Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Here there be spoilers.

Now that I’ve had a night to think about it, I’m not actually sure if I liked the movie or not. And I don’t think it’s a case of really disliking it and being in denial. I really, honestly don’t know. To be fair, though, after I saw Man of Steel the first time, I was unsure about the movie.

 

Part of this, I think, is the presentation seemed to be very poor. The theater house lights never dimmed entirely. The sound mix seemed off. I think they had the aperture on the projector on incorrectly, which slightly cut off the top and bottom of the screen. (Noticeable in the scenes of news shows, where the bottom of the text was cut off.) And maybe they had the 3D grate down or something, because it seemed dim, especially compared to trailers I’d seen previously.

 

So, fighting against a sub-par movie experience. And I don’t want to hold that against the film itself.

 

Still, this was an acknowledged mess. I came away mostly thinking that they did have a pretty strong idea of what they wanted their characters to present as… but had no real clue how to get those ideas across the best. Many of the scenes felt like they were sketched out without a clear beginning and end, and we’re left with a feeling of a larger whole where we’re only seeing a few random middle bits. It’s not that the character motivations are lacking, just that the elements shown aren’t what drive those points across.

 

In a way, this is confusing, because when you strip it down, the plot of BvS is pretty great: Lex Luthor has a problem with Superman, so he sets up a Xanatos Gambit to put him in conflict with Batman. Eventually, they realize their error and team up.

 

Unfortunately, in order to get this across, you need a strong bifurcated storyline: Superman’s heroics need to progress in contrast with Batman’s investigations. The two should advance in a way that feels like they’re converging on the same point. Then you get the twist: instead of working separately against a common goal, they’re actually at odds against each other. This is how you get the fight that feels both surprising and organic. Also, this should come to head at the end of Act 2. Act 3 is the team-up.

 

The problem arises rather early. The entire Africa plotline feels needlessly busy and extraneous, especially since MoS already presented a very good reason for people to question Superman already. Then as the movie progresses, it seems to be too early when we’re seeing Lex’s gambit in action. Thus it isn’t a surprise about what happens. Thus we get a confusing selection of character actions that are clearly leading somewhere, but the film itself doesn’t seem clear on what that goal actually is.

 

So here’s what I think happened. I think David Goyer wrote a Man of Steel sequel. It was a Superman plot through and through. You can look at the throughline of Supes and Lex and see that it’s pretty clear that exists. In this context, Lex’s plan is entirely put public doubt in Superman, make him the blame of things going wrong (that are Lex’s doing), and then when that doesn’t work, bring out his ace in the hole, Doomsday, to kill Superman.

 

Then WB got nervous and decided to add Batman into the mix. And all hell broke loose. Because by adding Batman, you need to account for his motivations. And while there is a disagreement plot to be had, it wasn’t in the original script. So Goyer (and later Terrio) were doing the best they could with the plot at hand, but it was a confusing, tacked-on selection of motivations and character impetus that ultimately sets the original plot on a wobbly course.

 

In fact, if you look at the film, the interactions between the two characters is pretty sketchy prior to the final fight. They meet at Lex’s party (and in Batman’s dream), but that’s about it. It really feels like two different movies that more or less are happening at the same time. Or, perhaps more appropriately, this is a Superman movie that seems to star Batman for reasons that are not entirely clear from the film itself.

 

It’s entirely possible that the director’s cut, with ample time to explore the motivations and plots, will clear up the confusion. It’s not that they necessarily needed that extra time, but if they didn’t have a clear plan from the get-go, it could help work through all the excess they were dealing with. We’ll have to wait and see. Unfortunately, even if the DC is a vast improvement, it’s not going to help. Most of the audience will see it in the theaters, and their opinions will be pretty firm. I doubt many are going to give it a second chance, especially if it’s longer.

 

With all that, what did I like?

 

Well, I do like the cast. They’re all pretty great, especially given the weirdly limited material they have to work with. Affleck makes a great Batman. Irons a great Alfred (in fact, he had most of the best lines in the film). Eisenberg is weirdly compelling at Lex. Adams as Lois continues to give me heart eyes. And Cavill continues to sell what is a difficult role.

 

And, of course, Gal Gadot is glorious as Wonder Woman. Messy as the film is, it isn’t confused at all when she’s on screen. When she shows up for the final fight, everything just sort of clarifies. Even the entire tone of the music changes, as if to say, “This is what we are here for.” And it is. The criticism of the DC films is that they’re afraid of letting their heroes enjoy themselves. That’s entirely absent with Wonder Woman. She fights and has fun at it. She alone is enough reason to be excited about what the DC films will bring in the future.

 

I doubt I’ll see BvS again theatrically. That’s mostly for financial reasons, though. I really would like to give it a second shot in a presentation that isn’t marred by the theater itself. I wonder if, like Man of Steel, it’s something that I warm up to over time and begin to love. I’d also like to see the director’s cut to see if that smooths out some of the story issues. Maybe if there’s another $10 blu-ray at Best Buy.

 

Still, I honestly don’t know if I like it or not.

 

?/5

Is Rebirth DC’s last, best hope?

I haven’t tended to keep up on comics news of late. But it’s been difficult to avoid the news of DC’s newest line-wide relaunch, Rebirth, which had been rumored for a while, but was made official at ComicsPRO this week.

The short of it is:

  • The entire line is getting a relaunch, starting with (mostly) new issue #1s.
  • There will be a series of “Rebirth” one-shots to introduce the new titles.
  • Several titles will be going twice a month.
  • Action and Detective, DC’s longstanding legacy titles, will resume their original numbering
  • Total number of titles will be 32.

In a lot of ways, this feels like another New 52, although it’s being framed as not starting from scratch like that was, and there’s an effort to connect with past continuity and to respect everything that’s come before. So, potentially, it will at least appeal to old fans who got jaded that time around.

The big question is, will it work? DC’s sales have been pretty consistently poor, they’ve lost the trust of retailers, and their efforts to bring in new readers have not been met with success. Last year’s DC You was pretty much a failure all around, despite apparently having some very innovative and good books in the effort.

Based on that past history, I’m skeptical. I can see things that look neat and interesting, but I also get the sense that DC is failing to learn from past mistakes. They aren’t identifying the true core problems. And so even if the Rebirth line is good, it still may be doomed to failure.

