Uzumeri x Godel #8: JLA! Blown Away! What Else Do I Have To Say? (JLA 1-5)
Godel: Another long one, folks! After a couple of one-offs in Gothic and Aztek, we’re settling back into an ongoing Grant Morrison series, and it’s a doozy: the 1997 relaunch of Justice League of America, now just JLA.
Uzumeri: The ’90s were host to a lot of simplified reboots, and the shortened name would seem to fit in with the cynical, anti-heroic nature of the times – playing up the branding and playing down the connotations behind all the words in the name. It’s a tactic that would work very well a few years later with the Justice Society, before the full names were restored amidst mid-’00s Bronze Age nostalgia.
Godel: It’s like Kentucky Fried Chicken becoming KFC.
Uzumeri: Unlike when Doctor Fate became “Fate” (a kid who melted down Doctor Fate’s helmet to make throwing ankhs and a huge knife), Morrison’s JLA is more concerned with an update of the old concepts and paradigms. Like a lot of his superhero work, much of it is very aware of both the industry and the world around it.
Godel: Yup – these comics are really bound up in the state of the industry, with many little sideswipes akin to what we saw Animal Man doing 7-8 years previously.
Godel: The team here consists of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, the Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, the Flash, and Green Lantern… although they’re looking to pad their ranks out to twelve. That’s a really big number for a superhero team, but it’s the right number for a pantheon, and the characters are written more like mythic archetypes than your typical cast. They all do distinct things in character, but they don’t have character arcs. Superman does Supermanly stuff the way you expect Athena to do Athena-y stuff.
Uzumeri: Morrison’s actually stated that he was going for an Olympian vibe with the crew here. There sort of are character arcs – I’d say Wally and Kyle’s relationship is one, for instance. But Batman, no way, and even when Superman becomes electric, he doesn’t change as a character.
Godel: Given the Olympian angle, it’s great that the first arc’s big conceptual question hinges on what these beings should be doing with their power; they refuse to be gods and insist on being “only” heroes.
Uzumeri: JLA isn’t based on character as much as plot, but character informs that plot in a number of ways. In a big way, it let Morrison develop his incredibly economic characterization, something he uses to great effect in New X-Men and especially Final Crisis.
Godel: The counterargument is that it’s not really characterization at all at that point – just making the characters live up to their reputations. He boils those down to their essences, but he’s not always interested in developing the cast as people.
Uzumeri: Yeah, I absolutely agree, and it’s a weird shift from the very in-depth, over-time characterization we’ve gotten in his stuff so far.
Godel: It depends on your definition of characterization. Animal Man went through some big changes (at the mercy of the plot), but his relationships with the other characters didn’t really drive the story. But, okay, there’s an arc revolving around his activism.
Uzumeri: So, starting out, Morrison wisely limited the size of the group to the original founding roll-call.
Godel: Which means no time burned introducing the cast: it’s Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, for crying out loud! The Martian Manhunter is the one with probably the lowest profile, and smartly the first arc gives him an important role.
That being said, the book is ruled to a great degree by what was going on in other comics; the larger DCU status quo dictates what we’re getting here (electric Superman, Kyle Rayner). I’m not a real DC head – can you give me some background on where these people stood at this moment?
Superman, at this point, was in the middle of the “triangle” era: four monthly books and one quarterly book to cover fifth-week shipments. In other words, he had a weekly title with rotating creative teams – the braintrust of Dan Jurgens, Lousie Simonson, David Michelinie, Karl Kesel and Roger Stern.
Superman hadn’t been in the Justice League since… when Dan Jurgens was writing it and Superman at the same time, I believe. The Justice League before this was as shown in #1 – Metamorpho, Firehawk, Nuklon, Obsidian, Icemaiden… it was sad.
Godel: Particularly since, last we checked, the Justice League was doing great!Now, I hate to ask – but why’s Supes electric? Or does it matter?
Uzumeri: It doesn’t matter. It started with his powers just acting weird; we saw that in Aztek, when he went to see the kid in a coma and couldn’t turn off his heat vision. Then he went electric, and then he turned into Superman-Red and Superman-Blue, who had different personalities.
Godel: This has always seemed to me like comics’ definitive case of New Coke. Lots of new looks and costumes have been introduced with much fanfare only to be scuttled quietly a year or two later, but if there was ever anything that didn’t need any kind of reinventing at all, it’s the basic design and power set of Superman.
