Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review: Justice League of America #31

Justice League of America #31

Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Pencils: Shane Davis
Inks: Sandra Hope
Release: March 25, 2009

It's the league. In fact, let me rephrase that. It's The League. It's the first and last line of defense against any and all threats against our country, our planet, our Universe, and our Multiverse. It's The Justice League of America. In its long and illustrious history, the JLA has been through massive upheavals and dealt with all manner of threats, most recently the threat of complete universal annihilation at the hands of an evil God who brought about a war that cost the team the lives of two beloved members. Now, 31 issues into its latest incarnation it seems its undoing will come at the hands of the one enemy that has always found a way to destroy the The League. That enemy seems to be DC editorial.

This issue is one of the first books to deal with any post-Final Crisis fallout in the DCU, and as such it is a strongly character-driven issue in which the politics of team crime-fighting are dealt with head-on. In the aftermath of something so devastating to all of the heroes, this serves as a time for reflection and introspection for the various team members. It also seems the time is ripe for a good ol' fashion coup d'etat as Green Lantern Hal Jordan decides to break off from the JLA to form his own team under the name...the JLA. While this is all very intriguing and makes for great drama it is also the point at which this all really falls apart. How is it exactly that an officer in the Green Lantern Corps can bust on in, arbitrarily create a splinter cell organization, poach existing members off the JLA and do all of this without raising the ire of Superman or Wonder Woman? Well, that would be the hand of DC editorial coming on in and shaking up the etch-a sketch.

See, Superman is a little busy right now on New Krypton, which for those who don't know is a planet that started off as a great idea and turned into a mess. So, he can't be bothered with the JLA right now. Sorry, Dwayne.

Oh, and Batman? Bruce Wayne? Yeah, he's sorta, kinda dead, though really he's just warped back in time, but no one knows that, so he's as good as dead. In his absence Gotham has inexplicably turned into Darfur and about a million people are involved in something called "Battle For The Last Yawn". Again, Sorry Dwayne.

The Flash, Wally West? Well he just wants to spend more time with his kids, Goeff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver. Sorry, Dwayne.

Wonder Woman? She is busy being mishandled in her own book, as usual. Sorry, again, Dwayne.

So, with all of the big guns off on their own misadventures, the time was perfect for a B-list breakout party at the Watchtower. Bring on the coup!

This issue does, however, have some fine character moments and brings up some great issues that should be dealt with in a team book, namely, the underlying sexism and misogyny prevalent on these super teams. Poor Black Canary. She was given the job with the most prestige in the DCU, leader of the Justice League of America, and then completely undermined at every turn. From the Trinity building a secret "lounge" to monitor everything from behind closed doors, to this final slap in the face from her own husband who chooses an ex-partner over his own wife, Dinah Lance has been horribly treated. Furthermore, she brushes this issue aside and it's never dealt with in the depth it deserves. Her final surrender at issues end is also disappointing. The Black Canary I know from Gail Simones' peak on Birds of Prey would never give up like this. As a fan of this character and proponent for stronger female superheroes, this issue made me angry.

In fact, on whole, this entire run of Justice League of America has angered and disappointed me more than pleased me. At every turn it has been pimped out and/or mishandled for whatever DC editorial needed that day. It has not read like a cohesive sustained arc nor felt like the flagship team book it is supposed to be. This is the team that started it all, that helped usher in the Silver Age, that inspired all other heroes to get together and kick ass as a collective. None of that legacy has shined in these 31 issues.

The silver lining? The last time the Justice League was so thoroughly torn apart by editorial hands was in the late 1980's. This led to the inventive creation of the Justice League International at the hands of some pretty talented creators. Whatever comes next for this current league, let's just hope it's funny.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: Madame Xanadu #9

Madame Xanadu #9

Writer: Matt Wagner
Pencils: Amy Reeder Hadley
Inks: Richard Friend
Released: March 25, 2009

History is inevitable. Time crawls forward taking us with it. We are its passengers. It is never the other way around. This is the underlying message of this book as it reaches the penultimate issue of its long initial arc, and it's one that leaves in its wake a deep yet beautiful sadness.

This issue finds our heroine in New York City during the run-up to World War II. As we come upon our protagonist she sits in her apartment, listening to news reports of troops pushing their way through Europe, pushing their way towards a war that, despite the efforts of appeasement, is inevitable. As if in conjunction, a great fog has come over the "magic continuum" and forebodings of a visitor from her past are making themselves known. This stranger will return to her life. Again, it is inevitable.

One of the true strengths of this book is the wonderful characterization of Madame Xanadu. She is a superhero in a book that feels nothing like a superhero book. Facing the inevitability of history she, nonetheless, presses ahead with the best of intentions to aid those in need around her. In the last issue alone she waged a one-woman campaign against the infamous Jack the Ripper, stopped a mob riot, and took the time to rescue a young girl from falling into the clutches of mob violence, all while riding around on a bicycle spreading a magical soothing salve to attempt to calm a city on edge. Her tireless determination is worthy of Superman, and in fact, I feel that this is the female superhero I wish Wonder Woman was right now in her own book. It's a joy to read.

This issue also brings us allusions to those great superheroes of the Golden Age that are just around the corner at this point in history, and in doing so makes them feel as real as any of the other historical figures who've made appearances so far in this run. As Giovani Zatara waxes poetic about this coming age, one can't help but feel the inevitability of a rocket ship landing on Earth from a doomed planet, or the inevitability of a back-alley mugging leaving an orphan under a lonely streetlamp. It's wonderful and also mirrors very nicely how this book itself sits on the edge of the DCU.

Another amazing aspect of this issue is how Madame's sexuality in her love affair with fellow magician Giovani Zatara is handled with such maturity, humor, and nonchalance. The scene of them in bed together in the afterglow of lovemaking is honest to who each character is and is completely without any lasciviousness. Alas, their love is not meant to be more than this, as we, like our heroine know that the future holds a different road open for the handsome Giovani. He will, and must, move on to find true love and father a future hero. Again, this too is inevitable.

Writer Matt Wagner and artist Amy Reeder Hadley are constructing an epic tale of magic and history. From one issue to the next time passes as if by the turn of a page and in this we see how the slow crawl of time is actually a whirling dervish of history scooping us all up in it's haphazard grasp, depositing us into our lives and sending us into our futures oftentimes screaming against our will. No amount of magic, no amount of foresight, nor even the strongest of spells can keep the rush of life from crashing against each of us. It would be truly sad if it were not also so truly beautiful.