by The Masked Bookwyrm

For a complete list of all GN/TPB reviews, go HERE

JLA - The Justice League of America


cover by DavisJustice League of America: Another Nail 2004 (SC TPB) 150 pages

Written and pencilled by Alan Davis. Inks by Mark Farmer. Colours: John Kalisz. Letters: Pat Prentice.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Six years previous, Alan Davis concocted Justice League of America: The Nail -- an Elseworlds mini-series involving the Silver Age incarnation of the JLA in an X-Men-like allegory of bigotry and paranoia, as superheroes find themselves pariahs as a result of an unknown foe's secret machinations. Add to all that ("Elseworlds" being stories that exist outside established canon) Superman doesn't exist -- or rather, he was not raised by the Kents, and his fate remains part of the series' mystery. Davis wasn't maybe breaking new ground...but nonetheless crafted an exciting, colourful, superhero-y adventure that still managed to deal with its themes of persecution and paranoia sincerely and credibly. It even succeeded as, of all things, a mystery, with the final revelation as to the master criminal's identity a definite surprise (a problem with this sequel is that it makes passing references to the first, spoiling that surprise if you haven't read the original). The Nail, for me, stands comfortably as a minor classic.

With Another Nail Davis revisits that reality with the three issue mini-series published a half dozen years later. Such return trips can be treacherous going -- Frank Miller's much ballyhooed sequel to his legendary Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, though having its defenders, was, in a word, dreadful, even an embarrassment.

Fortunately JLA: Another Nail is neither dreadful, nor an embarrassment. At the same time, it falls far short of the original.

Part of that is intentional. While The Nail wrapped its colourful heroics around serious socio-political themes, Another Nail is more just a larger-than-life romp. Whereas The Nail joined the long list of DC Comics projects which worked in as many DC characters as possible in bit parts and cameos, it nonetheless focused on Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkwoman, Wonder Woman, J'onn J'onzz, The Atom, and the Batman. In Another Nail, though, the fanboy desire to just work in anyone who was anyone, even if only in one panel cameos (including Omac and the Inferior Five!) threatens to overwhelm the story. As such, although more characters get genuine scenes, it seems a little top heavy.

The story actually overlaps a little with The Nail, in that in the previous saga there was a minor cutaway to a conflict involving DC Comics' cosmic creations the New Gods and the Green Lantern Corps (as I said, even with original, Davis clearly saw it as a chance to draw everyone he wanted to draw). This story begins by seeing that conflict in greater detail, in an epic, conflagration, before cutting back to the earth based heroes, a year later. Granted it's an odd way to "begin" a story -- basically with a climactic battle. Although one is doubtful David really planned this sequel when he was first writing The Nail, it is interesting how he makes the effort to make it seem like it was foreshadowed, not only by expanding on the New Gods sequence, but there are other spots where characters will allude back to a scene from The Nail as if it was a clue to the current crisis.

The basic concept here is not dissimilar, at least initially, from The Nail (one character even remarks on a feeling of deja vu) as the characters suspect something ominous is brewing, though they can't quite be sure what or even if, and they separate into smaller groups to follow various investigations. But whereas the original involved a sinister social and political movement, here something's starting to affect the very fabric of time and space.

The Nail emphasized the mystery, the running about, and the social metaphor. Here, Davis tries exploring the personalities more. It's a nice idea...but he's just not that great at character shading, with dialogue that often seems generic. As well, he kind of undermines his own conjuring up of the old, Silver Age characters, by imposing the modern characterizations (The Flash and the Atom were, in the Silver Age, level-headed, adults, but here spout dialogue that makes them sound more like they're fourteen...which, I think, is reflective of DC's current editorial policy). Potentially the most intriguing character -- and the one that mainly identifies this as an "Elseworlds" story -- is the novice Superman who, in this reality, was raised by the Amish. But even this isn't really used to its fullest. As mentioned, this was meant to have a "Silver Age" feel, with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen at play (remember, when this was first published, both characters were dead and no one expected DC to bring them back in regular continuity), and the story itself even involves the multiverse of parallel worlds that DC had, at that point, dropped from continuity. Yet occasionally Davis breaks from this nostalgia, such as having a female Wildcat (a later day creation). And, because this is an "Elseworlds" story, Davis also throws in a few variations on characters that are unique to his story.

