Review: Justice League of America: Second Coming hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It seems the best of times and the worst of times for the Justice League of America title. In Second Coming, writer Dwayne McDuffie presents a Justice League tale that is interesting and well-steeped in League history, though suffers from a general sense of unimportance. This is fine Justice League, but I dare say Justice League needs to be better than "fine" in order to make a mark.

For the most part, Second Coming serves to rejuvenate two fan-favorite Justice League characters, Red Tornado and Vixen. These are necessary steps, and under different auspices both stories might succeed far better. Focusing on Red Tornado and Vixen, especially the latter, makes this feel less like a Justice League story than a character piece with plenty of guest stars (though McDuffie gives nice moments to both Black Canary and Zatanna, and also Animal Man). Neither Tornado nor Vixen change here, nor do any other Leaguers, such that this story could have taken place just as well in JLA Classified as in the main title.

McDuffie recognizes that Red Tornado, to be sure, has been in this position before -- his body destroyed, the League trying to rebuild him -- and turns the story on Tornado's sense of trying to change his life. The change, Tornado's proposal to his girlfriend, is a good one (I thought they were already married), though it doesn't help the reader escape the same ennui that Tornado feels. McDuffie takes up a good chunk of Tornado's story in this book with the Justice League fighting Amazo -- that is, again. There's nothing notable about this incarnation of Amazo, no gimmick or special circumstances; it's just a hero/villain slugfest with an equally simple, the heroes acknowledge, solution. McDuffie gets the voices of all these characters, especially Tornado and Zatanna, but ultimately this part has little to distinguish itself.

Much like Gail Simone's long Black Canary storyline in Birds of Prey, McDuffie has stripped Vixen of her powers, her League status, everything -- only to restore her in this volume essentially the same as before. Arguably, Vixen gains a healthy dose of respect from the League (as, one imagines, she is meant to gain from the reader), but frankly, I liked Vixen just as much as I did before. McDuffie writes a good Vixen story, don't get me wrong, and a fine one-off tale of an alternate Justice League, but I felt more relief to see Vixen's powers back to normal than I did cheer at her recovery. It's hard to say at this point what original writer Brad Meltzer might have intended for Vixen's haywire powers in the first place, but I hope from here on to see less drama surrounding the character and more of Vixen as a valued member of the League.

At the end of Second Coming, the reader learns that Anansi, source of Vixen and apparently Animal Man's troubles for a white, was essentially "just kidding." The trickster character claims he's been testing Vixen for the purpose of strengthening her for a fight ahead -- that is, Anansi isn't a villain, and all his villainous acts can just be swept under the rug. It's an unfortunate amount of noise to ultimately signify nothing; Anansi makes interesting claims about fabricating the aliens that gave Animal Man his powers, and also about having ties to problems with the Multiverse in Final Crisis, but that he "takes it all back" in the end contributes to the story falling flat.

Of course, one always has to watch when a writer introduces a "storyteller" character into a story, as McDuffie does with the Anansi. It's perhaps too easy to read McDuffie's well-publicized frustrations with writing Justice League in what Anansi says -- for instance, Vixen admonishing Anansi to "put everything back" in its place, and Anansi refusing because it's what "they" want him to do. McDuffie decrying "excessive continuity" through Anansi is worthwhile for a laugh, though the details of his plan to use Vixen to "reassert ... control" (over the direction of the Justice League title, presumably) smacks a bit of desperation.

There's a lot I liked about Justice League of America: Second Coming. McDuffie references an earlier meeting between Animal Man and Vixen, technically out of continuity -- good. McDuffie offers some "guy talk" where Superman is sensitive and Green Lantern is brash in giving Red Arrow advice -- good. And there's a beautifully illustrated scene of Black Lightning having a heart-to-heart with Hawkgirl (not sure if this is Ed Benes or one of the guest writers), marred only by a mix-up of Hawkgirl and Black Canary's backstories. It's a good book, not a waste of time or money (though it contains remarkably few issues for a hardcover), but McDuffie fails to do anything new with the Justice League here. After their long years of history, I'm not sure just teaming up these heroes cuts it any more.

[Contains full covers]

(Blog@Newsarama contributor J. Caleb Mozzocco has an interesting take on Second Coming on his blog Every Day Is Like Wednesday.)
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3 comments:

  1. The state of Justice League under Dwayne was just a sad thing. Even when he had something going, it felt like it was buried under either frustration or an agenda. Most of his later run felt more like Dwayne taking out his frustrations with the title than it did him actually telling a Justice League story; wait until you get into Worlds Collide, where he seemed to be trying to make a point but made Black Canary out to be more like a tool.

    If anything, I think it proves Dwayne isn't really cut out for mainstream comics. A lot of people try to blame misdirection and such all on editorial, but the thing is that a really good writer knows how to take that kind of thing and work either with it or around it. Many past Justice League writers did this while still maintaining momentum and what some fans don't seem to realize is that Dwayne didn't even seem to really try to do this at times.

    I mean, some of the most cynical comic writers always figured out ways to get around the "tie-in". Garth used these to tell single issue stories that either mocked an event or had it merely as a backdrop, especially in Hitman. Keith Giffen does it a lot. The Electric Blue Superman misstep came right in the middle of Grant Morrisons Justice League and he kept right on rolling. I understand his frustrations, but when you let your anger at a company rule your work, you're going to run into some problems. I feel like this is what happened with the issues Dwayne did that weren't even tied to events.

    Some people just aren't cut out for the grind of mainstream comics or the way they work. There's really no shame in it. There are several who stick to indy work largely because of this reason. I think Dwayne just let the bitterness get the best of him in the end, in and outside of the comic.

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  2. My review of Justice League: Worlds Collide on Monday will get into some of these same points about. Indeed I believe crossovers are frustrating for comics writers, but I thought of the Electric Blue Superman exactly -- Grant Morrison just seemed to roll with it.

    Ditto too on Black Canary in Worlds Collide; McDuffie claims he had plans for her, but certainly his departure left her fairly broken after Gail Simone did such a good job building her up.

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  3. Oh, without a doubt they've got to be frustrating at times. You're basically being told to tell a story with your title related to someone elses story. That can't be the greatest of feelings if it's not something you specifically sought out.

    Still, I can't help thinking of the writers who did it all the time. A lot of them just work the tie-ins into their overlying stories. Which is pretty much how you should go about it. I don't really get why things went so wrong; a lot of folks are jumping to blame editorial for what a mess Dwaynes Justice League was, but I can't help feeling he held just as much blame.

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