Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - JLA: Classified #9

Posted: Sunday, July 3, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

ďLo! There Shall Come an Ending...And None Too Soon!Ē

Writer: Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Kevin Maguire (p), Joseph Rubenstein (i)

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating:

Michael Deeley:
Shawn Hill:
Shaun Manning:
Ray Tate:

Michael Deeley

Mary Marvel, Power Girl, and Guy Gardner fight off the evil versions of the Marvel Family, then debate whether or not to fight this dimensionís giant GíNort. Back in the Super Posse strip club, the rest of the team take down their evil doubles. It all has a happy ending that makes me think Countdown to Infinite Crisis sucks.

The strongest quality in Giffen & DeMatteisí Justice League stories is the character-driven action. The stories are driven by who these people are. Their decisions, their personalities, decide their actions. Usually superheroes just react to what happens around them. The ďSuperbuddiesĒ actually think about whatís going on and decide what to do next. Gardner and Power Girl donít want to fight the giant GíNort because itís not their world, and their top priority is getting home. Mary wants to stop GíNort to save lives. Both are valid motivations. Blue Beetle quickly makes a plan to subdue and escape their evil twins. This requires quick thinking and teamwork, which they pull of flawlessly. We learn who characters are through what they do. And what these characters do is rooted firmly in who they are.

I also want to point out how Bea feels guilty about sending her friend Tora back to hell. Her guilt eats at her throughout the issue. Gardner feels bad about it too, but does a better job hiding his feelings. The story deals with the loss of a friend and a loved one in a mature and honest manner. People will call this the funny Justice League, but it can be serious when the writers try. Remember, Giffen is experienced at writing drama in Legion of Superheroes, and DeMatteis had a long run on Daredevil. They can do dark and brooding when they want to.

Maguire and Rubenstein will rightly be remembered as one of the best artistic teams to have ever worked in comics. Maguireís people are incredibly human, with all the tiny details that can convey a thousand emotions. Even a page of talking heads is visually interesting. Rubenstein knows exactly where not to put an ink line. He adds definition and accentuates details. His inking philosophy seems to be ďless is more,Ē and it works.

After reading this story, I canít reconcile it with events in Countdown to Infinite Crisis. I can no longer accept that the Max Lord portrayed here is the same man now running Checkmate. Sure, this Max is a lying, manipulative, conniving, snake, but heís still a decent fellow. The last page, with panels of Max and Blue Beetle laughing together, just doesnít fit with Max murdering Beetle. With the murders of Beetle and Sue Dibney, Max turning evil, and Booster Gold hitting bottom, I canít help but think DC is trying to cast a dark shadow over an otherwise light and humorous chapter in the history of the Justice League. Making comic books darker is bad enough. Taking away what little light there was is a crime.

Ironically, Giffen & Co. created their Justice League as an antidote to the grim and gritty comics prevalent in the 1980ís. After Infinite Crisis, DC is going to need comics like that again.

Shawn Hill

Plot: Alternate Universe. Giant Gínort! Evil S&M versions of the Marvels. Max is a small time crook. Toraís a murderous floozy. Boosterís not very brió
hey, waitaminute!?

Comments: This is a bittersweet, often hilarious ending to a series that managed to pull the heartstrings while standing in rueful ironic contrast to the rest of the DC universe. Iím not torn by my love for ďI Canít Believe itís not the Justice LeagueĒ: I know itís been one of my favorite books ever since the revival last year. But thereís something touching, instantly quaint, about a product thatís rendered irrelevant before it comes out by the darkening, less hopeful world around it. This can be read as the last happy adventure for this crew (even though they went to Hell during it--maybe!), a space warp glimpse into a more innocent time that has no place in the current state of things at DC.

Which is not to condemn totally the current state of things. Iíve signed on for Villains United and Omac Project, and Iíve been largely enjoying both series. Omac #3 this week, in fact, has a direct answer to this issue, as Booster and Guy team up to avenge Beetleís murder, spurning the (lack of) aid offered by Wonder Woman and the non-eighties JLA. I hated the brutal excesses of Identity Crisis and have problems with the darkening of DC overall, but I do think a coherent story is being planned and executed with a real sense of creeping dread and consequences.

