East of Gotham

East of Gotham is back and it’s the week of contemporary reviews. This week is Robin # 162 the JSA/JLA Crossover and the final issue of Ultimates 2. Content is discussed, but this EOG will be heavy on discussion of what makes a comic work or not work in the singles format. Ready? GO!

Robin # 162– In a story arc running from issue 160-162 Robin deals with a conspiracy by an evil corporate head that gave a street gang superpowers. Naturally the powers are slowly killing this gang and ultimately, as we learn this issue, the gang is really only fueled by protecting each other and ultimately have hearts of gold. Yes, you read all that right; it’s a cliché a minute with no real attempt at hiding it. In issue 162, the climax of the arc, a gang member whose skin is melting off rises from his deathbed to avenge his dead lover and save Robin in the process. Let’s be honest here: the plot was crap and since it played every cliché cleanly, the ending wasn’t in doubt: the system isn’t quite enough to cover all the loose ends, but some vigilante justice, in the case of Cassandra Cain, certainly is. So, none of the main plot works, here’s what does.

Robin, as a character, has been through a lot, from the betrayal of Batgirl to the death of his best friend, Superboy, and his father. Due to all the heartbreak, Robin is becoming more like his mentor, Batman. It’s done with the subtlety of a brick, especially given that several characters outright mention it, but Robin still maintains his unique voice while growing into an adult. Tim Drake, because of his age and that he is the third Robin, is one of the few comic characters who can change substantially and not be stuck in a static situation due to popularity. Even if done in a ham-fisted way, it’s nice to see one of the selling points of the character being acknowledged. Of course, also worth noting is the tension between becoming his own man and trying to live his adopted father’s life. These subplots keep the book from falling apart completely, but cannot totally save the arc from the constant barrage of clichés. Final Score – C-

Justice Society of America #6 – This is a review of the Justice League of America and Justice Society of America Crossover entitled The Lightening Saga. This arc is a load of fun if you are a big, longtime D.C. fan, but if you are, I’m certain you’re already reading this book and there’s no need for this review. In this arc, various members of the Legion of Superheroes reunite to take on a mystery mission while the JLA and JSA chase them about. A bit of the back story of all the characters and teams are explained, but with three huge teams running around there is absolutely no character development and if you aren’t already aware of who is who, then you will quickly become lost or find yourself wondering why you should care. The fight scenes are cool and it’s all given an aura of importance, but that can only carry the book so far.

This is a rather bad miscalculation on D.C.’s part. Justice League of America was a high profile re-launch with a best selling author, Brad Meltzer, writing it. JSA is another high profile re-launch by a major Infinite Crisis author, Geoff Johns. These are two of D.C.’s more high profile books and crossing them over in a big way is sure to add sales to both titles. Well, those added sales will not stick if once the new reader, drawn in by the big names, finds impenetrable continuity at the core of the books. The exercise was an attempt to draw both books new readers, but will really serve to only please those already reading it anyway. Final Score – C.

Ultimates 2 # 13 – The last book covered this week is annoying. None of the characters in this book behave in the slightest way as well rounded human beings. This is the climax of the series where Thor proves whether or not he truly is Asgardian (Hint: he is, the reader is shown this early, even if the other characters are kept in the dark) and the heroes finish taking out the invading enemies, then deal with the aftermath.

Well, Thor is clearly established as a god here. That’s fine, but no one seems especially shocked by this or willing to, you know, re-evaluate things in light of the fact that Norse myth is apparently true. The main Marvel Universe can get away with this because the concept is so well established and everything else is so ridiculous, but this concept should be Earth shattering in the Ultimate Universe… and it just isn’t. No one seems surprised, no one seems to care.

The art and giant fight scene in this book were very good, but this book is many months late and it just isn’t worth it. Any time a particularly great scene occurs, I get annoyed that it took so long instead of impressed at the visual. Even worse is a giant 6 page gatefold that’s purely gratuitous and adds nothing to the story. Skip that crap and get the books out on time. If you set a schedule, it is incumbent on you to keep it, otherwise the readers will walk away.

After the battle the various Ultimates speak in clichés and act as caricatures, with only Hawkeye’s character ringing at all true. His family was killed and he took revenge on an injured traitor, which makes sense since he must be half mad with grief. On the other hand, Tony Stark cries about his betrayal then chases a blonde. This is meant to be cute and show how quirky Tony is, but instead it makes him come out as less than human. This is basically the treatment given the rest of the cat and the book suffers for it.

Ultimately, The Ultimates 2 has a great build with an unsatisfying resolution, bad characterizations, and poorly thought out consequences for it’s big moments. It’s also stupidly late. It’s fun, but if you intend to think at all about what you’re reading, avoid this comic. Final Score: D

There you have it. Hope you liked this week’s column and leave a comment in the thread with disagreements or discussion. See you next week.