Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's official -- I'm done with JLA

Back in December of last year (2012), I returned to the comic-book reading and collecting hobby after being away from it for 13 years.  As part of the process, I had to decide what to read, and I started with the company that had been my favorite since the 80s -- DC.  In fact, part of the reason I returned was learning about their "New 52" reboot. Although I normally don't like reboots because they erase established continuity, one reason the New 52 attracted me was that I wouldn't have to figure out what had been going on for the last 13 years. I could jump right in with digital copies from just a year ago, easily catch up on my favorite characters like Supergirl, and in a matter of months I'd be "up to speed." Thus, I could shortcut the normal "wading in" process that can, with a long-running continuity, take months, sometimes even years.

Obviously, with 52 titles being put out a month, even limiting myself to DC meant I would have to make some pretty quick decisions about what titles to read.  Historically, even when comics only cost 75 cents, I had always limited myself to 10 ongoing titles per month (with some allowance for additional purchases of one-shots, mini-series, and the like), and I figured to do the same thing this time -- especially with over a year of back-issues to buy even with the reboot.  After a bit of "sampling," as my local comic-shop owner calls it, I settled on a handful of titles, one of which was Justice League.

Early on, Justice League, written by Geoff Johns and drawn first by Jim Lee and then Ivan Reis, was an excellent comic-book that reminded me just why I loved them years ago.  The first story arc, which re-tells the origin of the team and how they all met, was funny, dramatic, tense, and interesting (at least until the last issue, which was a huge disappointment).  By the time I'd read a handful of issues, it was on my "pull list."

Then, just a couple of months into my renewed collecting hobby, and before I'd even gotten completely caught up on Justice League (they were putting out issue 16 or so and I was still catching up on 11 or 12), DC announced the release of a new JL-related book, called Justice League of America.  I'll be honest. I wasn't too thrilled about this to begin with.  Although I was happy to commit to an issue of Justice League every month, I wasn't sure I liked the team, or the premise, enough to commit multiple slots of my pull list to them -- and again, I refuse to allow my pull list to just balloon without limit.

Additionally, I wasn't too keen on the premise of this team.  The original Justice League years ago had, in fact, been "of America."  In later years they had tried to make the heroes more world-spanning and less regional, and named the team "Justice League International," but although that series had run for a long time, for decades we'd been back to the JLA.  This new incarnation, simply called "Justice League," seemed again an attempt at de-regionalizing the team, hence the loss of the "of America" suffix to their title.  So why do we need a "Justice League of America," when we already have a "Justice League" that is the same as the original JLA in all but name?

Another concern I had early on was that from the very outset, the new JLA series was mired in gimmickry.  The first issue was released with over 50 variant covers, showing the JLA team lifting either the American flag or the state flag of each state, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.  What anyone would need more than one copy for, let alone 50+ variants, I can't imagine (it's not like these things will ever be worth enough to make the "investment" pay off).  Ultimately, I found this bald-faced attempt to sell extra copies just for the variant covers to be pathetic.  (Of course, I only bought one copy -- the one with the American flag on it.)

Then we get to the premise of the team, which I can only describe as annoying, because it gets at the heart of why the whole tone of the New 52 universe rubs me the wrong way.  The JLA was formed to be a "watchdog" against the JL, because the U.S. government fears the power of the JL. That power, coupled with the fact that none of them feel it necessary to take orders from Congress or the President, makes the powers-that-be nervous. So they hire Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, and a bunch of other heroes who they think will be loyal (or at least follow orders), and assign them to keep an eye on the JL.

All I can say about this premise is... yuck.  This sounds exactly like the Marvel Universe of 25 years ago with the "mutant hysteria."  I didn't mind it in one X-book, but it bled over into all the X-books, and then into all the regular Marvel series, until the world over, no one trusted "capes."  And this is exactly what DC is trying to do in their New 52 universe -- to have the heroes be mistrusted.  Even heroes who once were seen as paragons above reproach in the old universes, such as Superman and Wonder Woman, are now viewed with suspicion.  I stopped reading Marvel comics years ago due to just this very thing.