Although, despite the "anything goes" Elseworlds banner, in your gut you don't really find yourself thinking the heroes might actually lose (the way you did in The Nail). And the Elseworlds concept may be part of why I remain mixed on the story. It sticks close enough to the familiar characters that it often doesn't benefit from the novelty of seeing wild re-interpretations...yet is just enough of an "imaginary" story that it doesn't quite have the visceral impact of seeing all these characters teamed up, because, in a sense, they're not the characters.

I don't think Davis is really aiming for the same ambition as The Nail. This is just meant to be a fun, fanboy indulgence as a gazillion DC Comics properties get involved in a reasonably fast paced, reasonably grandiose, world saving adventure. And there are some nice touches, like who ultimately gets to save the universe, and the method he uses, which seems as a nice apology to a character that some might have felt was shabbily treated in The Nail. At other times, though, Davis is pushing to create mysteries, with characters creating confusion simply because they're not telling each other what they're up to.

As an artist, Davis is a popular talent, and I definitely lean towards his corner. He's got a style that I always think of owing a bit to the late Don Newton, with aspects of Neal Adams and others thrown in. I would quibble and suggest there are few scenes -- human drama or spectacular action -- where the scene itself, the presentation of the characters, really stands out. Still, a lot of people will be buying this for Davis' art, and I can't quite blame them. Davis also has a penchant for glamour art. His women are often, um, amply endowed. He particularly has fun with Power Girl, a character who has, perhaps unfortunately, too often been used as the epitomy of the busty heroine -- and has become an excuse for people like Davis, or Alex Ross in Kingdom Come, to trot her out in mass team ups in her pneumatic glory (without doing the character the service of actually giving her a decent part). I'll admit, though I like sexy heroines as much as the next guy, the uniformly thrusting bustlines Davis provides his heroines can be a bit distracting.

DC (moreso perhaps than Marvel) seems to have a special penchant for these sorts of plethoric accretions of heroes, where half the point is just the fun of identifying a cameo (there were still two or three characters I didn't identify). As such, the novelty of Another Nail -- seeing all these characters in a single adventure -- isn't really a novelty, as DC seems to do one or two a year -- including in the years since. This trend presumably owes its genesis to The Crisis on Infinite Earths -- a maxi-series that Another Nail evokes, with its story of a menace that threatens the fabric of time, space, and dimensions, allowing characters from different times and realities to share the same page. Interestingly, both Another Nail and Crisis may well owe something to an even earlier story.

In 1978, DC Comics' try-out comic, Showcase, celebrated its 100th issue with a story that incorporated many of the characters who had appeared in it over the years -- no small feat as the features had ranged from super heroes, to caveman adventures, to comedy pieces. So they concocted a "double-sized" (34 page) adventure where time starts to unravel, meaning people from the far future and the distant past all wind up together. Like with the Crisis on Infinite Earths and subsequent stories, many of the characters were reduced to cameos, but they also did a nice job of focusing on an eclectic group of characters -- from high profilers like Green Lantern, to Lois Lane, to more obscure properties like Angel (of Angel and the Ape) and Space Commander. Though it may have been imitated over the years, as a story, as an adventure, and even as character exploration, I'd argue that old Showcase issue remains one of the best handlings of the concept.

That may be one of the biggest problems with Another Nail -- for a grand, apocalyptic, DC Universe spanning epic, it has to take it's place on the shelf next to all the others. Davis clearly wanted to do his version of such a story (presumably feeling The Nail wasn't quite grand and cosmic enough) without, in the end, quite distinguishing it sufficiently. Admittedly, repetition is true of comics -- and storytelling -- in general. After all, how many Batman vs. Joker or Superman vs. Luthor stories have been told over the decades? Writers and artists continue to tell them, and reader continue to enjoy them. At the same time, only a few rise above the others enough to be considered notable, let alone classics.

And such is JLA: Another Nail. If you're itching for just a fun, brisk romp, with lots of DC characters, and a cosmic threat, all nicely's a moderately enjoyable read. But it is nothing more than an afterthought -- an enjoyable, but not especially memorable, sequel to a much superior original, despite an attempt at deeper characterization. Even the title has little meaning.

