Friday, September 12, 2008
Some comics are like weekly TV dramas, some are like fast-paced action movies, and surely some are like that sitcom that makes it only a week or two before it’s pulled from the schedule forever. But every now and then a comic comes along that’s like a massive summer blockbuster blowout action extravaganza. JLA: The Deluxe Edition (by Morrison and Porter) is that comic book. These stories, from about ten years ago, were writer Grant Morrison’s first foray into mainstream super-hero comics. He’s since become something of a super-star in that arena, but back then had just come from very off-kilter books with a very alternative sensibility like Doom Patrol. So what he did, see, was take this slightly deeper way of looking at familiar situations and marry it to big-scale, heroic story-telling.
So you’ve got your incredible action set-ups: a race of alien beings with powers as vast as Superman come to Earth and appear to have our best interests at heart, but slowly they turn the entire human race first against its heroes and then against itself; a war in heaven, between armies of warrior-angels spills over into Earth; a mastermind captures the League and traps them in a mindscape of their own making and the only one left to take him down is Green Arrow and his dinky little trick arrows. You’ve got all that, but suddenly, characters who seemed like they were cardboard cutouts are guys who you understand. What is it actually like to use a ring that can make anything you think of, but it uses your actual willpower as fuel? How does a mere human like Batman find a way to defeat a room full of enemies at the same power level as Superman? What is it about Superman that makes him the inspiration he is, and what kind of price does it exact? Morrison packs so many fresh ideas and subtle character moments between the action pay-offs that even second-rate characters like Aquaman (ugh!) seem like the sort of guy you’d want by your side if you ever had to take on a shape-shifting monster with super-strength. And if you like it, hang on, because they’ll eventually reprint the rest of Morrison’s JLA run and it just gets better and better.
Meanwhile, there’s William Shakespeare. Don’t know where you stand with old Bill, but chances are you’re okay with Manga. A non-sequitur? No, as it turns out. Manga Shakespeare’s been adapting his plays for a while now with mixed success. Not all of the plays work so well in that format and they’re not all ideal for being updated with futuristic empires and chrome and plastic headgear. Turns out, though, that my favorite of his tragedies does. Julius Caesar (by Mustashrik with a hand from Shakespeare himself) is about an emperor who might be making a play for more power than he should have and the cabal that forms to assassinate him. But they need an inside man and that’s where Emperor Caesar’s right hand man and best friend Brutus comes in. But killing Caesar isn’t the end by a long shot. The fallout leads to all-out war and, since it’s a tragedy, you can pretty much guess what kind of ending you’regoing to get.
The story is intense, but it’s the art by newcomer Mustashrik that really makes this one work in this format. His dark lines create a moody depth and bring out the emotions of guilt and anger in a potent way. The assassination scene, without being horribly graphic, is a particularly powerful and grueling example of the artist’s mastery of this form.
So, as summer ends, maybe you can take advantage of one last summer blockbuster, and as school starts, you can pick up something educational. Hey, I’m here to help.