One big problem is DC has consistently been unwilling to have an open discussion about their plans with outside sources. The New 52, Convergence, and other line events seemed to come out of nowhere, with little warning or indication about what they were thinking. This seems to possibly even be true with their creative talent.

There are obvious problems with editorial and the decisions they’re making. I don’t know if that’s an issue with DiDio and Lee, or with others in senior positions. I’d gather at least in part the latter, because of all the rumors about problems within the Superman group (which also looks after Wonder Woman), but that in itself indicates there’s some blind spots for those people at the very top.

Maybe Rebirth is answering these. Bleeding Cool believes that Marguerite Bennett is going to be the new writer on Wonder Woman, which would probably indicate a pretty massive change for that title’s editorial oversight. And they aren’t ditching all their recent experiments. Gotham Academy is still happening, which is a massive positive in my book. It seems that unlike New 52, they aren’t going to switch to completely new creative teams just because. If a book is working, it should continue to work after the relaunch.

I truly believe that DC wants to have an expanded and diversified audience. The sudden success of Batgirl of Burnside gave them a taste, as did looking over at the success of Ms. Marvel, and I get the sense that the entire DC You effort was built to try and replicate that. However, the insular nature of how they make decisions means that they also don’t really understand how or why such things are a success.

This desire is also at odds with their tried and true strategies. Geoff Johns might be a great creative talent, but he inherently looks backwards for inspiration. The things he writes are not inclined towards expanded and diversified audiences. And you can’t have a “let creatives try new things and do their own books without distraction” along with “tie everything together and get back to our roots.” One or the other is going to run into problems. From past efforts and results, it’s the former that’s going to get the short end of the stick.

Not all of this is DC’s fault. They’re dealing with trying to make the best of a poor situation, and it can be difficult to read the signals of success or failure. But ultimately they are still trying to do new tricks using the same old tools in the same workshop as they always have.

DC’s real problem is that the direct market.

The direct market is a backwards, opaque, and incomprehensible beast. It’s often difficult to understand how it works even for people who are well into reading comics. I was chatting with a friend yesterday and realized he had no clue how it all really worked. And he’s been reading comics for more than 20 years. For someone who is a new, potential fan, it’s probably even worse.

It would seem like if you went out and found a book that appealed to you and bought it, that would be enough to indicate your interest to the publishers. But that doesn’t work. The nature of the direct market means that they can’t see sales directly, they only see what retailers order. Nothing is returnable, so retailers need to guess about demand. Only in situations where a book explodes in popularity, thus requiring reorders and additional print runs, will the publishers have a direct idea of sales.

Only in cases where a book explodes in popularity, requiring re-orders and extra print runs will this information cycle be broken. But even that isn’t a good situation for a new fan. If you hear about a new hot book that you might like and go down to the store to get it only to find out that it’s sold out and won’t be back for a month or two (even as current issues continue to come out), what are you going to do? Buy the issues you can get and wait to read them or lose interest and move onto something else.

The entire system is predicated on pre-orders. That’s how you signal to a retailer that you’re interested in a book. Well, how are you going to know if you’ll like a book three months before it comes out? Option one is to be psychic. Option two is to guess based on the things you already like.

What this creates is a system that is inherently geared towards older, more experienced (white, male) fans at the exclusion of all else. Since neither major publisher does outreach to potential new readers, they have no way to break into the cycle unless something very strange happens. Ms. Marvel managed its success by becoming the bestselling digital title, which did provide instant feedback. Such things are few and far between, though.

In that case, the existing readership is pretty set in its ways. At this point, it likes Marvel, particularly Marvel that is similar to the MCU. (It also probably likes X-Men and Fantastic Four, but Marvel is perfectly willing to dick over some long time fans in the name of sticking it to Fox.) It also likes Batman, who continues to do well for DC. But other than that? Roll the dice, man. Any book will probably get a core of dedicated readers, but it’s rarely enough to sustain itself.

The major outreach falls to the creators, which is particularly sad. “Buy my book!” they’ll cry out. “Here’s how to order it from your comic store.” And they’ll note the ordering code to use. This is a pretty shitty thing to expect creators to do over and over again, especially for IP they don’t actually own. But even when it works, it still reinforces existing patterns: fans following creators they know and like (rather than characters.)

But what about ordering the trade, you might ask? Oh, you sweet summer child, that’s adorable. Despite the fact that it’s long been becoming a normal and perfectly rational strategy to read books that are already created in 4-7 part chunks that will be combined into a trade paperback, it very rarely will happen in time to affect the life of a book. Everything needs to happen for those first few issues, well before the trade has even hit the catalogue.

Where does this leave DC’s Rebirth? I don’t entirely know, but based on what’s gone on before, it will probably see some initial interest, but much of that will be too late to save several books. Batman will continue to do well, because Batman. Some others may do just well enough to catch on. But it’s not going to drastically alter things in its favor. And it will probably have to do another one of these the next couple of years to stave off the bleeding.

This isn’t too say that DC is going to fold and Marvel will reign supreme. There’s enough indication that Marvel is also following an ultimately losing strategy. Their All New, All Different line isn’t succeeding all that well and the problems that they have in sticking to a schedule mean that resetting their entire line each year gets more and more confusing to try and follow. It’s a case of diminishing returns. But Marvel, at least, doesn’t need to put forth as much effort to keep selling books to the same old crowd.

There are no easy solutions, though. If DC is serious about wanting to try and reestablish itself and court new readership, it’s going to need to come up with some new strategies to do that. It’s going to need to find a way to have some success without relying on the direct market system.

DC’s Movie Future

The big news for comic book geeks right now are the DC changes. The company is dissolving Wildstorm and presumably every other imprint besides Vertigo. All non-publishing operations are moving from New York to SoCal. There are a number of questions up in the air, but for the most part, that’s just a bunch of businessy things to think about.

The reasons for these changes make a lot of sense. DC’s had a problem for a while, lagging behind Marvel for a number of years and often playing copycat to try and catch up. The company has had a broader scope of comics printed, under a number of different imprints, but nothing’s seemed to catch on.

