Posts Tagged ‘Geoff Johns’

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Before we get rolling on our look back at 2016 in the world of comics, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge the passing of two masters, shall we? Darwyn Cooke and Steve Dillon were  very different artists with very different visions and very different styles, no doubt about that, but both were among the very best at what they did, both entered this undeserving world in 1962, and both exited it, leaving it a decidedly poorer place for their passing, in 2016. Both gentleman turned the medium upside – down with their brilliance and created bodies of work that are more than guaranteed to stand the test of time, so I feel it’s only appropriate, prior to diving into our annual retrospective (which, you’ve officially been warned, will take a minute, so buckle in) to say “thank you” and “we miss you” one more time to this pair of undeniable greats. And now, onto the business at hand —

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Wow, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? In a year when both of the “Big Two” decided to hit the “reset” button again, it’s probably fair to say that DC Universe : Rebirth #1 — and the entire Rebirth initiative in general — will go down as the major “event” of 2016, given that it essentially catapulted the publisher from a distant-second-place competitor to Marvel to “Top Dog” in the industry in the space of one month. That doesn’t mean that the comic itself was any good, of course — my feelings on it are well-known and I believe that Geoff Johns and his artistic collaborators Gary FrankEthan Van SciverIvan Reis and Phil Jimenez essentially churned out a stinkbomb here that will ultimately do both the DCU “proper” as well as the so-called “Watchmen Universe” no favors by setting them on a collision course with each other — but at this point, what’s done is done, and in the short run that means we’ve got a two-horse race for the top spot in the Diamond sales charts every month as DC’s decidedly mediocre twice-monthly efforts compete with yet fucking another round of “Marvel Now!” relaunched books that by and large are, in their own way, every bit as uninspired and predictable as their rivals’ four-color “floppies.” Honestly, this has been the most convoluted path back to the status quo that I’ve ever seen, and just goes to show that a bunch of hype is all that’s needed to sell readers on the same old crap. Of the two reboots, Marvel’s is the most promising, given that they’ve made an effort to carve out some space for genuinely interesting and off-beat titles, but you know most of ’em aren’t going to last, as the so-called “House Of Ideas” is putting far more promotional muscle behind crap like this —

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than they are behind intriguing and potentially subversive fare like this :

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So, yeah, on the whole, count me as being more or less completely uninspired by both major initiatives by both major publishers. Marvel’s in the awkward position (although it’s one they’re well used to after last year’s Secret Wars) of rolling out a raft of new books hot on the tail of a major crossover that hasn’t even ended yet, given that Civil War II was beset by the usual delays we’ve come to expect from these things, but I do give ’em credit for having about a half-dozen or so pretty good books stemming from “Marvel Now!” 2016 — and that’s roughly four more than post-Rebirth DC is giving us. For all that, though, once you move outside the Rebirth realm, DC is actually putting out a fair number of quite good books, which brings us to our main order of business here —

Ryan C.’s Top 10 Comics Series Of 2016

Same rules as always apply : these can be either “limited” or “ongoing” series — as long as they came out within the past 12 months in single-issue format (our preferred consumption method around these parts), we don’t discriminate. But it’s not a “real” Top 10 list without at least a couple of “honorable mentions,” though, is it? So let’s look at those first —

Honorable Mention #1 : American Monster (Aftershock)

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Brian Azzarello — whose name will be coming up again later for decidedly less complimentary reasons — is proving he’s “still got it” and then some with this decidedly sleazy, amoral small-town crime series that features a cast of pedophiles, gun-runners, neo-Nazis, corrupt preachers, and other fine, upstanding citizens. And Juan Doe‘s animation-cel inspired art is absolutely killer. Unfortunately, this book has seen so many publication delays that we only got three issues all year. If it was coming out on anything like an even remotely consistent basis, this would not only be “Top 10” material all the way, it might be “Top 2 Or 3.” I love this comic. Now feed me more of it.

