Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Pull List - Comic Reviews for 8/29/2012

- Aquaman #12
- Green Lantern Annual #1
- Justice League #12
- Locke & Key: Grindhouse

This is the week of Geoff Johns apparently. The only thing I'm reviewing this week that he DIDN'T write is Locke & Key. Still, Johns typically does good work, so let's jump right in. As always, SPOILERS beyond this point and the review of "Locke & Key: Grindhouse" contains a part that may include triggers for sexual assault/rape, though I have done my best to mark it clearly if you wish to skip over it.

Aquaman #12

I was very disappointed to hear that Geoff Johns will apparently be leaving "Aquaman" in the not-too-distant future. This disappoints me not only because "Aquaman" is a great title, but because it is EXACTLY what I thought an Aquaman title SHOULD be.

If you'll forgive me for a minute, I wish to make a brief tangent.

Before I got into DC comics (I was always a Marvel fan up until around "One More Day" and "Dark Reign" happened), I mostly knew about their universe through the television shows. Most people my age grew up with "Batman: The Animated Series" and to a lesser extent, "Superman: The Animated Series". By the time I was starting to outgrow "Cartoon Network" (which didn't end up lasting very long since I STILL watch that channel for a handful of shows), they put out the "Justice League" series, which I honestly wasn't all that interested in at first. I think the main reason is because the first season had a much slower pace than I was used to in the DC Animated Universe. Most stories were two-parters, the plots revealed themselves more gradually, and they tended to be more massive and complex while still being more or less self-contained. It didn't really grab my attention.

What they DID manage to do was teach me how awesome Aquaman could be. Like most people who became aware of DC superheroes through television, the interpretation of the character in the popular consciousness is the way he appeared in the very old "Super Friends" show, where he was essentially almost as useless as the Wonder Twins. In the "Justice League" series, however, his first appearance is more based on his appearance in the 90's comics. He was muscle-bound, had long hair, and was a bad-ass.

The initial plot of his first appearance in "The Enemy Below" was that Atlantis was supposedly attacking the surface world. While Aquaman gave no such order, his apathy and distrust for the surface world left him more or less disinterested in the matter. However, after being prompted by the League, he goes to speak to the world's leaders about how they should stop fucking up his domain (i.e. all the water in the world). It doesn't end well and he rage-quits. Eventually he discovers that his brother Orm ordered the attack and was planning a coup. A lot of other cool stuff happens, but to sum up, Aquaman cuts off his own hand to save his infant son, replaces it with a harpoon, and stops Orm and his plans for invasion.

Aside from proving that Aquaman doesn't HAVE to be lame, it also made me realize that Aquaman could basically take over the world if he really wanted to (hence the inspiration for the Aquaman Apocalypse from the other week).

My only complaint about the Aquaman in the DCAU is that they gave him the 90's look in order to drive home his bad-assery. I actually think that's unnecessary. Character design is usually a really lazy way to make someone bad-ass. Actions are really the best way to pull that off, and while Aquaman's actions in the DCAU DO reinforce his awesomeness, I feel like giving him an almost Liefeld-esque physique and rocker hair comes off a trying too hard.

Which is why I think Geoff Johns' approach to the character is damn near perfect. He manages to make Aquaman a stone-cold bad-ass without adjusting his iconic image. Even better, he EMBRACES Aquaman's less-than-stellar public image and makes it a core of his personality. This was really the best possible way to get a new audience interested in Aquaman.

You might have noticed that I haven't talked about this week's issue in particular. That's because it's just plain GREAT. Johns has spent the entirety of this arc building this new superhero team called The Others while also fleshing out Aquaman, his wife, his past, his arch-enemy, and the history and mythology of Atlantis. It all works amazingly well. If "Teen Titans" is an example of how to be absolutely awful at juggling plot and characters, "Aquaman" is an example of how to do it almost flawlessly.

I doubt whoever they get to replace Johns will be nearly as good, but in the meantime, I'll just continue to enjoy this excellent series.

Green Lantern Annual #1

Taking place after "Green Lantern #12", this issue finally tells us what the Guardians' master plan is.

While the Guardians' desire to get rid of the Lantern Corps in the same vein as when they got rid of the Manhunters makes some degree of narrative sense, I do agree with most comic fans that the Guardians have been doing this whole "turning evil with good intentions" crap for years. It's really getting old. I hope that this is the last time DC does it for at least another decade or so.

Anyway, their plan is basically to become the Borg. They use the First Lantern (which isn't ever really explained, however, I believe it is probably the cosmic forge from which all of the lanterns and perhaps even the Guardians and the other cosmic entities were created from) to create a new race of as-of-yet unnamed creatures that basically turn all sentient life into nearly identical clones, only retaining their eyes.

The plan is pretty sound. They transform one human and send that one out to take over Earth. Then they send their original out into space to do the same thing on every other planet. Turn one sentient creature, move on to the next planet. Pretty sound strategy and it will lead to order as they want. Sounds like fun.

As for the OTHER plot in the story, it looks like the buddy comedy stylings of Sinestro and Hal Jordan are at an end. While it's unclear whether or not they're ACTUALLY dead, it is clear that Sinestro's ring BELIEVES they are, and thus it goes to find a new Green Lantern, which has been teased for quite some time as a cool-looking Arab-American that I'm sure we'll learn more about in a couple months.

I'm not sure what will happen now or if I'll still be as interested in reading without Sinestro, but I do appreciate Geoff Johns' desire to change things up every once in a while. Good on him.

Justice League #12

"Justice League" hasn't been a perfect book. Every issue felt really short and the series felt somewhat disconnected from the rest of the universe. The characters in the book feel less experienced than they do in other books they star in. 

