Friday, September 25, 2009

Review: Superman: Secret Origin #1 (of 6)

Superman: Secret Origin #1 (of 6)

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Gary Frank
Inker: Jon Sibal
DC
Released: September 23, 2009





The origin of the world's most recognizable hero is itself the worlds most recognizable origin story, perhaps only surpassed by that of one Jesus of Nazareth, and I would bet good money more people can give the story of the boy from Krypton with greater detail than that of the good carpenter. (I believe it had something to do with a virgin and somehow myrrh was involved.) A doomed planet, filled with a race of beings who have ascended beyond their warring past, and reached a height of peace and prosperity marked by great scientific achievements, faces it's very destruction. In a desperate move to preserve their race, one scientist decides to send his newborn son shooting off into the great breach of the universe on a rocket. Landed on Earth, this small child is found and raised by a kindly couple of farmers in the breadbasket of America. Developing powers beyond those of mortal men due to the yellow sun that orbits our planet, and gaining a rich helping of moral integrity from his human adoptive parents, this boy grows to become the greatest hero the world and the universe will ever know. Bearing the crest of his families house, the House of El, this man will fight for truth and justice and be known the universe over as Superman. The end.

This story has been told over and over again, in countless comics, in film, and most recently has been the basis of the television show "Smallville". The journey of boy to man, of child to adult, of immigrant to citizen, of lost foundling to sure hero, is a story that has captivated generations and proved to be worthy of the label of mythology. The true origin story is also one that is becoming more and more well known and equally mythic, that of two Jewish kids from Cleveland who created a hero who embodied the spirit of the age and spoke of their need to transcend their everyday realities. In the process, they created a corporate entity, a franchise and a brand, and this, according to detractors, is what separate it from the likes of the classic heros such as Achilles and Zeus. The names of the Greek gods are not followed by copyright symbols and encircled trademark stamps. They are not the subject of very public and bitter lawsuits. Superman was created to sell comic books, comic books that were used as tools to sell breakfast cereals and novelty items to children. While there is some truth to this, it is an unfair assessment, and it belittles the true intention of the creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as the works of all writers and artists who have ever worked on the great slab rock, busily chiseling away their own piece of the grand sculpture of Superman. Siegel and Shuster cared very deeply for their creation and the origin they created for him, and it's everlasting appeal, is evidence of this.

What Superman shares with his Greek sisters and brothers, amongst many things, is that his origin story is one that many artists feel compelled to tell again and again. The great stories of the Greek gods were told by countless poets, historians, philosophers and playwrights, notable amongst them Homer, Hesiod, Ovid, Plutarch, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Seneca. The scholars and historians worked from a perspective of attempting to record the myths and stories as they were told by the people they belonged to, and to flesh out the various alternative versions that sprung up throughout the ancient world. Many of the playwrights used the myths as templates for comedies and tragedies that reflected their own societies and cultural times, concerned less with preserving exact details, more with presenting great cathartic drama.

Parellel to the above list of writers we may place another list of writers: Jerry Siegel, Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton, Alan Moore, John Byrne, Mark Waid, and Grant Morrison; writers who have been responsible over 70 years for providing many of the stories of Superman considered to be the most definitive. Siegel, Binder, and Hamilton were the three most acclaimed writers on the Superman family of books during the famed Silver Age, and under the guidance of editor Mort Weisinger, created much of what is associated with the Superman mythology to this day. Moore is responsible for the one story considered to be the ultimate coda on that Silver Age, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow". Byrne was the architect and writer of the relaunched Superman title The Man Of Steel, which, upon it's release in 1986, sought to re-establish the character for the modern age. Morrison most recently wrote the highly acclaimed best-selling mini-series All-Star Superman, a 12 issue story chronicling the last days of Superman on Earth, itself beginning with a one-page retelling of the origin story. Waid's most prominent Superman story is entitled Superman: Birthright and it was billed as the definitive telling of the origin story upon it's release in 2003, and it served as canon - mostly - until now.

