Books Of Justice Trade Post: Second Coming & When Worlds Collide

justice league of america second coming Justice League Of America: Second Coming (DC)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie , drawn by Ed Benes with Alan Goldman, Doug Mahnke, Darick Robertson, Ian Churchill & Ivan Reis
Collects Justice League Of America #22-26

Naturally, after reading Brad Meltzer’s two-book run on Justice League Of America and then Dwayne McDuffie’s first two, I moved right along into his last two. While The Injustice League and Sanctuary read like truncated tales, Second Coming actually felt like a full story that McDuffie wanted to tell that didn’t get interrupted by a larger DCU event.

As I said before, while Grant Morrison’s JLA deals with macro issues showing why the world needs the team, the Meltzer-into-McDuffie one seems more focused on why the team members need each other. While trying to fix Red Tornado again, Amazo shows back up and starts causing trouble for the team. Of course, they’re dealing with their interpersonal relationships which, like the threat itself, exist because this team exists. It’s a cool, organic process that does something a little different than I’m most used to when thinking of blockbuster JLA teams.

The trade ends with a crazier story than I remembered from my first reading. Vixen wants to get to the bottom of her new, wonky powers, so most of the team goes to Animal Man’s house. While there, a trickster god brings them into his dimension where he tells Vixen and Buddy about their true secret origins (if you can believe the god of lies) and also builds an alternate version of the Justice League by changing a few details here and there when it comes to hero origins. I’m a big fan of alternate reality stories, so this was right in my wheelhouse. I remembered this story being more confusing when it was coming out monthly, but felt it flowed a lot better with all the pieces in hand.

Art wise, this book is a little all over the place. Ed Benes is the main artist, but he’s still kind of in flux. The first issue of the collection has inks that are way too dark and heavy, but those back off as the issues progress. Alan Goldman came in and did a pretty great fill in and then you’ve got the cavalcade of killer artists from Doug Mahnke to Ian Churchill coming in to do a few pages here and there on one of the issues. All in all, both the art and story felt really pretty organic, not just for the few issues in this collection, but for the whole JLoA run to this point.

justice league of america when worlds collide Justice League Of America: When Worlds Collide (DC)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Ed Benes with Jose Luis, Shane Davis, Rags Morales, Ardian Syaf & Eddy Barrows
Justice League Of America #27, 28, 30-34

The word I keep thinking of when trying to describe When Worlds Collide is: bonkers. This trade is all over the place. First, you’ve got a two part story dealing with the Milestone characters trying to steal something from the Justice League. This was around the time when those heroes and villains were first being integrated into the DCU, but not being very well explained. All of a sudden, we’re just supposed to accept that an entire comic book universe was shrunk down to one town, Dakota, and had always been in the DCU? Huh? Well, after adding to some of that confusion, McDuffie actually does explain what happened towards the end of this book and his run on the series. I don’t think I ever actually read all these issues when they came out because it was around the time I got laid off from Wizard and lost access to every comic ever, so it was a big question mark in my head until I finished this trade.

So, there’s this bonkers story about all these heroes you’ve either never heard of and don’t know or have heard of and don’t know why they’re around. Then a whole issue is skipped over. After that, Hawkman asks the team for help in fighting Shadow Thief. After that, there’s an issue where Black Canary’s talking to all these different people about why the League is basically over with next to no explanation as to what went on to cause all this. Finally, a team consisting of Dr. Light, Firestorm, John Stewart, Vixen and Zatana runs up against Starbreaker. This last story also brings in a few more Milestone characters (and explains why they’re here now) as well as the Batman from the alternate universe in the previous volume. Again, bonkers.

The real problem with this book is that there’s zero context or explanation for what’s going on in the greater DC Universe at the time. This was around Final Crisis which lead to the death of Martian Manhunter, the temporal displacement and apparent death of Batman, Superman heading off to live on New Krypton and Wonder Woman disappearing for some reason. Some of these things are mentioned in the book, but a simple text explanation would have been greatly appreciated.

That lack of interest in catching a reader up really bothered me while reading this book and the next one which also picked up after some pretty huge out-of-book events. There’s this assumption that you already know everything that’s going on in the entire world of these characters. Heck, even if you did read everything when these issues were coming out and owned the trades, it’s incredibly likely that you won’t a few years down the line when you want to give them a re-read (which, you know, is the point of friggin trades!). To keep new readers abreast of what’s going on around these stories, there needs to be a small amount of explanation for what the heck the characters are referring to. This is an incredibly easy comic related problem to fix, so someone needs to get on it!