Uzumeri: To be fair, it was less “let’s modernize Superman” and more “let’s pay homage to crazy ’60s stories where Superman got lots of wacky new powers.”
Godel: Like he touched some…electric kryptonite or something. That actually makes a ton of sense.
Uzumeri: It was always clearly temporary. The whole saga was maybe a year, and Jurgens had been on Superman for like eight years at this point.
Godel: I remember, coming in on the hype of the DEATH OF SUPERMAN, it was so weird for the Cyborg to turn out to be just some guy who’d shown up a couple years before in a Fantastic Four homage story. But if you’d been reading Jurgens all along it would have been really cool.
Uzumeri: And the Red/Blue arc was basically an excuse to do like two or three months of Superdickery. It’s got some really funny moments.
Electric Superman is the only big DCU WTF that we’ll see in JLA – other than Wonder Woman dying in John Byrne’s run and being replaced by her mom.
Godel: Oh, Christ, I remember that now.
Uzumeri: No Man’s Land upends Batman’s world near the end of Morrison’s run, but only gets touched on in a Waid/Grayson fill-in issue.
Batman, for his part, really had a bunch of titles: not only his own three in-continuity books, and his in-continuity-but-in-the-past book (which we’ve discussed), but also four or five sidekick titles. As today, there was no shortage of Batman. This was still deep in the Doug Moench/Chuck Dixon/Alan Grant era.
Godel: At least Batman acknowledges how busy he is here, insisting that his Justice League role will be only “advisory” and kind of hilariously telling Wonder Woman he’ll work on their problem while solving some caper with the Mad Hatter.
Uzumeri: Kyle Rayner had been Green Lantern for three years, and had a stint on the Titans, but he was still a relative greenhorn… no pun intended.
This was definitely his big coming-out party to the Big Guns of the DCU, rather than hanging out with Nightwing and Donna Troy. (Both of whom, by the way, are now in the mediocre-selling Justice League of America title. What does that tell you?)
Ron Marz was still writing Green Lantern, and his definitive story was Kyle’s girlfriend getting stuffed in a fridge by Major Force, leading Gail Simone to start Women in Refrigerators. Quite the creative legacy.
Godel: Wait wait wait – - Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend is the famous girlfriend in the refrigerator? I never actually made that connection! And he’s actually kind of wryly joking about it in this comic! “What happened to crazy jewel heists and dumb traps? Now they murder your girlfriend and stuff her in a fridge for kicks.”
Uzumeri: Yup – happened in his fourth issue as GL. It was what led him to take heroism seriously, or something. This was why he had such a hate-on for Major Force back in that Aztek story.
I like Kyle, but he’s kind of a… bro. Which annoys me because I expect him to be more of a nerd. On the other hand, Morrison writes his use of his powers more like he’s a mechanical engineer than a cartoonist.
Uzumeri: Kyle was really never a nerd in his original arc, he was intended to be more of a “stereotypical ’90s kid” kind of thing.
Godel: He walks this thin line between the nerdy audience (manga!) and the sort of cool dude a nerd might secretly aspire to be. I do like his rivalry with Flash, especially since no pantheon is complete without a “pair” - they’re the Apollo and Artemis, the James and John, the… Wilykit and Wilykat.
Uzumeri: But he’s not socially awkward enough to really count as a nerd; he’s only awkward here because the people he’s hanging out with are completely ridiculous. Tongue-tied around girls? Nah. Around Wonder Woman? …maybe.
Speaking of Wonder Woman, she was in the middle of a by-all-accounts terrible John Byrne run at this time, one that went on for a while and would continue to impact Morrison’s JLA as mentioned. She’s a character that very few writers have a handle on, and the economic characterization probably saves Morrison’s ass here with regards to depicting her.
Godel: She might be where “economic” verges into “vague” – she’s Strong, Confident, and Heroic, but doesn’t actually get to do much except beat up Martians and insult Aquaman.
Uzumeri: To be fair, Aquaman is being kind of a dick.
Godel: I love Aquaman here – he’s like Namor except nobody takes his bullshit seriously.
Uzumeri: He was in the middle of the Peter David run at this time, and while I’m sure it was very nuanced over in that title, he’s… yeah, exactly, he’s Namor, except everyone just sighs and waits for him to shut up and save the world, which is hilarious. I also love the way Morrison shows his animal telepathy – I like to think that dolphin that helps him mess up the transmitter is the same one that saved the evil whaler in Animal Man.