Step one, it seems, is to remove a lot of dead weight. I imagine that in the next few months, they’ll announce how they’ll handle the various creator-owned properties, whether it’s by moving them under the Vertigo banner or something else will remain to be seen.

What’s considerably more fascinating, to me, is a quote by DC head honcho Diane Nelson where she says that they aren’t Marvel. Obvious, of course, but upon consideration, it’s a very smart move.

Marvel’s approach to movies is well understood to be building a universe that will culminate, of sorts, with the Joss Whedon Avengers film in a couple years. I imagine that, if it’s a successful experiment, it won’t stop there, but I don’t get the sense that they’ve got a plan that extends much further until they see how it goes. This eggs in a basket strategy is probably driven by necessity. Due to a number of financial issues Marvel had over a decade ago, the company sold off the rights to a number of characters. They can’t do anything, film-wise, with the two biggest characters under the company’s publishing banner: Spider-Man and Wolverine. (Held by Sony and Fox, respectively.)

In fact, given the attempts under Avi Arad to license out the over 6000 characters in the Marvel universe, many of the more well-known characters are effectively gone for good. (It’s entirely possible that the rights could lapse, but I believe that’s only happened with Hulk. All other major properties have some sort of film in production.) This is a big issue because the money is made on the big screen (and subsequent DVD sales) rather than in the monthly issues. Marvel does the latter very well, and the former was elsewhere. (This last point is what makes the Disney purchase seem so odd.)

Enter the Avengers. Take the remaining characters, most of them second-tier, and hand them off to good directors and such to create a movie universe unlike anything that’s been done before. It’s great branding and gets the word out that this is the Next Big Thing. So long as the films are good, then everything will be hunky-dory. Luckily for Marvel, Iron Man was very good, so things are getting rolling. The Avengers seems like a dream come true: a real superhero team-up film on the big screen. Awesome, right? And not a little bit lucky that they still had Cap, Thor, and ol’ Shellhead in-house.

DC doesn’t have that problem. For the most part, any character under the DC banner has the film rights in-house under Warner Bros. While Marvel’s been all over the place, the dream of a JLA movie has been kicking around at least since the late ’90s. Nothing came of any of those, partially because DC never seemed to be able to do anything besides Batman or Superman, and partially because getting a large cast of superheroes together gets unwieldy. Seriously, when you have too many characters, it’s not good cinema. Just one of the many problems that plagued X-Men 3.

So Marvel may have found the magic formula, however: individual films for a series of characters, then bring them together for the team-up. You don’t need to worry about backstory. And DC’s got a couple of Bat-films in the current series, a Green Lantern film out next year. Just need something new for Supes, work out The Flash and Wonder Woman, and you’re there, right? Easy enough to copy Marvel’s playbook… again.

However, Nelson’s quote indicates that (as of right now) they have no plans to do that. For a couple of reasons, this is probably the best decision. First, there’s the creative side. DC doesn’t have the same necessity. The movie studio isn’t force to use the second tier characters because their big guns are right there, and (at least in Batman’s case), extremely profitable and visible. When the third Batman film comes out, it’s going to do just fine. And Christopher Nolan’s also at work on a Superman film, which has a lot of justifiably high expectations.

However, Nolan’s indicated that he doesn’t really want to push Batman into a bigger group. The stories he’s filming work well on a closed level and I’m going to guess that Superman is going to get a similar treatment. Given that those two are likely tied up and unavailable because of that, it would leave any potential JLA movie in one of two problematic situations: either you film it without Superman and Batman, which doesn’t really scream JLA anymore. Ever since Grant Morrison started on the title back in the mid-90s, it’s been a team that’s the biggest heroes in the DCU, as it was when the team started. Ironically, Marvel’s gone with a similar strategy of late, by pulling Spiderman and Wolverine into the Avengers. However, they can’t match the lineup in the films.

To remove Batman & Superman leaves the league feeling a bit… Justice League International in feel, which is dating back 20+ years.  And unlike the Avengers, there’s a very important tone that needs to be set here. I really doubt any casual viewer is going to know that Wolverine and Spiderman are Avengers. In fact, I’d guess that seeing them in the line-up on the screen would be very jarring. But JLA has had a few seasons of cartoons in the past decade that were very well received and built naturally from the Batman and Superman animated series. Casual audiences, even if they weren’t regular viewers, are likely to assume any similar line-up.

The other option would be to make a JLA film without any connection to the series for the single characters. WB did try this, actually, even getting to the point where they had a cast including Common as Green Lantern and they had George Miller signed onto direct. For a number of reasons, that fell through. If nothing else, it would have been confusing to any audiences. Why wasn’t Christian Bale Batman there?

Well, that brings up the business reasons for avoiding a build-up to the JLA. Ultimately, any film is all about the money. The studio wants to get the best return for the smallest outlay. When you’ve got a multi-franchise series, those costs can build up. Marvel is famous for playing hardball with actors to keep those costs down. Terrence Howard was ousted for Don Cheadle apparently over a contract dispute between the two Iron Man films. The vast majority of the other actors have signed onto multiple picture deals at a relatively low cost, in order to make sure the later films in the Avengers franchise won’t see things spike. Samuel L. Jackson signed a nine film deal after Iron Man.

However, in order to do these things, there needs to be a clear plan ahead of time. WB had no such plan for Batman when they brought Christopher Nolan on board to revamp the character. While trying to do the team thing would have caused some creative issues, it would have also meant needing to negotiate with Bale and the other actors involved after they’d already been in one or two very successful films. This raises the costs considerably. Moreso if you consider that they’d likely have to placate Nolan in some way. (Note that WB seems very strongly inclined to placate him. Even his odd, experimental fare like Inception does very well for them.)

The flipside of the business is even more important. While JLA would be a fan dream film (my friends and I had a game of dream casting it over a decade ago), much as the Avengers film is, what’s the payoff overall. Batman by himself can do half a billion in the US. Superman in a good film can probably clear the triple century mark easily. Other DC heroes are likely at a lower tier. Sure, Green Lantern might have about the same public appeal as pre-Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man, but that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed for $300m US.

