Saturday, March 4, 2017

JLA, Young Justice are 'League(s) of Their Own'

The beauty of choosing fairly random trade paperbacks from the library is I don't know entirely what I'm getting.

When I went to the Willard, Ohio branch of the Huron County Community Library, I was 2-for-3 — two pretty decent trades and one that didn't keep me interested enough to finish it. A disclaimer: Just by happenstance, this trio was published by DC Comics and the only reason I mention it is because I've realized I've been kinda DC-heavy with my posts lately. Again, these things just happen.

JLA: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS just didn't grab me enough to complete it. That's not to say there weren't parts I enjoyed; they just weren't enticing enough for me to read the entire collection. (Keep reading for my review of YOUNG JUSTICE: A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN.)

The second trade I picked up was THE LIFE STORY OF THE FLASH BY IRIS ALLEN (written by Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn). The biography was hard to put down. It's reviewed in a separate post.

Two of the JLA writers — Christopher Priest and Waid — are some of the finest in the business. And having met Waid at a Toledo convention last year, I can say he's certainly a down-to-earth guy. (Respect status: elevated! Even more than it was…) And Grant Morrison is creative and is, well, Grant Morrison.

Writer Mark Waid (left) couldn't have been
any more gracious when I met him at the Gem City Comic Con
in Toledo, Ohio in early April 2016.
When these JLA stories were written — 1998 — it was a strange time for two-thirds of the Big Three in DC Comics. And to be honest, there were some strange storytelling decisions about DC's most well-known characters.

Superman is in his weird, blue-energy form and Hippolyta — Princess Diana's mother — has taken up her daughter's mantle as Wonder Woman following her death at the time. She looks identical to Diana, aside from the skirt she wore in the 1940s. I had no idea this Wonder Woman switch-oh-change-oh had happened; I was concentrating (as usual) on reading stories based out of Gotham City…

Batman meanwhile is wearing his short-lived, all dark gray costume without the trunks — my all-time favorite look for the Dark Knight. For this lifelong Batman fan, it perfectly embodied his dark-avenger-of-the-night vibe. And plus, the gold-encircled Batsymbol and his utility belt complemented the dark costume, making it a very striking look.

The 1998-era Aquaman had lost his right arm, so Arthur Curry was using a weird hook-appendage and the uber-bland Kyler Rayner was Green Lantern. There are a whopping 14 Justice League members in this run of JLA — of which at least five are extraneous: Plastic Man (way too annoying for my tastes, so being the comedic relief is a bust), Steel (redundant given Superman and Wonder Woman's strength) and certainly Zauriel, Orion and Big Barda (I'm no fan of Jack Kirby's New Gods).
Priest was padding an already overstuffed roster. I do however enjoy the tension between Huntress and Batman, even though I've never fully understood why Bats never trusted or endorsed her.

As far as the stories go, the ones I read concluded with a Justice League cliché. The team goes from facing an insurmountable challenge and being clueless on how to handle it to winning the day. Boring!

A story featuring Adam Strange — one of DC's least compelling characters — with subpar art just couldn't get me to finish reading this trade. In the first half of the trade, Yanick Paquette and Arnie Jorgensen's art (both of which remind me of Tom Grummett and Graham Nolan, who were pencilling Batman family titles at the time) are sharp. Grade: C 

YOUNG JUSTICE: A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN dares to have fun, a contrast to the JLA stories taking themselves the slightest bit too seriously. The art is just the slightest bit cartoon-y, which is good for stories about young, energetic heroes.

The Young Justice name comes about organically in the first issue when some bystanders mistake Robin (Tim Drake), Superboy and Impulse for members of the Justice League or Teen Titans, to which Superboy says, "No, it's just us." The bystanders at the scene are determined to think the trio is a young version of the Justice League and with the teens not concerned about arguing the point, the name Young Justice is created.

When the stories focus on just the boys, the stories honestly feature a bit too much juvenile behavior. Not to mention too many characters with trying-too-hard-to-be-clever names. (Yup, the Mighty Endowed has massive boobs. Nope, sadly I can't make that up. I've never turned down a great pair, but really?!)

Everything starts clicking when the writers introduce the girls — Arrowette (a terrible name), Wonder Girl and Secret. That's when the series finds its voice and rhythm. Ironically, these YOUNG JUSTICE issues also were published in 1998 and 1999.

Since I'm a massive fan of the "Young Justice" animated series (if you haven't seen any episodes, you're missing out), I especially enjoyed the last two stories in this trade since they set up the very concept of Young Justice.

The writers creatively share the risk of their parents (or parental figures) and the Justice League willing to trust teenage heroes — whether it's a harmless co-ed overnight camping trip which lets them bond or saving the day at an emergency. And similar to the animated series, the Justice League allows Young Justice to use their former cave headquarters as their own and assigns Red Tornado to oversee them. Red Tornado's even and objective outlook provides the robot/android — and the situations — a dry sense of humor; how very human. Grade: B

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