Godel: Ahahahha, that’d be great. They should collect all the untold stories of this dolphin that’s the real hero behind all superheroes’ underwater adventures.
Would PAD’s “nuanced” run be the same comic where Aquaman got his arm chewed off by piranhas so he could get an attitude and a hook for a hand?
Uzumeri: I keep hearing that it was one of the better DC books in the ’90s, since he expanded Atlantean mythology a lot and just made it this badass underwater Conan thing, but I honestly haven’t read it.
Godel: Me either; I should give PAD the benefit of the doubt, since I can imagine the hook thing being more like Buster from Arrested Development than Wolverine losing his adamantium or whatever.
Uzumeri: I like how in JLA he shows up in the second issue, a total johnny-come-lately. “Fine, I guess I’ll help if I have to.”
The Flash is Wally West.
His book’s in the middle of the Mark Waid run at this point, with Brian Augustyn as co-writer; he’s the everyman superhero despite having the most fantastic powers.
Godel: One of the dividing lines between being a Marvel and a DC fan is caring about the Flash. I know it’s supposed to be a big deal whether it’s Barry Allen or Wally West, but I actually don’t really know or care which one is which.
Uzumeri: As Superman points out, Wally’s been wearing a costume longer than anyone else on the team.
Godel: Superman’s just being nice though – the only character newer than him here is Kyle Rayner!
Uzumeri: Well still – Barry Allen traditionally kicked off the Silver Age, and Wally got his powers on one of Barry’s very first adventures. So despite being one of the younger members of the team, he’s maybe the most grizzled veteran, an absolute pro who’s been wearing a costume and saving lives for the vast majority of his life.
We’ll see more of him in the Morrison/Millar Flash run halfway through JLA. For a while he was really a very Spider-Man-esque character, compared to big, gruff, responsible Barry Allen. Like, he’s not afraid to make fun of Batman, because he’s known Batman since he was eight as basically his best friend’s creepy dad.
Godel: That’s a nice angle, and it’s good to have somebody on the team who’s neither the rookie (Kyle) nor the Awe-Inspiring Legend (everyone else).
Uzumeri: And this is definitely the reason why Wally’s so resistant to Kyle at first. Wally spent literally his entire life earning the right to be The Motherfucking Flash… and his uncle Hal got replaced by a drunk kid in an alley.
Godel: And also, had Kyle personally done anything really awesome at this point? Saved the world or anything?
Uzumeri: Nah, I mean, he’d saved some people in space and shit but I don’t think anyone on Earth ever heard about it, he was still a relative newbie by everyone’s standards.
Godel: So I get Flash not warming up to him ’til he’s seen him in action. But once he does, they very quickly get this nice rivalry thing going on, dissing on each other’s combat performance in a chummy way – like Legolas and Gimli in the LOTR movies.
Uzumeri: Before I get to J’onn, I’ll actually quickly discuss Justice League: A Midsummer’s Nightmare, the three-issue miniseries (by Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, and Darick Robertson) that led directly up to this. You see a reference to it when Flash talks about how Züm is as fast as one of Know-Man’s creations.
Godel: Yeah, I was confused by that. And there’s almost no mention in these comics of the formation of this group, it’s already a fait accompli that they’re going to replace the lame-duck JLA in their soon-to-be-ruined satellite.
Uzumeri: If you see the TPB around, give it a shot - it’s a fun Justice League story. They’re forced to come together in a fantasy world created by a dude named Know-Man, who’s trying to protect the real world from a massive threat, something Morrison builds on in JLA. At the end of that mini, Superman basically goes “well, we all found each other in that fantasy world and broke out, some threats are too big for us alone, so, uh, let’s be a Justice League!”
Which is why there’s this particular lineup in this JLA revamp, since otherwise the Big Seven thing is fairly arbitrary – why Kyle Rayner and not Hawkman? (Well, Hawkman was really screwed up at the time, actually, which is why Morrison created Zauriel, but you get my point.)
Godel: Thing is, my mental list of DC’s Big Names is probably shaped more by this comic than anything else! So I actually can’t think of who else is “missing” here, although I’m sure there are plenty of people.