Now excuse me while a dig out my tattered old copy of Showcase #100 for another read.

Cover price: __

JLA / Avengers 2004/2008 (HC & SC TPB) 244 pages pages

Written by Kurt Busiek. Illustrated by George Perez.
Colours: Tom Smith. Letters: Richard Starkings.

Reprinting: the four issue mini-series (2003)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Dec. 2015

There probably haven't been too many comic book projects so long in the coming as this team up between DC's flagship team, The JLA, and Marvel's super group, The Avengers. After all, the first JLA / Avengers team-up was slatted for the early 1980s. Pages were even drawn until it all fell apart in a lot of finger pointing and he said/she said accusations that either reflected willful sabotage of the project, or just miscommunications galore.

Still, to some fans that probably makes this final realization of the concept especially satisfying. After all, first published as a mini-series, it comes in at some 200+ pages when the original 1980s project would've only been presumably 64 pages or so. And amazingly enough, the artist originally tagged to do the 1980s project is back on board and in some ways at the top of his game -- though, of course, it's a completely new plot, involving iterations of the characters not imagined in the 1980s.

And the result is...well, it's okay.

To be honest, such undertakings bring with them certain qualifications. Not only is the question whether it's a "good" story but, in a sense, is it even meant to be? Or is it just meant to be a fun indulgence? Is it required that a James Bond film be a well crafted thriller of nuanced motives and clever twists -- or do all we ask of such films that they have a requisite number of chases, witty quips, beautiful women, and an explosive climax?

That's kind of important to consider, as it might affect how you respond to this mini-series -- and what you assume Kurt Busiek and George Perez were even aiming for.

After all, when you do a cross company team up, maybe the expectation is that it's just meant to be a greatest hits parade reflecting the legacies of both companies -- and, for that matter, you don't want to waste any good ideas on a story that is going to be regarded as apocryphal and forgotten by even the characters involved. The earliest Marvel/DC team ups (collected here) were especially apocryphal, simply asking the reader to accept the conceit that the characters co-existed in the same world. But this time around it's explicitly established that the characters exist on parallel worlds and have never even heard of each other before (meaning even past team ups are ignored). Busiek even tries to use this for some creative commentary, with The Avengers finding the JLA's world oddly squeaky clean and almost futuristic and where the heroes are idolized, while the JLA are unsettled to find the Avengers' world to be somewhat dark and gritty and the heroes often mistrusted and pilloried by the public.

It's a kind of cute conceit -- except I'm not sure it's applicable anymore. Maybe if this was contrasting Silver Age/Bronze Age Marvel and DC -- but now? DC's universe is just as dark n' gritty as Marvel's and Marvel's is just as prone to sci-fi...and idolatry (heck, Busiek himself wrote an Avengers story set during an Avengers Day Parade!)

Typical of such past crossovers, the story involves not just the teaming of heroes, but a villain from each company. Here it's Marvel's cosmic Grandmaster (whose motif is setting up hero vs hero championships) and DC's Krona (an occasionally recurring Green Lantern villain whose motif is that he wants to discover the secrets of the universe's origin -- a revelation that, in theory, will destroy the universe!). Krona can be an effective villain (he was featured in The Tales of the Green Lantern Corps mini-series which I thought was a great read) but he obviously has a very limited repertoire -- and the more he's trotted out, the more his motive, and this arbitrary plot-contrivance consequence of his obsession, can seem pretty flimsy.

So basically the plot is that Krona is just doing want Krona does, and jeopardizing all of existence. The Grandmaster -- here actually trying to save the universe! -- challenges Krona to a contest, requiring them pitting the two teams against each other (in a quest for various familiar, long established mystical artifacts from both companies' lore) in a recycling of any of a number of Grandmaster-driven stories in the past -- or old JLA stories where the team breaks up into smaller groups for small chapters. Plus there are obvious nods to DC's seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths in a story that begins with the destruction of a parallel universe and in which the two teams are trying to prevent their worlds from merging and being destroyed.

