Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nightmare Edition with the Addams Family and Justice League

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of My Crowd (Fireside, 1970) and Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga (DC, 2008).

I found a new copy of this great book, an edition issued in 1993 with oddly revised artwork to tie-in to the Raul Julia/Anjelica Huston film, and happily found it a new place on my shelves. My previous edition was lost in some move or divorce or something. Anyway, the Amazon listing erroneously says this only has 96 pages. There are actually twice that number, and around 100 have the gleefully macabre bunch that became known as The Addams Family and were turned into the best comedy of the 1960s. But the whole book's a treat of dark humor and things you probably shouldn't chuckle at. Recommended, but, in all honesty, The World of Charles Addams is certainly the superior choice.

"What manner of diseased beast died to produce this thing, I wonder?" That's not my line. I don't recall the writer, the periodical where it first appeared, nor the album it described, but it was in one of those Rock Yearbooks you used to see in the '80s and it stuck with me. And boy, is it ever apt.

I must explain to newer readers that I have a stupid weak place for the Justice League. JLA was my first "favorite comic," back in 1975 or so, and like a weakling, I occasionally go back to this stupid, stupid thing even after it's stabbed me in the back too often. I finally thought I swore off the damn thing and removed it from my pull list, but the combination of the classic Legion of Super-Heroes and a 40% off coupon from Borders sucked me back in for some agonizingly bad comics.

This is the second of two JLA books written by some novelist called Brad Meltzer, who's written some political thrillers of the sort I never read, and who DC would have us believe brings some industry cred to funnybooks. He wrote six of the eight issues reprinted here, and the inexplicably popular Geoff Johns wrote the others. I believe it was Alan David Doane who noted that Johns' approach to comic book writing is akin to a small child playing in the bathtub with action figures, and so with Meltzer and Johns collaborating on a three-superteam-get-together, readers can expect some very bland comics, with the only dramatic notes being sounded by the arrival of a new character to the narrative.

The result of their collaboration is an overlong, repellent mess of tangled continuity, half-remembered references and subplots that don't go anywhere. The principle deal of the Legion of Super-Heroes' presence in the present is to facilitate the resurrection of the Flash, a character who was killed off about two years prior to these stories. Now, admittedly, it's been several years since I reread the old Paul Levitz run on LSH, but I'm pretty certain that Jeckie didn't adopt the Sensor Girl costume until after Karate Kid was killed. Maybe they brought him back, too. Or maybe Geoff Johns and his ilk just don't care; these are the action figures they assembled for the evening's bathtub play. I mean, among the characters assembled in this story is a girl with wind powers who is Ma Hunkle's granddaughter. Either you have no idea what that means, or you know that it's retarded, or you're Geoff Johns and think that's super-wicked-awesome-cool that DC has such a proud history of tradition and lineage and then you shit on other people's stories anyway.

Then there's another issue, by Meltzer, where two characters that nobody has ever cared about are trapped in a hole under a collapsed building. Twenty-two pages of that. I suppose that's what passes for character development. I'll accept that in M*A*S*H because we cared about Pierce and Houlihan, and this was a show where characters genuinely might die. But Meltzer, nobody gives a shit about Red Arrow and Vixen apart from Nightwing fanfic writers, and if they did get killed, Johns would just resurrect them in nine months so he can play with them in the bathtub with Kingdom Come Hawkman and the great-nephew of the Anti-Matter Universe's Sinestro-Prime of Earth-2.

Then there are the glimpses of the future shown in JLA issue 0, which preceded Meltzer's run and which is appended to the back of this volume. Apparently at some point in the future - it's been two years and I don't think they've written this story - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman kill Lex Luthor's son, and he puts on a kryptonite ring and beats the shit out of them. Well, get back to me when that story does appear. Like eight or nine other "flashforwards" arranged around the flashbacks, they're hints at subplots that Meltzer personally has no plans to write. This point isn't a complaint about the material, but honestly, how the heck far forward do they plan these things, I wonder.

At any rate, I know better than to buy JLA comics, and I want my 40% off coupon back to buy something good. For more than twenty years, Justice League of America has only been a worthwhile purchase when the editors and publishers have allowed proven talent to write the book. In the hands of anybody other than Keith Giffen or Grant Morrison, JLA hasn't been worth the paper it's printed on since the mid-80s. I had my girlfriend dump a giant stack of early 90s JLA comics at a hospital in Athens for kids to read. This, however, is culled from a beast so diseased that it might make kids even sicker, and should be discarded with greater care.

(Originally posted May 27, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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