Honorable Mention #2 : Power Man And Iron Fist (Marvel)

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David F. Walker is The Man. You could ask for no more perfect writer to chronicle the exploits of Luke Cage and Danny Rand. And Sanford Greene and frequent fill-in Flaviano Armentaro are doing a nice job on the art. Unfortunately, this title got sidetracked for no less than four months into the creative black hole that is Civil War II, and while these issues weren’t bad for tie-in nonsense, they were still — well, tie-in nonsense. Now that we’ve got the real story rolling again, all is right with the world, and you can blame this one narrowly missing out on the Top 10 squarely and solely on Marvel editorial, who steered the ship into “event” territory before it even had a chance to properly get its feet off the ground. It was a real momentum-killing decision, and I sincerely hope it won’t prove to be a fatal one, as well — but it may turn out to be just that given that sales on this series have been tanking in recent months. So much for the notion that cross-over “events” boost interest in a book.

Honorable Mention #3 : Love And Rockets (Fantagraphics)

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I’m not too proud to admit it — seeing the first issue of this new series from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez on the shelves of my LCS, and back in its original magazine format at that, was enough to make me tear up just a little bit for a second. It was hardly an issue for the ages or anything, but everything about this just feels right. I love it when life comes full-circle, I love Los Bros., I love their characters, and I love this world. It’s a shoe-in for the Top 10 next year, but one issue is simply too small a sample size for me too include it in good conscience this time out. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

Honorable Mention #4 : The Fix (Image)

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Nobody does fuck-up criminal low-lifes like Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, and in the pages of this book they up the ante by making their fuck-up criminal low-lifes cops, to boot. This comic is all kinds of perverse and depraved fun, and I’d dearly love to have found a spot for it in the Top 10, but there simply wasn’t room for more than — well, shit, ten titles. Nevertheless, it’s a series you absolutely should be pulling.

And now onto the main event —

10. Doom Patrol (DC’s Young Animal)

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The flagship title of Gerard Way‘s new “art comics” imprint, this book is proving a mere three issues in that it’s gonna push these characters in directions even Grant Morrison never dreamed of. Way and artist Nick Derington are doing the genuinely unthinkable here — producing a well and truly experimental comic with the full blessing of one of the “Big Two” publishers. All may not be lost, after all.

9. Deadly Class (Image)

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Rick Remender and Wes Craig gave us the “Holy Shit!” moment of the year in comics when they actually fucking killed their protagonist (doubly shocking when you consider he was an obvious stand-in for a youthful Remender himself) twenty-some issues in, but the new crop of students at King’s Dominion Atelier For The Deadly Arts is decidedly less interesting than was the last, hence the drop for this series from its loftier perch last year.

8. Southern Bastards (Image)

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Jasons Aaron and Latour just don’t let up. This deep-friend southern noir is loaded with so much gallows humor, spot-on characterization, and low-rent evil that not even a spotty publication schedule and a lackluster fill-in issue could keep it outta the Top 10. A legend in the making, even if it ends up taking a decade for it all to get made.

7. Jacked (Vertigo)

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As near as I can determine, nobody other than myself actually read Eric Kripke and John Higgins’ superb six-part tale of pharmaceutically-charged super-hero revisionism, and that’s a damn shame as it’s one of the single finest and most honest portrayals of mid-life crisis that this beleaguered medium has ever produced, and the art is simply sensational. Do yourself a favor and grab it in trade — you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t hate yourself for that beer gut and receding hairline anymore, either.

6. The Vision (Marvel)

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Enough ink — both physical and digital — has been spilled in praise of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta‘s admittedly Philip K. Dick-inspired techno-Shakespearean tragedy that adding to it just feels like piling on against the rest of the industry at this point. Suffice to say all the superlatives you’ve heard are true and then some and yeah, this one has “destined to be talked about for years to come” written all over it.

5. Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics)

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Ed Piskor put the wraps on the 12-part single-issue reprintings of his cultural history milestone earlier this year, and while I’ll certainly continue to collect and enjoy his oversized hardcover volumes, there was just something about having these previously-told stories presented on cheap, pre-yellowed newsprint that was beyond awesome. And the last issue even came packaged with an old-school floppy record — that was actually a code for a free digital download, but whatever. This book was more satisfying than a 40 of Olde English on a hot summer day.

