Books Of Justice Trade Post: Team History & Dark Things

justice league of america team historyJustice League Of America: Team History (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Mark Bagley
Justice League Of America #38-43

Months ago I was looking through the two longboxes of unread trades in my closet and realized I had a lot of post-Infinite Crisis Justice League collections. I’d read many of the issues as they came out, but not since then. It seemed like enough time had passed that I could give them a re-read. I started with Brad Meltzer’s two volumes, then moved on to Dwayne McDiffie’s four books and am now up to the first two James Robinson offerings called Team History and Dark Things.

Guys, this trade is an absolute mess and it has nothing to do with the stories. When I wrote about McDuffie’s last book, I noted that there was zero context offered for what the heck is going on in the larger DCU. If these trades were only sold in comic shops to fans, that would be fine, because they would essentially be written for existing fans. But because trade paperbacks are out in the world, I feel like there should be some way to catch new readers up on what went on before it. I also fully support adding a few pieces of text between issues if something huge happened in a different book. Basically, these TPBs need to be as timeless as possible and they’re not.

Team History deals with all kinds of huge events that aren’t centrally located in Justice League Of America, so it’s super confusing. You’ve got an already depleted League that has to deal with Blackest Night and the Cry For Justice storyline, none of which are explained outside of quick dialog recaps in the books themselves.  I read those other comics when they came out, but that was a while ago, so even I was confused when I got to Team History. And then, BANG, you’ve got the Cry For Justice team along with fill-ins for the Big Three. To be fair, Robinson does a great job of recapping past events in #41, but that’s already four issues deep in this trade.

All that being said, Robinson did a good job with what he was given. Can you imagine taking over the most iconic superhero team of all team and it consists of Plastic Man, Vixen, Dr. Light and Red Tornado? Sure Zatanna and Gypsy show up to help fight Despero, but that’s still about as far from a headlining team as you can get. But, they do make for an interesting group to deal with evil returned loved ones in the Blackest Night event. Like the other BN tie-ins that I talked about before, though, the problem with these stories as a whole is that, even though many of them figured out smart ways to deal with the Black Lanterns, none of it was used in the larger story so what’s the point?

Finally, towards the end of the book, Robinson finally got to do his own thing and it was…interesting. The League finds itself dealing with a group of New God wannabes and some devices found throughout the history of the DCU which offers some fun looks at the Metal Men, the Challenges of the Unknown and other heroes and groups. At the end of the day, though, it felt like a bit of a confusing ending that has to take time to explain why several heroes left the team and then move right into the next book, a crossover with Justice Society Of America.

justice league of america dark things Justice League Of America: Dark Things (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Mark Bagley
Collects Justice League Of America #44-48 & Justice Society Of America #41, 42

Unlike the previous JLoA/JSoA crossover handled by Meltzer and Geoff Johns, this one was written and drawn completely by Robinson and Bagley. The team in this book is a much smaller version of the one seen on the cover of the previous volume. You’ve got Batman (Dick Grayson), Donna Troy, Congorilla and Starman with Supergirl and Jade showing up as the story progresses. Basically, this story finds the JSoA teaming up with the tiny JLoA because Jade has returned to Earth and brought the Starheart with her. Its presence winds up driving her dad Alan Scott crazy and the rest of the book has the teams joining forces to first take care of some of the magic- and weather-related backlash and then stop Adam’s rampage.

There’s nothing wrong with this story, but it also didn’t blow my mind. This story has loose ties to Brightest Day, the Blackest Night follow-up that focused on some of the returned-from-the-dead characters like Jade, but it didn’t feel like there was too much information left out. At the end of the day, I think I’ve just read enough of these kinds of stories to be a little bit bored with them. I really enjoyed how this book incorporated the effects of the Starheart on the rest of the DCU with all kinds of cameos, but at the end of the day, this is another team-up based around, basically, the same heroes doing a lot of the same things they’ve done before. That’s less a complaint about the quality of the story and more about my general feelings about Corporate Comics these days.

