Justice Society Trade Post: JSoA The Bad Seed & JSA All-Stars Constellations

Justice Society of America: The Bad Seed (DC)
Written by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges, drawn by Jesus Merino
Collects Justice Society of America #29-33

I’ve talked about my love of the Justice Society a few times here and there, but the gist is that I’m a fan of legacy characters and the idea of older heroes trying to train and usher in the next generation, which was the point of the team post One Year Later when Geof Johns returned to the team he helped bring back into the comic fan consciousness after taking over for James Robinson and David Goyer. Before jumping off of Justice Society of America, Johns not only added a ton of characters to this book, but also took them on an extended adventure that some people lost interest in. I remember reading all the Gog stuff in a sitting or two and thinking it worked a lot better in trade, but that’s not really here nor there.

At some point, Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges took the book over. I’m not exactly sure when or how long they’d been on the book by the time Bad Seed kicked off, but it was the kind of story I’d seen before and didn’t exactly fall in love with, even though it did lead to an interesting movement for the team.

If you follow the second link above you’ll find my review for the JSA vs. Kobra miniseries which had an enemy coming out of nowhere to hassle the JSA, take out Mr. Terrific and get really close to taking the whole team out for good. That’s the basic plot here too, but with a little bit more of a mystery factor because we’re not supposed to know whether the culprit is the cocky and crude King Chimera or the gung-ho but crazy All-American Kid. It’s not much of a mystery because we see the Kid do it and just have to wait around for the team to figure it out. Another aspect of this story to feel like well trod territory is having Obsidian be in danger and possibly part of the problem. I have a crappy memory, so I can’t remember exactly when this stuff happened previously, but it felt like I’d seen many of these story aspects before. Oh there’s also a ridiculously huge army of supervillains, which seemed to be the thing to do for most DC books around this time.

At the end of the day, this book isn’t super interesting. I like Jesus Merino’s artwork, it’s big and bold and he can do a lot of characters in one page. I also like the writers, but this particular story doesn’t really utilize everyone’s strengths in my opinion. At the end of the book, something big has happened: a rift between members in the teams leading to a split into two different teams and comics. Most of the older heroes stuck with Justice Society of America while the younger, more proactive members moved over to JSA All-Stars.

JSA All-Stars: Constellations (DC)
Written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Freddie Williams II
Collects JSA All-Stars #1-6

While I might not have been the biggest fan of how we got to two ongoing JSA books, I actually really enjoyed JSA All-Stars (or what I’ve read of it so far). See, in the previous story, Magog got in the faces of some of the older guys for not being active enough in training and screening new recruits. As such, the one-time military man, takes it upon himself to train this younger squad in the ways of hand to hand combat and military tactics.
This is a perspective in comics that seems to get overlooked a lot and one that I really liked seeing explored.

The story also continues some of the elements from Bad Seed. In that story, the villains were told by their unnamed employer not to touch Star Girl. We find out in this collection that SPOILER the man behind all of that was Johnny Sorrow, the villain behind an early JSA adventure. The book also features the Injustice Society line-up scene in those same early issues. I know I complained about the army of supervillains in the review above, but these guys are more of a team instead of a ton of bad guys all thrown together.

Even though Sturges used characters I was familiar with especially in the context of this team, I thought he did a great job of using them in different ways and giving the bad guys different motivations. Mostly, though, I adore Freddie Williams II’s artwork. He’s kind of like a cartoonier JLA-era Howard Porter, but really with his own unique look. This dude nails every group shot he does and also is equally comfortable with larger fight scenes and quieter moments. I could not take my eyes off of his panels and pages. I believe he’s all digital and actually takes the time to design the rooms and locales and can then shift them around as they make sense for any given panel or angle. That is fantastic.

I think JSA All-Stars was actually a really good idea, even if the market probably wasn’t crying out for a second JSA book at the time of its launch. Fans of the older crew could stick with JSoA and see their adventures while people who might be scared off by octogenarian superheroes could see what the whole legacy hero thing was about in a book with a slightly different perspective on the whole superhero thing. For more JSA related reviews, check back later this week for when I get to JSA All-Stars Glory Days and Justice Society of America Supertown!