4. Glitterbomb (Image)

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Jim Zub and deliriously-talented newcomer Djibril Morissette-Pham came out of nowhere with this series about Lovecraftian horror intersecting with the seedier side of post-fame Tinseltown (with bloody results) and just blew me the fuck away. The surprise hit of the year for this armchair critic and a book I can’t stop thinking or talking about. The first trade should be out soon enough and collects the self-contained story presented in issues 1-4,  and they’re coming back in late 2017 with a new arc that — man, I just don’t even know where they go from here. But I’m dying to find out.

3. The Flintstones (DC)

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Believe it. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh are putting out the most socially- and politically-relevant comic on the stands, and the satire in this book is by turns hilarious and heartwarming. A truly “mature” take on characters we thought we already knew everything there was to know about, and consistently one of the smartest books you’ll have the pleasure of reading. I don’t know that I have words to adequately describe how unexpectedly awesome this series is — when I said that DC was actually putting out some damn good stuff outside its main Rebirth line, this is exactly what I was talking about. If you’d have told me a year ago that one of the books I was going to be most eagerly looking forward to month-in and month-out was going to be The Flintstones, I would have thought you’d lost it. In fact, I probably would have said that Donald effing Trump had a better chance of being elected president. And yet, here we are — ain’t life crazy? And shitty? But at least we have this comic, and as antidotes to a new age of right-wing anti-intellectual barbarism go, you won’t find much better.

2. The Sheriff Of Babylon (Vertigo)

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The Vision may have gotten all the attention, but Tom King‘s best series of 2016 — by a wide margin, in my view — was this Iraq-set murder mystery drawn heavily from his own experiences as a CIA case officer during that bloody boondoggle of a war. Every aspect of this comic is almost painfully authentic, and Mitch Gerads rounds the package out with artwork so gritty you can feel the sand underneath your fingertips. This. Shit. Was. Amazing. Or maybe that should be “is” amazing, since — well, more on that in a minute.

1. Providence (Avatar)

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I’m out of superlatives, honestly. I review each issue of this series as it comes out, and my mind is blown more completely every time. I said last year that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows were potentially creating the comic of the young century with this volume of their “Lovecraft Cycle,” and with one installment left to go in this 12-parter, I think it’s safe to say we can take the “potentially” qualifier out of that statement :  Providence is, in fact, the best comic of the century so far.

Wait, though! We’re far from done —

On the graphic novel front, it’s gotta be said that 2016 was a banner year, as well, in many respects — but I’m always a bit perplexed on how best to assemble a “best-of” list when it comes to the GN format because it only seems fair to subdivide it down into wholly original works, trade collections, old-school vintage reprints, etc. Throw in the fact that may “original” graphic novels got their start as serialized installments on the web, and things get even dicier. What really constitutes “new” work anymore? Still, there is definitely plenty outside the realm of the single-issue “floppy” that deserves a mention, and so —

Original Graphic Novel Of The Year : Patience By Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

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Five years in the making, and it shows in every panel on every page. Clowes outdoes himself with each new project, it seems, and this is jewel in his creative crown — until the next one, at any rate. Love, obsession, longing, time travel, regret, loneliness, desolation — even optimism? This work encompasses all of it and then some; a monumental achievement of staggering proportions.

Best Collected Edition Of Recent Work : American Blood By Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)

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Anyone who’s read Terror Assaulter : O.M.W.O.T. knows that Ben Marra exists on a planet of his own, and this collection of the self-published works issued under his awesomely-named Traditional Comics imprint runs the stylistic gamut from insanely exaggerated pseudo-“realism” to Gary Panter-esque primitive id-channeling. WaPo columnist Maureen Dowd as a sexy super-spy? Bloodthirsty barbarians from distant worlds? Gang-bangers who do nothing but fuck and kill? Freed slaves who can tear white men apart with their bare hands? It’s all here, in suitably gaudy purple-and-white.