The story is retold for many reasons; to update the characters and bring a more modern sensibility to the story, to introduce elements into continuity that fit better with the overall universe in which Superman resides, to remove elements that are no longer seen as useful or necessary to the character, and to re-introduce elements that had been removed for these reasons in prior re-tellings. What this all points to is, of course, the confusing and convoluted problems of dealing with a character in terms of it's placement in the greater continuity of a superhero comics universe. It also points to something greater, and far more important; that of our human need to tell the stories of our heroes, especially those stories concerned with their beginnings and their endings. Of the writers and their stories mentioned above, they all are concerned with these two subjects; how Superman came to be, and how he would cease to be.

Upon learning of the impending release of Superman: Secret Origin, I was initially struck by how underwhelmed I was at the prospect of being fed yet another version of the Superman origin story. How many times can this be tread over, how many times can we be emotionally invested in a story when the story beats are ones we can already see coming before the page is turned? Having to re-invent the wheel with each page, whilst incorporating all the above checklist of editorial mandates can make the task of writing such a story both daunting and thankless. Enter writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank. Johns and Frank are most recently responsible for a run on Action Comics credited with reviving the Superman franchise, and it is their acclaimed collaboration that most likely brought about their being teamed for this new telling of the origin.

All of the hallmarks, all the characters and places we expect and who need to be there or else it's just not Superman, are present and in most recognizable forms; Jonathan and Martha Kent are still the loving and warm ideal middle-American husband and wife, Lana Lang is still the first love and still a redhead, Pete Ross is still Clark's best friend, Smallville High School is still populated by an endless stream of fresh-faced mid-Western teenagers, the girls of which Mr. Frank seems most fascinated with dressing in knee socks and mini-skirts. Yep, nothing out of the ordinary at all. Much of it seemed to really owe a good solid debt to the "Smallville" television show, as well, such as Clark's ensemble of primary red jacket over primary blue t-shirt and his heat-vision being activated by his adolescent sexual awakening. (In a knowing wink to the TV show, one of the signatures that adorns the cast on Pete Ross's broken arm is that of one Chloe S. *wink wink*) In fact, upon initial reading, I felt still to be somewhat underwhelmed by it all, hard pressed to understand the need for this new version now if so much of it was not really telling me anything new nor presenting what is known in any new way. After several readings, it occurred to me that I was missing the point.

Sure, I could read this issue as a cynical comic book nerd who knows too much and finds the need to compare what I am reading against what I supposedly know to be true. I could do this and turn the act of reading a comic book story into an exercise in pointless bookkeeping, issue in one hand, pen and legal notebook in the other, ready to check off points that don't seem to jibe with what I already perceive to be truth. I could do this and completely ruin the enjoyment of what is a solid, humorous, and spirited story. What matter is it if something is canon or not, especially when the notion of canon is so amorphous in the comic book world? All that matters is the pure enjoyment this first issue brought me. Life is short and pleasure is often in short supply, so why concern myself with the triviality of continuity when I can watch a boy shoot fire from his eyes and rescue the girl of his dreams from a rampaging tornado?

What I have always been struck by is how the origin of Superman has the capacity to fill readers and viewers with the thrill of wonderment. When compared to the brutal and cruel origin of Batman, that being of the young Bruce Wayne witnessing the bloody and senseless murder of his parents in front of him, the coming of age of young Clark Kent on the sun-kissed fields of Kansas, brought up by two loving salt-of-the-Earth parents, discovering his god-like powers, fills one with hope. It is these feelings of good-will and amazement that the character of Superman is meant to conjure, to allow us to dream big and strive to be better. Reading Superman comics or watching the many cartoons, films and television shows has caused many children to wrap towels around their necks and run around their backyards with outstretched arms, imagining what it would be like to fly. Even for those of us who preferred Batman over Superman, if we had a choice to be one of them, we would always, ALWAYS, be Superman. Superman had the ultimate powers, he had the happy family, he got to be with Lana and, later, Lois (hubba hubba!) In short, Superman was happy and he spread this sense of happiness and joy just through his very presence. Batman is doomed to sadness and loneliness for his entire life, a sacrifice that makes him tragic, noble, and revered in the hero community, certainly, but that also makes him someone no one envies. Superman is envied, but because he brings about so much hope, that envy is superseded by joy. We are happy to have him around. We want to be him.

