Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Superman Ragdolls the JLA Up and Down the Street

I have purchased two of the super-keen DC Showcase Presents phonebooks thusfar; Superman and Justice League of America. I was a little wary of the JLA volume, as I had read some reprints of early JLA in the past (mostly in those 70s 100-page giants), and the stories always seemed remarkably lifeless.

I orginally thought that the problem might have been the editorial restrictions involved in using a number of characters who were appearing in their own solo titles. You couldn't very well change or expand upon the Flash in any significant way without causing major problems within his own book. The same could be said for Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. I wouldn't really put Batman and Superman in this category because they were so clearly not allowed to participate in JLA adventures for more than a couple of panels. As I read the Showcase JLA book, it became a running joke to see how quickly and ham-fistedly the two DC icons could be sent off-panel ("Batman and I will head to deep space to make sure no other aliens come to earth." Um, ooookay, then).

However, regardless of the logistics of writing solo title characters in a team setting, the problem remains that Martian Manhunter and (I believe) Green Arrow were not headlining their own books during this period, and they were treated just as shabbily. I've read about 300 pages of the book so far, and MM and GA are written in exactly the same way as every other character in the book. There is virtually no difference (besides the obvious cosmetic variations) between any of the JLA members.

They exist in the story only to serve the exposition, it seems.

And it is deadly boring to read. Deadly boring.

Every story moves along like it's on a railcar track. *click click* Initial conflict. *click click* Split into teams. *click click* Discover simple solution to conflict. *click click* Final panel pun or barb. *click click*

The Superman book, however, is one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in quite a while. The characters, while not exactly complex, at least have traits that are contant and unique (i.e. Lois is sneaky and lovelorn, Jimmy is headstrong and ineffectual, Perry is gruff and steadfast, and Superman is, well, a dick). I think the shorter story length helps as well. Silver Age story logic is tenuous enough at 8 pages, it's a little naive to try to get it to hold up for 20-odd pages.

Plus, the Superman stories are almost aggressive in their imagination. The cover reproductions included in the Showcase volume basically dare you not to read the story inside. "Superman has a lion's head? Th- f**k?!? Gimme that!"

Oh, and the single greatest story I've read so far has involved Superman, after the apparent death of Clark Kent in an explosion, forcing Jimmy Olsen to let him move in as his roommate. Because, you see, Superman had to pretend he and Clark were roommates after all sorts of Superman's things were found in Kent's apartment. It apparently never occurred to Superman that he could just get his own place or something.

These stories may be dumb, but they are never, ever boring. If you are bored by the Superman stories contained in this volume, then I envy you the kind of daredevil, adrenaline-junkie life you must lead. You'd have to be an intergalactic rodeo clown, or an undersea octopus wrestler to find these gems dull.

And I am neither, so I think they are awesome.

But JLA? You are deathly dull, and will be heading on over to my Sequential Swap tradelist, STAT.

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