Friday, April 17, 2009

Showcase Presents Justice League of America Volume Four

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, a review of Showcase Presents Justice League of America volume four (DC, 2009).

When I was a kid, devouring whatever comics I could find, Justice League of America was my favorite book, and I've learned that those 1970s adventures hold up surprisingly well. However, getting to those heady days of the book's best run was occasionally quite a chore, as this run of Showcase Presents collections has shown. The title spent most of the sixties being as tedious as superhero funnybooks can get, with the usual team of Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene turning out increasingly weird, convoluted, hard-to-follow plots starring a bunch of identikit circus strongmen. The stories were baffling and the art was boring. I found myself flipping through most of the third Showcase collection without really reading any of it.

Mercifully, the fourth volume in this series, covering the book's 1968-70 run, is when it finally gets good. It starts with the final few stories from this team, showing just how ridiculous and ugly this book had been. The first of these was covered in hilarious detail by J. Caleb Mozzocco over at his Every Day is Like Wednesday blog earlier this month. You should go check out that review to see what I'm talking about, then pop back here.

After a few of these nutball comics, Fox is replaced as writer by Denny O'Neil, who chose to emphasize character over plot, and this, finally, is the beginning of the JLA I fondly remember as a boy. Fox's League was a gang of clones and any panel's thought balloon could be attached to any character's head; O'Neil, who was writing Green Arrow's solo adventures at the time and turning him into the strident liberal loudmouth we all know and love, starts with the character's differences and lets their personality clashes fuel the drama.

The other huge, long overdue, change is with the art. Sekowsky is replaced as penciller by Dick Dillin. The change isn't instantly evident, because Sid Greene's inks still overpower what the penciller wants to do. Greene isn't a good match for Dillin - he uses two lines, heavy or light, when Dillin's art screams out for someone who can bring all the tricks he wants to life. However, Dillin's layouts are more interesting, and the characters no longer have that barrel-chested torso that Sekowsky used for the whole cast. When Greene is replaced by Joe Giella, the book finally looks as good as it should, with vibrant artwork that just sings off the page. A few years later, Frank McLaughlin would become Dillin's principal inker, and it was their work that thrilled me so much when I was a kid, but Giella's just about as good.

So in the 500 pages you get in this book, you'll see about 100 pages of the original team, about 200 of the transitional period, and about 200 very solid, very entertaining pages of superhero/sci-fi fun. I can't recommend this as strongly as I could the eventual next volume in the series, which will be essential, but if you enjoy superhero comics, this is certainly worth checking out.

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