The best stories are the ones that convey this sense of wonder, that make one want to be Superman. When I stripped away all my cynicism, reading Superman: Secret Origin, I found myself succumbing to these emotions, to the amazement I first felt as a child watching Super Friends on Saturday mornings, beach towel safety-pinned around my neck. Johns and Frank show us that these stories can never grow old or tired, not if they are told with sincerity and heart, both elements these creators bring to this work. They demonstrate that the most indestructible part of Superman are the stories we tell, over and over again. Details may change, continuity may ebb and flow, the needs of editors, lawyers, estates, and corporations may adjust with new modern sensibilities, litigations, and bottom lines, but there will always be a Superman, if we believe in him.
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: Batman and Robin #4

Batman and Robin #4

Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller: Philip Tan
Inker: Jonathan Glapion
DC
Released: September 16, 2009





Before yours truly, the writer of this particular column you are reading at this very moment, was the writer of this particular column; before I was so harshly cast aside by cruel economic forces and crueler corporate moles, I had a somewhat fruitless and uninspiring career (for lack of a better word) in the retail industry. I was no mere cashier or sales associate, mind you, but worked behind-the-scenes, as it were, in departments variously umbrellaed under the moniker of "Visual Merchandising". What this loosely means is that in some capacity or another I worked with those whose sole job was to present the product of a particular store or vendor in such a way as to make it most appealing to the most customers. Everything, the layout of the racks on the floor, the placement of logos and signage, the way mannequins were styled, the positioning of props, furniture, accessories, was planned out, structured, and presented so as to maximize the product's selling potential. It was all designed to present the merchandise as one cohesive entity, an entity known in retail as a brand.

In our modern world, I believe we have come to recognize and treat everything as a brand. As employees we are advised to sell ourselves, accentuate our positive attributes, extrapolate on our upside potential, position ourselves as unique candidates in the high-stakes job marketplace. In regards to our personal lives, we are advised to treat first dates as job interviews, to sell ourselves as compatible mates. One's style of dress, the car they drive, where they chose to live, how they chose to furnish their homes, tell us about who they are as people, and we categorize them thusly, knitting it all together to form one cohesive and representational product in the form of a human being. In some instances, we have even become the very products we use. ("I'm a PC." "I'm a Mac.") There are Urban Professionals, Hipsters, Soccer Moms, and endless other demographic brand labels that immediately bring to mind a specific type of person. We know what a "hipster" looks like just from the sound of that word, even though it may take differing forms in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Brooklyn. The core concept remains essential.

Batman is a brand. So is Robin. The core concepts of the icons remain essential regardless of which characters wear the capes and masks. As long as the cowl still has pointy ears and the mission statement of instilling fear into the criminal element and protecting the citizens of Gotham remains unchanged, then the specifics of the man behind the cowl become less important. As long as the bat-symbol shines against the city sky line and the populace feel they have their protector working for them, then the brand is servicing it's clientele. This is the theme being played with by Grant Morrison in Batman and Robin. Everything in our modern world is a product in need of the right marketing strategy, the right brand positioning. Even superheroes and villains, crime-fighters and mobsters alike, understand this. The new world order is viral.