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Ad It Up: Mister Miracle

I first became familiar with Mister Miracle as a member of the Justice League long before I knew who Jack Kirby was. I loved how fun and energetic he was and even at a young age appreciate the relationship he and Big Barda had as a married superhero couple. I would go on to become a gigantic Kirby fan, especially his Mister Miracle book. I’ve read a few of the issues advertised in this issue of COPS #7 from 1989. The series started off with eight issues written by J.M. DeMatteis, followed by a Len Wein run and finished out by Doug Moench. That’s a pretty stellar line-up of writers. Anyone read all these issues? How to they hold up to the JLI stuff?

Friday Fisticuffs: Half Past Dead (2002)

For quite a while, I had Half Past Dead confused with Exit Wounds. Both star Steven Seagal and a rapper, Ja Rule in the former and DMX in the latter. Both involve crime and guns and whatnot. That and they came out right after each other.

I believe I saw Half Past Dead in the theaters when it came out. I’m guessing it was during a trip home from college because I remember seeing it with my friends from home. I think. Maybe we rented it? All I really remembered was that Seagal was a SPOILER good guy in jail, a helicopter featured prominently inside a prison and the title refers to the fact that Seagal had technically died and been brought back to life. To elaborate, while working with Ja Rule, Seagal gets shot and almost dies. When he gets better he gets transferred to a newly open Alcatraz along with Ja. While there, he gets asked to talk to a man about to be exeuted because he wants to know what’s on the other side. At that point, a group of highly trained foot soldiers and their leader Morris Chestnut (hey, remember Morris Chestnut?) break in. As it happens the execution guy stole a ton of money and is going to die with his secret unless they can get the info out of him and claim the money for themselves.

Sounds kinda cool, right? It’s not. And mostly because it tries SO DAMN HARD to be cool without making any sense while doing it. The prison itself is about the most laughable I’ve ever seen. The inmates are used to help retrofit it which means they get to use power tools, which they insist on using while the new inmates line up to get introduced to the bad ass warden. Speaking of the warden, you can tell he’s cool because he don’t take not shit, he has a fire tattoo going up his neck AND he wears a leather jacket. The inmates are given all kinds of liberties, like not getting shot in the face when they assault guards on the way into the prison. Oh, they also get to wear prison issued clothes that look like a cross between JNCO and a Missy Elliot video.

And that’s just the “good guys.” The invaders all look like they got their clothes straight out of the Matrix, especially Nia Peeples who puts on her leather duster while still out in the rain and yet never looks wet again. Haha, I almost forgot, this is also the prison with the absolute best stock of weapons and the absolute worst security. Seriously, one dude walks around with a gun that looks like the Gatling gun out of Predator.

But the fighting has to be at least trying to be on par with The Matrix, right? What a silly question, of course not! The better fight scenes are actually between Ja Rule (or his stunt double) and people like a guard or Peeples. People get kicked and punched and thrown much further than physics should allow, but I guess that’s part of the awesomeness. Then you’ve got Seagal who looks more like your dad than a martial arts expert. I think this is the biggest he ever looked on screen (at least in the movies I’ve seen) and his fights are just pitiful. You’re generally treated to very quick cuts of him or his opponent doing a move and then moving to a different angle altogether and a different move. To me, this means that he wasn’t in near enough shape for big huge fight scenes (or the editor sucks). It’s not like a Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Tony Jaa fight where you could put the camera 20 feet back and see something amazing if you just let it roll.

At the end of the day, most of the action in this movie involves gunplay instead of fisticuffs, which is a bummer. It’s definitely not a good movie, but it is a great movie to watch with friends, preferably while drinking. It would make for an excellent episode of one of my favorite podcasts How Did This Get Made?!

The Chronological Spielberg: 1941 (1979)

Is it possible to have too much talent involved in a film? If there was ever an argument for that theory presented in theaters, I think it might be 1941. This flick was directed by Steven Spielberg directly after Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale who would write a little film called Back to the Future six years after this was released. It stars an A-list crop of comedic and dramatic actors from Slim Pickens and Jim Belushi to Christopher Lee and Toshiro Mifune. Even with all that going for it, 1941 is simply not a good movie. I wish I could explain simply why that is, but the closest thing I can come up with is that the script is too unfocused, the film is too long and maybe Spielberg was trying to fit his square peg into a more John Landis-shaped hole.