DC is already able to look at Marvel for a template on what may happen. As I noted in my last post, the prognosis for the Avengers is… mixed. If it looked like the Marvel properties were building interest, then I think Diane Nelson would be less inclined to defiantly say they aren’t Marvel. But that hasn’t happened with Iron Man, and while we’re a Thor and a Captain America away from getting the Avengers trifecta, what’s the real expectation for those films, regardless of quality? $200m? $250m if they take off? Superheroes aren’t a guaranteed sale anymore. Iron Man was a right-place, right-time, lighting-in-a-bottle moment of everything coming together and hitting perfectly.

Maybe Green Lantern can do that, too. Martin Campbell is a very accomplished director, and has set the tone for the James Bond series twice, now. Ryan Reynolds has a ton of talent and charisma. And even so, that can’t guarantee it’s going to be huge. Big, sure, but not huge.

If the payoff isn’t a guarantee, why would DC even want to try and pull off a JLA film? It’s going to be more difficult, more expensive, and probably more uncertain than Marvel’s current effort. More than that, it’s going to feel like a bit of a copycat. Given that the DC publishing has been playing that game for most of the past decade and losing, why would they want to do the same for the films, when the stakes are so much higher.

No, carving out their own path is much smarter. While at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be anything really innovative at play than a typical franchise, that could change.

Consider the Green Lanterns. They’re already a super team of sorts built into the mythology. More than that, there’s a chance that they could go for something really unique and have a space-faring superhero adventure. Imagine some world building on the level of Avatar as a backdrop of warring Lanterns? Not saying it will happen, but it’s something that Marvel couldn’t easily replicate unless they decide to try and film the Annihilation saga.

And there’s no way they’re going to try and introduce the characters to do that. In that area, at least, DC’s got a head start. Go cosmic. But don’t go superteam. It’s not the smart play.

Continuity Dreams and Nightmares

In the wake of the ongoing travesties of that are happening on both sides of the superhero aisle (OMD’s destruction of anything resembling a comprehensible sequence of events at Marvel and the Eternal Crisis at DC), I’ve been giving a fair bit of thought to continuity and writers.

Continuity is a tricky thing. For a good 40 years or so, it didn’t matter a whole lot. Arguably, the entire period between the end of WWII and the start of the silver age, it didn’t matter at all. Even after that into the early 80s, it remained a rather mutable concept. Sure, there was cause and effect, but the concept of continuity that spanned the entire line of books didn’t quite grab hold.

Starting in the 80s, though, a number of things happened. The X-Men began to sell like gangbusters, which prompted a number of related books. With Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, the concept of the universe-spanning mini-series was discovered and with it the tie-in. Soon after, the crossover was established.

The crossover and the mini-series established the key ingredients that thrust our lovable comics into the 90s and continue, more or less, to be the key for any large sales to this day. Certainly nearly every major storyline of the past fifteen years has been one or the other, if not both. For some characters with multiple tiles, crossovers are often more the rule rather than the exception (I’m looking firmly at you, Spidey and Bats.)

The natural upshot is that the books need to have some related consistency. If Latte Lady breaks a nail in The Nifty Nailbiters, then by golly that better remain true in The Stupendous Seat-edgers. If Awesome Man dies in his own title, his best friend the Dimly Lit Intimidator may need to know about it in his own.

This rising integration in continuity has a lot of benefits. From a storytelling perspective, there’s a whole lot of options that open up when a writer can start taking part in a bigger sandbox. Stories that would be too big for a single title can now be told. If the Nailbiters and Awesome Man team up but need to split up to do separate objectives, then those can be handled in their own series, at the same time. This ability to tell multiple story strands at the same time, leading towards some ultimate conclusion allows superhero stories to massively increase in depth.

More than that, the crossover, especially, is a boon to business. If you’ve got a strong character who sells well every month, you can always have her show up in a few other books now and then, but have her title cross over with those books, and you could get the readers of each to try the other and possibly stick around.

Amazing stuff, these crossovers. Personally, some of my fondest memories of comics are when I read Uncanny X-Men in the late 80s and I really got into the mutant books with Inferno. It wasn’t enough to just read X-Men. I also had to read X-Factor to understand what was going on. And to find out what happened to Colossus, I needed to read New Mutants. As it happens, I stayed with all three books for a good long time. Inferno was clearly successful, enough that the mutant books especially began to feature them every year or two for the next decade or so.

Plus, there’s a decided advantage to telling a story that is too big for one creator. You can have multiple viewpoints, multiple people working together to create something that could be greater than the sum of its parts.

But there’s a number of downsides. While it’s great that a story could have multiple layers and interweaving plot points, all too often it comes out to be a bit messy, with contradicting elements, missed characterization, and things that just don’t make sense. In the mini-series, it’ll often come about that there are so many characters showing up that few, if any, of them get enough space to really shine and act as they should.

Plus, the bigger the story, the more far-reaching the effects, and thus the greater need for editorial oversight, which leads to more controlled and constrained writers. In essence, the scope of these projects tends to stifle creativity, even if the event itself turns out to be pretty good.

On the business-side, there’s the converse of the event getting readers to try another title. What if, instead of the crossover getting readers to hop on board both books, they instead decide that neither title is worth the effort and jump ship entirely. I read Birds of Prey rather faithfully from the beginning, but the number of crossovers that happened with other Batman titles essentially gave me a choice. I didn’t have the money or desire to follow every Bat-title, so I could either continue with it and be thoroughly confused as to what happened between issues, or I could stop entirely.

I’m not really inclined to write off the big event entirely, but there needs to be a degree of moderation. DC’s 3+ year continuity project has made me leery of trying out new titles, and I’ve tended to try and follow ones that are reasonably likely to remain unaffected and alone. On the Marvel side, I’ve found that Civil War has killed just about any interest I ever had in following The Avengers and any character related to them.

However, the smaller-scale events have worked out fine. Annihilation was just about the most enjoyable story I’ve read in years, and I’m waiting to see what the Sinestro Corps storyline is like once it hits the trades. It’s possible to do an event, but there just needs to be some consideration against doing too much.

And, as One More Day has shown, editorial mandate isn’t good for anything. The writers generally need to have some freedom to explore and get creative with the characters. Dictating that the writers must do x and y and keep in tap with all the other titles running leads to problems, because, by and large, most comic writers cannot or will not be able to handle that sort of overhead on their books. There are some, but they’re few and far between.