We are shown how this plays out in our world through many angles in issue #4. New vigilantes The Red Hood and his teen girl partner Scarlet begin their campaign against crime in Gotham, and it is decidedly more violent, twisted, and deadly than that of the dynamic duo. The Red Hood positions himself as the "next level" of masked crime-fighter, one "more in tune with changing times and changing crimes." He leaves business cards behind with slogans and logos. He dispenses with criminals whilst dramatically spouting off catchphrases, referring to himself in the third-person, as in "The Red Hood says, 'Let the punishment fit the crime'." He has his partner Scarlet, herself a fractured mirror reflection on the Robin archetype, photograph and film their exploits on her camera phone to be posted online, the references to iPhones and Twitter made obvious by artist Philip Tan. The Red Hood is knowingly creating a brand, spending his time writing press releases and thinking very consciously about the positioning of himself and his scarred protégé in the Capes-and-Masks marketplace of Gotham City. He is designing and smart, and he has created a dynamic duo formed for a world drowning in reality TV, social media, and ultimate fighting. Each night out on patrol, each exploit in costume, is a calculated step in the roll-out of themselves as product.

In Morrison's version of the DCU, it goes beyond mere capes and catchphrases. Exploiting the new world is about understanding life in terms of marketing strategy, breaking down philosophy into Profit & Loss statements. The organized crime bosses and super-villains meet in boardrooms, clad in their own masks and costumes, to discuss new business models and restructuring for the future. They use terms such as "viral", "grass roots", "testing ground", and "unprotected systems" while deliberating over how best to position a new product into a crumbling market in recessionary times. They are modern businessmen exploiting the very systems of legitimate commerce and supply-and-demand in order to maximize profits from illegal activities. Nothing new here, really, as mobsters have always masked their dealings under legitimate business wrappings. What separates these new world mobsters is that they are not just using legitimate business as a cover. It is their new way of life. I half expected the Penguin to bust out a PowerPoint presentation.

The term "brand" is used by Morrison in several story points, notably by The Red Hood when discussing his plans for Gotham, and also by Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox when talking with Richard Grayson about the current state of the company; how it's faring in the tumultuous market, how rumors spread in the media regarding the Wayne family past are effecting public relations, and how Bruce Wayne's absence is hurting recovery. This scene near the beginning of the issue parallels the criminal boardroom scene at issue's end, and they, in turn, bookend the scene in which Red Hood shares his own business plan with Scarlet. Through these scenes, Morrison brings elements to Batman and Robin that are generally sorely lacking from most superhero comics, and that's a sense of the real world context in which the medium is operating. He does this all, though, without imposing a superficial reality on the comic, without losing his grasp on what the medium is and what is asked of him as the writer by the genre he is working in. We recognize the social and political texture of Gotham City even while we revel in the bright and colorful world of neon-splashed costumed heroes and villains. The boardrooms and jargon look and sound familiar to us but their surroundings are heightened and pushed to bursting, using our everyday reality as a springboard not as shackles.

As a brand, Batman and Robin are themselves striving to survive recent upheavals. With Bruce Wayne's death and Tim Drake's seeming mental collapse, one-time Robin Richard Grayson and boy-assassin Damian Wayne step into the costumes of the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder, respectively, looking to continue the legacy started by one man years before. They are the CFO's and middle-managers stepping in to fulfill the duties of a retired or fallen company founder, brought in to inject new life into a ubiquitous property. When Batman and Robin sit atop a rooftop in classic stake-out posture, spying on the gathered criminal element in an opposite building, Batman uses the time to impart lessons on the new, fledgling Robin on how best to make use of this time. It is commanding and zen advice, familiar to those of us who know the Batman brand well, and he sounds very much like Bruce when speaking it. This is a moment in which Richard Grayson begins to show his abilities as a teacher and mentor to the young and bull-headed upstart child in his charge. It can also be seen through the lens of the overall themes of the story, Batman orientating Robin to the ways of Batman and Robin, INC.