I didn’t know all of the above when I went into this film, so I was definitely surprised by the huge amount of silly, slapsticky humor that kicks this film off, including a nude woman swimming in the ocean to the Jaws theme music who happens to be swimming under a Japanese sub. The idea here is that it’s right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and everyone’s freaked out. The film takes place in California where they’re specifically freaked out about another attack like the one in Hawaii. This acts as the backdrop for a huge number of gags, storylines and sources of conflict.

The problem is that I don’t care. When the film’s supposed hero is presented as a goober bus boy who just wants to dance with a girl in a contest and then we’re shown a military group that’s made up of mostly boring or jerky people. Worse yet? That group is made up of Dan Aykroyd, John Candy and Treat Williams and they’re somewhat wasted.

Or are they? Honestly, it was hard for me to focus on this movie because its subject matter was treated in such a goofy manner that I just didn’t care. Apparently a huge anti-sub gun really was placed in a person’s yard in real life, but the way its handled in this movie with its cartoony nature, it’s just another piece of an overly complex movie.

The funny thing is that I think someone like Landis could have done a lot better with this film. Maybe Spielberg didn’t know who or what to cut. Maybe Landis would have utilized his talent a little better (from what I remember, Candy does little to nothing but mug in the movie). I definitely think he would have kept the film significantly shorter. Many people believe comedy should be kept around the 90 minute mark, especially zany ones because its easier for an audience to suspend their disbelief over a shorter period of time. I tend to agree with that and if this film had been less cartoony and had more of an actual emotional center, as well as had been roughly 60-90 minutes shorter, it could have been a much better film.

Ambitious Summer Reading List: Diary Of A Wimpy Kid 6 By Jeff Kinney

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever was a bit of a cheat when it came to the Ambitious Summer Reading List 2012. While getting the books I wanted to read this summer together, I had a pretty solid 11 choices and decided to throw Jeff Kinney’s latest on the stack to make it an even dozen. It’s a cheat because these books clock in at just over 200 pages, are written in the voice of a young boy and have plenty of illustrations between the paragraphs to make for a quick reading experience.

All that being said, I’m still a big fan of this book series and have been for about two years. Back in 2010 I interviewed Kinney for MTV Geek and not only had a fantastic conversation with him but also read the entire book series. If you’re unfamiliar the books are a first person recounting of the life of Greg, a grade school kid who also draws cartoons in his diary (though he hates that it’s called a diary). The beauty of the series is that Kinney does such an amazing job of interpreting the world through the eyes of a kid. It feels modern and current while at the same time reminding me of my childhood. I was never quite as conniving and sneaky as Greg is in the books (I’d rather just do the work, he’d rather work hard to get around doing the work) but there are definitely aspects of his creativity and life that I can relate to, and that’s where the real heart is for me in these books.

Cabin Fever, as you might expect after checking out the cover takes place mostly in the winter. The book deals with all kinds of elements from Greg and his pal Rowley trying to set up their own Christmas Bazaar sale (we had those at my school) to his exploits trying to shovel snow (I also used water to try and melt the snow, though with much less disastrous results). There’s also stories that scare me about being a parent these days like the school wanting the kids to stay fit while also removing their playground equipment, the rampant fundraising nonsense and kids getting addicted to energy drinks. I know there are much worse things to worry about, but as a dad, I assume I’ll worry about them all.

The main thrust of the last part of the book involves a huge snow storm that shuts Greg, his two brothers and his mom in the house while dad gets to chillax in a hotel near work. I can definitely relate to the claustrophobia and paranoia that comes from that kind of situation. For Greg, it’s actually a lot worse as the snow leads to basement flooding and his troublesome little brother not only breaks mom’s glasses but also, well, I won’t spoil it, but he makes the whole situation way worse. I hate that kid.

While I did really enjoy this book, I wasn’t as enthralled as I was with the previous installments. Maybe it’s because I was more on the hunt for those books and more caught up in both the reading and interviewing experiences. Maybe it’s just because I didn’t see as much of myself or my childhood in this volume. Maybe my perspective has just generally shifted. Whatever the reason, I’m still really glad I finally got around to reading this book that’s been sitting around my bed since December. By the way, if you want to check these books out, keep your eyes open at places like TJ Maxx or Marshall’s. I’ve gotten most of my copies there for about half the cover price. SAVINGS!

As far as the reading list goes, I’m one book away from the halfway point. Seeing as how July’s almost over and I’m not quite sure when fall starts (August 25th or something?), this pile will probably keep me in books until the end of the year. I am making good progress though and even started Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon! Progress!

