Tuesday, August 07, 2007

BEST LEAGUE ( mini ) EVER - Part 3

What ? You thought we were already finished ? No, my fellow comic afficionado we´re just about to come to the best part.

Joe Kelly´s run on JUSTICE LEAGUE was met with mixed feelings from the fans. Some didn´t care very much for it - others ( like me ) really embraced it. So DC decided to put rotating art teams on the title ( the first one was Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Jerry Ordway ) while Joe Kelly and Dough Mahnke did their own JLA thing in a seperat miniseries. After the storyarc THE TENTH CIRCLE which in turn lead into Byrne´s new DOOM PATROL series Joe Kelly and Dough Mahnke did JLA issue 100 which led into the new JLE miniseries.

Mmmmh. I start to see a pattern.

The story in JLA 100 picked up the events that started in Action Comics 775 with the story WHAT´S SO FUNNY ABOUT TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE AMERICAN WAY ? To today´s comicreading audience that is hooked on antiheroes like the Punisher and Wolverine and who´s heroes are serial killers and gangster rappers the whole ideology of characters like Superman seem quaint and too out of touch with reality. This also gave birth to comic series like STORMWATCH and later AUTHORITY by Warren Ellis and Brian Hitch that featured a new breed of heroes. The heroes in these pages took a more proactive role and were not too squeamish about getting their hands dirty - sometimes being more brutal and bloodthirsty than the villains they fought against. The only difference between the heroes and the villains seemed to be that the heroes were fighting towards a positive goal.

So in Action Comics 775 Joe Kelly and Dough Mahnke introduced THE ELITE a super hero team much in the vein of AUTHORITY that didn´t much care for collateral damage and went toe to toe with Superman. It´s one of the best Superman stories of all time and it illustrates brilliantly why Superman is still important in our times.

JLA issue 100 introduced the reader to the second incarnation of THE ELITE after the original team had disbanded. The leader of the first team Manchester Black ( who was clearly influenced by Jenny Sparks from the Authority ) was your typical pessimist who could not believe in someone like Superman. And that´s something I have also encountered in a lot of comic readers I´ve met. It seems that in today´s " dog eat dog " world you must have a hidden agenda for everything. Everyone has become so selfish and egoistical that every selfless action becomes immediately suspicious. Doing something just because it´s the right thing to do - well, it seems that some people just can´t wrap their head around that.

Which brings us to Manchester Black who just couldn´t believe that Superman was the hero he seemed. He tried to break him and when he failed and found out that Superman was the real deal he took his own life instead of dealing with it.

Here´s a link to a more indepth look at JLA 100. Warning : it has some spoilers about Action Comics 775 and the events between Superman and Manchester Black !

  • JLA 100

  • The second incarnation of THE ELITE was lead by Vera Black, Manchester Black´s sister, and the members in JLA 100 were remaining original Elite member Coldcast and the original Menagerie´s sister. The premise of the new team was to build a secret undercover team of the JLA that took on the menaces and disasters were the JLA could not interfere because of political implications. Kind of a JLA black ops.

    Of course the JLA was parted about this idea but some members of the league joined the JUSTICE LEAGUE ELITE. Flash pulled double duty on both teams, Manitou Raven ( who had become one of my favorite league members ) and his wife Dawn, Major Disaster, Batgirl as the master assassin Kasumi and Green Arrow joined.

    Another link, this time to a review of Justice League Elite 1 with only a few minor spoilers

  • Justice League Elite 1

  • The underlying motto of the book was like Nietzsche put it : If you look into the abyss the abyss is also looking into you. Like Marvel´s THUNDERBOLTS the book posed the question if it´s possible to wade through the filth of humanity without getting tainted. Can you really go undercover as thieves, killers and terrorists without getting your hands dirty ? How far can you go without going too far ?

    Whenever you tell yourself to do whatever it takes to acomplish something - are you really prepared to cross certain lines ?