As I say: it can feel less like a story for itself and more like just a greatest hits parade of familiar cliches. Which, I acknowledge, is true of a lot of these sorts of cross company team ups, and perhaps the fun of them. But most such past team ups haven't been stretched over some 200 pages! I'll admit, when Krona was revealed in the opening pages I kind of deflated, realizing the story wasn't really going to offer us anything surprising, or a new menace.

And of course the story itself is basically just an opportunity to cram in as many heroes as possible. Not only are both team's pretty big to begin with, but thanks to all the reality warping going on, Busiek and Perez even manage to work in different iterations of the teams, with the focus initially on the then-current rosters (which included Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern and Wally West as the Flash), but then for a portion of the story the focus shifts to a teaming of an earlier/Sliver Age-like version of both teams (with Hal/GL and Barry/Flash and classic versions of everyone's costumes). But as such it can end up just being a lot of scenes of a lot of characters running and fighting and shouting -- rather than the 200 pages being turned over to coming up with a complex plot with various threads that allow character to shine as individuals. How much this is Busiek and how much Perez I'm not sure -- given Perez is a veteran of these kind of mass conglomerations and team stories, usually with similiar results.

Busiek does try to give a few character moments here or there -- Kyle and Wally trading quips, or more emotional stuff involving others -- but it all feels pretty secondary to the splash page-style spectacles. He falls back on some cliches of these team ups, creating conflict by having some characters act out of character because they are being psychically influenced. Other times he tries pairing up mixed effect (Batman and Captain America form an alliance).

Of course because this is drawing more heavily upon continuity than maybe some other crossover stories (which are often explicitly apocryphal) it also kind of reminds you just how ugly and unpleasant a lot of comics have become. Toward the climax the characters (who by now are in a kind of parallel history) must grapple with the idea of setting history right -- but are rightly horrified seeing what many of their "real" futures entail! It's supposed to be a chance for them to show their true heroism as they willingly re-set reality even knowing the personal costs. But because it's kind of pre-ordained (the comic has to re-establish the norm by the end) it doesn't really satisfy as a real test of character -- while equally trivializing the emotion because of that.

Busiek is, it's fair to say, one of the biggest mainstream comics scribes around (and was also a long time Avengers writer) and definitely has earned the label fan favourite. But, I'll admit, I've often been more mixed on him. And I say that to put my review in its proper context. Because a lot of the stuff here that left me ambivalent is, I think, fairly typical of his style and so should appeal to the substantial body of readers who are his fans. I tend to find Busiek's style (and typical of a lot of writers in the last few decades) is very much driven by a certain fab-boy mentality. That even when he's trying to write human scenes and emotions, it can still feel like he's writing about heroic icons rather than flesh and blood people who happen to have super powers. But, as I say: that's very much a minority opinion.

As mentioned, Perez was actually the artist tagged to draw the ill-fated 1980s JLA/Avengers team-up, so the final realization of this project was no doubt a dream come true for him (particularly as he seemed quite bitter when the plug was pulled on the original). His art, of course, is insanely detailed, ideally suited to a story with all these characters, all these battles. And he's perhaps a suitably quintessential artist to tackle it -- given he's drawn for both the JLA (albeit briefly) and the Avengers (during different runs) and has also tackled other similar epic sagas (like the aforementioned Crisis on Infinite Earths and even the first few issues of Infinity Gauntlet).

Although equally, that could be seen as a problem: in a way, there's nothing unusual or special about seeing Perez doing this sort of story! And maybe it relates to my point about whether this is meant to be something new and fresh -- or simply a fun parade of greatest hits.

Perez is also an artist I can be mixed on -- and even I am amazed at my admitting that. I love his detail. I love his largely realist faces and figures (though I think there has been a slight turn toward caricature in his later years, features getting a bit more exaggerated, noses more button-shaped). But his work can sometimes lack warmth and atmosphere, the figures iconic heroes rather than human. A (slightly) heavy inking over his pencils also adds to the sense of coldness.

Anyway, as I say: a saga like this will depend a lot on what you want or are expecting. Top-tier talent presenting two iconic teams in an epic adventure with the fate of multiple universes at stake, gleefully paying homage and tribute to as much lore and history as it can. But equally it can feel a bit long, just segueing from one fight to another with all those characters as liable to clutter up the page as anything. I suppose in the end this long time coming team up does what it needs to...but nothing more.