Uzumeri: As for J’onn, he’s the least well-known of the team, and also my favorite DC character.
He was a Martian detective who became the last survivor of his race after an Earth scientist tried out a teleportation experiment which brought J’onn to Earth, thousands of years after his entire race, his family, and everyone he loved was dead.
Godel: Jeez. That…that sucks.
Uzumeri: After appearing, he looks so shocking that the dude who made the machine immediately dies of a heart attack.
Godel: So there’s not even anybody around to explain what just happened?
Uzumeri: Oh, well, J’onn telepathically reaches him before he dies, I think. And then spends two months in a motel room watching cop shows and decides, hey, he was a cop on Mars, so fuck it, time to move on, he’ll be a cop on Earth!
Godel: Well, that’s the kind of can-do spirit I like to see in a superhero. So the Martian Manhunter is actually a kind of ridiculously on-point description, like Batman being the American Detective. Or I guess, uh, Apache Chief on Superfriends.
Uzumeri: He’s a Martian cop. That’s his deal. So he shapeshifts into a human and becomes a decorated police officer, using his powers sometimes to solve crimes and stuff, and he runs into some other superheroes and they all become best bros and that’s why he’s the core of the Justice League. They’re really his family, and the team never works without him.
He’s that dude whose only friends are work friends. The form he wears with the League is a compromise form between his Martian form, and just straight up looking human and calling himself Martian Manhunter, which kind of fucks with ethnic pride.
Godel: Hey now. The guy has done a lot for the white skins, as well as the brown skins.
Uzumeri: Note how J’onn sends Wonder Woman out to the Pacific Ocean alone when he’s splitting up the teams. He knows Aquaman’s going to be a dick and go “HEY GUYS WHY ARE YOU HERE, ASSHOLES” and then reluctantly join up, and plans for it ahead of time.
Godel: Yeah, it gives credence to Batman’s later observation that J’onn is a master of group dynamics, which is a nice (and unusual) hook for a superhero. I like it better than the leader just being one with the most offensive power and/or who’s served the longest.
Uzumeri: He’s the hub, he’s the team player. The one person you NEVER want out in a fight is J’onn; that’s why he’s not on the front lines much. J’onn’s out and you’ve busted your entire communications grid.
Godel: So you’re saying that the one who brings the team together and directs their activites is the bald guy with telepathy? It’ll never sell!
Uzumeri: Ha! To be fair, Professor Xavier can’t fly or turn invisible. I really like J’onn, a lot. He’s a very internal character, though, which is why he works best in team settings, since it spurs him to proactivity.
But you can see why the reemergence of the White Martians is such a Big Deal – it turns out that J’onn was NOT the last of his race, there was actually a group of total dicks that they ended up having to stick into the “Still Zone.”
It’s like Earth blowing up, you survive and find a home among loving aliens on another planet, and then one day a spaceship crashes and it’s filled with Nazis and the KKK.
Godel: Led by General Zod. I mean…this is basically the Phantom Zone bit, right?
Uzumeri: You just anticipated the plot, because yes – the Still Zone and the Phantom Zone are absolutely the same thing.
Godel: I totally don’t remember that if I’ve read it before, but wow. I love that every defunct alien race turns out to have tapped into the same alternate hell-dimension for eternally imprisoning their most dangerous criminals.
Uzumeri: Oh, and the #1 thing about Martians: Their kryptonite is fire.
Godel: Now, this is a key point for me – was that already known? Because it’s a major clue to this storyline, which hinges on the discovery that the villains are actually Martians in disguise.
Uzumeri: Oh, yes – it’s something in basically every since J’onn J’onzz story. “Is vulnerable to fire” is as basic to him as “is vulnerable to kryptonite” is to Superman. It’s the weakness that defines him, since metaphorically, he’s always very aloof and emotionally cold. But yeah – the book should have NOTE: MARTIANS ARE VULNERABLE TO FIRE! on the cover in big white text or something.
Godel: Well, then the jig would be up. They’re already pushing it by mentioning the two fire characters calling out sick within the first few pages. OTOH, it’s probably way more obvious to me since I’ve read this before and I know where it’s going. On my first read the twist caught me completely by surprise.
Uzumeri: Well, he could have thrown in an offhand line like, “J’onn, watch out for the fire!” ” No, my racial weakness will not affect me for X REASON.”