Halloween Scene: The Exterminators (2006-2008)

The Exterminators is one of those comics that came out of nowhere, smacked me in the face and demanded my attention. I was working at Wizard at the time and was always looking for a new comic to check out and Exterminators was it for me. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but if you ever read anything in Wizard about this book, I probably wrote it. I think it was Book Of The Month at some point, something I had to fight for. Exterminators is one of my favorite Vertigo comics and probably their best series in a while. I was bummed to hear it got canceled and had unfortunately gotten behind in the issues, so I slowly collected the trades to read all at once at some later date. Well, that later date started last week and carried over to today when I finished the fifth volume. This is another long one, so hit the jump for the full review.

I should probably explain the comic a bit more than just saying it’s awesome. The basic premise is that this dude, our hero, Henry James has just gotten out of jail and is working at his new step father’s exterminator business Bug-Bee-Gone. Meanwhile, there’s something weird going on with Draxx, the latest in bug-killing chemicals. And by weird I mean that it mutates certain kinds of pests so they no longer have the genetic restraints for things like size and ability to procreate. All of which leads to an all out war between man and bugs by the end of the series.

The series (which ran for 30 issues total) reminded me a lot of Preacher. You’ve got a mysterious yet chivalrous hero with his fair share of lady problems (his new girlfriend Page is a literary stripper) dropped into a supernatural problem he knows nothing about, but is willing to fight the good fight. There’s also plenty of corrupt, terrible people around him, though he has a solid group of confidants he grows to rely on. I don’t make the comparison to say that Oliver cribbed from Garth Ennis’ book, I just say that to get you interested if you’re not already. In fact, there’s a physical injury that Henry suffers at the end that Jesse Custer also survived that I probably would have changed if I was Oliver, but it’s not that big of a deal.

I want to elaborate a bit on the place of the supernatural in Exterminators. I wasn’t expecting it because the book seems so firmly planted in the real world what with them killing all manner of creatures from bugs to animals. But, having read it all in a short period of time, it all makes sense and fits. It’s kind of like an Indiana Jones movie where you’re solidly in the real world for most of it and then you’ve got thousand year old Grail knights or guys ripping hearts out through chests. In this case, the supernatural elements stem from Egyptology. I have no idea whether the gods mentioned in the comic are real (I’m guessing so), but everything seemed really well put together and it was ingenious of Oliver to combine these elements with modern day exterminating, big business, a take on environmentalism, Cambodian history and the role a bug called the Mayan hisser had in the downfall of the Mayan civilization (again, something I don’t know about, but totally bought in the context of the story). I think it’s Oliver’s ability to weave these real world elements in with the supernatural ones that makes them make sense within the story.

But a story can’t just be told with creative details, the characters also have to be there. Now, unfortunately, towards the end of the book we lose some of the characters we were introduced to. I’m guessing that Oliver had more story to tell and had to sacrifice some characters like Henry’s mom and her step son in favor of actually finishing the overall arc of the book. Regardless, the characters that are around are very intriguing. Henry’s a lot of fun to read, especially as you learn more about his past. Then you’ve got his bug brother Stretch, a Buddhist with a mean streak and a cowboy hat. Nils, Henry’s stepfather, is of the old school. He’s been in the pest killing biz for years, in fact inheriting the business from his own father who has an interesting past. AJ’s a scumball beyond the pale. Saltoh is a man of science with a very dark past. The list really could go on and on. I can’t think of a single character that wasn’t at least reasonably fleshed out.

And, considering I’m talking about a comic book here, you can’t ignore the artwork. For my money, no one draws a creepier bug than Tony Moore, who can be considered the regular artist on the book since he pencilled 17 of the 30 issues. The other artists do a good job keeping up Moore’s aesthetic while using their own styles, but none of them quite hit the absolute creepiness of the swarms Moore did. I really wish he could have stuck around for the full series, but he had Fear Agent to do, a book I’ve never read, but have heard is very similar to Exterminators (but in space). I know that a few people from back in the day at Wizard couldn’t stomach reading Exterminators because of how gross the bugs look (we used to read new comics at lunch all the time, which didn’t help).

And for anyone wondering whether this book should really fall into the horror category, the book is basically about monsters trying to destroy a city and then humanity as a whole. Oh, plus it’s gross at times. Let’s just say that bugs aren’t the only things that get annihilated.

So, I can’t recommend a self-contained book more than Exterminators. It really is the full package as far as I’m concerned. And, unlike some books that got canceled before their time, it definitely has an ending. Yes, some elements don’t get addressed before the very end (What was the deal with Nils and his son? Who gave Saloth the Draxx information in Vegas?), but it feels complete enough for me. Word on the street (ie Wikipedia) is that Exterminators might be making it’s way to television thanks to Showtime, which is interesting because it started as a TV pitch). My fingers are crossed. Plus, you’ve gotta love a book that uses a quote you wrote on the cover (#10, it reads “With more intriguing plot twists than ‘Lost’, THE EXTERMINATORS seems poised for a long, mind-blowing run.” – WIZARD Magazine). That’s my first (and I believe only) cover pull quote!