And yet, I was still disappointed by both of these books for a few reasons. First off, I’m not quite sure why this team exists other than to sell Justice League comics. I don’t necessarily need to be inundated with “team business” type stories, but there seemed to be very little of that. Heck, there’s hardly a team throughout both of these trades. Additionally, I was disappointed by both creators. Robinson penned one of the greatest superhero epics of all time in Starman and this doesn’t even come close to that. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I just can’t separate my love of that book from my expectations for this one. It’s not fair at all, but that’s how it is. Meanwhile, Bagley’s art didn’t wow me nearly as much as I thought it would. I was as excited as anyone when I heard he was moving over to a Justice League comic as the regular artist. But the results just seem a bit too slight and sketchy. These are supposed to be big, bold heroes and that doesn’t always come across.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure what to think about these books. They’re important pieces of the post-Infinite Crisis, pre-New 52 Justice League series of books, but are they shelf or collection worthy? I’m going to hold on to them for now and see if I can get my hands on the last few to see how they work as a whole, but I’m not so sure these are worth holding on to.

The Box: Venom Lethal Protector #3, Brave & The Bold #157 & Adventures Of Superman #473

To be completely honest, this installment of The Box is a bit of a cheat. First off, I read a pair of terrible comics I literally have nothing to say about. I won’t say what they were, but they were both mid 90s Image books that did nothing for me. I don’t want these posts to be completely negative and I also want to have some fun, so those books went right into the recycle bin. I also actually specifically purchased the latter two books at a flea market, so they’re not as random as the other picks, but we’ll get back to that next week, I’m sure. Did I succeed at picking out good comics for myself to read? You’ll have to read (or scroll) on down to find out.

The one random comic from this post is Venom: Lethal Protector #3 (1993) written by David Micheline and drawn by Mark Bagley. Venom’s not a character I’ve ever really been into, but there was always something a little cool and dangerous about seeing these comics in the pages of Wizard or on comic stands when I was looking for the books I wanted.

This issue really has all the components you’d expect from a 90s comic starring Venom. He cracks wise while beating up on bad guys wearing a LOT of armor. There’s actually a solid story underneath all that with a guy trying to get revenge on Venom for his dead son.

Overall, it’s a fine story. I think it’s hard to take a book with so many spikes and pouches seriously these days, but that was the mode of the day. On the other hand, though, Bagley’s art doesn’t look as jagged and crazy as a lot of the popular artists of the day. He is just a damn solid, classic style artist that looks rad no matter what he’s drawing. I won’t be keeping this comic nor will I be tracking down the rest of the issues, but it was a fun read for a few minutes and now I’m ready for the next thing.

I chose this comic for one simple reason: I wanted to see how Jack Kirby’s Last Boy On Earth found his way to Gotham to team-up or tussle with Batman. Brave And The Bold #157 (1979) was written by Bob Haney with Jim Aparo artwork and unfortunately, it’s pretty boring. The story revolves around a new super powered enforcer on the scene and Batman trying to figure it out. However, since we know that Kamandi’s in the issue and doesn’t show upfor a while it’s not much of a surprise that it’s him.

The worst part though is that the scenes between Kamandi and Batman just aren’t that fun or interesting, I just kept thinking about how much cooler this issue could have been or how rad the team-up between the two of them was on the wonderful animated version of this comic from a year or two back. It also sounds like the BATB issue where Batman goes to Kamandi’s time was a lot more interesting.

I think even if I wasn’t comparing this issue to those other stories that I wanted, I still would have hoped for less Batman-talking-to-people and more Kamandi-punching-people. I’m just simple like that, I guess.

It was neat seeing Aparo draw Kamandi, though.

I grabbed this issue of Adventures Of Superman #473 from 1990) because it’s not part of the wonderful Man Of Steel trade series, it has Green Lanterns in it and that Dan Jurgens cover sure looked neat!  Written and drawn by Jurgens, the issue was great looking, but it was the kind of story I’ve read before. Basically Hal Jordan’s being held captive by a giant alien who crashed and remained underground for many years. He sens out a distress signal for Superman who winds up teaming with Guy Gardner. Unfortunately, this is also the version of Guy that really grates on me: the asshole loudmouth who never shuts up. I’m more a fan of the confident, but layered version Beau Smith wrote in Guy Gardner: Warrior.

So, while the main story felt like something else I’d read (another Superman story? something with the Fantastic Four?) I was actually more interested in what was going on back at the Daily Planet because this was right after Lois and Clark got engaged the first time. I came to Superman a few years after this when he was killed, but a lot of what was going on in issues from this time were referred to when I came on and even well after Supes returned.

While I wasn’t really ennamored with this issue, I will hold on to it. I kind of want to fill all the post Crisis Superman holes that exist between the existing trades and when I started collecting. Just thinking about that makes me a bit sleepy.

