Sunday, 15 September 2013

JLA Earth 2

The idea of showing evil versions of established superheroes is not a new one to comic books. Both Marvel and DC have been stories about bad reflections of their good guys, and each other’s, going back decades. It’s a well-worn trope of the medium.

It is, of course, something DC have recently returned to with their Forever Evil crossover. In many ways it’s comparable to JLA Earth 2, a Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely collaboration from 2000. For his part Quitely produced predictably excellent work. Everything about his art style was perfectly judged. The deliberately inflated physiques of the superpowered characters doesn’t feel silly, they feel a natural fit for the story being told. The alternate outfits are a blend of older costumes and stereotypically villainous designs.

Quitely’s work is far better than Morrison’s. Whether he’s drawing a decidedly square-jawed and masculine Superwoman (the evil version of Wonder Woman) or giving us a splash page where Green Lantern grabs hold of the moon with titanic hands he’s always creative and clear.

Morrison starts off with a nice idea. A bad version of the JLA ruling over a universe where they always win and the only man who stands up to them, Lex Luthor, is doomed to repetitive failings is a good concept. The teases of backstory we get for the Crime Syndicate are intriguing. Pleasingly they’re not elaborated on, leaving an air of mystery.

Where Morrison falls down is with his convoluted plot. Not happy to jut have bad versions of the JLA clash with good versions of the Crime Syndicate Morrison has to have the entire plot hinge on a minor character introduced early on. It’s a disappointment that he falls back on tying things into continuity references and gibberish about matter and anti-matter coexisting. It’s not what people read comics for. It would have been enough to just have the two teams face off in a climactic fight scene, especially when the book’s so slight.

That said Morrison does include nice throwaway details for the universe. Thomas Wayne being the chief of Gotham City’s police force, standing up to Boss Gordon and the tyrannical Owlman unfolds at a nice pace throughout the slender volume. It’s an idea that could have supported a story in its own right. Perhaps it should have.

The first page shot of the Crime Syndicate’s moonbase is beautifully drawn and a nice introduction. The first time we see the heroic, anti-matter Luthor after he’s crash-landed in a scene that deliberately reflects the Superman origin is nice, as is one of his earliest line “You are human. I am Luthor.” Morrison even captures the spirit of mainstream JLA tales by having the gang work on small scale problems such as saving a plane or rebuilding a city together, despite being an international supergroup.

It’s a mixture of a book. Ultimately it’s worth a look because of Quitely’s art and the general concept of the thing. It falls apart as soon as Morrison has to start paying things off, but that’s nothing new with him. His good ideas in this outweigh his bad, and his poor judgement of the resolution.

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