Saturday, 25 October 2014

Justice League 101...

Comic-books are nothing if not a medium of ideas. No other medium in existence comes close to doing the things that can be done in comics. Any idea you can imagine visually can be brought to life in comics. In fact in my experience comic creators are mavericks one and all who live by the edict 'the bigger and crazier the idea the better'. Recently movies have claimed that technology has made it possible to bring anything you can imagine to life on the big screen - but it's not true. If the movie version of Watchmen tells us anything, it's that Hollywood will never have the balls to drop a big, giant, squishy, green, one-eyed, many tentacled, telepathic alien on top of New York.

But comic books did it.

In fact we did it - thirty-five minutes ago.

Tee Hee, I've always wanted to say that.

What's set me off on this 'big ideas' diatribe you ask? Well I've been re-reading JLA #7 from Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's incomparable run on that book.

This thing is like a college syllabus for a class lays out step by step how to take a Justice League story and make it mind-blowingly awesome.

Are you guys ready? Class in session.

You gotta start out right. So you take the Justice League concept right back to basics. It's the greatest heroes of the DC Universe all gathered on one team. So you take the seven big guns and stick them all together and base them some crazy comic-book location. A compound on the surface of the moon? That'll do!

Then you take these guys and give them a threat to tackle. It has to be a threat that can only be handled by a team that boasts two dudes that can bench-press aircraft carriers and one that can surf on the backs of humpback whales.

Having heaven invade earth? Hmm interesting.

Okay but these invading angels can't be of the nice, pious, fluffy-winged, harp-playing variety. These guys should be huge and mean. We're talking big, honking monster angels with rings through their noses, heaven forged weapons made of magic fire, armour made out of eyes and a maybe giant heavenly space-ship that burns anything in touches.

Now you might think that sounds awesome enough as is- that no matter what you do from here you're onto a winner. Not so - this the Justice League - you've got to throw something in the mix awesome enough to have resulted from a situation as wild and crazy as the Justice League versus the Heavenly Host.

Maybe......urm.....have Superman wrestle 'em?

Looks Like A Job For Superman! Get It, Like Job...From The Bible...Dude Who Wrestled Angels? No? Fine. Whatever.

Hold on, don't drift off and think about what you're going to have for lunch just yet. Class isn't over. Sure you've come up with a comic-book concept that is the most awesome thing most regular folks have ever heard of - but this is the Justice League we can't stop there!

We need a sub-plot people. They're the glue that holds comic-books together.

Of course, now that you've dropped angels on top of New York and had the Justice League hit them with giant green boxing gloves and stuff - a regular sub-plot is not gonna cut it. I mean no-ones going to care if Aunt May needs her medicine at this point, you're not going to get any points for having Lois staring out the window in her skivvies thinking about the state of her marriage.

No, we need something that'll compliment our main story. Like Neron and some ugly little demon guys trying to pull of some kind of evil scheme while the feathers are flying.

Let think. Maybe they could pull the moon out of the sky and crash it into the Earth? Yeah that's the ticket.

Of course big crazy comic-book problems like this require big crazy comic-book solutions! I'm sure your first thought was, just like Grant Morrison, to have Superman build a giant electro magnet on the surface of the moon out of pieces of the Justice League Watchtower and power it with his own body in order to use the magnetic force generated to repel the moon.

Hold on a second did I just say repel the moon?

I sure did:
Look Kids: Science

Damn that's some zesty lemonade made out of some serious electric blue comic-book lemons right there.

There's just not enough good things to say about Morrison and Porter's run on the JLA book. It's JLA done as they should be - the biggest and best of the heroes taking on the threats that are so earth shattering in their proportions only these guys can take care of it.

What makes it even more impressive is that he did it all without the benefit of one of DCs patented hair-trigger reboots. I mean three of his big guns are far from at their best. He's not just saddled with Electric Blue Supes, he's also got Kyle 'You Put What In My Refridgerator?' Rayner as Green Lantern and a hook-handed, 80s haired Aquaman! Respect where it's due, even those duds got some great character moments.

That folks, is how great the JLA could and should be done.

New 52? Is that you sleeping in the back? You of all people should be taking notes here!

Sigh - comic book universes today.

Class dismissed.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Stars And S.T.R.I.P.E. And Teenage Spunk...

Believe it or not folks there was time when the name Geoff Johns was not synonymous with dudes getting their arms ripped off or with multi-coloured alien police men and their cosmic mood rings. He was in fact known for spunky blonde teenage cheerleaders in tight spandex short shorts.

