Review: JLA: Salvation Run trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, April 06, 2009

It's been a blood-soaked reading week since Countdown to Final Crisis Volume 3; first the mayhem of Countdown: Arena and now JLA: Salvation Run (and I'm not even over Watchmen yet!). But whereas Arena, fun as it was, offered a dose of gruesomeness without much characterization behind it, I become increasingly impressed the more I think back on Salvation Run at all the subtle touches that Bill Willingham and especially writer Matt Sturges injected into this story (along with the gruesomeness).

Salvation Run, the story of the pantheon of DC Comics bad guys imprisoned on a deathtrap planet, is an easy read for someone without much knowledge of the DC Universe, but even better for long-time followers. Bane doesn't like Catwoman, of course, because of events way back in Knightfall. Catman comforts Scandal because they work together in Secret Six. The relationship between Vandal Savage and Lady Flash referenced here started back in the 1980s. And the vicious, heartbreaking conclusion to the story of Monsieur Mallah and the Brain has been building for years. You don't have to know any of this to enjoy the story, but Sturges clearly did his research, and it shows.

Indeed, it's amazing just how many threads from how many different other comics Salvation Run picks up, if you like that kind of thing (else I imagine it's pretty annoying). I wouldn't say Salvation Run resolves anything very well, but certainly there's pieces of Justice League, Outsiders, Checkmate, Catwoman, Shadowpact, Flash and the aforementioned Secret Six here (not to mention, obviously, Countdown to Final Crisis). I also delighted in the prison planet's completely unexpected tie to Blue Beetle (in itself a tie to 52 and from there back to Jack Kirby himself). I am enjoying Countdown to Final Crisis more and more these days, and undoubtedly it's because we see now a greater sense of a shared universe as the stories begin to come together.

Sturges' real stars in this book, of course, are Lex Luthor and the Joker. Not much new is established -- in the interest of time and an expansive cast, perhaps, Sturges adheres firmly to the established tropes of Lex Luthor the schemer and Joker, force of chaos -- but each character gets a chilling moment that confirms how Sturges "gets" these characters. There's a moment where the Joker has infiltrated Lex Luthor's rival camp to steal supplies, scuffles with and finally has the opportunity to kill Luthor, and then doesn't because all he wanted was supplies -- the look on the Joker's face, ably rendered by Joe Bennett (though Sean Chen does great work here, too) is simultaneously as sane and as crazy as I've ever seen the Joker.

Luthor here, too, returns to a place of grandeur among the gathered villains. In the way in which Luthor takes charge and provides the villains a way home, and both determinedly but reluctantly sacrifices more than a handful of them as a power source, the reader gets a clear picture of how Luthor could be both the president and a super-villain at the same time. Certainly, all the villains of the DC Universe now owe Luthor a favor, and I'm eager to see his interaction with other villains elsewhere after this. Sturges doesn't quite show enough of Luthor's trouble in these pages (the winning device gets built with startling ease), but Luthor's crazed refrain in the end, that he's the hero rather than Checkmate or the Justice League, is perfectly true to character.

As a sequel, in a way, to the pre-Infinite Crisis Villains United, Salvation Run strikes me as what that prior mini-series should have been. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed Gail Simone's story at the time, but we can agree it was more an introduction to the Secret Six series, whereas Salvation Run really profiles the villains' interaction with one another. If Salvation Run has a bad reputation (see J. Caleb Mozzocco at Blog@Newsarama), I tend to think it's really the mini-series's proximity to the on-again, off-again Countdown than a fault of the story itself.

Matt Sturges finished off well the final issues of Shadowpact and he similarly provides a detailed, accessible story in Salvation Run -- which, with all its crossover-ness, one expects is quite a challenge. I have been nervous, admittedly, about he and Willingham taking over Justice Society of America after Geoff Johns, but so far I've read nothing by Sturges that disappoints. If you're on the fence about Salvation Run, I'd say pick it up.

