Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review JSA Monument Point TPB

In theory the best reason to buy a trade paperback collection of several issues of a comic book would be that you’d get a complete story arc (beginning, middle, end) without the fear of jumping in the middle of a confusing arc.
Ahh theories, so cute.
The Monument Point TPB starts with a nine-page backstory of the members of the Justice League and how they were inspired by the JSA. As you keep reading further in the book you’ll realize this has nothing to do with anything.
Actually they’re winding down an umpteenth JSA series, so they want to remind us that you couldn’t have a JLA if it weren’t for the JSA. This is only partially true. In actual comics history, Flash was the only JLA member who was inspired by the the Golden Age Flash. So it’s all retroactive continuity that Batman was inspired by Dr. Mid-Nite, Green Lantern inspired by The GA Green Lantern, etc.
The George Perez art in this chapter is of course extraordinary. He’s like Kubert, Infantino and Kane in that decades in the business just make him better.
Then we cut to Degaton being thwarted again and again by his own doppleganger, unlike most of everything else in this book, this will count for something later on.

(Great splash page by Freddie Williams III)
Things go to shit quickly with the umpteenth retelling of the JSA-meets-Joseph McCarthy-and-goes-into-retirement story with truly shitty art by comics legend Howard Chaykin. All the jaws are so perfectly square you’d think the JSA was filled with Jay Leno impersonators. And there’s a closeup of Black Canary that makes her look like that weird lady who had 100 plastic surgeries and doesn’t look human anymore.

OK, once again winding up things by touching on the past. The concept of the government putting superheores out of business would be stolen later by “The Incredibles.” 
Then...the story starts. The Flash is mayor of Monument Point, disaster strikes, Dr. Fate comes crashing to the ground after, it is explained, heading off to another dimension with Lightning. Umm, this probably happened in a previous trade paperback, so this would be a screw-you to casual readers.
Meanwhile, Degaton is wreaking havoc in the JSA HQ, OK, I like JSA beating up villains. I’m not sure why Green Lantern is dressed as a giant lantern, but OK, I can overlook that. It is a cool fight sequence, with Degaton using his temporal powers to age Wildcat, de-age Hourman, and summon dinosaurs. Cool! 
After he’s defeated we go to the JSA looking over the body of Lightning in some kind of coma/death, in a chamber. What happened to her, once again, who knows? And when did Blue Devil join the JSA, and who is the chick in the white robe? They spent two pages telling me who Superman is, yet they just throw in the white robe lady person and I’m supposed to know who she is.
This has happened before, I miss an issue of JSA and they add ten members. Stop it! 
Let’s institute what we’ll call The Power Girl Rule. Think back to 1976, Power Girl was the JSA’s first new member who was created specifically to join the JSA. She had never existed before in solo stories like everyone else in the JSA. And think about it: She was the Earth 2 Supergirl, who wanted her own identity separate from her cousin. A bit of a “woman’s libber,” the body of a healthy 16 year old girl. And this is important: Her superpowers were limited to those of Superman in Action Comics number 1: Leap tall buildings in a single bound, more powerful than a locomotive and faster than a speeding bullet.
She was not indestructible, she could not move planets, no heat/x-ray vision, and don’t even mention super ventriloquism.
This character had a lot of potential. 35 years later, I’m still waiting. 

Things went off the rails pretty quickly. Her costume changed from issue to issue. (peek-a-boo window came and went), she didn’t get an actual origin story for three years!, and then she got a new origin story every five years, and the limited super powers went out the window pretty quickly and she was soon moving planets.
This has been the story of every character created for the JSA since then. They start out good, then a new writer comes along and everything goes into the toilet, and the character is just part of this grand rotation of new members who ultimately don’t add anything. (Red Beetle? Blue Devil? Starboy?!! Nuklon, the character who looks like Nuklon who I have no idea who he is? Star Girl who started out as a teen, but is now all womanly, the Red Tornado girl, on and on.
So here’s the Power Girl Rule, no more new characters until you can complete a story arc with the old ones.
OK, so Lightning, who’s now a woman (when did this happen?) saves herself through her own will power. Oh, that seemed easy. Meanwhile Mayor Flash is having heated discussions with his cabinet because nothing’s more thrilling in comics than seeing men and women in suits discuss civic planning.
Also, Kent Nelson has a big mystic symbol burned onto his face, and whenever someone asks about it, he brushes it off as if he woke up at a frat party with “Loser” written on his forehead with permanent marker and he doesn’t want to talk about it.
I am not a fan of Tom Derenick, his super heroes look good, but his charcoal pencil style with civilians just look creepy. And the facial features never seem proportionate to each other.
The covers by Mario Alberti are amazing though. Good stuff.
After all this, we get to the real story, a big giant ancient city under Monument Point. It’s so spooky and mysterious, the JSA calls in the Challengers of the Unknown to help explore. 
Holy crap, as I’ve mentioned before, the JSA now has about 100 members they don’t know what to do with. Stop inviting guests!
Jerry Ordway jumps in now, another one like Perez, great in the ‘80s, even better now.
Johnny Quick unleashes an ancient Kirby-esque destructo-monster, and once again, as long as the JSA is beating up bad guys, I’m happy.
Everything is put right by GL who gives his life to save the world.
And this is probably the first time a comic book company killed one of its characters. Oh wait they do this monthly. And there’s no dramatic tension because the character always comes back to life. Always.
Oh and Mister Terrific inexplicably loses his intelligence, but it’s OK, he inexplicably gets it all back again.
So they wrap up loose ends, and at its heart there’s a good story, but there’s so much other crap going on. It’s so heartbreaking. I got hooked on the JSA with Justice League 22, and ever since then I’ve seen DC treat it with neglect.
Here’s another complaint about modern comics which will make me sound like an old fogey. Mike Sekowsky drew the JLA for eight straight years, then Dick Dillin took over and drew every page for every issue for 12 years. Today, an artist draws about five pages of a book and says, “Wow I’m beat, can someone else finish this book?” So we get these jarring shifts in style. 

Dick Dillin was only as good as his inkers, but, he had stamina.

Am I asking so much, a beginning, middle and end, with characters I’m familiar with?

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