that saving grace couldn’t save the entire book for me. I think, for now, I’ll leave the JSA and move to other stuff I haven’t read. Maybe I’ll return another time, but for now, I’m going to introduce myself to the world of Mark Millar, at least mainstream Mark Millar, and see if I can stomach his writing.

Stay tuned.


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