But, I had liked Geoff Johns' work on JL up to this point, so I decided to give JLA a try despite my misgivings.  It started off well enough, and the first few issues had a decent story, although I still wasn't on board with the premise.  Additionally, the art was not very good.  I didn't put it right on my pull list, but sat on the fence month after month as I followed along.  Unfortunately, the early warning signs had been on target, and it has become crystal clear by now that JLA is just a marketing tool, rather than an actual comic-book series.  For example, they had a shameless bait-and-switch "cliffhanger" ending where it appeared Catwoman had been shot in the back of the head in issue 4, only for it to turn out (as it obviously must) being an illusion (it was a shapeshifted Martian Manhunter).  And no sooner was that gimmick done, than DC launched the "Trinity War," which is both a marketing gimmick in itself, and a lead-in to an even bigger marketing gimmick (Villain Month).

The premise of Trinity War is, among other things, that the JLA is to fulfill its role against the original JL and take them on. And right at the beginning, they do so. It's not long before the two teams, joined by still another sister team, JL-Dark, come together to fight the real enemies, all of whom are after one thing: Pandora's Box, and the power it contains.  Along the way, the story has become a complete and total mess, full of half-finished plot threads and incomplete scenes that are rushed to completion to make room for more scenes that feel incomplete and badly thought-out.

By the time I was done with JLA #7 (which I reviewed here), the quality of both series had dipped dramatically but JLA seemed to come off the worse.  I've said here before, that I will not be taken in by DC's strong-arm marketing tactics, and thus will not be buying any DC comics in September (during Villain Month).  It was an open question, as I wrote that review, whether I would continue reading JLA for very long once the regular series resumed in October.

Then, just this week, DC made an announcement that sealed the deal for me.  Sometime in 2014 (I would guess -- on the 1-year anniversary of JLA in February), Jeff Lemire will be taking over the book and the name will be changed to Justice League Canada (accompanied, of course, by the requisite roster change and a movement of the base of operations from the U.S. to Canada). At that point, I decided I was done with this series.

Now, I want to be very clear: This has nothing to do with Canada.  But the idea that barely a year after a new series was created, DC is going to up and completely change the roster, creative team, and premise (to the point where they might as well cancel the old book and start a new series), is not acceptable.  And I say this not even liking the premise. Who knows, the premise of JLC might be better than that of JLA?  But for me, this is just too much, and too little. Too much gimmickry. Too much marketing hype. Too much instability. And too little quality.  Rather than putting out stories that are actually good, and make the reader keep coming back for more, DC has relied, for the entire existence of this new series, on one marketing ploy after another.  I just can't take it anymore.

And so, I have decided to stop reading JLA.  There had been one open slot on my pull list (I was collecting 9 ongoing series for the last couple of months), and JLA had been hovering at the edge of being put on it.  They're not no longer in contention, and in fact, the slot has already been filled -- by Lazarus, an Image title.  And with Villain's Month around the corner, and my commitment to spend 2x as much sampling independent titles in September as I would normally spend on DC (while not buying a single DC comic for the month), there are a few other New 52 titles that may very well follow suit.  For example, Justice League is on the chopping block next.  I already plan to tell the c-shop to take it off my pull list (since there is a lag time with that).  I will still buy it off the stands for a month or two, but either it gets better, and fast, or I will stop reading that too.  And with James Robinson leaving Earth-2, that series may be hot on JL's heels (depending on who they get to write it).

Indeed, I would not be shocked if within a year of returning to comics I have given entirely, or almost entirely, up on DC Comics.  The last time this happened (in 1999), I gave up on comics entirely. This time, since the Indy market has gotten so rich, I'll just switch to more independent titles.

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