And clearly he was enjoying teasing the twist, especially in the issue titles, which aren’t just taken from alien invasion movies, but from specifically MARTIAN invasion movies – “Them!”, “The Day The Earth Stood Still”…
Godel: When Superman is like “How could I have not seen it?” I sort of know what he means.
Uzumeri: So to recap: Since Firehawk is sick (“they’re martians” clue #1 – turns out they gave her the flu!) the President has no metahuman detail when a gigantic fucking flying saucer (fake) appears over the White House.
Godel: Also a timely riff on Independence Day.
Uzumeri: The “saucer” beams down Protex and the Hyperclan, who are actually a bunch of White Martian douchebags engaging phase one of their devious Earth Invasion plan: posing as awesome superheroes.
Godel: Which is brilliant. Clearly Morrison is interested in the idea of heroes and villains being roles that can be played up to, and faked – cf. the Weapon Plus program, or all the phoney baloneys over in Aztek.
Uzumeri: It’s what Knightfall and Reign of the Supermen did over like 52 issues, but here done in four.
Godel: Good call! The Cyborg walks like a Superman, talks like a Superman, cries in the rain like a Superman - but he’s actually totally evil.
The Hyperclan fits this book, they’re an alternate pantheon, they WANT to be worshipped, and they get that by doing the kind of things that make you think “Hey, if Superman’s so powerful, why doesn’t he…?”
And it makes a great sendup of, like, the Generic 1990s Newly-Minted Super Team.
Uzumeri: I’m sure that if I looked hard enough, I could figure out that the team make perfect analogues to WildC.A.T.S., or Youngblood, or something along those lines. They’re a very blatant stand-in for “generic 1990s Image superteam,” especially once they get to the televised public executions of Doctor Doom and Wolverine.
Godel: Yeah, that was great. We’re not your grandparents’ super-heroes!
This is is the one place where it helps that the art is also sort of generically 90s, complete with gritted teeth and stupidly huge muscles. A Quitely would make this feel way more larger-than-life, but the Hyperclan would never have been looked so much like a bad fan’s attempt at Image/Wildstorm/Malibu.
Uzumeri: They’re so manufactured, exactly like Weapon Plus. My favorite is A-Mortal – he’s just, inexplicably, a skeleton.
But in the first issue alone, you get a lot of clues regarding their true nature – the fire, the title, “Z’onn Z’orr” as the city they’re raising (which sounds exactly like J’onn’s name), and the fact that they all shoot laser beams out of their eyes. Like – so they all have exactly one power the same? It just looks like a dumb mistake at first, but you go back and you realize they weren’t just all lazily given heat vision, they’re all Martians with Martian Vision.
That first issue is really well-crafted – a lot happens, and it’s got that great ending with Batman showing up giving it that perfect “Shit gets real!” vibe.
Godel: It’s one hell of a first issue! The Hyperclan show up, they perform miracles and execute people, the JLA react, the world reacts, there’s the big satellite attack/crash thing, Z’onn Z’orr, and at the end Batman’s already figured out that it’s some kind of invasion. It’s totally awesome.
Uzumeri: I can’t imagine reading this and not getting #2.
Godel: The whole arc is very tightly plotted, a classic four-issue superhero story that would compare very closely, actually, with the Phoenix stuff we just did. Sub in the “Flower of Wrath” for the corsets and stilettos, and Batman as Wolverine, and it’s basically the same. Plus a major plot element is a big CRASH FROM OUTER SPACE where one hero SACRIFICES HIMSELF to pilot everybody to Earth… I mean maybe there are only three or four archetypal superhero stories, or I’ve just been reading too much X-Men.
Uzumeri: That’s a really good point, especially Batman being the lone dangerous rogue. But it is something you see a lot, and while the Hellfire Club story is a classic, I can think of a few recent examples off the top of my head – Lockheed in S.W.O.R.D. being maybe the most memorable.
Godel: Oh, yeah. I’m not saying Claremont invented the story. Morrison even gives a little shoutout to Die Hard , another classic of the genre.
“Now I have a machinegun. Ho Ho Ho.” Die Hard, of course, being another story where the villains are deliberately playing up to genre roles (in that case, as villains from a different kind of movie).
Uzumeri: This leads to Protex doing the whole “Oh, Batman? He’s just a man, who cares about him” thing, which we all know immediately is a gigantic mistake, and then Batman figuring out they’re Martians and taking them down with some gasoline and a matchbook.
