Monday 30 April 2007

Review: Justice League of America and Justice Society of America

Justice League of America issue 8: “The Lightning Saga”, Chapter 1 by Brad Meltzer (writer), Shane Davis (penciller), Matt Banning (inker), Rob Leigh (letterer), Alex Sinclair (colourist) and Eddie Berganza (editor), cover by Michael Turner and Peter Steigerwald, DC Comics, June 2007, 23 pages of strip, US$2.99

Justice Society of America issue 5: “The Lightning Saga”, Chapter 2 by Geoff Johns (writer), Fernando Pasarin (artist), Jeromy Cox (colourist), Rob Leigh (letterer) and Eddie Berganza (editor), cover by Alex Ross, DC Comics, June 2007, 22 pages of strip, US$2.99

Here are two types of fan-fiction.

For Brad Meltzer, super-heroes are his imaginary friends. He wants to hang out at their clubhouse, playing games. They can call him “Brad”, and he can call them “Bruce” and “Clark” and “Hal”. Grudgingly, he fits in a few shards of plot. But his heart’s not in it.

Penciller Shane Davis seems to have learned to draw entirely from other comics and from copying photos in lad mags. Either he or inker Matt Banning has a bad infestation of early 1990s Image comics random hatching. Davis has an odd predilection for showing chests talking to each other.

The art often fails to tell the story clearly. For example, it took me a couple of reads to work out what was going on here.

I think that Black Lightning has zapped Karate Kid from behind while Batman distracts him. So shouldn’t there have been a lightning zap in the second panel? This isn’t a development where subtlety and mystery are appropriate.

In places, Meltzer and Davis bring out the worst in each other. Here on the final page, we not only have Davis’s peculiar idea of how women in authority should look, we have Meltzer's belief that “splitting into teams” is a suitably dramatic close to his chapter of the story.

That story picks up again in Justice Society of America issue 5. Not that DC wants you to know that. There is no indication on the cover, or at the start of the story inside (the credits appear at the bottom of the last page).

Geoff Johns is a different sort of fan. You can picture him holding a comic in one hand while frantically making notes with the other about the “facts” the issue contains. He seems determined that the school notebooks he filled with screeds of information about the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 1970s and 1980s should not go to waste. Now, it is in the nature of the DC Universe these days that writers have to make choices about which versions of past continuity to adhere to. But it is foolish to draw attention to this unavoidable weakness, and downright perverse to base your whole story on asserting your preferred version of continuity over all the others. Johns is interested in exerting control over an imagined world more than in telling stories that can stand up on their own. Fortunately, he includes rather more incident than Meltzer does, and his dialogue is not so jarringly out-of-character.

Fernando Pasarin’s art is attractive. His figure work is a little stiff, and musculatures too geometrical and over-defined, but his characters have realistic expressions and proportions. His layouts are clean and easily followed, and he copes well with a potentially-confusing fight scene involving multiple versions of Batman.

I bought these two comics mainly out of nostalgia. It was a JLA/JSA team-up that got me started reading super-hero stories. But these comics don’t even satisfy me as a nostalgic fan, so caught up are they in pleasing their writers above all else. I feel like a child who has arrived at a play group to find that the supervisors are hogging the toys for themselves. And this is my tantrum.


Dick Hyacinth's Ghost said...

Tremendous! I never had any intention of buying these comics, but I always enjoy dissections of fan-writers.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see that I'm not the only former reader out there who thinks of this crap as nothing more than 'offical' fan-fic.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I am sick to death of the "fanfic" argument.

Almost every DC/Marvel superhero comic has been fanfiction. Even the good ones are technically fanfiction, and have been for at least twenty years.

Now, if you say its like "bad faniction" I can understand. But there is fanfiction that is better than the source material. It's just hard to find.

Steve Flanagan said...

I think it depends upon how you define "fan fiction". I didn't include a definition, so I'll attempt one now: fiction written primarily to indulge the emotional relationship a fan holds to the source material, rather than to illuminate the human condition, crack a joke, jerk a tear, or tell a ripping yarn.

On that definition, all fan fiction is bad, because it does not engage with the things that make for good fiction.

But not all fiction written by fans meets this definition. A fan can apply enough discipline to write fiction without a qualifier. Jean Rhys was presumably a fan of Jane Eyre, but Wide Sargasso Sea is not fan-fiction, even though it is a prequel: it is a study of racial identity and gender roles.