The Chronological Spielberg: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

Another reason I got behind on my viewing of Steven Spielberg’s movies, aside from being so familiar with Jaws, was that I’d seen Close Encounters twice in recent memory, once for the first time all the way through when I rented it from Netflix and again on TV while visiting the inlaws a few months back. Still, I loved the movie, so when I decided to do this project I looked around for a DVD copy and found out there’s a multiple disc pack that includes the theatrical release, a director’s cut and a special edition each of which are different. The only other set I have like this is for my beloved Dawn of the Dead. I honestly can’t remember the differences in that set and haven’t really dug into this one yet, but will let you know when I do. For the purposes of this post, I simply watched the original theatrical version.

I’m realizing after watching Spielberg’s initial offerings that he succeeds the most when working with a story that hadn’t been done before that has an epic quality to it that’s treated as such. Duel‘s murderous truck is scary and familiar, but more from real life than film; no one had seen a shark like the one in Jaws; the aliens in Close Encounters aren’t necessarily scary themselves, but what they do to people is. Meanwhile, Sugarland Express and 1941 (which I’ll review shortly) lack that epicness and newness.

What makes Close Encounters so epic? Well, just about everything. Richard Dreyfuss heads out to help during a black out unknowingly caused by visiting aliens only to find himself directly in their path. After that, he becomes increasingly obsessed with a mountainous shape he can’t quite fully remember that will not leave him alone. It gets so bad that his family leave him and he winds up driving towards an area that’s said to be the center of a chemical spill. He eventually finds a place where a group of scientists have set up a lab to communicate with the aliens by way of musical tones. We also follow a few of those scientists who discover some WWII planes that look brand new and eventually come to understand that they’re dealing with aliens and a woman whose son gets abducted himself who joins forces with Dreyfuss.

As if I already wasn’t from Jaws, this movie made me an even bigger Richard Dreyfuss fan. The subtle ways he plays his character in this film are just amazing. He takes zoning out and growing obsession to a new level without ever going over the top or getting too scary. That’s not to say that his wife and kids don’t get scared. There’s actually a great balance between the kids freaking out because he’s acting weird (the mashed potato dinner scene) and them getting excited about dad’s weirdness (throwing dirt in the house). This might seem like uneven characterization, but I think it’s a wonderful use of children and how they see the world. They want dad to be the dad and take care of them, but there’s something cool about him acting like a big kid and trashing the house in such a strange way.

Another aspect of the film I fell in love with was Spielberg’s treatment of the aliens from a director and storytelling perspective as well as within the logic of the story. Instead of having a group of military dudes waiting with guns drawn to “talk” to the aliens like in just about every other movie with extra terrestrials (including ET now that I think about it), it’s a group of scientists there trying to make contact. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate seeing awe and excitement on the faces of the crowds instead of grim determination or fear. Heck, even the people who were on the ship don’t seem harmed, just a little confused. Great stuff.

This might be a little random, but I also liked how real the houses and settings felt. I’m particularly partial to authentic looking scenes set inside the bedrooms of children and I think that was nailed in the beginning of this movie. I even liked seeing the McDonlads a little later in the film. I know some people consider these instances of product placement annoying or cheap, but that’s real life. I had some of the toys in that room and I absolutely went to McDs that looked exactly like that. It’s an easy way to bring me into a film and I have no problem when directors use it.

I really don’t have a single complaint about the film. Everyone played their parts perfectly and worked together to create a movie that perfectly balances how this kind of invasion changes a particular person while also showing the larger process of how the government deals with it. That scene with the military guy and his crew trying to figure out what kind of story to sell the American people to get them away from the landing zone is quick and spot on. The flick also looks just fantastic. Every time I watch a Spielberg movie from the 70s I can’t help but think how crappy a lot of the CGI looks these days. People need to step up their game.

Ad It Up: Empire Strikes Back Game Boy Game

This might surprise some folks because I absolutely adore Star Wars, but I’ve only played a handful of the video games based on the franchise in my many years of game playing. I was — and still am —  a big fan of the Battlefront games as well as the first Force Unleashed (haven’t played the second one yet). I did not however ever play the Empire Strikes Back game for Game Boy seen in this ad from Magnus Robot Fighter #25 from 1993. Did anyone play it? Was it as good as it good be for the Game Boy’s green-and-white-ness?