It’s worth noting how different Batman is here from the last times Morrison wrote the character – he’s way more gleeful here.
Godel: He’s still the spooky, unpleasant guy that doesn’t hang out with anybody, but he’s less…driven. Once he knows he’s got the Martians’ number, he really has fun turning the tables on them.
Stepping back to consider the whole arc – this is a really great piece of superhero comics. A lot of meta-comics fall on the sword of their own meta-ness, and we’ve seen Grant veer close to that. But here the meta-thing is thoroughly grounded in a compelling set of genre tropes and ur-stories (the evil team, the heroes divided and conquered, the comeback against all odds). It’s sort of like Animal Man’s Wizard of Oz journey. Here the narrative dial gets dialed up to the more thrill-powered type of the Big Comeback, and the commentary gets dialed down to the Hyperclan and the various asides by the heroes.
So you can enjoy it on the narrative’s terms as great superhero storytelling. At the same time, since the Hyperclan show how easy it is to fake those exact genre conventions, the whole thing becomes self-critical, without making you feel dumb for enjoying it.
Uzumeri: Well, that’s because all the meta-criticism really simplifies down to one credo: there’s nothing broke with the superhero story. There’s nothing that needs to be updated about the part of it where a team of heroes protect humanity’s way of life, with all of its mundanity.
Godel: That’s a great point. Morrison likes superheroes, and specifically posits them here as the alternative to authoritarianism (which some would accuse them of representing). What the real-world analogue for this is, I don’t know – state police power in a social democracy? Not quite so glamorous.
Uzumeri: There really isn’t a real-world analogue, is the thing. That’s what makes it so utopian.
Godel: Yeah, those of us waiting for Superman will just have to hold on as best we can.
Uzumeri: This almost feels like a response-in-advance to The Authority.
Godel: Morrison refreshes the superhero’s appeal – the hope for a better world (one more fantastic, ecstatic and wondrous), without coming across as a naive idiot. Think about the tremendous appeal of the genre in the late 30s and 40s – seeing Cap punch Hitler in the face and so on. The people who connected with that weren’t fools finding pointless escapism in adolescent power fantasies – they were folks like us, who found an image that spoke to their own anxieties and dreams. (See also Kavalier & Clay.)
Uzumeri: Another thing from the first arc worth pointing out: Protex reveals that the White Martians came to Earth before, and tampered with human development. It went wrong, which prevented humanity from becoming the race of superbeings they were supposed to be. This is a really, really important plot point that’ll carry through well into Final Crisis.
Godel: I was wondering – was that a new invention? Seems like a big deal, the equivalent of Jack Kirby establishing that humanity was some genetics project of the Celestials.
Uzumeri: Yeah, in a totally unrelated comic that got shanghaied into the Marvel Universe later, by…Jim Shooter? Roy Thomas? Morrison’s Martian thing here is a total invention as far as the DCU is concerned, and it really leads to a lot of the stuff he ends up doing with the New Gods.
Overall though, this was a great, incredibly fun arc with some exciting action, a well-executed mystery and a clear mission statement for the team and title.
Godel: And some…not terrible art.
Uzumeri: Yeah, before we get to #5 we might as well hit Howard Porter. It’s certainly bold, dynamic superhero art. Solid storytelling, a lot of energy – there’s just a distinct lack of polish.
Godel: Solid storytelling is what elevates it over what we got in Aztek. There’s a couple places that get confusing, but some of that is just down to the script making things seem way more complicated than they are, like the speed-duel between Flash and Züm.
There are some unfortunate things going on with the faces every so often.
Uzumeri: On the other hand, he also gets some pretty great face shots in, like when Batman is taunting the Martians.
Godel: Or the wordless panel of Superman’s pissed-off but confident smirk, that was great.
Uzumeri: The art’s also marred by this really garish, over-rendered ’90s computer coloring.
Godel: All the attempts to use digital blur to create depth of field are pretty distracting too. You can practically trace the outline of the blur.
Uzumeri: I realize it’s a big project, but I really wish they’d given it a proper recolor. It’s becoming standard issue for major reprint projects these days, and these issues really need it. The color credit is Pat Garrahy, who I believe was an editor at the time that this was colored; I remember Marv Wolfman complaining about his editing in interviews. A lot.