It is not all metaphor and business speak, and Morrison's gift for humor and humanity always shine through. In this same rooftop scene, our heroes share a quiet moment of solitude as they wait with absolute stillness in the pouring rain, blending in with the spires and architectural detail of the building. Robin turns to Batman and with a calm and satisfied smile comments, "Nice night." Batman responds with a most contented smile of his own. It is a truly touching moment of togetherness for the newly formed duo and a rare moment of genuine heartfelt connection for them, rendered with grace and subtlety by artists Tan and his inker Jonathan Glapion.

The art in this issue is powerful, throughout. Philip Tan takes on the daunting task of following up Frank Quitely, who penciled the first three issues of this title. Tan succeeds brilliantly and I find his work here to be his strongest to date. His previous work on the "Agent Orange" arc in Green Lantern was solid, but I found the storytelling to be slightly incomprehensible at times. In Batman and Robin #4, his sense of panel composition and page layout is commanding and the storytelling flow is focused, paced with keen rhythm. He understands the world created by Morrison and Quitely and builds his Gotham to their blueprint, beefing it up even more. It is a manic world popping with bright colors and glossy surfaces, a powerful city designed and built by architects out of their minds.

Their is also a sturdiness and consistency with Tan's characters and this plays out nicely in the final scene where Morrison has our heroes calmly enter the boardroom to put an end to The Red Hood's seemingly wholesale massacre. As they stand in the doorway, backlit from the outer hall, Tan's Batman feels like a solid mass of powerful masculinity while his Robin shows all his bemused disdain and guarded vulnerability in his smirk and furrowed brow. Here, the once jovial Richard Grayson becomes the stoic anti-hero whilst donning the Bat-ears, and the seriously melodramatic Damian Wayne becomes the sarcastic sidekick foil whilst in the red and yellow colors of Robin. It is a nice visual point for Morrison's statement about our perceptions of ourselves as brand identities. Despite their real-world individuality, upon donning the costumes of the brand of Batman and Robin, Richard and Damian cannot help but take on some of the preconceived tics of the roles. While this could be seen as cynical, it must also be seen as deeply comforting. Whether we like to admit to it, brands make us comfortable. There is a comfort in consistency, in categorization. To many, Batman and Robin stand for strength, nobility, sacrifice, and justice. Regardless of who wears the masks, these elements are ingrained and seemingly indestructible. Truly, Batman and Robin will never die.
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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Review: Supergirl Annual #1

Supergirl Annual #1

Writer: Sterling Gates
Penciller: Fernando Dagnino
Inker: Raul Fernandez
DC
Released: September 2, 2009





Regression is a terrible thing. It implies the loss of something important, of quality and consistency; a step backwards into a previous state of existence or being that is inferior. Regression is the loss of progress and in the arts it is a disheartening occurrence. The forward progression of the Supergirl book and, most importantly, the character that has occurred over the last year takes a step back into tired territory with the release of the Supergirl Annual #1, and one hopes this is a mild hiccup with no lasting repercussions.

It is rare for me to criticize the work of Supergirl scribe Sterling Gates, as I have found most of his work on the book since issue #34 to be very strong. Along with artist Jamal Igle, they have forged a new Supergirl out of the disheveled bits of flotsam that had formed a rather weak character. Before, she fluctuated between the dumb-blonde stereotype thinly and unconvincingly disguised as teenage naivete, to the reckless and unfeeling alien; both incarnations suffering from a sad lack of forethought, both leaping into action without plan or thought to consequences. Under Gates and Igle, she has become a stronger character, more diligent, more apt to learn from her mistakes and tread carefully. She still demonstrates a youthful zeal, but this now takes the shape of passion, not carelessness. Now, in the Supergirl Annual story "Secret Identities" we are shown a Kara Zor-El who reverts back to a former self, one who plans poorly, and whose failures are tinged with severe cruelty.