I could probably trust Grant Morrison to handle just about any continuity issues. Kurt Busiek, too. If only because of his comments regarding One More Day, JMS seems like he’d be up to the task. And possibly Mark Waid. However, we’re talking about four men out of tens of professional comic writers who are adept enough to write a story that fits into continuity while also changing it. This is an extremely limited skill that very few possess.

Geoff Johns and Keith Giffen might be able to, but they also seem to shine best when they’re given a section of a universe to play with. Preferably a cosmic one or (in Giffen’s case) a comedic one.

I’m not going to criticize writers who don’t do this. While I’d trust Morrison to handle such a task (and Final Crisis likely will be), some of my other favorite comic writers probably couldn’t. I don’t think Brian Vaughan could (he’s a bit gun-shy when handling characters he doesn’t create.) Nor Brian Wood. Warren Ellis probably could, but his disdain for the conventions of the superhero genre makes me question whether it’d work. Gail Simone, The Best Writer in Superhero Books, might not be up to it, but I’m curious to see how she’d fare if given the chance.

The problem is that despite the obvious way that Big Continuity causes problems for the individual writers, it’s become this massive driving force from both within (editorial) and without (the fans.) On the inside, it’s this stifling way of sucking the fun and creativity out of any story, even if it’s something that should be as fun as superheros kicking the shit out of each other (see exhibit 1: Civil War). On the outside, it’s the promise that if anything doesn’t quite work, the fan community is going to jump all over it.

I’ve found myself questioning my resolve and desire to keep up on things. Conceptually, the Big Event is awesome. In theory, it should be great. But in theory, communism works. In practice, there’s those few events that actually work (Annihilation), more that are just kinda meh (Infinite Crisis), and still more that just kinda numb my whole brain when I start to think about them (Civil War, Countdown, One More Day).

What I’ve been left with is a desire to just find those select few things that are actually good. I’ll follow specific writers around, check out those titles which are remaining consistently strong, and just keep abreast as I can.

It’s a shame, because I’ve had my time as a continuity nut, digging how all those threads relate and create a stronger story. But the DC fan in me has spent the past three years hearing that if I just keep going a bit longer, everything will fit together and make sense. Sure, it’s possible Grant Morrison will actually do that in Final Crisis, but what if it’s just a precursor. After the next couple of weekly series, what if there actually IS an Eternal Crisis? And in 2012, will I be eagerly anticipating Gail Simone’s Crisis Forever?

Over at Marvel, I’m left wondering what’s good. Civil War is a black stain, from which there’s very little to redeem. One More Day has just told me that anything I could have cared about can be whisked away. And I really can’t get up the interest in Secret Invasion. Bendis isn’t a writer I have a lot of faith in to handle multiple heroes. A small number, with deeply personal stories, possibly a lot of crime, sure. Teams? His track record is lacking. Disassembled was almost as bad as Civil War, and House of M was unfortunately little more than a compelling Elseworlds idea.

On the other hand, I suppose I can thank Joe Quesada for teaching me to stop caring. At the House of Ideas, it’s clear that few, if any, ideas are going to do much more than cause a temporary hiccup to the status quo.

Because of that, I’m going to take a new view on continuity. I call it the Current Writer theory. Basically, continuity on a title or character only matters inasmuch as it matters to the current writer. If they want to delve deep into the backstory and pick out little elements here and there to build up the richness, so much the better. If they just want to tell stories in the here and now, fine.

What would be grand, though, is if everything was free reign. If a writer could come in, figure out how to make all the pieces fit, or at least some of them, and just tell that story, then move onto the next.

What if… what if EVERYTHING was true?

Oh, yeah. DC tried that. About ten years ago.

JLA #15 review

Reading the latest issue of Justice League of American (#15), I was struck by how dissonant it seemed.

On one hand, we’ve got Dwayne McDuffie’s script, which is another step in moving the comic from the completely forgettable Meltzer run to something that’s palatable. The story isn’t great. This is a light issue, without much in the way of plot details (in fact, it very specifically dovetails into two other titles at the end, without resolution), but it’s got some kinda fun rock-em, sock-em action going on.

It’s also got moments of The Sexy going on. The girls are doing the cool shits, and whooping baddies all around. Not so much for the damsels in distress, here. We’ve got proactive heroines doing the right thing.

Sexy.

On the other hand, we’ve got Ed Benes’ art, which has taken another step in moving the book towards an ass-shot in every panel (and, depending on how limber he makes the portrayed character, tits as well). In this issue, the art is almost overwhelmingly, objectifyingly sexist, to the point that about halfway through (and this is just a 22-page story, mind), I began to feel a bit numb from the whole thing.

So, page by page:

Page 1 is remarkably sans-ass! Of course it’s sans female. Luthor has Superman at his whim until Firestorm turns a bunch of kryptonite into a butterknife. I sat for a moment and wondered about this reverse-alchemy. How much money did Luthor lose in that moment? Kryptonite’s got to be one of the rarest minerals in the universe, and he just transposed it to common steel, probably not even stainless or a good alloy. We’re looking at a loss of a few million, easy, probably a few billion.

Of course, I’m also wondering, why the hell Luthor, with nearly uncountable sums of wealth, would use it to create a kryptonite knife to stab Superman with? Surely his evil genius could come up with something with more, dare I say it, panache?

From the expressions on Luthor’s face, he might just be realizing how much money he’s lost here.

Page 2. Splash of all the villains in this short-lived Injustice League. Is it just me, or are these a bunch of serene-looking baddies? Seriously, they’re about to (try) to whoop some ass. And most of them, even the guys, just look kinda mildly amused.

Hell, Cheshire, Poison Ivy, Fatality, and Giganta all have the exact same expression. This expression says to me “I’m listening to music and this song brought a thought of an amusing little anecdote about what happened on the way to work.” not “Hoo, yeah, We’re about to TOTALLY wail on Superman and Firestorm!”

And Ivy’s stance is just completely wrong, too. She’s getting ready to fight! Not waiting at the bus stop while listing to her iPod! Also, what’s up with her crotch? It’s brighter than the rest of that region and perhaps kinda puffy. I’d be a bit worried about that. She should see a doctor.