I’m also not sure how much of the awful computer effects are the actual colorist and how much are Heroic Age, “color separators,” which sounds like a euphemism for a Jim Crow-enforcing cop in the ’60s.
Godel: aaaaaahaha. It was definitely a transitional era. I don’t really need to see it re-done, and I actually hate the degree to which comics get re-colored for paperback, beyond compensating for the different paperstock and so on. You would never see film fans clamoring for DVDs to re-color the movies, and when Ted Turner used to colorize old black-and-white movies, film buffs screamed bloody murder.
Uzumeri: I used to be of that opinion, but the thing is, comics used to be colored in like two hours and then thrown out the door, it’s not like they were carefully crafted to use shitty color the way a black and white film was crafted to use light and shadow.
Godel: Well, still – I mean then you’re throwing out the possibility that every once in a while, even under those tight deadlines, someone really took their craft seriously and tried to do a good job. They’re also penciled and inked in a hurry, but we wouldn’t want to see, I dunno, Jack Kirby’s Superman heads pasted over with house style.
Uzumeri: Yeah, that’s true. But more often than you think, the actual original colorist does the recolor. There are some astonishingly bad recolor jobs, but some really good ones, as well. Either way, now that I think about it, it’d probably be pointless to recolor this, since it is computer-colored rather than 64-color.
So uh, anyway Tomorrow Woman!
It’s the Red Tornado/Vision arc, all in one issue!
Godel: And another version of the first arc. Now the genre story is Pinocchio: a robot – programmed to pose as a hero – comes to disobey its programming and do something really heroic. But it’s all a put-on: the mad scientist wanted the robot to reach that moment, as proof of his scientific genius.
Uzumeri: I love Morrison’s T.O. Morrow – Ivo’s always kind of boring, he just stands there, acts gruff and bitches, but Morrow is such an amazing dick: constantly torn between his desire to be a villain and his desire to show that he’s a genius. And sometimes, he lets the latter totally screw up the former. In fact, this is the second time this has happened, as Ivo points out.
Godel: What’s great is that Ivo doesn’t even really care that much, because he’s just glad to have a friend who shares the same hobby. At the end they just clink glasses and say “Hey, maybe next time.”
Uzumeri: And meanwhile this new sentient life has just experienced a tragedy in one week. That panel where she can’t even say “I’m free” is pretty brutal.
Godel: See, this is where I get off the train. Because, even with the framing story making it a postmodern riff on your basic Pinocchio thing, there’s a problem for me because I hate Pinocchio stories.
Uzumeri: They can be a bit…twee.
Godel: There’s nothing moving or tragic or heroic or special about a robot completing its programming. I don’t find it inspiring when my toaster finishes browning my toast in the morning. And yet they made The Brave Little Toaster and expect me to care.
Uzumeri: One of the strengths of Urasawa’s Pluto is that the “can a machine feel” question is basically taken as a given and the story goes from there – it doesn’t go for the cliched moment of transformation that this story’s commenting on.
Godel: Here, Morrison makes explicit the constructedness of the Pinocchio narrative, okay, but I still don’t really care. At the end of the day it’s a story about a machine that does what it was made to do.
Uzumeri: Man, you’re cold-hearted. The robots are totally coming for you first.
Godel: To be fair, I also devoted a large chunk of my terminal graduate project to a discussion of Terminator 2 and the different positions on machine iconography advanced by its two “cyborg spokespersons.” So maybe I only accept machines learning to feel when they are played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Uzumeri: That’s… well, that’s pretty amazing, I did not know that.
Godel: Architectural criticism, ladies and gentlemen – it’s a broad field.
Uzumeri: Meanwhile, are you ready for another hilarious X-Men/JLA parallel?
Godel: Fire away!
Uzumeri: Eventually, in a big, universe-changing but self-contained event called Trinity, Tomorrow Woman was brought back to life, by… Jean Grey resurrector Kurt Busiek!
In all seriousness, I didn’t hate this story, it just rides the line between “commenting on the motions that this genre story goes through” and actually “going through the motions.” I think the Key arc coming up is a much better attempt at the same thing.
Uzumeri: Yup! Look forward to that – plus Starro and an angelic invasion!
Godel: Second Impact, folks – in TWO WEEKS!
Uzumeri: But before that, DAYS OF FUTURE PAAAAAAAAAAAAST!