Posts Tagged ‘Jim Lee’

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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.

So, anyway — it appears that the entire publishing schedule for Before Watchmen has been thrown off a bit lately. We didn’t get anything for two weeks, and next week they’re playing catch-up by releasing the latest issues of Silk SpectreComedian, and Nite Owl all at once. For Silk Spectre and Nite Owl, that’s ll be the end of the road, but until then, we’ve been “given” the first of the two-part Moloch (very) mini-series to mull over — since, ya know, DC apparently feels we weren’t being subjected to enough J. Michael Straczynski already.

I admit, when this book was first announced my reaction was, essentially, “what’s the point?” But then, given that you could reasonably say the same thing about the entire Before Watchmen enterprise as a whole, I guess “what the hell — why not?” is a reasonable enough way to look at this late-comer to the proceedings, as well. And hey — at least it’s got Eduardo Risso art, and I’ve always liked his stuff.

All in all this issue wasn’t so bad as far as these things go, but a word of warning — if the other BW series have felt like useless “professional fan fiction” to you, then this one is going to feel like more of the same only on steroids, since it’s principal character, one-time super-villain Moloch, appeared on a grand total of, what? Maybe 12 pages of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series? So yeah — we are admittedly, pretty firmly in “fanwank” territory here. And it’s not like there’s bound to be anything too earth-shattering going over the course of a story that only runs two issues. And yet —

Maybe it’s because this little interlude-of-a-book is so far removed from being actually necessary, or maybe it’s because I was just in the mood for a pleasant-enough little time-waster when I read it, but I actually enjoyed (believe it or not!) Before Watchmen : Moloch #1 (variant covers, as shown, by Risso, Matt Wagner, and Jim Lee, respectively). Admittedly, the framing device of using a confession to a Roman Catholic priest as a springboard for a series of flashback vignettes covering the course of a character’s life has pretty much been done to death, but it generally works here, and maybe because we know so little about him Edward Jacobi’s life story actually makes for fairly interesting reading. We’re not mining overly-familiar territory here as we are in the other books. Heck, as we get to the end of the “origin flashbacks” in this first issue, Straczynski even leaves us with a relatively nifty little cliffhanger, even though it should be anything but a surprise given what little we do know about this character.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, contrary to the other  BW books that are nothing but random recollections of past “adventures” (I’m looking at you, specifically, Comedian and Ozymandias — as well as Nite Owl  #1 and Minutemen #1), Before Watchmen : Moloch  #1 actually works. Yeah, the Moloch character is uglier and weirder-looking than Dave Gibbons portrayed him, looking a lot more like Neal Adams’s Man-Bat character here, but there might be an explanation for his changed appearance forthcoming in the second issue, or maybe it’s all just down to artistic differences. I don’t much care either way, this is pretty much a throwaway character, and yeah — it’s also pretty much a throwaway book. But it’s a competently executed throwaway book, with a breezy, well-written script and some truly gorgeous art by Risso. What’s not to like?

Still, I have to confess (just to clumsily pick up on Straczynski’s already-clumsy “confession” theme) that the book left me with a nagging question — if a well-done, but pointless, diversion stands out as being one of the better Before Watchmen issues to date, how  absolutely thorough a condemnation is that of the other titles in this series?