The Box: Defenders #10, Amazing Spider-Man #351 & Archer And Armsstrong #17

For my birthday, my pal Jesse sent me a long box full of comics from a company called Cardsone that does all kinds of bulk sales. I highly recommend checking out their site and also perusing the catalog which has some amazingly weird stuff in it. The box was packed to the gills and I felt bad for the UPS guy who had to carry it all the way to my door, but got over that pretty quickly and dove right in. Flipping through the box, I quickly realized that the majority of the books in the box were doubles, triples and whathaveyou. That’s probably a good thing because I don’t think my wife would me okay with me storing yet another long box in the house.

Anyway, my first order of business was to alphabetize everything and then go through and pull out one each of the books which was about a quarter of the contents. There were a lot of CrossGen books as well as some Valiant and Comico and a few Marvel and DC comics. With everything in order, I put them in a stack in my table (it’s got a sliding top, so you can actually put things inside of it) and have been reaching in and pulling comics out at random. I will be reviewing them in threes here on the blog moving forward, so let’s have fun with it.

I actually grabbed The Defenders #10 (2001) by Kurt Busiek, Eric Stephenson and Erik Larsen first because I remember buying the first issue when it came out. Not sure why I didn’t continue reading, but in the many years between then and now I’ve come to greatly appreciate Busiek and Larsen as creators in their own right, so then working together should be rad, right?

Yeah, it pretty much is. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost, but that’s to be expected when reading the tenth issue in a series of comics, I think. But there are enough flashbacks to get you caught up. In addition to the rad art by Larsen who gets to draw not only the Defenders, but also M.O.D.O.K. and an army of supervillains that includes Venom, Rhino, Sandman and more. It’s a fantastic example of his powers and Busiek’s ability to work so well within the world of continuity-heavy comics. Both these guys are fantastic and do an excellent job in this book. It makes me want to go and get the rest of the issues so I can enjoy this one all the more.

Up next was The Amazing Spider-Man #351 (1991) written by David Micheline and drawn by Mark Bagley. If the blurb inside the issue is to be believe, this was Bagley’s first issue as the regular ASM penciler, which is pretty cool. Man, that guy was born to draw Spider-Man, wasn’t he? He’s also no slouch rendering Nova and the Tri-Sentinel who gust star in this particular issue.

I’ve gone on record as saying I’m not the world’s biggest Spidey fan. I loved his cartoon, some of the video games and the first movie, but I’ve never really been able to sink my teeth into the comics. I don’t know what it is, but I was able to jump in and enjoy this comic. I think that’s partially because it stars Nova, a character I’ve grown to appreciate both in my own reading of books like Annihilation and also just be being friends with Rich Rider’s number one fan Ben Morse. Plus, like I said, Bagley’s art is so good and accessible that it’s hard to feel lost. He makes everyone look and feel familiar, even with characters like the Tri-Sentinel who I had never seen before.

Apparently Spidey and this thing had beef in a previous issue, but Web Head had the power of Captain Universe to help him defeat the mechanical menace. He and Nova stumble upon this while trying to find out where some high tech weapons are coming from.

Overall, the issue’s pretty fun. You’ve got great banter between Spidey and Nova, some static between Mary Jane and Peter and a big fight with a big ol’ machine. Can’t go wrong with that.

I did not enjoy Archer & Armstrong #17 (1993) by Mike Baron and Mike Vosburg nearly as much as the other two issues, however. I actually know more people who used to work at Valiant than characters in their comics (many Valiant folks moved to Wizard when the former closed up shop). I have one issue of this book in my collection where a dude is hitting another dude in front of a slot machine I think (okay, I looked it up and oddly enough it’s the issue before this one, #16) but never actually read it.

The problem with this issue isn’t necessarily in the story or the art, which kind of looks like it was colored with colored pencils, but the fact that absolutely no attempt is made to explain who these characters are. They hint that Archer (or maybe Armstrong, who knows?) is some kind of ancient indestructible fighter guy…or something. I could look it up on Wiki and maybe some day I will, but I honestly don’t care that much. If you’re writing a book like Spider-Man or Batman where the character is out there in the consciousness, then you can get away without overtly explaining who your leads are, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. When you’re only in your second year of publishing a pair of characters you just made up? Might be a good idea to throw in some kind of explanation page or even one of those text boxes in the front that explain the basic concept. You know, something like: “Sent from a dying world, an alien boy grew up on Earth to gain amazing powers under its yellow sun. Now he fights for truth, justice and the American way as Superman!” Something like that. Based solely on this one issue, I’m not surprised that the big V didn’t work out so well.