Hold on, let me read that back.

Okay that came out a little creepier than I intended.

What I meant to say was 'hey guys did you ever read that great Geoff Johns series that came out from DC a whole buncha years ago called Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Man that thing was frickin' awesome'. In my defence it does have a spunky blonde teenage cheerleader in tight spandex short shorts. That's not the big draw though - it's just an obvious ploy to try and bump up my Google search hits.

Bwah hah hah!

Sorry Geoff. Let's talk Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. #13.

I loved this series and I really could've picked from any one of a dozen issues to tout as fantastic and something you should totally go dig up. However #13 is something special. I remember reading this and thinking that Geoff Johns had cracked open my head, scooped out everything I wanted to see from this comic-book and smeared it all across this issue.

Considering there's a panel on the first page where the two little redneck Clampitt kids are sneaking into Maw and Paw's bedroom armed with a pick-axe and a wheat thresher - this thing had me at hello like a drunk Tom Cruise at a bitter woman's support group:

Ferget The Hogs Paw, This Time Me And Sammy Jo Are Gonna Slop You!

So the reason for the Children of the Corn above is that all of the kids in the Mid-Western United States have fallen under the influence of the snaky and goofily named megalomaniac Dragon King thanks to his orbiting mind control satellite.

Even Courtney Whitmore herself is not spared. So by page three she's already using the power of her sparkly short shorts to kick seven shades of shit out of her bumbling stepdad.

I should point out that the concept behind this book is that average and angst cheer-leader Courtney Whitmore stumbles upon the fact that her mom's new beau was once Stripesy - the questionably dressed sidekick of the Golden Age Star Spangled Kid. This drives her to steal his tech, pull on some spangly biker shorts and fight crime. This in turn forces her past-it new step-dad to don a giant suit of armour he had lying around the basement and place super-chaperone.

That's an awesome concept. I mean it's maybe not as good as whatever verbal voodoo landed 'Melissa & Joey' on our airwaves - but still pretty damn good.

So anyway Courtney's kicking daddy dearest's ass. Her stepdad's Stripesy days are far behind him, so despite the giant, heavily armed mecha-suit he's not much in a fight.

When I started this issue I figured that good ol' Stripesy, in true comic-book fashion, would whip up some sort of convenient doohickey that would break the King's spell on Courtney. However Geoff Johns decided to throw a totally in character curve ball that I didn't see coming.

With Stripesy on the ropes and Courtney in position to drop the death-blow - she breaks out of DK's thrall by the sheer force of will. Even the awesome, globe-spanning, space-based, bleeding edge mind-control tech of scaly and immortal bad guys can stand up the unconquerable juggernaut that is teenage spunkiness:

That's a great moment. Courtney Whitmore is a great character because of moments like this. For all the times she can be infuriatingly immature and obnoxious, there are also moments like this that show her limitless pool of inner strength and compassion.

I'm not sure what colour lantern inner strength and compassion is. I can't keep track of these things. Magenta? Coral? Teal maybe?

Anyway, if defeating super-villains with the power of teenage spunk doesn't do it for you, this issue has another killer moment just waiting in the wings.

Okay, I heard it too. Let's just pretend I didn't say that and move on.

Sooo, Shining Knight (an old golden age buddy of Stripesy and the original Star Spangled Kid) is also in the issue. For me that alone turns the awesome factor up to eleven. I love all those old clunky Seven Soldiers of Victory guys.

However for those of you with no soul, for whom Sir Justin doesn't float your boat let me just say this: Shining Knight versus the Dragon the sky......wait for it......on a winged horse and a frickin' dragon!

Check it out:

That my friends is just good comic-books. I mean sure no-one puts on any anger jewellery that makes them spew blood at their enemies but hell it's still pretty sweet, am I right?

Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is terrific series from beginning to end. Sure it plays around with that DC legacy stuff that I'm a sucker for - but even if you don't love the adorable crusties of JSA and their history - there's still a lot to enjoy in this series. It's got delicious teenage melodrama, huge steaming dollops of super-hero hijinks, surprising twists, great character moments and it's packed full to bursting with heart.

That's it from me, other than to say apologies to all those confused Google searchers who got here thanks to my misleading opening paragraph. Don't feel bad, it could be worse. You could've ended up here after searching for 'dean cain spandex'. You know who you are!