Sunday, October 24, 2021

Justice League International #17 (1988)

Blue Beetle versus The Air Compressor.

I remember really enjoying this series when I was sixteen. Now I'm sorry I've re-read it at fifty. J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen aren't anywhere near as hilarious as I thought they were. It's possible they're writers of that particular breed that can capture the fleeting humor of the moment which never lasts the test of time. It's even more possible I was just easily entertained at sixteen, full of wonder and the optimism of life. It's most possible that I've become a bitter old man that cannot enjoy anything anymore.

Between the end of that last paragraph and beginning this one, I've thought about my feelings regarding Justice League International and I've concluded that Giffen and DeMatteis just aren't great writers.

Along with contemplating my feelings toward this comic book to reach the conclusion that this isn't as great as I remembered it, I also read the first page.

A Jim Nabors reference? Maybe this was hilarious in 1988 because maybe it was national news that Ronald Reagan was a huge Gomer Pyle fan? They were probably good friends! Or maybe Jim Nabors was recently celebrated at a dinner at the White House? Or maybe it was just "funny" to reference Jim Nabors, sort of like how it was hip to reference Chuck Norris in the Oughts or Abe Vigoda in the Tens, or how everybody loves to love Betty White because, um, she's old?

Jim Nabors isn't what upset me about this first page though. What annoyed me was how Oberon points out that Captain Atom couldn't have handled the situation in Bialya because he can't even figure out the electrical system in their headquarters. What does one have to do with the other?! Captain Atom is a military man who accidentally gained the power to blow shit up. Who (other than Oberon, apparently) is expecting him to understand electronics?!

It's because Batman can do everything, isn't it?

Also, yes, I understand it's a call back to an earlier story. But because the two things have nothing in common, it just makes Oberon sound petty and resentful. The panel on the following page doesn't help where Captain Atom says "What was that?" and Oberon responds by lying about what he, apparently, mumbled. That's also a regular DeMatteis and Giffen "punch line" which they love to fall back on.

Batman, Green Flame, Booster, and Beetle are all trapped in Bialya since Queen Bee took over by killing Rumaan. Batman is disguised as Maxwell Lord so of course he corrects Fire (currently still Green Flame) when she calls him Batman. He then precedes to refer to her as Green Flame instead of Bea and Michael and Ted as Booster and Beetle. Where does he get off?! Oh, yeah, I remember. He's Batman.

Oh yeah. It was jokes like these that made me love this comic book.

It turns out that reading a comic book without thinking too much about it allows you to remember the actually funny and enjoyable moments while conveniently speeding past and instantly forgetting the terrible bits. I guess taking time while reading a comic book to comment about it and to think about every panel only made me realize I don't really enjoy comic books that much. Perhaps the real problem is that when a comic book was seventy-five cents, I didn't mind reading a comic book quickly and enjoying the ephemeral nature of the medium, whether it was great or mediocre. But once comic books were four or five dollars, I felt the right to demand quality from the writer and artist on every single page! So here's another option as to why I don't enjoy this comic book as much as I used to: I'm reading it as if it's a five dollar investment and expect more than it's seventy-five cent worth is providing.

You might be wondering why Booster, Beetle, and Fire are running around in their underwear and pajamas. The only explanation I can give is who cares? Ooh la la!

PSA: do not climb a ladder when people are shooting at you. You are not Batman.

The military guys chasing Batman fall off the ladder after Batman blows a smoke grenade in their face. It gives us a chance to see some of the loopholes in Batman's "I don't kill" philosophy.

Keep in mind these two men are only military men following orders to apprehend some escaped convicts who illegally entered the country under suspicious circumstances. Although also keep in mind that they're Bialyan. So, you know, evil incarnate, I guess!

Batman's smoke grenade was non-lethal so he is absolved of any injury that might lead to death which stems from the act of blowing the grenade up in somebody's face, I suppose. Also since the poor Bialyan can't speak English well (in his own Goddamned country even! Fucking Batman), Batman uses it as an excuse not to help the man escape injury. And once injured, through no direct action on Batman's part (if you allow for Batman's use of loopholes in his "I don't kill" philosophy), Batman leaves him to possibly bleed out or die from his injuries (two broken legs aren't nothing!). Not Batman's problem! The guy should never have chased Batman up a ladder and then hung from an insecure laundry line and then fell dozens of feet and then chose not to roll on impact thus shattering both legs! Fucking idiot.

