Friday, March 2, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Justice League - Doom

A few items before we begin.

1.  This movie was based on Mark Waid's tremendous Tower of Babel storyline in JLA that was amazing enough that it was adapted for the movie.  The story was powerful enough that it crept into the entire DCU, and launched us into Infinite Crisis circa 2006.

Oddly, this story is rarely discussed, and Mark Waid is featured not-at-all on the Blu-Ray, and in my viewing, I missed his name, and I was looking for it.

2.  This was also the final work by writer Dwayne McDuffie, who adapted Waid's story.  It shows his trademark ability to translate continuity-heavy DC work into much more workable stories for the 85 minute films.  It also demonstrates his ability to make the dialog sound plausible and build genuine character moments.  And I am going to miss the hell out of seeing his name on motion pictures, television and comics.

3.  On the heels of yesterday's post, I am reminded that there will be no shortage of DCE material for me to enjoy, and the small fee I paid for this Blu-Ray was less than what I'd pay for a tradepaperback.  I believe I paid about $15.

So, yesterday I purchased and read Justice League #6 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee*, and I'd submit to them that they wrote just about the least interesting Justice League story I'd paged through since...  I dunno, maybe the 80's.  While I am torn regarding my loyalty to Mark Waid and my love of the original comics the movie Justice League: Doom was based upon, I can say - Johns and Lee did nothing over 6 issues but demonstrate that they don't know how to put together a compelling story with stakes, character or motivations, nor did they seem to understand that a hallmark of Justice League stories since Grant Morrison took the Pepsi Challenge circa 1997 was a constant ratcheting up of stakes and intensity.  I give you Morrison's insane epic, World War III or, for that matter, Final Crisis.

Queen of voice casting and direction Andrea Romano (probably my weirdest crush), has re-assembled a good chunk of the voice cast of the Justice League/ JLU TV series, swapping some folks out.  Tim Daly who did Superman: The Animated series is back as Superman (the talented George Newbern played Big Blue on JLU), Kevin Conroy IS Batman, Nathan Fillion plays Hal Jordan - subbing for Phil Lamarr who played John Stewart, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman and Carl Lumbly as Martian Manhunter.  The movie adds Cyborg, played by Bumper Robinson.

I'm not exactly sure what to think of the movie itself.  Its very well executed in many facets, including voice acting, choreography of fight scenes (something I noticed director Lauren Montgomery tackled well as far back as Wonder Woman), but it also assumes a fan's familiarity with the characters and their villains, to an extent.  We get passing commentary on the comics'-based past of Batman and Bane, the complicated history of Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris is referred to repeatedly but not carried out.  No explanation of anyone's "deal" is really investigated any more than it usually is in a Justice League comic where part of the fee for entry is knowing a bit about existing characters when you walk in the door.

The character design is definitely a departure from the blocky look on male characters and slight look on females established during the Bruce Timm years.  Its not the mess I've felt that other applied styles have felt like, but it also looks...  manga-influenced enough that Superman's face looks like a Deviant-Art fangirl's impression of a pretty 20 year old pop singer more than, you know - lantern-jawed Clark Kent.

Narratively, so much time is spent hatching the villains' scheme as the core of the movie, that much of what happens afterward seems anti-climactic.  That the League was going to escape seems like a foregone conclusion, and the pacing at that point almost seems to acknowledge this point.

Maybe that's okay, because when we move into the 3rd act, the pacing feels right as we have our heroic confrontation, face deadly peril, deal with a typically way-too-cosmic problem with a way-too-cosmic solution that seems to be the best way to white knuckle through a JLA story.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie, even if I don't understand all of the changes (I actually think as a stand-alone story changing the central villain here more or less works fine), but I respect that McDuffie and Co. were making their own movie based upon the central core of Tower of Babel, not yoking themselves to fidelity of just one comic.

Oh, and I actually noticed myself enjoying the sweeping score on this movie, and would like to see this composer associated with more of the DC projects.

*Justice League delivered the greatest (by scale) villain of the DCU and turned him into Killer Croc just standing there taking punches for some reason.  Apparently nobody at DC has instructed Lee and Johns that typically stories have a beginning, middle, end, protagonists and a point.  If you liked this story, may I suggest that you stick to playing first person shooters on X-Box Live?</editorializing>


Jake Shore said...

I've been trying to decide if this is worth watching. I saw a preview for it on Amazon, and you're description of Superman's manga face is hilariously spot on. I'm not a fan of manga AT ALL, but this didn't look too bad. I also really like Nathan Fillion's voice acting for Green Lantern.

Coincidentally, I was at the comic book store today thumbing through the Tower of Babel TPB, and found the art to be...meh. I know that sounds shallow, but crummy to average art can suck the wind out of great writing.