[Contains full and variant covers, "What Came Before" text page.]

We'll follow the threads of Salvation Run now with Justice League, Gotham Underground, and Catwoman.
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5 comments:

  1. You do realize Salvation Run was one of the worst stories ever written, right? Joker's a Batman villain, not a DC villain. Psimon has telepathic shields and would not only have killed Joker, but erased his mind as well.

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    1. Eh, to each their own. I think some of my ambivalence about the story is reflected in my link to a dissenting review at Newsarama.

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    2. First off, the URL doesn't work. It sends me to a 404. 2nd off, you obviously don't know much about comics. Off the top of my head, this is just some of the stuff wrong with Salvation Run.

      1) Vandal Savage not having a real plan. His power level fluctuates from holding his own against the original Flash to holding his own against the entire Justice League. The only thing that never changes is that he always has a plan.
      2) Joker killing Psimon, a being powerful enough to kill about half the villains present on his own. Seriously, this isn't Young Justice. Psimon is one hell of a telepath.
      3) Mammoth not snapping Joker's neck for killing Psimon. Mammoth takes blows from Donna Troy and laughs it off. Even though he's a ripoff of Juggernaut, he would have snapped Joker's neck except he has plot shields on.
      4) Anyone following Joker over Luthor. Joker's a clown with a big reputation. He's not a genius that neutralizes Firestorm in 25 seconds, build suits that takes hits from a one-man corps, and defeated the Titans. There's a reason Joker is the arch-enemy of a richly trained martial artist in a bat-suit while Lex Luthor is the arch-enemy of a Kryptonian that can lift 15 quintillion tons.
      5) Mallah being a gorilla supremist.
      6) Bullets doing significant damage to Grodd. He takes punches from Flash after being tranquillized designed to knock out a grown elephant and gets up, throwing cars through entire buildings.. Flash had to electrocute him and then throw more than a dozen tranquilizers, each one able to knock a grown elephant.
      7) Lightning and Thunder being villains. They're borderline heroes not villains.
      8) Bane having a chance against Lightning and Thunder, characters that managed to give the entire New Titans a good fight.
      9) Abra Kadabra/Mirror Master not just warping everyone back home. (One guy has 64th century technology that makes Braniac 5's stuff look outdated plus actual magic, making him a reality warper that's one-shotted Superman; the other is a borderline reality warper that can just get out using his mirrors)
      10) Desire to kill off a half dozen awesome Titans villains.

      Seriously, you need to study some villains before you give a horrible villains miniseries a good review. Especially since Villains United was also pretty bad. The story was great but Gail doesn't do research on characters that take on the Six. Seriously, Scandal Savage one-shots Hyena (who gives Firestorm trouble), Firefly (why he didn't try to fry her, nobody knows), and Fatality (who can beat Green Lanterns without a ring). Weather Wizard takes Killer Frost out with a heat blast after Cheshire redirects his wand (even though Killer Frost's powers work off of absorbing heat, Weather Wizard doesn't shoot heat from his wand but instead he controls the weather). Seriously, you have Catman and Deadshot beating Captain Nazi (who gives Captain Marvel a run for his money), Mallah (who gives the full roster of the Titans a good fight) basically standing there letting the Six beat the crap out of him, Doctor Psycho hiding like a punk (when he can solo the Six), and about ten other things wrong with it. Seriously, I loved the story but you think Deadshot can stalemate a guy that beats large teams of Titans? Seriously, you think Bolt would just let Grundy punch him when he could teleport right away? You think King Shark who trades blows with Superboy is going to get one-shotted by Grundy (when their aura isn't that powerful)? Secret Six had even more inconsistencies. Mad Hatter magically gaining telepathic abilities and then beating Dr. Psycho? God, Dr. Psycho would make him eat his own hand.

      If I tried, I couid probably name way more.

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    3. Well that guy is one giant dork.

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