Cheshire’s a bit better. Confident, fists on hips. See, right there her eyes should be narrow, focused. Mouth pressed into a thin, determined line. Expression just blaring “Hey, superheroes! I’m the deadliest assassin on the face of the planet. I have figuratively (and in one case literally) fucked you over for YEARS. Another serving coming up!”

Cheetah’s at least got the readiness down. Somewhat ruined by her stance. Okay, let’s try this. You’re about to charge into a fight. Stand up and get ready. Pretend you have claws and are kinda fast and strong, too. Me? I’m going to have my weight centered, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width with one slightly in front of the other. Hunched over slightly with a slight lean forwards. Arms tucked, hands slightly in and in front of my chest. Perhaps right be low neck level.

I am fucking NOT going to have my hand down and elbows out. There’s no power in that, no way to get some force into my strikes. Plus, I’m leaving my central area WIDE open for a quick attack.

What’s more, my legs are not going to be leaning towards one side with my weight awkwardly thrust backwards and then leaning my torso forward. Again, no strength, nothing to get any power out of. And I’d be off-balance in case of quick counter.

All this seems to say is “I’m angry! Look at my ass!”

Icicle doesn’t seem so bad, mostly because she’s already in motion. She’s going forward with her attack, but I’m a bit mystified by why her right arm is down and away.

So for the good side of the womens, we’ve got Cheetah’s expression, Cheshire’s stance, and Icicle’s movement. The rest is a bunch of bad.

On the men side, they’re not that much better, except nobody’s really thrusting attributes out for no good reason.

I do rather like the effeminate-Joker, though.

Page 3. Look at this first panel. We’ve got Firestorm, facing off against the baddies. Look at the sides. Deathstroke and Dr Light are cool, confident, working in some entrapment of power.

In the center, nearly even against Firestorm is Luthor, looking really pissed. That’s quite a change from his slightly bemused expression on page 2. How much time has passed here?

And there’s Ivy, coquettishly bored at the antics of all these mammals. Icicle is still continuing her mad charge. Her pose isn’t too bad. Now you can see her right arm is, since now she’s using that instead of her left to move her ice stream. Her left is a bit far away, but could be ready to fling an attack from that angle, discus style.

Cheetah has squared up her stance, but her arms are way out and low. Plus, now her upper-arms look like sticks. Dr Light, of all people, has forearms the size of her waist, and she’s got toothpicks.

There’s something else that bugs me, here. Look at the position of the bad guys here and on page 2.

On 2, we’ve got, L-R: Luthor, Ivy, some fuzzy guy I want to call Mammoth, but probably isn’t, Dr Light, Deathstroke, Mr Freeze, Giganta, some dark guy, Fatality, Cheshire, Cheetah, Icicle, Grodd, and Joker. (in a few layers. since apparently they’re standing on risers for a better picture)

And here we’ve got Dr Light on the far left with icicle behind him, who’s apparently whipped around to the complete other side of the group. Then there’s Ivy and the dark guy, who’s much forward and to the left of his current position. Luthor and not-Mammoth are now in the center. Grodd and Cheetah have about the same positions, but Deathstroke has magically teleported to the far right. Joker, Cheshire, Freeze, Fatality, and Giganta are nowhere to be seen.

So what happened? Again, how much time has passed so the villains can array themselves out in the proper line? And if that’s the case, why aren’t they attacking? Luthor said that Superman would only survive for another 30 seconds.

Firestorm talks for a bit while Icicle takes the first stab at cooling him down. Nice attack, but the way she’s got her knee bent is really weird. Dr Light adds to the fire and then we’ve got all the bad-guys hit by a mysterious green pallor.

Page 4-5. The superheroes arrive! And thankfully, they are all ready to kick ass. Except for Red Tornado, who is doing his rendition of C-3P0 in Cloud City.

Let’s look at expressions. Guys first: Batman is pissed. Red Arrow is even angrier (I can only assume he’s finally realizing how dumb his new code name really is.) John Stewart is getting into full-on USMC-mode. Which is amazing, since that’s an entirely different continuity. Geo-Force is rubbing off a bit of manly blood from his face. His expression says “Okay, you got me one. Now it’s my turn.”

For the gals, it’s not quite the same. Clenched teeth, perhaps, but only slightly. Those cheeks aren’t tightened up at all. In some fashion, Hawkgirl, Vixen, and Wonder Woman all look somewhat angry. Black Canary, though, just looks kinda there. Her lips are a bit pouty, face kinda slack, and eyes looking a bit vacantly off into the distance.

She’s the leader, remember.

Poses talk!

Batman: I am just getting out of these bindings. Then I will start to hit you a lot.

Red Arrow: God, where the fuck is Brad Meltzer so I can shoot him for saddling me with this name?

Green Lantern: You took your best shot! Now its our turn.

Geo-Force: Not bad. But not good enough, bad-guys. I can hit harder than you.

Vixen: Let me start to punch from WAY in the back! Honest, I’m not telegraphing anything!

Hawkgirl: Hey, Cheetah! I can do that same exact stance! Except I don’t have claws.

Woder Woman: Look at my lasso! And tits! Hey, I might be able to do a sorta-jab from here!

Black Canary: I have a fist! And also a butt! And tits! Do you like my 90s-era X-Men Jacket? Wait, why am I facing in the general direction of Red Tornado! I’ll look over at that wall! Or perhaps the ceiling!

From this point forth, the art in the issue becomes asstastic. In fact, it’s like Butt Cleavage: The Movie, starring Dinah Lance.

Page 6. Dinah attempts to be the leader by issuing the very specific order of “Take them down hard.” Generic, sure, and what they were already going to do, but some have said that a good leader only needs to see what the followers were going to do anyway and to get out in front.

She screams. Good use of her powers for a pre-emptive strike. Bad use of her costume for showing us her butt. Canary rebukes Firestorm for trying to be too cute. Icicle, Cheshire, and Cheetah try to fight. Mr. Freeze and Deathstroke cut and run.

Wonder Woman shows off the butt-cleavage of her own, before…

Page 7. Wondy takes out Icicle.

Hawkgirl and Red Arrow flirt.

Cheshire gets away, but not before looking back and thrusting her ass back for one last provocation.

