Open Mike Night: Justice League of America #1 (2013) & Uncanny X-Men #50 (1963)

Justice League of America #1 (2013)

Written by: Geoff Johns
Art by: David Finch
Colored by: Sonia Oback with Jeromy Cox
Lettered by: Rob Leigh
Published by: DC
Cover Price: $3.99

Weaver: While I’m curious as to what you thought of Steranko, the rock star artist before there were rock star artists, it’s probably more fair to start with the modern issue, the one that people are more curious about. Justice League of America #1 was a beautiful comic. David Finch is a phenomenal artist, and I’m happy to see more of his work. Most of the members of this team are people that I only have a slight knowledge of with some notable exceptions, and I had no knowledge of any of them in regards to the New 52. The good news is that most of this issue is designed to catch you up on all of that…who they are, and more importantly who they are in the retooled universe concept. However, I really don’t like the artificial nature of this team, the idea that it’s being cobbled together in the Halls Of Power rather than through good old traditional chance meetings or team-ups. I know this is all the rage these days, especially after Avengers hit box office gold with that formula, but it’s not a formula I like.

Maillaro: Yeah, it seems there is a very generic formula for team books these days. Introduce each character one at a time, in the slowest possible fashion, sort of generally establish a team, but never get them all together. And probably toss in a shock ending at the end of the first issue. Comic done. I saw this in quite a few new 52 and Marvel Now books, including Thunderbolts, Demon Knights, Suicide Squad, Justice League, Justice League Dark. And now once again in Justice League of America.

I actually do have familiarity with a lot of these characters, and I did think for the most part, they were really well established as individuals, but I tend to look more for the TEAM dynamics of a team book. I actually don’t think this was a bad comic, by any means, just not what I like to see in the first issue of a team book. Have the team already in place, or all come together by the end of the first issue. Martian Manhunter is an interesting character, but I always liked far more him AS PART OF THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, not just on his own.

Weaver: New Avengers was arguably worse, since it only focused on one character then fast forwarded to him just randomly calling up the team. I think there’s a place for character backstory, because not everyone is familiar with these guys. And the way some of it worked was neat too. But I wonder a lot about things like telling Catwoman and Katana that if they join, the government will help them advance their own vendettas. I think stocking the team with people who are only there via bribery leads to an increasingly messy team dynamic…or maybe that’s my years of running role playing games showing through. Don’t get me wrong, I like there being conflict within the team, but when the whole team is conflict, that’s not entertaining. I mean, X-Men used to thrive on Wolverine wanting to tear everyone’s face off, but that worked because everyone else thought that tearing people’s faces off was a bad idea and either tolerated him, tried to reform him, or got into heated arguments with him. His extreme personality triggered the people around him to reveal more of their personalities. When there’s multiple extreme personalities, though, stories become less interesting because it’s just a constant psychosis-go-round. Also, if I were Stargirl, I wouldn’t care what they promised me, I’d be quitting halfway through issue 2.

Maillaro: Just for the audience, Mike and I run online role playing games (typically superhero teams), and this is something that has caused us headaches many times. People creating characters that just have no reason to be part of the team. I truly blame Wolverine for that. Everyone wants to be the rebel…even if it’s disruptive!

I actually am really curious what the story is with Stargirl. I actually have no idea if Starman (Ted or Jack Knight) exist in the new 52. There was a Shade mini that came out last year, but I have never really seen any acknowledgement if that existed in new 52 or old DC universe. In JLofA they did mention that Pat Dugan (Stripesy) was her stepfather, and she was being haunted by a Pemberton (Sly Pemberton was the original Star Spangled Kid), but I don’t think the JSA ever existed in New 52. Someone really needs to lay down a road map of what did or did not actually happen in the New 52.

Weaver: I think Stargirl’s the obvious “bad ending” character here, so I’m trying not to get too invested into her. She’s this golden girl superstar apparently legitimately nice person, it’s just begging fall from grace given the rest of the team. I hope I’m wrong. I hope she elevates people to her level. But I fear that it’s going to be bad news for Courtney.

It is a pretty big failing and source of criticism that DC isn’t really telling us what counts and what doesn’t, especially since it seems to change with some frequency. I’m pretty sure they haven’t decided themselves what’s staying and what’s going. Until they make that decision, things will get muddier and muddier. They need a canon bible, and they need it yesterday.

Maillaro: I usually don’t obsess over continuity, but even I see all the annoying inconsistencies that keep popping up. I know there are some people who are in torch and pitchfork mode over this kind of thing…and I can’t blame them. One guy on GameFAQ’s was saying he wanted to sue DC, because they made his earlier comic purchases worthless. I am just mentioning that because I found it hilarious.

Weaver: It’s sloppy, and it’s no way to build a fanbase. I remember the first times that I noticed internal continuity within a company’s comics, I thought it was the most amazing thing ever. If I remember right, it was the JLA mentioning that Flash was unavailable due to an event in his own title…which I had just read. It makes you want to buy more titles so you can see more of it. Sadly, it really seems like New 52 is letting everyone do their own thing on titles and it messes stuff up. I’m amused by the frivolous lawsuit, though. I want to sue Nintendo for making the Wii U then, since now my Wii doesn’t get games marketed to it.

