Sunday, August 9, 2009

Review: Justice League: Cry For Justice #2

Justice League: Cry For Justice #2 (of 7)

Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Mauro Cascioli
Released: August 5, 2009

Sophomore slump generally refers to the let-down felt by the audience in regards to the second release from an artist. Whether that be a plodding follow-up to a thunderous debut, or a complete reversal of viewpoint that stuns viewers or readers into confusion, it usually happens because the artist in question has either run out of ideas very quickly, or the expectations on the part of the audience were set too high. Regardless, it usually doesn't happen this quickly. A month. That's the time it took for a mini-series I wasn't really enjoying but found at least to be provocative to crash from that low pedestal to the gutter.

Cry For Justice #2 confused me, not by any complexity of story or characterization, but by it's seeming lack of fundamentals. All of the story seems to happen off the page, either just before or just after what is in the panels. Characters arrive at locations and tell of the clues they followed to get there. Fights and interrogations are alluded to but never shown. Brazen thefts of labs and museums are talked about but, again, not shown. What we are left with then, are scenes of our heroes on rooftops or empty galleries or airplane hangars, talking; talking about all the things that have happened or will happen that we are not going to actually see. Green Arrow and Green Lantern are teamed up again (just like old times!) but instead of getting some double-Green action, we are forced to read leaden dialogue that feels completely unnatural. They learn of a super-villain hideout by being told by a private detective that once worked for Bruce Wayne, not through any detective work of their own. They go in to bust up the joint, and the scene cuts away. When we join them later, it's after it's all finished with and the fight has, inexplicably fallen into the streets of Gotham. Hal and Ollie stand victorious over the vanquished bodies of low-level villains, and we saw none of it.

The entire issue is like this. The heroes talk about the clues they've come across, the trails they are following, the things they've done and the things they're going to do next, but none of it is actually shown. It is meant to be a more character-driven issue, not weighed down by action set pieces, (apparently according to Robinson's notes in the back of the issue) but it comes across as just missing any story whatsoever. The major problem with this approach is that if an issue is going to be held together strictly through characterization and dialogue, then those two things need to be strong, and they are most definitely not strong in this issue.

As mentioned before, the dialogue between Hal and Ollie feels stiff and unnatural, and the same can be said for all of the dialogue between all characters in the entire issue. One of my biggest complaints with writers who work in a visual medium, where the dialogue is "spoken", either in actuality or in the readers head, is that they seem to not read the dialogue OUT LOUD to get a sense for how it flows or sounds. This is a fundamental taught to playwriters and screenwriters, and some writers even go so far as to have actual actors read out their scripts in front of them and provide feedback on how they feel saying the dialogue. Cry For Justice #2 could have been greatly serviced by such an exercise. We might have been spared the heavy-handed schmaltz between Jay Garrick and Ray Palmer, and the misplaced 1940's B-level gumshoe patter of Jason Bard, and most certainly, the inappropriate overgrown frat-boy needling between Ollie and Hal regarding an allusion to a drunken threesome between Hal and two female members of the now-defunct Birds of Prey. This last bit has stirred some serious blather on the internet regarding whether the content is sexist, just simply inappropriate, completely out of character, or all three and then some. (Robot 6, Your Mileage May Vary: Cry For Justice #2,, August 8, 2009) Frankly, it's just plain not very well written, which is a bigger offense than any of the above. The sexual proclivities of men and women who adorn themselves in fetish wear and beat up other people who are similarly dressed, all in the name of truth and justice, is a fascinating topic for exploration, certainly, but the way it's handled here, shoe-horned into a scene to add cheap titillation, is just poor. The greater offense, again, is just bad writing.

And for the love of all that is good and decent, can writers PLEASE STOP writing Supergirl as a dumb blonde?! Yes, she is young and an alien from another planet, but giving her only one line and having that one line be her asking "...who's Charles Bukowski?", and having this be the very last page of the issue, left this reader with a horrible taste in mouth. I knew girls in high school who read Bukowski. They listened to The Smiths and wrote poetry and painted their fingernails black, and they were generally the more interesting girls to talk with, too. Considering the amazing work Sterling Gates is doing in the monthly Supergirl title to add so much depth to Kara, I find Robinson's take here to be lazy. This is far more offensive than the alluded to threesome mentioned above, because sex is not inherently sexist, but showing a character to be ignorant simply because she is female, blonde, or because that's just how it's been done, is. How refreshing would it be to show that Kara has read Bukowski? After all, how appropriate for the last daughter of Krypton to have been attracted to a book of poems entitled You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense.

Supergirl deserves better, so does the Justice League, and so do readers.

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