Page 8. However, Roy is an idiot and didn’t see it. Geez, man! After all the work that went into that and you had to miss it? What do you think these women are here for anyway?

Cheetah has Black Lightning at her mercy, but seems to be unsure of how to hold him. Her hands move around with every panel, which leads me to believe she really doesn’t know about submission techniques.

Then again, she’s barely got him held at all. In panel 3, it’s like she’s gently caressing his head. Must not want to wake him up I suppose. However, she says she’s going to rip his throat out. If that’s the case, I’d expect her to, I dunno, actually hold onto his throat?

Oh, well, he wakes up anyway and shocks her! Crisis averted.

Amazingly, as she’s flung back from the attack, her butt does not lead the way. However, it can’t be that bad, because while she’s squinting in pain, her mouth is in the exact same, slightly angry, smooth-cheeked expression as panel 3.

Page 9. Dr Light is attacking Green Lantern with an apparently nonexistant attack that still causes his cape to billow out. Even so, GL’s feeling the brunt of this from behind his shield.

Fatality glows menacingly from behind while Red Arrow looks like he’s going to shoot off into the distance.

Wonder Woman flies away, ass-beckoning all the while.

Oh, wait, Roy was just fooling! He shoots Fatality in the hand. After a little interchange to show each-other how bad-ass they are, Firestorm comes in and clocks her with a giant tennis racquet. Fatality flies off into the distance, spread eagled.

See, it’s a minor bit, but she’s going away, why does her body say “Come to me, my love!”

Page 10. Wonder Woman kicks Grodd’s butt. KRAK! THOK! WHUDD!

Damn, but isn’t her butt good looking?

Feel that dissonance? Textually, we’ve got a superheroine beating the crap out of a brilliant, talking gorilla. Artistically, we’ve got a butt-shot, mid-page.

Page 11. Black Canary faces off against Giganta and comes out on tap in two attacks. Giganta attacks, Canary dodges, breaks her thumb, and then uses her scream to wonderful effect. BOOM, down.

A bit marred by the opening butt-shot, which -might be forgivable if only based on the disparate sizes of the pair. You know what would be cooler, though? An over-the shoulder shot from Giganta’s point of view, making Canary look so small and overshadowed.

From there, the way Canary so totally dominates the exchange is that much more delicious.

Textually, Canary makes a few cracks about Giganta’s weight and wardrobe.

Page 12. Vixen takes out some lava guy I can’t remember. I honestly have no idea what’s going on here, because panels 1 and 2 are so muddled together. Which is which? I honestly don’t know because every character is showing up in both.

Then she kisses Superman to give him his powers back. Superman is very confused by this.

I’m somewhat tickled because I remember back in my X-Men reading days, Rogue would take everyone’s powers with a kiss. It was ridiculous then, and it’s ridiculous now. From the “Kiss him” directive bubble, I imagine there’ll be more story to this, though.

On the other hand, I’m a bit confused. I thought she, like Animal Man, just kinda copied other abilities. Now she steals them? Weirdly undefined powers and abilities FTW, perhaps?

Page 13. I’ve noticed in this issue that many scenes seem to bleed over into the pages around them, either one panel sneaking into the previous page (see page 10), or, like here, one sneaking into the next. I’m not sure why it’s happening, because it doesn’t help the flow of the issue.

In any case, next we have a single panel of Hawkgirl and Ivy about to go at it. That’s it, just one panel, no dialogue, nothing. It’s like our eyes were taken across it while we looked from Superman and Vixen’s confused smooch to…

Fatality blasts Red Arrow! She hates his new name, too! And the arrows sticking out of her arm. Which GL helpfully explains is prosthetic. Thus it’s able operate at full functionality until destroyed.

It’s always confused me. You take a high tech piece of machinery, like an arm, do incredible amounts of damage to it, and it continues to function. Remember all the times Cable’s arm took so much damage it had an aura of permanent sparks shooting out of it? But the arm was fine, sure.

Not like those weak, fleshy things that would stop after only one little puncture wound. Unless you’re manly, in which case it’ll just annoy you.

What follows is a long conversation between Firestorm, Black Lightning, and Red Tornado about getting Reddy up and running again. Despite being the most advanced android on the planet, Red Tornado has no ability to emote, as he has the exact same expression in five different panels. Or perhaps they removed that crucial ability when they pulled him apart. I don’t know.

Firestorm, despite being one of the most powerful beings around, cannot put Reddy back together again. We’ll ignore the fact that Reddy, as established in the first storyline of this run of JLA, has an amazing self-repair program. I’m pretty sure that, much like Legos, if you just put Arm A into slot B, he’d be up and running in as little as one reboot.

This conversation runs through Page 14, which ends when everyone gets bored of the talking and asks for more whacky again.

Page 15. Grodd attacks. Firestorm creates a brick wall out of nothing. Grodd smashes wall.

And the big one hits. San Francisco is GONE! The Teen Titans are working overtime to save the City by the Bay which leaves the JLA to take care of this problem on their own.

Okay, maybe not, but something starts rumbling.

As Grodd attacks, though, Reddy goes flying in many different directions. Hilarious.

Page 16. Geo-Force, ignoring decades of geology research, opens a fissure in the earth, which swallows Grodd and closes.

I really can’t say much more than that. The pit was apparently bottomless, which makes me wonder if, in addition to earth-shaping powers, he has the ability to make the earth hollow.

Nest Dr Light has apparently been beaten. His non-existant attack must have backlashed and caused some undetermined hurty.

Cheetah wakes him up, saying they’ve got to get going, as the cause is lost. The shot of her waking him up is odd, though. Why did she toss her hair over to one side? Why is she looking away? Does she not care for him? Not want to see if he’s been wounded.

Also, I’m struck by the inconvenience of having a tail. If it means you’ve got to cut the back of your pants to sit just at the top of the butt-crack, I’m not sure I’d want one, no matter the advantages.

Or you could just cut a whole, I suppose.

In any case, Cheetah helps him up and away until…

Page 17. The coolest fucking moment in the entire book. Cheetah backstabs (back…scratches?) Light and lays into him like the rapist he is. Light is apparently surprised that she’d feel angered by his tendency to get all pelvic-thrusty at the poor and underpowered because she kills people.