Alright, overall, the writing. I’m of two minds on it. I think that the material is presented in an intriguing fashion, and the dialogue is crisp and believable, but I feel that the material itself is pretty cookie cutter cliche flavor of the month with several deep and potentially unforgiveable flaws.

Maillaro: Editor’s notes are pretty much my favorite lost art in comics. “WHAT IS CAPTAIN MARVEL UP TO? FIND OUT IN CAPTAIN MARVEL #15.” I will admit to buying many, many comics because of those tags alone. I always wanted to see more of what was going on. A good shared universe is one of the many things that can be unique to comics.

Hmmm. I don’t think I can say that any better, so just repeating you: “Overall, the writing. I’m of two minds on it. I think that the material is presented in an intriguing fashion, and the dialogue is crisp and believable, but I feel that the material itself is pretty cookie cutter cliche flavor of the month with several deep and potentially unforgiveable flaws.”

All right, all right, I’ll stop being lazy. I think there is a lot of good characterization here, and this is some of the best dialouge I’ve seen Johns’ do. That was always a complaint of mine on his work, that a lot of his characters sound the same. I like the expansion on some of the ideas from Justice League, but at the same time, this comic feels like it’s set in a strange bubble. And I really don’t like team books where we don’t really get to see the team. I would give the writing a 2.5/5. My normal halfway score.

But as you said earlier, the art was great. Finch doesn’t disappoint here, and it might even be better drawn than Justice League. Jim Lee’s work does get a little “pin-uppy” at times. Solid 4.5/5 for the art.

Weaver: It’s more fun when we argue, but you’ll get no arguments from me here. I’m going to bump the writing up to a 3/5, just because I am interested in seeing where this goes and have some hope that the answer isn’t “straight to the dustbin.” I’m in agreement on 4.5 on the art, I just hope that Finch can keep up. That’s always the problem with marquee artists these days. If this keeps a consistent schedule with consistent quality work from Finch, and doesn’t fall into any of the many potential issues I forsee for it plotwise, this could end up being a great book. It’s not quite there yet, though.

Uncanny X-Men #50 (1963)

Written by: Arnold Drake
Penciled by: Jim Sterenko
Inked by: John Tartaglione
Colored by: Uncredited
Lettered by: Herb Cooper
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: 12 cents ($1.99 on Comixology)

Weaver: So, speaking of art…how did you like Jim Steranko? I’d call him easily the most innovative comic artist of the 20th century. Bear in mind he was doing this stuff while most of the rest of the industry was just trying to rush out art the door.

Maillaro: Nice transition!

Like I said last time, I think most of Uncanny X-Men before Giant Size X-Men was pretty awful at times. I actually am not sure how I feel about Steranko’s art. They didn’t list colorists back then, but I thought a lot of the pages looked like a paint factory blew up. Too often, the art just got lost in a psychedelic haze of greens and yellows. One thing that jumped out at me was the book has some wild looking designs, like the car and building on the double page spread that started this issue.

There was a ton of emotion and detail, which was cool. There was definitely nothing generic about this book, which I will admit is not how I usually think of comics back from the 60’s.

But then there was a lot of awkward anatomy too. Check out Cyclops on page 5.

Weaver: You have to understand that Steranko was a commercial artist first, comic artist second. He loved comics and loved art and didn’t see why the two couldn’t merge more. He’s got a huge influence from the surrealist school, so there’s some Dali-esque moments. The function is much more important than the form.

I’ll agree with the colors being vibrant to the point of distraction, but that’s one of the many things that make these books totally pop to me.

Maillaro: You say pop, I say burns my corneas…

All that said, I did enjoy the way this book was drawn. I would give it a solid 3.5. If not for the colors, I probably would have gone higher. And it was a lot of fun to see how the style of X-Men had progressed in just 50 issues, and I can definitely see how this would later evolve with Bryne, Lee, and Silvestri.

Unfortunately, I really can’t say much positive about the writing. Which is a shame, since at it’s heart it seems like it could have been a solid story. X-Men arrive to rescue Bobby’s girlfriend who is being held by a cult of Magneto worshippers because she’s his daughter. In the end, it is revealed that Magneto is still alive.

But instead, we get a mess of bad dialouge, ridiculous mustache twirling, and one of the oddest plot holes I have ever read “If you try to escape from this cell, it will explode.” And then Iceman breaks right out….no explosion. Mesmero is a liar!

Weaver: It was unlike anything else at the time. Possibly for the best. Steranko is legendary, but his best work was Nick Fury. I’m still giving this an OMG 4/5 on the art.