Best Collected Edition Of Vintage WorkMarvel Masterworks : The Black Panther, Volume 2 By Jack Kirby (Marvel)

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In recent years, the awesome body of work produced by The King Of Comics during his second, late-’70s stint at Marvel has finally been given its due as the visionary output it so clearly was, but while books like Machine ManThe EternalsDevil Dinosaur and “Madbomb!”-era Captain America have now taken their rightful place among the rich pantheon of Kirby masterworks, Jack’s Black Panther run from that same period still doesn’t get anything like the love it deserves. Hopefully this handsome hardbound collection will finally start to clue readers in to what a magical and imaginative Wakanda Kirby created in this high-flying techno-fantasy epic.

It wasn’t all good news, though, and since we’re on the subject of T’Challa, we might as well segue into some of 2016’s lowlights —

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #1 : Black Panther (Marvel)

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There’s no doubt that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a literary and journalistic genius, and his voice in this ugly new Trump-ian era is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, he can’t write a comic to save his life, and his dour, humorless, self-absorbed, navel-gazing take on The Panther reads like a relic of the worst sort of over-wrought 1990s excesses. This is a genuinely lousy title, and it doesn’t help that neither of its usually-reliable artists, Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse, are delivering anything like their best work.

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #2 : Batman (DC)

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Tom King giveth, and Tom King taketh away. We’ve already covered the great stuff he’s given readers in 2016, but he’s also taken one of the most consistently-good super-hero books and turned it into a massive fucking train wreck. Lots of people were jazzed when he was announced as Scott Snyder‘s replacement on the “main” Bat-book, but King has struggled to find a “voice” for Bruce Wayne either in or out of the cape and cowl, his two major storylines to date have featured ridiculous plots, and 13 issues in all we can really say is that he writes a pretty good Alfred. The illustration by David Finch on the first five-issue story arc was atrocious, and the only thing that saved this title from being dropped from my pull for the first time ever was when the magnificent Mikel Janin took over art chores with the second arc and delivered work of absolutely breathtaking scope and grandeur. Still, at this point, I have to say — when he goes, I go. And I think he’s gone after next issue. And yet, horseshit as this book has been, it’s nothing compared with our —

Worst Comic Of The Year : Dark Knight III : The Master Race (DC)

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Unmitigated garbage that plumbs new depths of hopelessness with every issue, Brian AzzarelloAndy Kubert and Klaus Janson (with nominal involvement from Frank Miller) are doing something here no one thought possible : making fans yearn for the days of The Dark Knight Strikes Again!  (which, admittedly, I’ve always liked, but no one else does). Also, they seem to be doing their level best to match that title’s glacial publication schedule. At this rate, we’re gonna wait three years to complete a story that’s been a total waste of time from the outset. This series is honestly starting to rival Before Watchmen  in the “artistically-bankrupt blatant cash-grab” category. I expected nothing from it, true — and yet somehow we’re getting even less than that.

I’m going to close on something of a high note for DC, though, if you can believe it, because they also get the award for —

Best Development Of 2016 DC’s Young Animal

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I’m still not sure what the hell a “pop-up imprint” is, but Gerard Way has one he can call his very own, and so far all four series released under this label’s auspices — Doom Patrol (as previously discussed), Shade, The Changing GirlCave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Mother Panic — have been not just good, but great. While at first DCYA sounded like little more than a stylistic heir to vintage-era Veritgo to my mind, in fact its aims seem to be much different, while admittedly utilizing a number of characters and concepts from that fan-favorite period. This is an imprint where anything both goes and can happen, and we’ve sorely needed that for waaaaayyy too long. In short, this is the most exciting thing either of the “Big Two” have done in — shit, as long as I can remember. Long may it continue.

So — What About The Year To Come?

