Monday, January 1, 2001

The Mount - JLA: Act of God, Parts One And Two Review

This month… ("Month?", he thought as he typed the two words. "When was the last time we published this monthly?" "Oh, be quiet", said another voice. "We've already diverged from the story into some weird 'The writer talks to himself' mini-story and we're not even out of the first sentence yet." "Are you even sure you want to admit to having two voices playing in your head?" said a third voice before they were all silenced, and the writer started over.)

This time around your friendly neighborhood whine-and-moan man finds himself in a tight spot. One the one hand, I had planned to talk about a subject very near and dear to my heart: fans who criticize new directions and new characters before the changes take effect. On the other, I wanted to talk about two on-going stories (one of which that as of this writing has only had two of it's three parts released) and complain about it.

The possible hypocrisy of this was pointed out to me by David when I sent him the ideas, intending them to be separate columns. He suggested that it might however be possible to play off the irony of me spending half this space mocking fandom for what so many of us do… and then spend the other half indulging in it.

Well, I say to you what I said to him. What I do is a slightly lighter shade of your typical fan boy griping. I only complain about things that I have read and the stories I intended to talk about are ones that I have read. This is much different than, say complaining that the new Spectre book is going to suck because you don't like the idea of Hal Jordan as The Spectre. Or complaining that the upcoming plot where Superman finds out the truth about where he came from is stupid. And don't get me started on the endless discussion board arguments over Kevin Smith's qualifications to write Green Arrow, make movies, hold American citizenship, etc. None of these books have been released yet and we know nothing about what is going to take place in those books other than the occasional morsel leaked out through one of the many comics' news agencies.

Still, this did get me thinking… Is it wrong for me to critique a story before it is completed? Perhaps, but that is what a critic does. And it occurs to me, looking at my notes that I jotted down as I reread the books, that several times I note "Perhaps this will be explained in the final part". So it is not as if I am not letting you know that the story is as of yet unfinished. I feel like I've said it 37 times already.

Because I like to think of myself as fair and honest, I shall promise this now. The story in question is the three-part "JLA: Act of God". Only two parts have been released thus far. I shall discuss the third part in a later issue and will let you all know if it explains some of my concerns below.

The basic plot of "Act of God" is that some type of black light encircles the globe, temporarily shorting out all the electronics on the planet… and taking away the superpowers of every metahuman on the planet. Eventually, the electronics come back on line, but the superpowers don't… and the story covers what happens as a result…

*Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Hawkman and Steel are now the foremost heroes of this Brave New World.

*Captain Cold, Heatwave and all the other tech-based villains begin to make a killing…

*Lex Luthor, through a dummy company that promises to "restore" metahuman powers, starts trying to create a metagene blueprint so he can corner the market on designer superpowers, if and when he gets the blueprint.

*Everyone tries to move on as best they can.

*Some of the heroes begin to train with Batman and the other non-powered heroes, forming a new team unofficially called "The Phoenix Group"

What's not to like? Well, the concept is interesting… however, some of the characterization is deeply flawed… especially considering that some of the heroes involved have lost their powers for extended periods before…. here's a list of my major beefs.

1) Superman - He probably suffers the most of anyone in this story, both in loss and in characterization. More than likely, the more enterprising Superman fans out there can tell me exactly how many times he has lost his powers for an extended period or had to do without them. I alone can think of the end of "The Death of Superman" (when he faced Mongul and the Cyborg Superman while still weakened), The Final Night (lost powers as the sun went out) and the entire Blue Superman period where he lost all his powers when he was just Clark Kent.

But did losing his powers stop Superman from doing good deeds then? No! Even weakened, he still faced up to the Cyborg. He was still planning strategy during Final Night… he even volunteered to drive a rocket into the sun to save the Earth. In other words, Clark Kent is not the type of man who would stop helping people just because of a little thing like loosing superpowers, right?

Well, not in this story… the lost of his powers turns Superman into a depressed couch potato who can do nothing more than sit on the couch and watch the accomplishments of others. Eventually Lois dumps him because she is "in love with the man he was" (Translation: I'm sick of your whining). He moves in with Diana (so the two can "feel alone together"), but he remains a sad, unshaven lump on her couch, as Diana becomes the Wonder Woman of Wall Street….