So does he. In any case, Cheetah delivers the killing blow. I’m a bit confused by this killing blow, since it seems to be a fairly weak swipe. If you have pointy claws, wouldnt it make more sense to do a thrusting, stabby-type motion? Get the force generated by the shoulder and body rather than the forearm and elbow? That would really cause the attack to hit and then puncture, which is going to make someone’s day a lot more difficult to finish than a series of scraping cuts. They may be deep, but they won’t do nearly so much damage.

Or would, until Wonder Woman stops her and shows off some ass-cleavage. Apparently killing isn’t okay, but butt-shots are.

Let’s look at this page and take stock. We’ve got Dr. Light, who would happily rape and murder every female in the DCU. We’ve got Cheetah, who would happily kill anyone who gets in her way. (Although, to be fair, she’s apparently not very good at it, since this is twice she’s gone and done things poorly.)

And we’ve got Wonder Woman, who killed Max Lord on world-wide television (The Brother Eye Network! Fresh from the supers to you 24-7! Eye Am Standing By!)

Dr Light seems miles worse than Max Lord, but what do I know.

Page 18. Wonder Woman apparently is not going to take down Cheetah. Firestorm will do that.

Luthor finally starts to fight, trading blasts with GL. Superman shows up and distracts Luthor enough for GL and… GL to hold Luthor down. (Where did Hal come from? Left field, apparently.) Why it takes two GLs to generate two hands to hold down Luthor, I don’t know.

Page 19. Oh, Hal came from another solar system. While Flash couldn’t make it.

Luthor is going to kill Superman. Because, despite his brilliant financial and scientific mind, he thinks his best plan is going toe-to-toe with one of the five most powerful beings on the planet in a physical showdown.

Supes understands that Luthor is being really, really dumb and breaks the armor.

Ah, but Luthor has another plan! What is it? Stay tuned because all will be revealed… sometime. Probably in some other book.

Page 20. VICTOLY! Beatdowns completed, Black Canary takes this moment to show off her AMAZING butt for all and sundry. She even uses here-to-fore unknown telekinetic powers to hold Joker in mid-air so she can thrust her ass.

See, Batman! You can’t lead the JLA, for you do not have an awesome posterior.

Batman apparently doesn’t think much of this, as he disobeyed Canary.

Then Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad show up to take all the villains and chuck them into Salvation Run.

Now, I’m behind a bit on Checkmate, but it seems to me that if you’ve been given a dictate NOT to run any operations, but you want to do so, showing up face-to-face with some of the most public superheroes on the planet with your covert operations team might not be the best plan.

Bad, Amanda. No cookie for you.

Page 21. Canary shrugs and hands off the bad guys.

Page 22. Hal reminds Canary of an impending wedding. She leaves to get written completely out of character by Judd Winick and then to stab Ollie in the neck.

Also, any villains who weren’t contained here are apparently going to attack again, just to interrupt the festivities. I wonder if any who were captured are going to magically teleport out to break up the party and then get back before anyone notices so they can still show up in time for Salvation Run.

Then Batman ignores the fact that she’s in charge even more and insists Firestorm is on the team. Black Lightning acknowledges Batman’s powers of the divine, then Superman and Wonder Woman continue this undermining of Canary’s position.

And the issue abruptly ends.

So, here we are. On one hand, I liked some things here. A lot of fun, whammy action and fighting, where a number of heroines (and even one villianess) got to lay out some serious smackdown.

On the other hand, the writing remained a bit weak. Nothing really got resolved, which is disappointing, since this seemed like it was going to be a big storyline. Since everything is apparently going elsewhere for resolution, I begin to wonder what the hell the point of JLA is.

See, back when Grant Morrison did JLA, it was very clear. These were going to be stories showcasing the most awesome of awesome heroes saving the world from bigger and bigger threats. The Hyperclan. Darkseid. Vandel Savage. The Injustice Gang. Early JLA was a book full of fun awesome. It proudly declared that it was the paragon book for the DCU. If you wanted the biggest and best adventures, you had to read them there.

They were stories that were so big, no one hero could contain them.

What is Justice League of America, though? Look at the team, even now, over a year since the book started, I’m not entirely sure who’s on the roster, who’s in charge, or even what their purpose is. They have a worse logo, a less cool HQ, and worst of all the book seems to be little more than a fill in the gaps title.

Seriously, why the fuck is this story dovetailing into Salvation Run and the BC/GA wedding special? This is the Justice League. They come, they kick ass, they go home and deal with their own problems in their own books. End of story.

As written, it’s like just another in the innumerable books DC is putting out that hint at bigger things going on.

I don’t think this is McDuffie’s fault. He’s just the writer on the one book, after all. DC is in the midst of a four+ year epic crossover event. that’s likely going to last until NEXT December.

Things are getting so messy that what should arguably be the biggest book, the centerpiece of the entire DCU line feels like a fill-in afterthought. Like “Oh, yeah, what the hell do they do when they aren’t in their own books?”

Still, McDuffie does do some things well. See the fun whacky action and girls kicking butt.

It’s totally undermined by Benes’ art, though. The number of cleavage-prone butt-shots from the girls in this issue is nearly disturbing fetish-levels. I can appreciate a nice derriere, but I don’t need to see them trying to suck their costumes into their rectums. It’s just too much, and not really appealing.

PLUS, and I don’t know if I’m the only one who has observed this, but I don’t think it’s really comfortable. Think about it. Go to a swimming pool and watch the ladies, On occasion, they’ll reach back with their fingers, grab the hems of the legs and pull a little bit.

Skintight clothes have a tendency to ride up a little bit, and there’s a reaction to reverse the process.

Apparently, among their numerous fighting abilities, the ladies of the DCU have no nerve endings down there, because they aren’t so bothered.

Or, alternatively, Benes is a crap artist.

All that butt-kicking? That’s sexy. Black Canary being strong and taking out Giganta in two seconds flat? Sexy. Wonder Woman laying the smack-down on Grodd? Sexy. Cheetah realizing how bad Light really is, and providing some visceral “HOO YEAH!” from the reader? Sexy. And Awesome.

The art? Ugly, sexist tripe which doesn’t do the text any favors. And as muddled as the DCU is, the text is needing a lot of help.