But letís stay back in more innocent times while we can. When the most offensive part of a book is what comes out of Guy Gardnerís mouth, and women like Kara and Mary Marvel and Fire are more than willing to shut him up with a punch!

High IQ: Everyone figures out itís an alternate universe almost before I did, bad guys and good guys alike. Giffen and DeMatteis donít bother much with explaining why this world went so bad; it just is, now deal with it. The same sense of competence that allowed them to escape Hell serves the heroes well here, as they adapt and spring into action with the surprising aid of Boosterís newfound insight. Amidst all the jokes thereís impressive character development; Mary never loses her innocence in this story, Kara never regains hers, and Bea has time for some real doubt and regret as an important drama from her life receives a poignant final coda.

Looking good: Maguire has never looked better, having great fun with the ersatz doppelgangers all over the place, each one a telling contrast to their normal universe selves. GíNortís less annoying than heís ever been, and Maguireís way with facial expressions makes the serious conversations that intersperse all the witty one-liners all the more moving. Dare I suggest a team-up some day with the king of Talking Head Comics, Brian Michael Bendis (perhaps the most perverse thing Iíve said in weeks)?

Poignant final coda: Thatís what this issue is. And you get the sense, in several seemingly offhand comments, that Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire are completely aware that theyíre putting these toys away for perhaps the final time. Iím upset about that, but these guys at least have nothing to be ashamed of.

Shaun Manning

The Superbuddies face peril on all sides, trapped in a parallel universe with their evil twins! But with Guy Gardner as one of the good guys, who are we supposed to root for? Power Girl, Mary Marvel, and Guy square off against a giant rabid G'Nort and the fetishistic Marvel family while Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Fire, and Elongated Man contend with a motley mob of friendly faces. Will the heroes prevail? Of course! How could a comic book starring Blue Beetle, Ralph and Sue Dibny, and Maxwell Lord not have a happy ending?

"You don't want a to get a heart attack and amnesia."

Keith Giffen and Marc DeMatteis are possibly the only writers in comics who can fit more words on a page than Brian Michael Bendisóand they're also a lot more fun to read. These writers also know the value of a good reaction shot, causing several pages to have eight or more panels. Yet all of this speeds up the pace, makes the humor that much snappier, and when the story calls for a somber moment the same devices work just as well. Equivalent scenes exploring Fire's and Guy's reactions to their heartbreaking loss in Hell are touching, as well as subtly revealing about the true nature of these characters. But of course, the reason we're here is for lines like "I don't need two wives!"

It must be said, though, that either Kevin Maguire's art has grown more exaggerated in the years since JLI or modern innovations in coloring and paper quality make it appear so. Some of the faces look just foolishly cartoony, and not in such a way to benefit the script. Guy Gardner is the most severe example, with his lips frequently flitting to the side of his head, or his chin sinking into his neck.

For whatever reason, these creators shine with these characters in way they have not yet been able to translate to others. Individually, Giffen's humor often falls flat, and his non-funny books are hit-or-miss. DeMatteis has had some success with his creator owned fantasy series, but can trail so far into esotericism as to lose even the most dedicated audience. Even together, the magic seldom matches what they've accomplished with this stand-in Justice League. The Hero Squared special was mediocre at best, though perhaps things will get interesting once the regular series commences. Soon we'll see how they do with Marvel's Defenders. Considering the chances of a return to JLI in the current DC editorial climate are slim and getting slimmer, we might all hope for the best with their other projects.

"Your Judy Garland was Dead On."

Well, that was fun. Even with the distraction of these characters' appearances in DC's "event" books, Giffen and DeMatteis have plowed out a story that forces a smile onto our grim faces. Be warned, though: following this up by reading OMAC #3 will send a chill down your spine.

Ray Tate

JLA Classified makes one feel good. Knowing that DCís latest brouhaha as opposed to bwa-ha-ha is actually based in a mirror universe explains much. Sue Dibney being raped by Dr. Light and murdered by Jean Loring, Batman being mind wiped, Maxwell Lord shooting Blue Beetle in the head, Babs Gordon still being crippled after all these years--ohhhhhh, still crippled after all these years in a world that has had four--count them--four Dr. Fates--and the absolute inefficacy of the entire DC pantheon against crime and injustice has all been false. The Super-Buddies are true.