Original cover price: $__

coverJLA/Cyberforce 2005 (SC GN) 48 pages

Written by Joe Kelly. Pencils by Doug Mahnke. Inks by Norm Rapmund.
Colours: David Baron. Letters: Jared K. Fletcher.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Mildly suggested for mature readers

Published by DC Comics/Top Cow

A company crossover involving DC's Justice League and Top Cow's Cyberforce, drawing mainly upon Cyberforce's mythos as it involves Ripclaw, a former member of that super team, who's gone evil and is attempting to uncover a supernatural power source beneath the streets of Budapest. Oh, yeah, and he's got an army of cybernetically enhanced zombies.

And the better than you might expect. It's squarely an action story -- capital "A" -- as the fighting starts in the first few pages and doesn't let up for the next forty. Yet despite that, it manages to be an entertaining read. Despite the action, the story still manages to be wrapped around some emotional character stuff at its core, focusing in particular on Velocity (of Cyberforce) who still loves Ripclaw and holds out hope of saving him from his madness, and on J'onn J'onzz (of the JLA) with the other team members getting moments here and there. Although some may seem less "in" character than others (Wonder Woman seems oddly belligerent). And there's some light-hearted quips and banter as well. Instead of having the usual "heroes battle each other over a misunderstanding", the two teams work together right off the get go, allowing for some appealing bi-play and camaraderie rather than a snark fest.

Well...the two teams do eventually go at each other, but it's a little more justified, and even then, Kelly laces it with some humour, particularly as they are reluctant combatants.

The art by Doug Mahnke is generally quite good, though oddly erratic and uneven. Not having looked too hard at the credits at first, while reading it I assumed there was more than one penciller involved -- or at least more than one inker.

The visuals are also somewhat gorier than you might expect -- or find appropriate -- for a JLA story, presumably reflecting Cyberforce/Top Cow's more "indie" comic sensibilities.

But that aside, and the fact the story, after all is said and done, is nothing more than a minor adventure (Ripclaw escapes), it's a "non stop" action story...that shows non stop action doesn't have to be a watchword for numbingly stupid and tedious.

Original cover price: $__ CDN./$5.99 USA

cover by Frank QuitelyJLA: Earth 2 1999 (HC & SC GN) 96 pages

Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Frank Quitely.
Colour: Laura DePuy (and Wildstorm FX). Letters: Ken Lopez.

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Slight Mature Readers caution

The Justice League of America is recruited by Alexander Luthor -- a counterpart of the Lex Luthor they know and despise, but from another dimensional earth, where good is bad and bad is good. The planet is held under the tyrannical sway of the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, which is comprised of evil counterparts of the JLA. Alex Luthor, who is a good guy on his world, wants the JLA to help him clean up his world, first by confining the CSA, and then by helping to clean up other, social problems.

Earth 2 is inspired by (though not necessarily a direct remake) of a now out-of-continuity 1960s Justice League of America story (issues #29-30) in which the JLA encountered their evil counterparts of Utraman, Owlman, Super Woman, etc. It also may be the first story to use the new rules at DC Comics that came about with The Kingdom, which re-instated the idea of "alternate" earths that DC used to do all the time, but which had been eliminated with The Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Earth 2 is enjoyable, but leaves one feeling a tad...unsatisfied.

It starts out well, and moody, as we get glimpses of what's to come with weirdly dressed characters who aren't quite the characters we know, and as the Justice League investigate a plane crash where all the victims have hearts on the right sides of their bodies (though how Wonder Woman, who has no x-ray vision, can know this is not explained). Writer Grant Morrison allows the story to progress at its own, unhurried pace, and avoids the obvious plot idea of simply having a fight between the heroes and their evil counterparts (conversely, someone might argue the lack of a Superman-Ultraman showdown might be a disappointment). The piece benefits from its big, prestige, graphic novel format of 96 pages, presented on heavy expensive paper that shows off the colours and art, allowing artist Frank Quitely to indulge in big, atmospheric panels, sometimes spread across two pages.

Morrison scripts decently enough, and Quitely's art, though maybe a little too prone to pronounced jaw lines, is lavish and detailed and grandiose.