As far as Justice Leauge, I just skimmed #6, and boy, what a waste. The flagship book, by the flagship artist and the flagship (arguably) writer, and this is the best they could do? Pathetic. The art was good, especially the splashes, but some of the smaller panels looked really hurried. But what an absolutely boring, herky-jerky paced, brain-dead mess of a story. Nothing compelling whatsoever. I didn't care about any of these characters. How could I? I didn't get to know any of them. And I don't believe for a minute Batman would give up his secret identity. Johns didn't give an even slightly credible reason why he would do that. Ugh. Such a disappointment. I was so looking forward to this series.

I'm beginning to wonder if Jim Lee is part of the problem. When was the last collaboration of his that produced a genuinely good comic? What will we remember him for? The only things I can come up with is his run on Batman with Jeph Leob, and although the art was fantastic, the story was just OK. Before that, you have to back to Uncanny X-Men to read some quality comics. His work with Azzarello on Superman was crap (in my opinion). His much anticipated partnership with Frank Miller on All-Star Batman and Robin was terrible. WildCATS was OK. Do I even need to mention Divine Right or Heroes Reborn? I mean, seriously, what's the deal with this guy. He's arguably the best superhero artist of his generation and almost nothing he works on amounts to a truly great comic, even though he could probably work with anyone he wants to? Azzarello stinks in my opinion anyway, but Johns, Loeb, and of course, Miller have produced great comics separate from Lee. Makes me wonder.

I will say, I did really enjoy the WildCATS/X-Men Silver Age crossover that Lee did with Scott Lobdell. That was actually pretty fun. Not great, but charming and fun. Why couldn't JL be that?

Jake Shore said...

And another thing, how come everywhere I go on the internet, damn near everyone is giving this six-issue run big sloppy kisses in their reviews? How can any of these guys credibly review comics? It not a matter of opinion. Objectively speaking, this Justice League 1-6 sucked. If they can't see that, they're like every other slobbering, dimwitted fanboy who will spend money on anything. Or worse, they don't want to upset DC who advertises and sponsors a lot of stuff on their websites. Glad there are sites like yours, that try to be honest, relatively objective, or at least mindful of different audiences.

The League said...

I don't know if the movie is worth full price, and I see these things marked down and rentable all the time. So, check Netflix to see if it made it into their rotation.

The art on Tower of Babel was very reflective of what was hot in 2001 or so, and I'd point that out to anyone in love with some of what's going on today with all the lens flares and cacophonous layouts.

Last month reading Justice League, I had the same thought regarding Jim Lee. I wonder if he's working from a rough outline from Johns and just drawing whatever he wants, and then Johns is coming back and scripting to try to make it work.

The problem is, there's so little there in the frames that I'm not sure there's much to work with, and certainly a lack of understanding regarding (a) Darkseid's usual MO which is not to tromp about like Godzilla, and (b) how to demonstrate that this was a threat outside of a couple of blocks of a city (which one? WHO CARES! sez Johns and Lee).

Lee is talented, but he needs to be corralled in order to deliver a coherent story rather than "@#$% blowing up", it seems.

The only stuff of his I recall being any good in "For Tomorrow" was the depiction of Wonder Woman. That's not much for a 12-issue run. And then his Lois and WW were completely indistinguishable.

I have some not nice comments regarding the effect it had on the DCU Online game when it came to character design that I'll just keep in my pocket.

The League said...

Re: my reviews versus others... I don't know.

I appreciate your regard for what I try to do here, and I'll be honest and say its definitely a reaction to what I see out there.

If I had to guess about why folks are excited - I think there are a lot of young adults out there who are very enthusiastic about comics who get high profile writing gigs or who create them because they sound a lot like their readers, but who haven't had to write anything critical of media in their life.

If you go back to my original blog (don't, but if you did), I don't know that my first few years (and next month, it'll be 9 years I've done this), I was a whole lot different. I do believe I'm trying harder to speak in critical terms now than I did then, at least on nights when I have some energy left.

It seems easy to mistake enthusiasm for "something is happening, and look at all those colors!" for quality. Hell, that was 90's comics. And that's what DC is trying to recreate for some reason.

There are folks out there who take a stab at critical blogging, but the internet is littered with folks who tried and burned out. I also believe you are never going to have the Comics Alliance audience because you're not going to just echo back familiar, fish-in-a-barrel audience complaints while simultaneously boosting those books as "awesome".

And, I know I beat the drum on this a lot, but I don't think those of us over the age of 30 interact with comics the way the target audience does. Its not just that they don't know that everything about Justice League 1-6 felt out of character for every character but Green Lantern. I seriously think a lot of the audience now wants just explosions, T&A and "dark vengeance". So that's what DC is giving them, so how could they write a bad review?