Point number one. You can identify the real heroes by their dialogue. Nobody sounds out of character, and you do not even need to see them or hear their names to know who the characters are. In contrast, Dr. Light was a thief. He was a glorified loon of a bank robber who wore a fin on his head. He killed or attempted murder out of practicality not malice. A rapist is a different type of filth. Zatanna would never mindwipe Batman. Zatanna and Batman are friends. Friends donít mindwipe friends. Willow does this in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the action is a sign of her inexperience in the use of powerful magic corrupting her. It also triggers the realization of her corruption and her road to redemption--sloped askew by the true evil acts of Warren. Zatanna grew up with magic and is no novice. She lives and breathes magic. In every adventure, her ethics are beyond question. So in summary of point one. In the Super-Buddies books, everybody looks and sounds in character. In the Big Stupid Event books, everybody is out of character.

Point two. In order for there to be a mirror universe, there must exist a distinction between the counterpart. Maxwell Lordís doppelganger intends to ventilate a Super-Buddy. The Maxwell Lord of the Big Stupid Event shoots Blue Beetle in the head. Where then is the duality? It's much more logical to believe that a doppelganger of Maxwell Lord shot Blue Beetle in the head. If we accept the idea of the mirror universe and the need for duality corroborated by Grant Morisonís Earth-Two then the true Maxwell Lord must be the opposite to the murderous one dimensional vermin seen in the mirror universe. This criteria is met in JLA Classified. The creative team show the difference between the mirror universe Maxwell Lord and the true Maxwell Lord clowning around with his comrades, the Super-Buddies. The Maxwell Lord we know would never shoot Blue Beetle in the head. Willow despite being hollowed out by Warren's actions in Buffy the Vampire Slayer cannot kill Xander, who with Giles' sabotage, ultimately saves the day and more importantly, Willow's humanity. In summary, there cannot be two murderous Maxwell Lords and the duality of the mirror
universe. One must be accepted, and all of Maxwell Lord's previous appearances bolster the theory that Max is a good guy. Therefore, the murderer of Blue Beetle must be the mirror universe Maxwell Lord.

Point three. Beneath the masks, super-heroes are real people. Real people possess moods. Even those who are defined by one mood still issue nuances of other moods. Guy Gardner is mostly arrogant and annoying, yet he genuinely cared for Tora--Ice nee Ice Maiden. Batman once a hard-edged leader of those who made up the Justice League also exhibited lighter moods such as when he and Jíonn comment upon Maxís behavior when discovering Beetle and Booster bankrupted the League in the infamous Kooey-Kooey incident or when he recruited Hawkman and Hawkwoman back into the League. The false mirror universe Batman needs to be locked up somewhere and heavily medicated--despite what psychiatric expert Tom Cruise said. The more human Batman briefly seen in Formerly Known as the Justice League who can appreciate the joke of giving the Martian Manhunter a Choco is true and the psychotic sphincter in the Batman titles is false. This makes so much more sense. So in summary, the more multidimensional characters of Giffin, DeMatteis and Maguire exhibit true behavior reflecting real life. The one-dimensional Big Stupid Event characters simply act like
cardboard or a twisted reflection of the true heroes.

Point four. In order for super-heroes to be heroic, they have to fight crime and save lives. All the Big Stupid Event false heroes seem to accomplish is to promote misery and pessimism. The Super-Buddies in JLA Classified, however, fight the evil mirror universe counterparts, save each othersí lives and do so with panache and effective punch. At her senior prom, Buffy was given an award declaring her ďClass Protector.Ē Despite the presence of all sorts of supernatural entities attracted to the Hellmouth, the current Sunnydale class has the lowest mortality rate of any in the schoolís history. Itís been ten years at the very least; Gotham is still a pest-hole. Babs Gordon is still crippled. What has Superman done lately for the world? Hell, in the time frame between the two original Batman movies, there's a marked improvement because of Batman in Gotham. Like Michael Keatonís Batman and Buffy, the Super-Buddies make a difference in this book. So in summary, the false heroes in the Big Stupid Event books let each other die, brush each other off and mindwipe each other while forgetting the innocent lives theyíre sworn to protect.

In short, Iíll be very interested in DC comics when they return their attention to the true universe of the Super-Buddies and the world where super-heroes actually act on behalf of ďtruth, justice and peace for all mankind.Ē

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