2) Green Lantern - This is my major beef, me being a student of all things Green Lantern. Kyle goes full blown Howard Hughes when his ring stops working. He just locks himself in his apartment, checks the ring through a microscope (who knows what THAT will do)… and makes a small sculpture of Sonar, who soundly beat Kyle after he lost his powers in the middle of a fight, so that he can focus his anger and his mind on something when he tests the ring…

What's the problem? Well, this is totally against the grain of what Kyle is all about. Most would agree that Kyle, more than many other superheroes, has a greater sense of identity about who he is outside of the costume. In fact, I've heard many argue (not always complementary) that there is very little difference at all between Kyle hanging out with his friends and Kyle in costume. Heck, it took him forever to adjust to the idea of being a superhero in the first place…

So what happens? Kyle confines himself to his room and does nothing but study the ring and try to get it to work. He completely and totally ignores Jade (still his girlfriend in this story) as she tries to talk with him about the problem, get him out of the house… does everything to snap Kyle out of his funk short of showing up in the doorway wearing nothing but a suggestive smile and saying "How does this stir your imagination, sailor?"

We also never get to see Kyle acting in relation to the other characters in the story. It appears that Kyle spends an entire year thinking about nothing but becoming Green Lantern again…. though he still has the same level of five-o'clock shadow after "six months pass". Nowhere in that time do we see anyone else try to contact Kyle or get a hold of him. It could happen off camera, but it would be nice to see someone else (Guy Gardner or Alan Scott) come by to check on Kyle, if only to have him scream "Leave me alone…"

Ignoring character issues, there is one big whopping question that is ignored here. Kyle's powers come from a ring. A tool. A weapon. The Most Powerful Weapon In The Universe, we're told. So why is it the ring stopped working if all the heroes who get their powers from technology are still running strong? It's alien technology, but it is still technology. Unless something happens in the third act that explains what exactly caused the Black Light Event, like a complete disconnection from The Source… well, this just looks like sloppy research.

And on that note…

3) Hawkman - Not really a complaint, but just an odd note. This IS an Elseworlds so we can have a Hawkman. We don't, however, get told who he is. It can't be Katar, because racial powers were eliminated in the Black Light event as well as metagene powers. Superman loses all his powers, Aquaman can't breath water anymore and J'onn is stuck in his natural Martian state. Theoretically, a Thangarian's wings would fall off or be absorbed into their body. Of course it could be Carter Hall with his special mechanical wings…or a new Hawkman with those wings, but we never hear anything for certain.

4) Cyborg Superman- He's among the tech-based villains who start causing chaos when most of the heroes are forced into retirement. Thing is, I thought that his powers came from a metahuman ability to meld with technology….so he should have just fallen apart, right?

That's not to say I'm not enjoying the story. As I said, the premise is intriguing…and if nothing else this story is good for a few comedic moments, such as Plastic Man's reaction to the news that Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are now among the most powerful men on the planet. Or the moment where J'onn watches a televangelist preaching that the superheroes were "fallen angels or demons" and wondering out loud why it is that he cherishes about the "Earth Culture". (Of course J'onn is hardly unique. I wonder the same thing watching preachers - and Jerry Springer)

And speaking of things that make you wonder, the crisis continues on Catwoman. I read the most recent issue after months of boycotting the thing only to find that Catwoman has apparently become a second Harley Quinn monthly title. Quite a feat considering that her first monthly started only three months ago.

Seriously, the story of the new Catwoman issue involves Harley pitching an idea for a cartoon based on her, Catwoman, and Ivy to some Kids TV executives. Why? Who knows? The whole story is done purely for laughs. Granted, some of the story is funny… but why a Harley story like this is taking up space in Catwoman is beyond me…

Well, that's all for this mon… this time around. And just so you know… things are a-ok at the comics shop now. They got my subscription problems fixed… I'm a happy little geek again.

A special thanks to Will and Tim for answering some questions about the Cyborg.

Oh, and to all you critics out there? The Spectre #1 and the first issue of the Superman arc restoring the pre-Crisis Krypton came out the day I wrote this… and they were great!