Alright, there’s the other problem with 60’s comics. Everything is an exclamation! It’s almost like they’re trying to lay down soundbytes for a presidential run! Read their lips, no new taxes! But that’s stylistically the 60’s. I thought Iceman’s deal was that Mesmero was linking his brain to the cell so when they did something to Mesmero it became okay…heck, maybe he just thought it would explode, we’re talking Mesmero here. He’s never been the smartest henchman, but he’s always been the greenest. It’s nothing special writing wise, but it’s a rather Silver Age style plotting and writing, so I can’t fault it too much. And…STERANKO ART! I’m going to give the writing 2/5 because, okay, it’s on the low end for what we read now, but as far as Silver Age Anything goes, it’s serviceable.

Maillaro: I really didn’t think the main story had any redeeming quality to it writing wise. It just seemed to take a big dump on what should have been an easy layup. 1/5 for the writing, and that is being nice.

Weaver: Man, no respect for the classics. Silver Age isn’t for everybody. I get that. It’s definitely for me, though. Hey, are you familiar with the next art rock star, Neal Adams? Grabbed X-Men not long after Steranko was done, but had Roy Thomas with much better writing.

Maillaro Nah, sadly I really don’t have appreciation for the classics at all. I can’t even watch most movies or TV shows from when before I am born without getting bored. Doctor Who (and the first Star Wars movie) are some of the few exceptions.

I actually like Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman stuff from the 70’s quite a bit. Actually, there was a reference last night on Arrow to a something happening on the corner of Adams and O’Neil. So, if you are picking Adams, I want to pick the book

Weaver: Fair enough. My ward…a junkie!

And God I feel old. I remember seeing Star Wars when it came out.

Maillaro: You were only three, so it’s not that bad. It is only two years before I was born.

And that was exactly what I was gonna pick. Might as well go classic!

As for new comics, I was thinking we could tackle FF.

Weaver: People make fun of it, especially in the age of superdickery and such, but that cover was downright shocking for the time. It’s not about what Green Arrow is saying, which is a little silly. It’s the immense schadenfreude that Hal Jordan approaches the situation with.

FF works for me! I’ve been curious about it.

Maillaro: The two Fantastic Four books have both been good, but I definitely give FF the edge. See you then!

Post Script

Maillaro: By the way, I saw this on Mark Waid’s website, and thought people might be interest. I already enrolled and I think my wife will probably be signing up to (she’s long had an interest in gender in comics):

I’m putting out an urgent public call to readers and fans, especially those who support the new and the innovative. I’m getting behind something I believe in, and I’m asking you to join me–and Brian K. Vaughan and Scott Snyder and Matt Fraction and Brian Bendis and Gail Simone and many, many other comics creators, all of whom have volunteered to talk to you about what we do and how we do it. We’re making ourselves available to you in a new way, and here’s how:

For the last few months, a talented university teacher named Christy Blanch has been putting together a college-level course called “Gender Through Comic Books”–but it’s not limited to college students. It’s the world’s first comics-related Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)–meaning that it will be FREELY AVAILABLE to ANYONE across the world who has web access and who’s interested in comics and in the creative process. There’s no obligation, NO COST, and all you have to do is take thirty seconds to enroll at the following site:

I’m excited about this not only because I’m participating but because it’s a revolutionary way to marry comics and education using technology. Oh, and also because Christy’s giving the MOOC students unique access to interviews with folks like Bendis, Fraction, Jason Aaron, Dan Slott, Jonathan Hickman, and many others. Trust me when I say that it’s worth enrolling just to watch Bendis and Hickman alone struggle with the question, “Who, in your opinion, is the most masculine comic book character?” They’re not being asked the same cookie-cutter questions you’ve heard a hundred times before; they’re talking about how gender roles inform and influence their work, how they approach gender politics, and more–and I’m here to tell you that many of their answers surprised me.

Wait, there’s more. Those who enroll at the above link will also have exclusive access to a series of LIVE WEEKLY INTERVIEWS with some of the smartest, most insightful people in American comics today, including Brian K. Vaughan (Y: THE LAST MAN), Scott Snyder (BATMAN), Gail Simone (BATGIRL, SECRET SIX), Terry Moore (STRANGERS IN PARADISE), and Marvel editors Steve Wacker and Sana Amanat (HAWKEYE, SPIDER-MAN, CAPTAIN MARVEL). Also me. Bonus for those who enroll: you can live-tweet questions to be asked during those interviews. Be heard.

I’ve been going to comics conventions and listening to panel discussions forever–but it’s easy for me to forget that I’m lucky that way. If you’ve never won the San Diego Comicon Ticket lottery, if you like comics but have never been fortunate enough to hear Vaughan or Terry Moore speak to an audience about their body of work, or if you just want to ask Steve Wacker why Spider-Man isn’t still married, this is your chance. Take advantage.

So here’s my pitch to you. Signing up for the course–that’s to your benefit. But as a favor to me, please help me recruit students. I want to see this succeed, and I would appreciate it if you could spread the word. Tweet the link, Facebook it, put it on your Tumblr page, tell your friends, make a sign to post in your local comics shop, however you can sound the call…do whatever you can to help make this BIG. I think this could be a HUGE step forward for the medium, and the more students that enroll, the better the chance that other universities and educators will follow with more of these open online comics courses in the months and years to come. And that’s to EVERYONE’S benefit.

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