By the sound of it there’s plenty to be excited about, from Warren Ellis spearheading the re-launch of WildStorm to the debuts of much-publicized new series from Image such as God Country and The Few, but my most-anticipated events of 2017 (at least as far we know now) would have to be —

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March 31st (seriously, guys?) is slated as the provisional release date for Providence #12, and to say that I can’t wait to find out how it all ends would be an understatement of criminal proportions. It would also be an equally-proportionate understatement to say that I’ll simply “miss” this series when it’s over. So, ya know, maybe take your time with that last issue, after all.

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The so-called second “season” of The Sheriff Of Babylon is due to hit sometime in the latter part of the year and, simple as the “teaser” image shown above was, it was still enough to get me excited. And finally —

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January sees the release of the first installment of Kamandi Challenge, a “round-robin” 12-part series from DC starring The Last Boy On Earth that features a different creative team on each issue trying to solve the cliffhangers left by the folks the month before, as well setting up new messes for the next bunch to get themselves out of. This is the first of what I hope to be many releases commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby that we can look forward to over the next 12 months — in fact, DC has just also announced an omnibus hardcover reprinting of Kirby’s entire original Kamandi run, so let’s hope that 2017 really will be a vintage year for fans of The King.

Whew! Okay! We’re done for the year! Enjoy your holidays — or what remains of them — and we’ll see you back here in January, when we get to start the whole thing all over again!

 

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It occurs to me that I probably should have written a review for 2013’s direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Download animated feature Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox before the one I wrote yesterday for Justice League : War given that events in this one directly lead to the creation of the “New 52” universe that film takes place in, but oh well, I’ve never been one to follow convention (or, let’s face it, logic) too closely —so here we are, better late than never, I guess.

Based on the comic book “event” mini-series Flashpoint by Geoff Johns (again) and Andy Kubert, this is the story that re-booted the DCU into its new form, and while the end result of said re-boot hasn’t, by and large, been to my liking, this adventure has a suitably “epic” feel to it and generally delivers the goods. Plus, let’s face it, we owe the original comic a debt of gratitude for, at the very least, putting an end to the “one-Crisis-after-another” treadmill that DC had been stuck on for so long. It was getting to be well past time for the former National Periodical Publications to put its collective houses in order, and while I may have numerous bones to pick with how they chose to do so, the core idea certainly seemed sensible enough at the time.

Let’s get one thing straight, though : this really isn’t a Justice League story at all. It’s a Flash story.

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Which isn’t to say that the other League members don’t have their part to play in the proceedings here — they surely do,  but they’re largely consigned to the margins while the Scarlet Speedster (voiced by Justin Chambers) takes center stage. And why not? He’s the one who gets trapped in an alternate reality, after all. And while that may seem like a “narrowing down” of the story’s scope, it actually helps to have one central point of audience identification for a series of events this earth-(okay, universe-) shattering.

So, yeah. Flash is trapped in a dimension not of his own making (not that he made the one he inhabits, either, but I digress) — one where, among other things, Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas (Kevin McKidd) is Batman. There are plenty of other window-dressing details that serve to differentiate this reality from DC’s “main” one, of course, and these differences are assaulting Flash’s consciousness and replacing his “actual” memories with ones that he knows he didn’t have previously. It’s all so very confusing for our fleet-footed protagonist.

Meanwhile, events on Flash’s native Earth are spiraling out of control as a war between Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall)’s amazons and Aquaman (Cary Elwes)’s undersea kingdom of Atlantis draws ever nearer. The shit’s about to hit the fan in a big way, and all the efforts of fellow heroes Superman (Sam Daly), Green Lantern (fan-favorite Nathan Fillion), Captain Atom (Lex Lang), Batman (Kevin Conroy), and Cyborg (Michael B. Jordan),  as well as the members of their various supporting casts like Lois Lane (Dana Delany),  can’t seem to stem the tide of inevitable conflict that’s quickly crashing in.

