Grotesque Gripes: AVENGERS/JLA #2 & ASM #500
Why is it I'm so behind the curve? Not only do I get my comics
later than everyone else, but I seem to arrive at the general consensus
on things more slowly as well. Case in point: Avengers/JLA
, depending which month it is) #2
surveyed other reviewers' opinions on the first issue
many were being excessively harsh. Now I've read the second issue
and I'm beginning to think they were just quicker to spot the sluggish
direction this mini-series is going in.
Things start out encouragingly with a much more dynamic cover than last
month's group photo. There's a helpful summary of the story so
far on the inside cover, and the issue begins by giving a little more
detail into the conversation between Krona and the Grandmaster, which
set events into motion. So far, so good, but then we run into a
big roadblock on page 3: Who the heck is the floating cosmic
chick? Eternity's sister? Eternity in drag? Luckily, ComiX-Fan's
annotations for #2
were there to inform me that this is "The
physical manifestation of Kismet
in the DC Universe."
OK, whatever; I know a lot less about the DCU than I do the minutia of
the Marvel Universe. Don't get bogged down by minor details; keep
Next comes the superhero slugfest that got underway last
issue. There are some fun moments here, especially the banter
between Flash and Hawkeye ("Purple Arrow" was especially fitting, given
Hawkeye's repeated Squadron Supreme jabs). Meanwhile, Batman and
Captain America decide to find out who's pulling the strings while the
other heroes fight. While I can see Batman (or at least
Morrison's version from JLA) using the others' fights as cover while he
does his clandestine thing, I was taken aback by
Cap's quick acceptance of Batman's plan, especially in light of Cap's
worry last issue that the DCU heroes were "fascist overloads."
Didn't it cross Cap's mind that some of his teammates might be injured,
or that Batman might be feigning cooperation in order to trap
him? And how does sizing up someone's fighting abilities reveal
anything about their trustworthiness? A bit of an awkward
transition from the tone of last issue.
Although Captain America seems to have calmed down,
Superman still appears to be acting out of
character. (Surest sign that Superman isn't quite himself? He's quoting Spinal Tap.
Even Superman's teammates continue to comment on his abnormal
behavior. So now I'm not sure
what the point was in having these heroes act so oddly. At first
I thought it was perhaps Busiek's way of commenting on how these
characters are the embodiments of their respective universes:
Transported into an alien universe, each begins to act in an alien
manner. But Cap's calm behavior in this issue while in the
"other" universe seems to shoot down this theory. Whatever the
eventual explanation (mind control, possession, doppleganger switch
during teleportation), the loss of symmetry seems to have weakened the
impact of this device.
Speaking of heroes acting out of character, the Thing shows up in this
issue to provide some comic relief. The only problem is that it
doesn't seem to be Ben Grimm's trademark gruff sense of humor. He
shows up in the Batcave and yammers on while Batman doesn't get in
a single word. It's a funny scene, contrasting Batman's taciturn
demeanor against a much more gregarious character, but Grimm's nonstop
chatter is more suited to a character like Spider-Man. Even
worse, the Thing's line that he's not
needed "fer gumshoein'—even cosmic gumshoein'" only serves to draw
attention to the contrived nature of the cast: The Thing—who
has handled plenty of cosmic affairs on his own and as a member of the
FF—only declines to help because Busiek doesn't want him in this
story, not because he'd rather lift things for Reed than save the
universe. So why does Busiek include the Thing at all?
Because of the promise to include every character who's ever been a
member of either team, and Ben was a member of the West Coast Avengers
for a short period. (Reed and Sue, who were members of the
regular Avengers team for several issues, also get a quick cameo for
this reason.) Busiek sacrifices a smoothly-flowing story for some
comedy and character checklist completeness.
There were a couple other spots where I felt the story ground to a
halt. Any time Krona and Grandmaster would explain the rules of
their wager, my eyes started glazing over. ("So let's go over
this one more time: If you win, I'll leave your universe.
But if I win, you have to let me wear that darling yellow dress you
have on!!") And since the full plot has yet to be revealed, I
know I have even more exposition to look forward to in upcoming issues.