The story focuses on Supergirl's alto ego of Linda Lang, a character not focused on much since being introduced as a main plot point back when the book was relaunched with issue #34. This has been fine by me, as most of Supergirl's stories to date have dealt with her coming to grips with her role as Supergirl, shoe-horning in the Linda Lang persona would have felt superfluous. That is exactly what happens here. The whole point of this story seems to be just to show off the alter-ego and remind us that Kara has one on Earth, but it is a device illogically used. The whole story feeds from this plot device, and so therefore the entire story crumbles apart from being built atop such rickety foundations.

Kara enters a bank to stop a robbery and hostage situation. For some reason, she believes she can not do so as Supergirl, since, as a Kryptonian, she is banned from Earth. So, she infiltrates the bank as Linda Lang and proceeds to deal out super-powered justice to the gang committing the heist. Obviously, she uses her powers of super-speed, strength, and heat vision to swoop in and take care of the baddies in the blink of an eye, so why then, was she afraid of doing all of this in costume? If she is going to act as Supergirl, and use her powers as Supergirl, then why stop short of wearing the costume of Supergirl? Why shroud herself in the secret identity of Linda Lang and then proceed to use Kryptonian powers? Does this not completely subvert the whole reason for having a secret identity? Of course it does. The whole scene devolves at this point, as she finds herself, somehow, stuck in the bank, trapped by Science Police hell-bent on outing the hidden Kryptonian. This, of course, begs the question as to why she did not just speed out of the bank upon subduing the criminals. Why did she stick around to put herself in a position of being found out? To make matters worse, there are Kryptonians in the bank, hidden amongst the civilian human population, attempting to live normal lives as refugees on Earth. They are quickly outed. Kara aids in their escape (now finding it OK to don the Supergirl costume) but not before they are all photographed, not before there lives are completely compromised, and not before she has opened a Pandora's box of fear and xenophobia. It is the absolute worst outcome and harkens back to an older version of the character, one who would have the best intentions only to spoil them with the worst and most non-sensical decision making.

The true heartbreak of this story is that the core idea is one of real meat; that there are Kryptonian refugees living on Earth, not as cell agents or terrorists, not as super-powered heroes in waiting, but as innocent immigrants hoping to live as all beings hope to live, in peace. The idea that they would be hunted out by government agencies as deadly invaders, painted in the media as terrorists here only to undermine human freedom, is a strong and thrillingly evocative plot point that is lost in the shuffle of superhuman fisticuffs and dulled by the blunt-edge of a character who finds herself playing the dumb blonde yet again. There is so much room for social and political drama with these ideas, and to see them handled so ineffectively, with such awkward juvenile simplicity, is immensely deflating. This could be a story to transcend the conventions of the genre, to finally launch Supergirl into the top-shelf strata of comic books. As executed here, it is the very definition of regression.
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Monday, September 7, 2009

Review: Justice League: Cry For Justice #3

Justice League: Cry For Justice #3 (of 7)

Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Mauro Cascioli
DC
Released: September 2, 2009






Three issues. Unless something is so horribly atrocious, three issues is generally how many I will buy into a new series before I make a final decision as to whether I will continue to follow it or not. This mini-series has reached that point, and based on this issue, I can't see myself purchasing another in the series. The irony is that this issue is not an entire mess, and has some good moments. The problem is that the weak points are ones that have lingered since issue #1, and they are only getting worse.

The series has seemed to lack any sense of logic to it, putting the heroes of this rebel band of Justice Leaguers in moments that demonstrate Robinson's lack of handle on these characters, and that strain the parameters of the reader's suspension of disbelief. For starters, this issue begins in Gotham, in the aftermath of a capes-on-capes street fight. This was a fight that was not shown on-panel, firstly, but from the looks of the heroes and villains on display, one can imagine this street brawl went down as a flurry of primary colors, smashed parked cars, indented curbs, and bent street lights; in short, the typical superhero fisticuffs that seem to always take place in the center of a busy downtown. Remarkably, our 'heroes' stand around afterwards amongst the strewn bodies of the vanquished and the urban debris of battle, dressed in full costume, having a chat. No Gotham police show up, no other heroes from the officially sanctioned JLA show up, and there apparently don't seem to be any civilian pedestrians on the street, at night, in Gotham. So, our protagonists have a bit of a chat, in which Green Arrow and The Atom spout off a few lame jokes that would be embarrassing coming out of the mouth of a frat-boy, let alone heroes of their caliber. Supergirl shows up and immediately turns the waterworks on, as well as the dumb-blonde routine. Their is nothing to like in this scene, and the only thing serviced is the further undermining of these characters.