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How is all of this connected? What do villains like Lex Luthor (Steve Blum, who also lends his vocal talents to a new character called Captain Thunder) and Deathstroke (the always-awesome Ron Perlman) have to do with anything? How and why is Jack Kirby’s seminal (and criminally under-utilized) Etrigan, The Demon (Dee Bradley Baker) involved, albeit at the margins?  What’s the deal with “alternate” Flash-type character Professor Zoom (C. Thomas Howell)? Ah — that would be giving too much away, my friends. Suffice to say that, fortunately for us all, Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox  does, at the very least, provide reasonably satisfying answers to damn near all of the questions it raises.

The big one, though, is how Flash is going to reconcile  the titular paradox at the center of our story and restore the trans-dimensional balance that’s been tipped, for while characters like Aquaman and Wonder Woman have bit more to do here than usual, at the end of the day the fate of the universe(s) really does rest more or less entirely on Barry Allen’s admittedly broad (all the heroes in this flick look like they gobble ‘roids for breakfast) shoulders.

Old hand Jay Oliva is back on board to direct things here, and while the overall pace does, in fact,  lag a bit here and there in spots, on the whole he keeps events moving along pretty briskly and manages the delicate task of keeping audiences interested in resolving the continuity problems that make up the heart of his plot without dwelling too intently on minutiae. Sure, anybody wish a vested interest in any and/or all of these characters is going to be more intrigued in seeing how this all plays out than viewers who are coming to this stuff for the first time, but things never get so dense as to become impenetrable to all save for the previously-initiated.

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Please don’t get me wrong — it’s not like Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox is by any means a perfect animated super-hero feature. A few members of the voice cast seem to be mailing things in by and large, and some of the differences between realities seem a bit superficial and contrived.  All in all,  though, it’s a brisk, fun ride that performs its table-clearing task in an efficient, engaging manner. It’s just a shame that DC hasn’t put as much creativity or effort into creating their new universe as they put into destroying their old one.

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It’s been a good six months or so since we took a side-step into the world of straight-to-video animation around these parts, so we might as well do a brief “course correction” on that and take a look at the latest offering from DC Comics/Warner Brothers Animation, the recently-released onto Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download Justice League : War.

This release marks something of a departure for the range itself in that it’s the first animated feature to take place in the “New 52” universe, so gone is the old “DC Universe” logo we’re used to seeing on these things and we’re back to a world where super-heroes are a new phenomenon and the public at large is just coming to grips with what  a massive shake-up to humanity’s status quo this all means. That’s cool and I can definitely get behind the whole idea of fresh “world building” to re-introduce these characters for a new generation of readers and viewers.

Unfortunately, what I can’t get behind is pretty much everything that’s been done with the whole “New 52” since then, and the numerous weaknesses inherent in DC’s printed-page universe are on full display here, as well. In short, the problem is that most (with a few notable exceptions) “New 52” product — and it is product, and a thoroughly homogenized, corporatized, personality-free, and ultimately soulless product at that — isn’t designed to engage the imaginations of younger readers, but to standardize the formerly-unique look and feel that manyof DC’s individual titles used to possess and give the company’s ever-aging (DC co-publisher Dan DiDio has even stated publicly that his target market is 45-year-old males with no kids and lots of disposable income) and ever-dwindling readership a universe that is consistent in both tone and style.

In that respect, it’s achieved its goal, the problem is that most “New 52” books are consistently bad and this newly-rebooted universe is a dire, hollow, humorless place. Apart from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s always-excellent Batman book, I honestly can’t think of any DC titles currently on the shelves that are worth picking up on a monthly basis. Most of these comics read and look like mid-’90s Wildstorm books (perhaps no surprise given that former WS head honcho Jim Lee is DC’s other co-publisher) that just happen to feature more established characters.

Still, it’s what we’ve been stuck with for just over two years now, and it was only a matter of time before the relaunched universe playing out on the printed page made the leap onto home video, as well. So here we are.