Then toward the end of the issue, it seemed as though every other panel
was a close-up of a hero wearing a shocked expression and exclaiming
"WH--??" After a while I lost track of who was being surprised by
what. An acceptable pacing device, but definitely overused here.
Although I found this issue frustrating overall, there were still some
fun scenes for long-time fans: Cap seeing the case containing the
Jason Todd Robin costume and asking "You...lost a partner?"; Hawkeye
grumbling that he didn't get a chance to square off against Green
Arrow; Batman entering the Grandmaster's lair and commenting that he's
"fought men with this kind of compulsion before, but never with this
scope." I also thought Perez's art was stronger in this issue,
especially in the use of symmetrical page layouts to show the two
teams' parallel actions throughout the story. Check out pages
16-17, 24-25, 37, 38, 39, 47—some very nice stuff.
Next Issue: The Amalgam Universe!! (?)
On the other hand, sometimes I feel I'll never be able to join in the
wisdom on certain books. My impression is that most people are
enjoying J. Michael Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man
I've never been able to get into it. I've read some of his
earlier issues (either through Marvel's DotComics or lucky bargain
bin finds) but found them tedious. But what find of fanboy would
I be if I passed up a chance to read a double-sized (well, almost) 500th
issue special of my favorite superhero? So, yeah, I picked up ASM
I'd hardly hit the first page when I already had several
complaints. A J. Scott Campbell cover? Ugh. I don't
understand why people think his females are attractive; I think his
female characters look hideously distorted. (His Mary Jane has
been a featured image in the Grotesque Anatomy Hall of Shame
before.) OK, turn the cover. Huh? What the hell is
going on?? Why is the Earth X Spider-Man in this comic? Why
does the young Peter Parker have a spider-shaped lamp? "Happy
Birthday, Part Three
"??? Hey, doesn't Marvel do those
recap pages? I could sure use one now! Aarrgh—way to plan
for all those casual readers who will be picking this issue up because
of the "500" on the front, Marvel...
Since I didn't read the issues leading up to this one, I have no idea
why the future Spider-Man is being pursued by the police for
manslaughter. I have no idea who this Lamont character trying
to talk Future-Spidey into surrendering is. And I have no idea why
Future-Spidey thinks committing suicide will be "better for MJ."
(Can't you just get a divorce if she's sick of your being
Spider-Man?) So this scene with Future-Spidey deciding to go out
in a pointless blaze of glory eats up about seven pages of the (almost)
double-sized issue. From the future, we return to the past as we
watch Spidey (with his present consciousness) relive several events
from his earlier career, including yet another homage to the "pinned under rubble" scene from ASM #33 (didn't JMS just do something similar to this not too long ago?). At first the idea struck me as lazy
("Hey, we don't even have to write any new scenes for this issue!
We'll just have Spidey relive his past!!"), but the execution isn't
bad. Watching a wiser, more experienced Spidey wisecrack his way
through earlier events reminded me of something out of one of the
better Buffy episodes. Plus, we get to see JR, Jr's renditions of
some classic Spidey villains. (My only complaint is that JMS'
lame villains are shoehorned in alongside the classic rouges' gallery.)
Spidey returns to the present, convinces the other heroes not to do
something Very Bad, and Dr. Strange shows up to save the day. Doc
also presents Spidey with a special gift—five minutes with Uncle Ben
(which is a treat for the reader, too, since the four-page scene is
illustrated by none other than Jazzy Johnny Romita himself).
Yeah, I got a little misty-eyed seeing Peter finally unburden some of
his guilt. (And somewhere John Byrne read this scene and shed
tears as well, but tears of anger: "How dare they screw up
Peter's motivation for being Spider-Man?? Idiots!!! Looks
like I'll have to step in to clean things up again....")
Actually, now that I think about it, this would make a very good ending
point for the Spider-Man saga: Peter, finally realizing that he is
happy, deciding to continue as Spider-Man because he derives
satisfaction from helping others. Yeah, I think it makes sense to
stop reading Spider-Man comics here. I like this ending.