This is also why I probably loved this comic book at sixteen.

And this.

Whenever somebody calls out the male gaze, I think, "Stop erasing lesbians!" Does that make me a feminist? I think so!

Captain Atom arrives to save the day and/or cause a nuclear catastrophe. He and Wandjina explode in a massive nuclear blast that probably doesn't cause any real harm because it derived from super-powered people. Captain Atom probably sucks it all back in like a reverse fart.

Captain Atom wins the battle and Queen Bee strides out onto the battlefield to accuse Batman and the others of invading her country. But she's willing to let them go because she wants to look compassionate in front of her newly acquired exploitable population.

See? All Bialyans are terrible!

Speaking of people who are all terrible, have I shit on Trump supporters recently? No? Well, this was that then.

Meanwhile, Manga Khan learns that Scott Free is the son of Highfather from New Genesis. So he decides to head to Apokolips to start trade negotiations with Darkseid. The members of the Justice League stalking Manga Khan install Boom Tube technology into their ship thanks to Barda's power rod. Do I need to construct a dildo joke here or was it readily apparent with all the component parts just lying there?

This issue has letters from John Q. Gerdes of Collinsville, Illinois; "Cool Canadian" of Don Mills, Ontario; Charlie Wells of Bangor, Pennsylvania; Scott A. Leonard of Plano, Texas; Carleton K. Brown of Springfield, Massachusetts; Timothy Chin of New York, New York; Dennis Rospigliosi (address withheld); and Jesus Vergel of Inglewood, California. Not a single one praises the letterer. Shame.

Justice League International #17 Rating: C. This comic is about average now and it was absolutely average then. But it was average in a sea of even more mediocre post-Crisis comic books coming out of DC. It makes me a little worried to re-read the 1980s Suicide Squad though. Was that series really as good as I believe it was?! If that one winds up being terrible, I'll know it's true: I was a fucking idiot when I was younger. Or maybe I'm just hopelessly bitter, angry, and uninterested in everything now. A little of both, probably.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Cerebus #35 (1982)

I don't think Cerebus is jerking off on this cover. I mean, maybe?

Last issue was called "Three Days Before" so, being that I'm a Grandmaster Comic Book Reader, I'm going to predict that this issue is called "Four Days Before." I mean "Three Days Before"! I'm good reading comic books not doing math.

In Deni's "A Note from the Publisher," Deni apologizes for the note being so short. At least she's learning, unlike me, that if she doesn't have anything to say, she doesn't have to pretend by rambling on and on about nothing. If only I could learn to do that, I'd stop blabbing all sorts of embarrassing secrets about myself while just trying to review a lousy comic book. Although the amount of rambling I've done over the last ten years is kind of a blessing in that it now obfuscates all of my dirtiest and most shameful admissions! Good luck discovering any of them in the five thousand comic book and television show reviews I've written!

If I were really shameless, I'd switch the style of links to match the regular text and then link all of my terrible secrets secretly within the body of this review! Ha ha! But why would I do that?! Don't bother hovering the cursor over every word in this review looking for hidden links! They don't exist!

It may have been sooner than this but here's proof that 35 issues in, Sim has perfected his style of the character. That's probably why he makes him so fat later. Just to change up something he's been doing for twenty-five years or more.

I probably already mentioned Sim's rapid improvement on this book and the development of his overall style. But it's been months since I wrote my last review (because I was writing a 345 page book) and I can't remember everything I've already mentioned! I'm an old man. I'm allowed to repeat myself over and over again. Unless I'm using slurs that were in common use in my youth. Then maybe somebody should whack me upside the head.

Dave Sim nails the joke here with "He almost dropped Cerebus." But then, through lack of confidence maybe, he adds two more unnecessary jokes: "twice" and Cerebus holding up three fingers to indicate "twice."

Maybe this is just how you're supposed to write comedy. You can't be sure that nobody will laugh at your first joke so you just have to pile on the jokes hoping that the audience will find the humor in one of them. I suppose I've known people who definitely wouldn't think any of this was funny until they noticed Cerebus holding up three fingers to indicate twice and then they'd lose their shit. Man, how did I ever become friends with those people?