    There is one brilliant episode in STAR TREK : DEEP SPACE 9 where Captain Sisko decides to use Garrak´s expertise as a former spy to get certain informations. And when he sets out to do it he makes it clear that he knows he will have to do some things he will not be comfortable with. He will have to cross some lines and he will have to do some awful things. But he tells himself it´s all for the greater good and that the ends justify the means. As always it turns out very differently than he expected and in the end he realizes that the spy game is far more ruthless and brutal than he ever could have imagined.

    I know I´m beginning to sound more and more like the cliche - master but it´s true - the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The whole idea of the Justice League Elite doesn´t sit too well with the regular league. Superman still doesn´t trust the sister of Manchester Black, Batman puts Batgirl on the team undercover and even Green Arrow seems to be on the team for one thing only - to watch when they all fail miserably. But the $hit really hits the fan when their first mission goes terribly wrong. Tempers fly and every member is suddenly under suspicion. Joe Kelly masterfully ramps up the tension throwing this murder mystery on top of the problems of clashing egos and having to keep their covers intact. It gets increasingly harder to operate in enemies territory.

    By the way, if you are going to read the story in the single issues be sure to read the SECRET FILES issue after issue 3 because it spoilers what goes wrong on their first mission.

    One of the characters who really becomes a sympathetic character is John Booker a.k.a. Major Disaster which for me is a huge accomplishment of Mr. Kelly. I´ve never been a comic book reader who cared much for this whole " villain working on the side of the angels " idea that really has infested comic books. To me guys like Venom, Deadpool or Gambit are the bad guys. I know in their own books they are the heroes and they may see themselves as such but to really atone for your sins it takes alittle more than a halfassed " I´m sorry. I won´t do it again. " And there are some sins that can never be undone.

    The only villain who turned into a good guy who was halfway believable ( halfway ! ) was Sandman. And even that was retconned. Anyway, maybe that gives you an idea how unusual it is for me to accept Major Disaster as a good guy. Props to Mr. Kelly.

    Now the problem the heroes have to face is that on top of everything else an old aquaintance comes around again.

    In comics people die. It has happened in the past and it will happen in the future. But in comics dead does sometimes not mean dead. They come back ( some more often than others ) get revived or just cloned. So this cover is not really a spoiler. You will have to read the issues to find out what it really means.....he, he, he.

    Is it a dream ? A hoax ? An imaginary tale ? I´m not telling.

    Looking at this brilliant cover I just realized that I haven´t said anything about Dough Mahnke´s art so far. It´s hard to believe that I´m a comic reader who goes for the art first and cares about the story seond. And the art in this series is really something else. It shows that Mr. Kelly managed to include all the things Dough Mahnke draws so exceptionally : aliens, monsters, freaky disgusting bug - things, Manitou Raven and his crazy magic things.....and so on and so on.

    He even throws in the JSA but strangely Power Girl does not get much screen time.

    I mean what´s the point ? The whole reason for guest starring the JSA is to have lots of gratious, sizzling shots of Power Girl in poses with hidden sexual meanings.

    Or maybe that´s just me.

    Okay, maybe I´m the only one who thinks they kind of dropped the ball on this one. Although I liked Power Girl´s commentary to Coldcast : " Come on. Stare at them. Makes it even more fun when I pound you. " She knows they´re watching. Heh.

    Again the mission goes from bad to worse when they tackle the JSA but if that was not enough an extraterrestial gang has plans that could undo all of reality nad such things like Booker getting more and more out of control with his drinking seem like minor problems. The pressure on the team members keeps up building with the identity of the traitor on the team still unknown.

    It doesn´t help much that Manitou Raven ( or is it Raven Manitou ? That has a better ring for me. Damn, I always forget ) finds out that his wife Dawn has been playing hide the tomahawk with Green Arrow. It´s just so typical of Ollie to wind up in bed with one of his married ( !!! ) team mates. Maybe she was lonely and yes her husband was much more interested in his magics but obviously Oliver just makes the same mistake over and over again.

