Does "Hellboy in Hell" Finale Signal the End of Mike Mignola's Time With the Character?
Although it’s been a few weeks since the new Justice League lineup was revealed, I have been slow to post about it. Sometimes even we emotionally-stunted man-children have other obligations, you know?
The new League won’t come together until a six-parter starting next year (according to the preview writer James Robinson gave CBR), but this is a rare occasion for me. Normally when I get stuck for a blogging topic I fall back on either Dick Grayson (with or without his Titan peers) or the JLA, so I can’t really avoid this.
Honestly, though, I’m getting tired of writing this-time-for-sure! posts about the League, because inevitably all that careful optimism is betrayed. The Meltzer Era was a bore, the McDuffie Era was snakebit, and the new Robinson/Bagley Era looks transitory. In fact, the first thing which struck me about this League lineup is its impermanence. Robinson told CBR as much, but any lineup which includes Mon-El and Batman III will last only as long as those status quos do … which might not be too long after Robinson gets done with the introductions.
Now, if I’m wrong, that’s fine. Robinson certainly sounds like he’s plotted a year’s worth of issues, although three of those segue into that six-issue team-building arc. There’s also no reason why most of the team can’t stick around after any or all of the Big Three come back into the picture. Indeed, Robinson seems to have anticipated the team’s continued growth, which will apparently involve bringing back Vixen and Firestorm and bringing in a speedster-to-be-named-later. Clearly he’s looking at the long term.
Let’s hope he gets there, because the upcoming lineup actually does have a lot of promise. (Having Mark Bagley illustrate it sure doesn’t hurt either.) The problem is, as Meltzer’s initial arc and Cry For Justice both demonstrate, JLA team-building can be crushingly dull. You know these characters are going to get together, because there they all are in the promotional material. Skip to the good part already.
Accordingly, I’ll cut to the chase here. I’ve said before that “Justice League, in whatever form, has two basic components: characters who have other gigs, and situations which play off those characters appropriately.” Let’s look at the characters first.
The new eleven-member League (for whatever it’s worth, the same number as the original Meltzer lineup) has only three women and three non-white members (four if you count Congorilla). When Firestorm and Vixen return, those numbers will increase accordingly. Two members are extraterrestrials, three were in the original League, and four were New Teen Titans.
More particularly, though, who will be their friends? (Who will be their blood enemies?) Obviously the new League will have two evenly-matched four-member cliques: the ex-Titans, and the Cry For Justice-ers (“Criers For Justice,” I suppose). However, besides Starfire/Donna, Starfire/Batman, and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, other pairs suggest themselves. Not only have the Guardian and Mon-El worked together, but Guardian already has a relationship of sorts with Dr. Light, and Starfire might find some common ground with a fellow extraterrestrial. Doctor Light and Donna are mothers. The Atom, Cyborg, and Congorilla all know what it’s like to be stuck with an unfamiliar body, and as we’ll see below, the Guardian has a related set of existential issues.
As for the individual members…
The Atom (Ray Palmer): I’ve always liked the Atom as a Justice Leaguer. I like the fact that he’s a super-genius able to interact firsthand with the things he studies. Of course, most of the time he’s written as a fairly upbeat individual (even post-Countdown, as in Trinity), which of course is at odds with his Cry For Justice portrayal.
Batman (Dick Grayson): Despite his wealth of leadership experience — especially with such familiar colleagues — I don’t expect Dick to be this JLA’s leader. Regardless, I don’t think Dick will be shy about sharing those leadership experiences with whomever is in charge. It’ll be interesting to see a Batman interact with the League in a way which doesn’t involve frequent assertions of authority. Dick is easy to work with, super-competent, and one of the team’s most valuable players, so I see him as this team’s Mr. Miracle.
Congorilla: Robinson says Congorilla is around 100 years old, with all the life lessons and street smarts that implies. I like to think of him as the team’s connection with the natural world (and perhaps the magical one), which is how I’d look at Aquaman if he were still around.
Cyborg (Victor Stone): Along with the Atom and Dr. Light, Vic rounds out the team’s scientific expertise nicely. He’s also got a heck of a life story, having to struggle as a teenager between the conflicts of school and the street before being recruited reluctantly for the New Teen Titans. Next to him, Ollie Queen’s late-in-life liberalism looks practically phony. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Vic has really been done right by anyone but Marv Wolfman and George Perez.
Doctor Light (Kimiyo Hoshi): Even before her current stint, she was actually pretty experienced as a Leaguer, having served a few years with Justice League Europe in the early ’90s. Back then her costume was black-and-yellow, and she was portrayed as sort of a wallflower next to Power Girl. I liked what McDuffie, Len Wein, and (in the Superman books) Robinson have done with her recently, so I’m glad to see him continue with her.