Astoria, angry at Cerebus, slips him the opposite of Rohypnol. We've already seen earlier that she's a rapist but now we know she's also an anti-rapist. No wait. Maybe she's just into slipping drugs into people's drinks. This drug makes Cerebus instantly sober with the side-effect of having a major hangover. Astoria is worried about Elrod becoming Lord Julius's next Ranking Diplomatic Representative of Palnu because she's thrown all of her eggs into Cerebus's drunk basket. She might have known better if she were more interested in researching the people she works with than she is interested in manipulating everybody for her own ends (which are power and sticking it to Lord Julius). Cerebus is the worst person in Estarcion she could have gotten into bed with (and that's even considering she's already been in bed—literally—with the Roach.

Astoria gives Cerebus a quick lesson in credit lines and debt among different nations showing that she has a greater understanding of debts and debt ceilings than Republicans. I mean, obviously Republicans in Congress understand it! That's why they make a big show of not wanting to raise the debt ceiling whenever they're not in charge and don't give a shit about debt at all when they are. But they also understand that all the other Republicans who vote for them have no idea about how any of it works and simply get angry about the things Fox News tells them to get angry about.

I think I learned a lot about economics from reading Cerebus in my twenties! I hope it wasn't all wrong and from Sim's biased point of view!

Astoria lays out the plan to Cerebus which basically amounts to convincing the Prime Minister and all of Iest's major business players that, as the Ranking Diplomatic Representative of Palnu, he'll work to keep Iest solvent. That sounds like a bad plan because it relies on Cerebus not screwing up diplomatic meetings.

Astoria believes Cerebus can become powerful to enrich her and humiliate Lord Julius. Bran MacMuffin just thinks Cerebus is some kind of God Incarnate who doesn't need the help of some trollop to achieve greatness.

Bran is correct although, ultimately, he lacks faith in the prophecies and kills himself when things look bleak (that's when Weisshaupt steps in and saves the day. You don't need faith when you have cannons). But for now, Bran walks around smugly quoting ancient prophecies at Cerebus while not actually doing anything at all to help achieve them.

Astoria arranges a dinner with the Prime Minister (and Cerebus hanging around in the background in his robe not understanding any of it) to convince him to keep Cerebus as the Ranking Diplomatic Representative. But he's not having it. He plans to do whatever Lord Julius wants him to.

I don't think you can beat a guy at a game where he's making up the rules as you go along because he doesn't care about winning so much as making stupid jokes, goofing around, and waggling his eyebrows.

The Prime Minister and Astoria don't notice Lord Julius serving them coffee because they're elitist snobs. So Lord Julius and Cerebus have a chat in the blackground (that's Dave Sim's backgrounds where he just inks in the entire panel because he's tired of drawing wallpaper). The chat is just an excuse for Lord Julius to act chaotically by having a one-sided conversation for his own amusement. Lord Julius's biggest concern is that people will be paying a gold crown for twelve beer tickets at the next day's Petuniacon where Elrod will be announced as Lord Julius's diplomat.

The issue ends with the moment all of the fans of the comic book at the time it was published had been waiting for:

ouch my heart

That's it for this issue! Except for the letters. There are some letters. And a picture of Dave Sim and Wendy Pini staring at each other.

I think they were starring together in an off-broadway production of The Amityville Horror.

Cerebus #35 Rating: B. Nothing overly memorable about this issue except for the cliffhanger Jaka moment. But still a solid issue advancing the political and economic plot well. Within 35 issues, Sim figures out a way to slide seamlessly from pulp fantasy parody to modern political and economic satire.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Justice League International #16 (1988)

If I were an assassin, I would try not to stand on the foot of my target just before killing them.

Last issue, all of the competent members of the Justice League went into space to find Mister Miracle who had been kidnapped by a cosmic televised shopping network. That means Booster Gold and Blue Beetle would have to be the main characters for this issue. I think Executive Editor Dick Giordano sent a memo down saying, "NOBODY IS GOING TO BUY THAT ISSUE SO MAKE IT ABOUT BRUCE WAYNE, YOU TWO STUPID IDIOTS!" Then Keith was all, "Why does he think DeMatteis and Maguire are idiots?" And J.M. thought, "Why does he think Maguire and Giffen are idiots?" And Maguire probably thought, "Why does he think me, Giffen, and DeMatteis are idiots?!"