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Based on the graphic novel Justice League : Origin by DC chief “creative” officer Geoff Johns and the aforementioned Mr. Lee, and directed by old-hat veteran of these things Jay Oliva, Justice League : War is about as bland as its title would suggest, with the characters all essentially functioning as one-note ciphers : Batman (voiced by Jason O’Mara) is an overly-serious prick, Green Lantern (Justin Kirk) is an obnoxious hothead, The Flash (Christopher Gorham) is a CSI-type forensic cop who just so happens to be able to run really fast, Superman (Alan Tudyk) is a misunderstood alien feared by the very public that he’s sworn to protect because he’s such a swell guy at heart, Wonder Woman (Michelle Monaghan) is a tough-as-nails warrior who’s trying her best to crack her “ice princess” Amazon breeding, Cyborg (Shemar Moore) is a troubled teen trapped in a half-machine body who just wants his father’s approval, and Shazam (Sean Astin) is a quintessential “good egg” type, unless he’s in his civilian identity of Billy Batson (Zach Callison), in which case he’s a snot-nosed little juvenile delinquent. They all sport subtly redesigned costumes (I guess the powers that be at DC decided the look of every single one of their heroes needed “updating”) than those we’re traditionally used to seeing, and in the timeline this story takes place none of ’em have ever met before until they all reluctantly end up pooling resources in order to ward off an invasion of  Para-Demon hordes commanded by the dastardly Darkseid (Steve Blum) from his home base on the hell-planet of Apokolips.

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That’s about all you really need to know since the outcome of this battle is obviously pre-ordained, but worthy of special mention/condemnation for old-school Jack Kirby fans like myself is how wretchedly stereotypical all of jack’s “Fourth World” creations that are utilized in this story have become in the hands of far less skilled creators. From Darkseid to Desaad to the Para-Demons to the Mother Boxes, all have been uniformly stripped of the uniquely personal elements that the King Of Comics imbued them with and are every bit as “dumbed-down” as the heroes themselves are. Sigh.

Oliva does a nice job keeping the pace appropriately breakneck (having time to stop and think about the proceedings here would only make things worse), and the voice cast all hit the nail on the head reasonably well (apart from O’Mara who never really “connects” as Batman), but they’re being tasked with the impossible here — to try and make a bog-standard, personality-free story somehow interesting. Needless to say, it’s just not gonna happen.

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There’s a rumor going around various online circles these days that an editorial dictate from on high at DC to the various “New 52” creators — many of whom the company has been exposed as treating like so many interchangeable parts in their machine in the years since the relaunch was initiated — stated that the overall tone of of their books should hue as closely as possible to so-called “fan fiction,” and many of those “fanfic”-type excesses that have come to pass, like Superman and Wonder Woman becoming romantically involved, can be seen in their early stages here, so it’s a pretty fair bet that all that crap will be making the leap from the printed page to the TV (or computer) screen in relatively short order, as well. Be ready.

The events portrayed in Justice League : War may take place a few years in the past as far as comic book continuity goes, but make no mistake : this is the shape of things to come. And it definitely ain’t pretty.

They say the art of “good” criticism — be it film, literary, or what have you — is to never give away your opinion right off the bat. They also say that rules are made to be broken, and as I’m feeling a bit rebellious today, I’ll just come right out and say it — I’m not sure what the point of DC Comics’ new Batman : Earth One hardcover graphic novel really is.

I mean, I get that the whole Earth One line is supposed to be DC’s approximation of Marvel’s Ultimate “universe,” the goal of which is to prime the company’s economic gas pump by re-introducing familiar characters in new, “present-day” settings, thereby (theoretically) attracting new readers to Batman or whatever other franchise we might be talking about who would otherwise be frightened off — understandably so — by 50-plus years of continuity and backstory. But wasn’t that also, purportedly at least, the goal behind the entire “New 52” relaunch a few months back? I’ll grant you that the Earth One (and by the way, back in the ancient mists of time when I was actually young, “Earth One” was the “main” Earth on which all the DC “present-day” stories were happening, and “Earth Two” was where all the “old time” heroes of the Golden Age lived. There were any number of “multiple Earths,” and then DC imploded their whole “multiverse” in the Crisis On Infinite Earths mini-series and pared it all down to one single fictional “universe.” I understand that they brought the “multiverse” concept back a couple years ago in their Infinite Crisis book, but I guess the universe where the regular monthly DC books take place is not the “Earth One” universe, nor is it “Earth Two,” since there’s a specific DC title relating to that parallel reality. Maybe the “main universe” Earth is “Earth 3,” or “Earth Prime” or “Earth 27” — frankly, I have no idea) thing was already well into the pipeline by that point , but doesn’t that still make one or the other rather, you know — redundant? Besides, if one wants to jump into the Batman world fresh, there’s also been a fairly recent hardcover reissue of Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s superb Batman : Year One, in a so-called “deluxe edition,” no less, that’s still readily available. All of which leads me to believe that readers looking for a good “jumping-on” point for the Batman comics would actually walk away more confused than ever about exactly where to begin once they see the plethora of supposedly “good places to start” that are out there.