Green Arrow Oliver Queen comes across poorly in this issue on two fronts. Firstly, the aforementioned juvenile remarks he makes are inappropriately timed and uncharacteristically puerile. The character of Oliver Queen has always been portrayed with a slight air of smug sarcasm, but generally with more intelligence and a healthy dose of genuine passion and humor. This junior-high level dialogue he is given here undermines his character, turning Queen from the leftist-hero of liberty and fairness, into that guy at the party who slobbers on the roach and tries to high-five everyone after every one-liner, not noticing the collective eye-rolls and groans from the gallery. Worst of all, it breaks the cardinal sin of just not being funny. At least it could be forgiven if it elicited any giggle, guffaw, or chuckle, but lines about penis size and stomach gas are strained and unbelievably misguided.

Secondly, one wonders what happened to the staunch and hardcore political passion of Mr. Queen. The leftist crusader of civil liberties and individual freedom participates here in the outright torture of a captured foe. Of course, he does remark on this, but does so with such listlessness, such lack of spine, and with a real disturbing quality of naivete that it lends no power to the point being made. He acquiesces so quickly and with such frailty to Green Lantern Hal Jordan, that the moment passes weakly, and what should be a central theme to this arc, is treated as a simplistic notion to be brushed aside like dirt on one's shoulder. Ollie has gone head to head in heated political debate with many a JLA-er in the past, so why he now sets aside that vitriol is bizarre and disappointing.

As alluded to earlier, Supergirl fairs no better, treated as a meek little girl and a sexual object in the span of just two pages. Her entrance at the end of issue #2 portrays her as an illiterate, and her immediate break into tears to start issue #3 shows her as the wilting flower. Throw in a lame sexist remark by The Atom Ray Palmer that boils her down to jailbait, and Kara is completely decimated in very short order. This is her only scene so far this series and she comes across as ignorant, naive, and frail.

The title of this issue is "The Villain" and it serves to formally introduce us to the man pulling the strings of all this orchestrated mayhem, Prometheus. In his afterword, Robinson writes of his want to return this now C-list villain back to his original reviled and feared form, and he does a fairly decent job of establishing Prometheus as a very formidable, ruthless, and, most importantly, very competent adversary. Originally created by writer Grant Morrison in the pages of his mid-90's JLA run, Prometheus is the anti-Batman, a child left orphaned by violence who spends his formative years training, and who now takes his pain and aggression out on society as a whole. In the intervening years, however, the character had become something of a joke, and DC has been making a dedicated effort to put the shine back on him. This issue makes a strong case. Unfortunately, the character is saddled with one of the worst costumes; a sad aubergine-and-gold affair that looks like a post-apocalyptic football uniform from a world where the underground radio is dominated by late 1970's disco. All that is missing are the roller skates.

The most unfortunate part of this whole issue comes in this afterword, where Robinson lavishes praise on Mr. Morrison, specifically on his now classic run on the Justice League. Recently, DC has begun releasing Morrison's JLA in it's entirety in deluxe hardcover editions. They are superb and serve as a reminder of what the Justice League is supposed to be, simply, The Worlds Greatest Heroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and the ever-present anchor Martian Manhunter. Robinson's encomium spotlights how anything less than this will always feel slight, and shows himself to be admittedly not a strong enough writer to pull off the improbable by upending that feeling. This issue is evidence of that.
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