Even so, I've always enjoyed this series because the team was well-balanced and the plot was always interesting. I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about THIS arc, titled "The Villain's Journey", but now that it's over, I'm actually shocked at how much I absolutely LOVE it.

Now, let me get one thing out of the way before I get too deep into this. The main reason comic fans are going to be talking about this issue is because of this:

While this is certainly a big deal, it's not really what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the rest of this story arc regarding the new villain David Graves.

Graves' intentions were not all that clear at first. While he was famous for being the person who coined the term "Justice League" and was one of their first champions, his feelings regarding them soured after he and his family became deathly ill as a result of the ash they inhaled from the attack in the first arc of the series. Having witnessed his family slowly die, leaving him alone, he got superpowers and appeared to seek out to destroy the Justice League.

However, in this issue, it is revealed that that's not ACTUALLY his plan. His plan wasn't to kill the Justice League or destroy them. His goal was to knock them off their pedestal. To remind them of their own personal flaws and tragedies. In the case of Wonder Woman, he attempted to kill Steve Trevor in order to give her that sense of human loss that she lacked. He also wanted to show the world an instance of them bickering broadcast worldwide.

His goal was to make people stop thinking of them as gods. He knew firsthand that they can't save everyone, so he wanted everyone, including the Justice Leaguers themselves, to know it as well.

In the end, while Graves is defeated, Hal Jordan voluntarily leaves the League in order to act as a scapegoat for the televised brawl. Meanwhile the ones who remain resolve to do everything they can to live up to the expectations of the people they've sworn to protect. To be better than they actually are.

It has been said (specifically by Linkara) that the main difference between Marvel and DC is that Marvel has heroes you can relate to but DC has heroes that you aspire to become. In a way, this arc speaks perfectly to that interpretation.

The title of the arc, "The Villain's Journey" is a play on the commonly known "Hero's Journey" coined by Joseph Campbell. While I won't get into all of the specific aspects of this, the most identifiable aspects of this journey are the parts that make the heroes in question easy to relate to. They arise from humble beginnings, they are called to action, they may initially refuse the call, but end up doing so, etc. The fact is, many of the iconic DC superheroes don't have that sort of beginning. They are less standard "heroes" and more like myths. They are icons. Superman is the champion of law and the downtrodden. Wonder Woman is the perfect Amazon. Batman is the symbol of justice and retribution. Each one of them was "chosen" by fate. Not just anybody could have been any of them. Superman was the last of an alien race. Wonder Woman was sculpted from clay. Batman was born into great privilege that enabled him to turn his common pain into an impossible crusade that literally no one else without the same resources, tragedy, and tenacity could accomplish. To most people, they are known less for what they do and their relationships and more for what they stand for. It is no surprise that the world sees them as gods.

In a way, Graves sought to turn them into Marvel characters. He believed that the world didn't need icons. He believed that icons could only disappoint. He pragmatically tried to tarnish the Justice League's perfect image for the good of all, including the League itself. But the League's response to this was that the world DID need icons. We need role models. We need archetypes. While they may not be able to live up to those expectations, the simple act of aspiring to them is what makes them great.

This culmination ALSO leads to the common sense reaction of Superman and Wonder Woman having this shared realization. They are neither gods nor men.

Which, of course, leads to their smooching, but I digress. The point is that THIS is the sort of story that DC is incredibly well-suited to. This arc is a testament to not only their unique approach to comics but also comics in general and even storytelling in general. I love this arc because it OOZES subtext and it never wails you over the head with it. If you aren't reading too much into it, it's just a fun story. But there's so much going on just beneath the surface.

Geoff Johns, you had a really great week.

Locke & Key: Grindhouse

We finish the week with a comic I haven't had the chance to talk about yet, "Locke & Key". If you haven't read the series, give it a try. It's dark and has a more horror novel vibe about it, but it is incredibly well-suited to the comic book medium. Joe Hill's plotting is ingenious. Too often in comics you have writers who clearly don't know what they intend until they get there, but with Joe Hill, you can tell he outlined the entire series from start to finish before he began. The attention to detail and the great character work really make this series shine. 

While this week's comic in particular is disconnected from the main story other than taking place in the same house about a century earlier, it still shares the same sensibilities.

The premise of "Locke & Key" is that there is this old house in Massachusetts called Keyhouse which is home to several magical keys, each with different abilities. Only younger individuals are aware of the keys' powers and those aware of the keys' existence act as guardians for Keyhouse.

This one-shot story is about such a family during the Great Depression who is visited by a trio of robbers looking to take advantage of them and use Keyhouse as a safe house until their getaway arrives.

While I'll admit that this story is fairly predictable if you know the story (you KNOW that those robbers are gonna get their comeuppance), the story itself is still very engrossing and satisfying.


One of the parts I enjoyed the most was with probably the comeuppance of  the most despicable robber of the bunch who is shown as a hideous and perverted rapist. After the robbers have taken the family hostage, the guy takes one of the young women and tries to rape her. The way this turns out is actually kind of awesome. If it weren't triggery and two full pages, I probably would have made it my Panel of the Week, but since it kind of is, I'm putting it here:

As you can probably tell, that key has the ability to change gender. I fucking loved this moment. I also love that this fucker is the only one of the robbers to survive the ordeal, since death would be too easy for him.


Outside of the story itself, this one-shot has a very noticeably different style that's much more similar to comics of the era in which it takes place. Since this is the same artist that works on the main series, this is astonishing to me. Gabriel Rodriguez has incredible talent.

While I recommend people check out "Locke & Key: Grindhouse", I highly recommend you read the rest of the series first.

Panel of the Week