Green Arrow (Oliver Queen): It’s hard for me to imagine how Green Arrow is going to be the center of the DC Universe in 2010. Maybe he casts the critical vote which passes health-insurance reform. The way Robinson has been writing him in Cry For Justice, he sounds like a wimpier version of his old outspoken self, capitulating to Hal’s clenched-teeth directions. Rationalizing that CFJ represents bad behavior in the heat of the moment is one of the ways I’m able to get through it, so I’m hoping Robinson brings Ollie back to (somewhat) normal by the time CFJ has ended.
Green Lantern (Hal Jordan): The first issue of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League begins with Guy Gardner imagining himself in charge of the new team. Hal is the protagonist of Cry For Justice, he’s probably the highest-profile DC character in the new lineup, and he’s led Justice League Europe as well as innumerable Green Lantern missions … but I hope he’s not the new League chairman. For one thing, he’s not setting a very good example in CFJ. More importantly, though, the League is generally best-served when a big name isn’t in charge. Batman running a Justice League tends to turn into “everyone reacts to Batman,” just as Superman running JL America (briefly, in the Dan Jurgens days) turned into “everyone reacts to Superman.” That can work when there’s some pushback (as in the Giffen/DeMatteis League) and/or parity (as in the Morrison League), so it could work here, especially in connection with Batman and the Guardian. In any event, I can’t see Hal’s Cry For Justice attitude lasting long into JLA itself.
The Guardian (Jim Harper): Robinson says he’s “tough” and “likes giving orders,” which suggests he’s going to be challenging Hal’s purported authority pretty early on. Personally, though, I wouldn’t mind seeing him take a more active leadership role, and not just because he reminds me of Captain America. After all, he’s been leading a squad of Science Police which, until recently, included an undercover Mon-El, so you’d think he’d have some ideas about how to manage various combinations of Leaguers. Also, his worry about potentially not having a soul might be assuaged somewhat by Congorilla, who’s made a career out of his own soul’s portability.
Mon-El (Lar Gand): By all accounts, Robinson has done wonders with Mon-El in Superman, so I really don’t have much to say about Lar as a Leaguer.
Starfire (Koriand’r/Kory Anders): Not only is she on a team with three of her closest friends and most respected teammates, she’s on a team with her former lover and one-time fiancé. Kory seemed finally to have gotten closure on that relationship in Titans #16, but according to Robinson, “people will enjoy seeing the sparks between Starfire and Dick Grayson again.” So, you know, there’s that; and I just hope it doesn’t end up defining Kory on the team. (It probably won’t, but as long as it’s out there, it threatens to dominate.) By the way, three years ago I predicted Starfire would be the “graduating Titan,” so it’s nice to see her finally in the League.
Donna Troy: As you know from last week, my feelings about Donna are complex. It might be good for her to get away from the emotional baggage accumulated during her Titans days (which, as of this week, includes being mauled by her Black Lantern-ized husband and child). Therefore, she’s not helped by Robinson’s lineup. Nevertheless, you’d think that being in the Justice League, apparently for reals and not as merely a Wonder-Woman-sponsored fill-in, would give her some psychological boost. Besides, she probably doesn’t feel the need to “mother” these particular ex-Titans.
Clearly this lineup mixes well on paper — perhaps better than any League has in a long time. Regardless, the Justice League isn’t just a team book. It’s DC’s genre-busting, permanent-crossover, de facto Big Event title. At the risk of indulging my optimistic impulses, I am encouraged by Robinson’s willingness to refer “constantly … to what’s going on in other books,” and his statement that “[i]n a sense, the events of the Justice League of America are unfolding around the adventures of all the heroes of the DC Universe.” While this has the potential to (once again) rob JLA of its own unique narrative, when kept in proper perspective I think it could work well with the League’s all-star concept. In theory, people read Justice League of America as sort of one-stop shopping, so they can see various solo stars working together. There’s not much more to the concept than that. (And yes, having four New Teen Titans on the same team tends to undermine that concept.) Thus, acknowledging the extracurricular activity reinforces the notion that it’s a big deal for these folks to be on the same team.
The challenge, as always, is to tell stories which live up to the team’s potential. Line-wide crossovers have taken the place of JLA-style epics, so JLA needs to re-establish its high-stakes bona fides. This week’s JLA 80-Page Giant might look inconsequential and random, but I found its tale of time-lost Leaguers to be a fun standalone story and an excellent use of the classic JLA format. As for the regular title, send the team into space, have them explore the Multiverse, pit ‘em against Cthulhu — just make sure Justice League‘s scope is suitably expansive. I say this pretty much every time I mention the Justice League, but … this time for sure!, right?
Again, the new Robinson/Bagley lineup is temporary on its face, at least for Mon-El and Batman. However, in a way that’s good for the book. Recognizing that this lineup is only a gateway to the next one — which, given Dan DiDio’s preferences, you’d think would be more “definitive” — should relieve some of the pressure which comes with that “world’s greatest” banner. This isn’t JL Detroit or Cap’s Kooky Quartet, and neither is it the Satellite Team or the Morrison Pantheon. It looks like a good group which I hope will produce fun, exciting superhero comics. I’ll probably have to write another retooled-JLA post in a year or so, but maybe I can enjoy the book in the meantime.