At any rate, for what it’s worth, DC are certainly marketing this new book, written by current “hot property” writer Geoff Johns, pencilled by current “hot property” penciller Gary Frank, and inked by current “hot property” inker Jonathan Sibal as, at the very least, one of the really good places for newcomers to begin exploring the adventures of the Caped Crusader on the printed page.  But it’s not where I’d choose to start off.

Don’t get me wrong — the art is absolutely gorgeous, apart from Frank apparently deciding to model Bruce Wayne’s facial features upon Tom Cruise. Frank has a hyper-realistic, highly-detailed style that does lend an air of “reality” to the proceedings, and Sibal’s inks are meticulous and quite rich. Colorist Brad Anderson deserves a nod here, as well, for his spot-on-perfect-in-most-instances color palette that provides a lot of welcome variation but maintains, by and large, a properly somber feel throughout. The art may be a little stiff at times, particularly during the action sequences,  the panels of which feel as if they’re designed to be viewed individually rather than in any type of flowing sequential order, but it’s all so damn painstakingly defined and flawlessly rendered that it’s hard to quibble.

The problem here, then, is most certainly not the art — it’s the story. Simply put, Johns shoots his entire creative wad with the tinkering he does around the edges of the Batman “legend,” none of which makes a damn bit of difference in the end, and some of which, like the idea of the villainous Penguin as mayor of Gotham City, have already been tried elsewhere ( inTim Burton’s Batman Returns, in case you’d forgotten, which you probably hadn’t. Yeah, okay, he was only running for the office in that film, but still — the idea was out there). Apart from that, we’ve got is a series of what are supposedly “nifty little touches,” like making Alfred some type of ex-Marine/mercenary, Jim Gordon being a crooked cop, Harvey Bullock being a suave “reality” TV star, etc. that are shoehorned into a limp story about how Mayor Cobblepot is keeping a stranglehold on the city by employing a psychotic, ‘roided-out serial killer called — I kid you not — “The Birthday Boy,” to whom he happily sacrifices the daughters of the rich and powerful if they ever threaten to get out of line. Hey, it’s that’s one way to keep the big-money campaign contributors on your side, I guess. There’s also a bit of a conspiracy theory angle uncomfortably forced into the story of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents because the elder Wayne was running against Cobblepot for mayor, but don’t worry — it all comes to naught. As does the story itself, which just leaves us set up for a sequel at the end with a series of dangling plot threads littering the landscape, none of which are particularly interesting. If Johns had put half as much effort into constructing an involving piece of drama here as he did with tweaking the incidental details, then maybe the inevitable Earth One : Part Two would be something I’d be looking forward to, but as it is, I’m hardly holding my breath.

I guess it’s kinda cool, in a fan-geeky way, to see a book where Batman fucks up on the job a lot, wears combat boots, punches out (non-)Commissioner Gordon, and has a costume that actually shows his eyes, but if you’re not a hopeless devotee of Dark Knight minutiae, it’s hard to see how this thing could hold much appeal, apart from the gorgeously-rendered visuals. In short, Earth One is no Year One, and casual or completely “green” Batman readers would probably find Miller and Mazzuchelli’s seminal work a much more rewarding and, frankly, timeless take on the origins, motivations, and earliest exploits of everyone’s favorite masked billionaire vigilante.