    It is understandable because Dawn is absolutely hot but you just don´t want to find yourself at the wrong end of one of Raven Manitou´s magical Superman - cutting axe - thingies.

    Ooops. Too late.


    And that´s how Green Arrow died a second time.

    Only kidding.

    What I really like about the series is that Joe Kelly is not afraid to bring the characters to the breaking point. Too often writers have a good build up and present their readers with a good dilemma only to cop out in the end and come up with a deux et machina solution in the end or hitting the reset button. In the end the hero has an easy way out and you end up frustrated and angry. In this series the heroes have to confront themselves to find out what they´re made of.

    Because sometimes it has to get really bad and ugly before people realize which path they have taken. Sometimes people have to come to a point where they either triumph or break.

    Okay, I´m going to wrap this up now. I don´t want to spoiler more than I have already spoilered for that just follow this link to a review of issue 12 with a nice overview about what has happened before

  • Justice League Elite 12

  • And if you still are not convinced that this is the BEST JLA EVER I can´t help you. For me this is the pinnacle, the holy grail Joe Kelly and Dough Mahnke have been working to in their JLA stories. Characters that were introduced in the pages of JLA play an important role in this mini series that takes an interesting look at heroes per se and the Justice League especially.

    The question if the ends really justify the means is one that should come up more often in comic books.

    Being one of the fans who always liked the underdogs teams more I really enjoyed this crooked version of the JLA.

    I just like the heroes who have the deck stacked against them, the ones without the " popular " superpowers, without the government funding and without the shining headquarters with the helipad. Yes, I read the JLA and the Avengers but I also enjoy the Defenders, the Secret Six or the Great Lake Avengers.

    The only problem is that most writers are afraid to let the so - called " losers " win. Yup, it seems that the possibility to be a hero even if you are NOT goodlooking and NOT popular and NOT in the incrowd and NOT hip and all that shit is just to dangerous to ponder. No, the message that comic writers normally put into their books is that there are two kind of people. There are the cool people and they get all the fame and glory and white picket fences and their trophy wifes and their happy end. And there are the losers and no matter what they do or how hard they try they always stay losers. Even when they save the world and slay the dragon they are put into their place by the rest of the world.

    That was one of the main reasons why I was so pi$$ed off at Dan Slott´s GREAT LAKE AVENGERS mini series besides the constant reader ( and comic creator ) bashing by Monkey Joe. Because although the team managed to save the whole universe they stayed losers. Not only losers in the eyes of the rest of the hero community which is totally understandable. They saved the universe and the others heroes just don´t know. So to them they are the same losers. No, what really got on my nerves is that they still saw themselves as losers.

    And that´s something that toppled MY suspension of disbelief. When we started with POWER FREAKS everybody told us it was impossible. And that was even before everybody knew that it was a two - man show. Everybody told us it was impossible, everybody told us it hasn´t been done before and it couldn´t be done. We had to overcome a dozen of problems, fight against impossible odds and suffer numerous setbacks. It was like we were fighting the gods themselves who had sworn to crush us. We went to the limit of our possibilities - physically and mentally. And then we went beyond.

    In the end we won. We did what everyone knew was impossible and we did it on time. We imposed our will on the gods. And that is something you never forget. Because that changes you. From that moment on you know just what you can accomplish and you will never believe another person again that something is impossible just because they say it is.

    So imagine how you would change - not only in how you see the world but also yourself - if you had really saved the whole freaking universe. I know if I was Mr. Immortal the next time Captain America told me to stay out of a fight I would go : " Yeah, right. A big help you and your team of super hero wannabes were the last time the universe was in trouble. Like I´m going to just sit here and watch you fail. "

    Okay, maybe I wouldn´t say it to his face. Maybe I would just mumble it. But I definetly would say it to Iron Man. And tell him where to put his Initiative.

    Sorry for my little rant but that kind of thing just gets on my nerves.

    Todays clip is a bit of jazz to relax a little after my rant. If you like it check out the RedJazz link that NOW leads to a webpage with links to other pages like the Jazz Video Podcast.

    New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN :

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