Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thoughts on the new JLA line-up

Ever since the JLA’s new line-up was revealed in a house ad featured in Blackest Night #3, everyone with an Internet connection has been chiming in about how this League will stack up against the League’s of old. So why should I be any different?

Before I begin, I do want to explain that I am a fan of a big JLA; it doesn’t make sense that a team charged with safeguarding the world would have six, seven, eight members. The “satellite-era” JLA boasted anywhere between twelve to fifteen heroes, most of whom were on-call 24/7. The team needs more members to be more effective.

One example of this comes not from the JLA, but from the Avengers – in the last year and a half of his run on the book, Kurt Busiek reorganized Earth’s mightiest heroes so that the team was chaired by both Captain America and the Wasp, and pretty much anyone who had ever been a member of the team was available to be called upon in a time of crisis. Approximately eighteen to twenty heroes appeared as an Avenger, utilizing their powers and skills during the Kang War. Members don’t have to appear in every issue and participate in every single case; a fluid, expansive League works for me.

For the record, my “ideal” JLA would begin with the “Big Five” as the core – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern. Aquaman and Martian Manhunter are cool, but they are negotiable and, in my mind, work better as guest stars. These five, however, are the core. They don’t have to be in each and every issue, but they are the axis around which the rest of the DCU revolves. The rest of the roster is a little vaguer – an archer, an Atom, and Hawk (man or woman) are necessities. A stretchy guy and someone who does magic are needed as well. As for the rest…well, the fun of the JLA is seeing the big guns of the DCU interact with some newbies and lesser lights. It’s always cool to throw a curve ball in there as well, someone who you really don’t think belongs there, but it turns out they are right at home.

Now then, we can divide the new membership into three categories…

The Old Guard

Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Green Arrow (Oliver Queen) and the Atom (Ray Palmer) have all had long and decorated careers with the JLA in the past. Each of them is also appearing in James Robinson’s Justice League: Cry for Justice mini-series, which will supposedly dovetail right into his Justice League of America run. As an longtime fan of the JLA, I have no problem with any of these heroes.

Many fans seem to be complaining about Robinson’s characterization and depiction of these guys; I submit that he’s writing them as old friends who like to joke around and make fun of one another. Since very few of the original JLAers are alive right now (Batman, Aquaman, J’Onn J’onzz, Elongated Man, Hawkman and Firestorm are all dead) it makes sense to enlist the surviving ones as members of the revamped League.

As to why John Stewart, Roy Harper, Connor Hawke or Ryan Choi can’t fill in for any of these guys...Look, the rest of the roster is filled with substitutes for classics, so there’s no reason why we can’t get the originals for a few of the membership slots.

The Titans

There’s a whole lot of former Titans who have now graduated to the ranks of the JLA. One of the things that is irking me about the current DCU is the presence of the (wholly unnecessary) Titans team. Simply put, it makes no sense. Up until a few years ago, the teams in the DCU made sense. We had the JLA, functioning as the best of the best; the Teen Titans, the new, young heroes mentored by some of the older Titans; and the Outsiders, some former Titans attempting to do something different with their lives. Now, we have not only the Teen Titans but the Titans, the original New Teen Titans who came back together to seemingly relive their glory days, and the Outsiders, who have almost the same line-up when they first formed. All of the advancement and maturity seems to have gone the way of the dodo.

Which is why I don’t mind the fact that these Titans are growing up. They need to move on, forge new relationships and move to new heights. Now then, Dick Grayson as Batman is a must, no questions asked. In the absence of Bruce Wayne, Dick will step up and replace his mentor. Not only has Grayson served with the Titans and the Outsiders, but he also led the JLA during “The Obsidian Age” story. The only question is will the new Batman assume control of this JLA as well? And, of course, if and when Bruce does return, will Dick step down from the JLA?

Donna Troy works for me, but I still don’t understand why Wonder Woman can’t be a member of the JLA. She’s not dead, and she hasn’t relocated to another world; I hope an answer is coming soon. In any event, my one worry about Donna is the same worry I always have – no writer really seems all that interested in developing her. She always comes across as flat and two-dimensional, unless Phil Jimenez is writing her. Here’s hoping that Robinson makes her into something other than “Wonder Woman-lite.”

Cyborg and Starfire are good choices, mainly due to their power levels and the fact that neither has even remotely been associated with the JLA before. Cyborg, actually, was intended to join the League during Brad Meltzer’s tenure as writer, but he ran out of room. The team needs someone to handle their technical needs, and Victor Stone fits the bill. Starfire I’m not quite as enthused by, simply because I don’t want to see a retread of the Dick-Kory relationship for the umpteenth time, but I’ll reserve my judgment for a later date.

The New Blood

In the absence of Superman, Mon-El is the next best thing. However, his new costume is atrocious. What was wrong with his old duds? (I know, DC wants to more closely align Mon-El as a “Superman” character, but come on, that costume is really bad.) To see a decent costume for Lar Gand, check out his look from the re-boot Legion of Super-Heroes series, as seen here:

Now that was a nice look. In any event, Mon-El provides the JLA with some power now that Superman is on New Krypton, but he’s also a new kid in town, and gives the reader someone to relate to, as if we are seeing the JLA through his eyes. Should be fun, simply because he’s so different, personality and experience-wise, from the Man of Steel.

Doctor Light is the only holdover from the current team, and my only thought is that no one, and I mean no one, has ever really developed her as a character. Her longest tenure on any title was in Justice League Europe, in which writer Gerard Jones explained that her stern and forceful personality was the result of her consuming too many diet sodas. What? Like Donna Troy, Doctor Light needs some personality development, and hopefully Robinson can work on this.

Congorilla…Cool. He’s one of those curve ball characters that you initially think doesn’t belong on the team, and then, after a while, you wonder how they ever got along without him…I think. It’s still too soon to know how Robinson’s going to use him in the series, but the character is a total cipher, which means he can do whatever he wants with him. And, hey, who doesn’t like gorillas?

As for the Guardian…I’m still not sure about this one. I like him, and he’s a good character, but I don’t know what he brings to the team, besides his connection to the Metropolis Science Police. I’m probably least enthused about him out of all of the members, but I’m maintaining a wait-and-see attitude.

As detailed in an interview with Comic Book Resources, Robinson has plans to add a Flash to the JLA, and Vixen is still a part of the book, although she has her own mission initially. The writer also plans to utilize other heroes as needed, while situating the JLA smack dab in the center of action in the DCU. This may not be my dream JLA line-up, but I’ll still be waiting to see how it all plays out.

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