But there are some central weaknesses with the book.

One is that Morrison writes in the cinematic style that's so much en vogue these days, telling the story entirely in dialogue and pictures, without thought balloons or text captions. I realize it's much easier to write that way than in the old, multi-tiered approach. And when the technique works, it can make for an easy, fluid read. But the down side is that it can render a story superficial. There's barely a deeper "character" moment in the entire book, largely because Morrison and Quitely never really put us inside anyone's head. There are exceptions, like a scene where Batman encounters a still living version of his father on this alternate earth, or a later scene where Owlman (Batman's evil counterpart) confronts his own personal demons. But generally characters just kind of wander through the story, without any real emotion or passion.

Of course, maybe I'm wrong to blame that solely on the "cinematic" style, and instead should suggest it's a fault simply of Morrison's story.

The other major weakness relates to the very foundations upon which Morrison has based his story. The heroes discover cleaning up this alternate earth isn't so easy because it's the opposite of their earth. Whereas on their earth, good always triumphs, on this, evil always wins, so how can good guys triumph? Yeah, you read right. The entire book is predicated on the idea -- stated uncategorically -- that good always triumphs on the JLA's world (which, after all, is supposed to be basically our world).

How silly is that?

Having the heroes acknowledge what, after all, is simply a conceit of storytelling, is distracting -- as if Superman were to refer to being a comicbook cartoon. But, more to the point, surely the comicbook world is a metaphor for the real world. Ask a person who is living on the streets, or suffering under a brutal dictatorship, if they believe "good" always triumphs. Did "good" triumph because the Nazis were defeated, or did evil triumph because they managed to murder millions before they were defeated? Maybe Morrison intends it as an in joke, a wink at the conventions of the genre. After all, Morrison wrote the critically acclaimed Animal Man series in the 1980s in which, apparently, the hero became aware that he was a comicbook character.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Although (among comic fans) writers like Morrison, Mark Waid, Alan Moore and others are considered literary Titans who have elevated the medium with their prose, too often there's a feeling these are guys who've spent wa-ay too much time reading comics and have lost sight of the fact superheroes don't exist. Superheroes are best treated as symbols and surrogates for the real world and real issues, rather than crafting whole "important" stories around non-existent issues, and endless dissections of what it means to be a super hero.

The story has some nice plot twists and there's a cute play in the very title in that, to the reader, "earth 2" is the evil world, but the only time the phrase is used is when Alex Luthor is referring to the JLA's world. Of course, in the Silver Age, Earth 2 was something else entirely. The characterization overall is kind of thin, but I liked Morrison's quirky version of Power Ring (the evil Green Lantern). And Morrison's Alexander Luthor, a similar personality to Lex -- arrogant and aristocratic -- but now a good guy, is a cute concept (and is a contrast to the pre-Crisis version of Alexander Luthor). And taken on its own, sci-fi level, it's a cute premise, of the characters grappling with a situation where fate itself seems to be against them. And it causes me to rethink an earlier scene where Green Lantern rescues a dog and, moments later, the dog gets run over by a bus. I initially thought it was just Morrison and Quitely's idea of a "gag", but maybe it was intended to be foreshadowing. The whole book put me in mind, however vaguely, of Tales of the Bizarro World (reviewed in my Superman section) with its vision of a topsy turvy reality. Though the how and why of things isn't always why Alex Luthor has super powers!

Earth 2 was an enjoyable, grandiose read. But given some of the hype, given that it was published first in hardcover, and even the soft cover version is pricey, and given that alternate world stories can often be great, and that Morrison was already working with ideas previous writers had come up with for him, it seems a bit...light weight. Ironically, Morrison's first JLA story arc, originally published just as issues of the regular comic, and collected in a TPB (New World Order and considerably cheaper than Earth 2), struck me as a more successful read. And YET...the strange thing is, I've read this book twice, and each time I feel this review is fair and correct. But when I think back on it, I remember it even more fondly. Maybe it's the epic concept, or the grandiose art and colour, I dunno. Maybe a third reading will settle my feelings.

The book is written with a slight mature readers sensibility, usually relating to a few kinky scenes and subtext.

Soft cover price: $24.95 CDN./ $14.95 USA. 



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