The leader of Bialya (the made-up DC country in the Middle East where all the terrorists live. I think that's one tiny level less racist than just making all of the terrorists from actual Middle Eastern countries! Is that progress?), Rumaan Harjavti, has decided to throw a huge international ball where he will announce his new super deadly terrorist weapon (I bet it's a female super villain with large assets in both departments!). All of the most important, good-looking, interesting rich people will be in attendance. That means Bruce Wayne got an invite and Oliver Queen did not. Maxwell Lord's plan is to send to the gala Bruce Wayne and a few other Justice Leaguers undercover. For some reason, he believes it's a good idea to trust Booster and Beetle in a formal gathering where they can't act like vaudevillians. I mean they can because I'm certain they will. But he's trusting that they won't! I guess he's only sixteen issues into his relationship with them and he recently suffered severe blood loss and was probably dead for a few minutes which could have given him slight brain damage. So I can't really blame him for not realizing how badly Booster and Beetle are going to fuck this up.

Or maybe Lord is smarter than I realize! The cover doesn't show Booster and Beetle hanging out with Bruce Wayne. They've probably been assigned to hand out petit fours and hors d'oeuvres (I'm too embarrassed to leave in how I initially tried to spell hors d'oeuvres).

I wouldn't feel as perturbed about this panel if I knew there were a mirror image panel in a Middle Eastern comic from the time where some American was being introduced as "Chad Chadwick McChadchad."

Batman is pretending he's disguised as Bruce Wayne because I guess this was before DC stopped really caring about Batman's secret identity. I mean, I think they still give a shallow hand wave to it so that the reader assumes mostly everybody doesn't know Batman's secret identity. But way too many disgruntled heroes and super villains actually know it, it seems. No matter how many times he can get Doctor Fate to erase the memory of somebody who has discovered Batman's secret identity. I like to believe that there's a missing panel of the person winking which would usually follow a panel where somebody wonders who Batman really is.

This scene is so awful that I'm assuming Giffen and DeMatteis are still embarrassed about it, thirty-three years later.

I don't think unsubtle references to It's a Wonderful Life and a nonsense name that, I guess, is supposed to sound like Boy George are actually jokes. Even though it's not casual racism like naming that guy Abdul Abdulla Abdul, weirdly, it's less forgivable.

The page after the worst page they've ever written, Giffen and DeMatteis just admit to phoning the whole script in this month.

Big Barda, Rocket Red, Martian Manhunter, and G'nort lose the trail of Mister Miracle because Lord Manga and his cosmic boot sale enter hyperspace. And since this is the era of DC Comics where they were downgrading the power levels of everybody, I guess the Green Lantern ring can't do nearly instant interstellar travel. Or maybe G'nort is just an idiot. It's hard to tell if this inability to travel vast distances has been caused by an editorial mandate or one of Giffen and DeMatteis's dumb jokes.

Barely speaking of Martian Manhunter, have I questioned his name enough? Moving to Earth and choosing the name Martian Manhunter is like me moving to Paris and choosing the name American Who Loves to Murder French People. Maybe it's not quite that aggressive but have you heard of the concept of hyperbole? You should look it up. It'll help a lot when understanding this blog.

Fire wouldn't be this into Batman if she knew his policy on oral sex.

The woman on the cover stepping on Bruce Wayne's toe is Queen Bee. She's the leader of H.I.V.E. She's working with Bialya to do terrorist things which makes sense because her organization is called the Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Extermination. Obviously that's a terrible name. But it's okay because everybody expects people to come up with a cool acronym and then decide what the acronym stands for. I suppose, according to the name, H.I.V.E. keeps a list of currently needed vengeances and exterminations (which would probably just be called "targets for assassination" if they didn't need the whole Bee Theme) which they rank in order from most important to least important. You would then think that everybody who is a member of H.I.V.E. is supposed to work from the top down. So if "murdering the Teen Titans" was at the top of the list, every assassin in the DC Universe should be targeting the Titans that week. But I don't think it totally works that way. I'm not sure the organization works any way at all close to how I'm interpreting the name. Maybe they describe it better in the Who's Who

Apparently H.I.V.E. did not start out bee-themed (although I think they are by 1988, right?). They were just a "hive" because the organization brought together seven scientists thwarted by super heroes to work together to destroy those super heroes. They could easily have been called C.O.L.O.N.Y. or T.E.A.M. or T.O.T.A.L.L.O.S.E.R.S. And I guess their list of vengeances and exterminations were just the seven different heroes or heroic organizations that thwarted them, the Teen Titans eventually becoming their big target.

Booster and Beetle are kidnapped after, it seems, the whole undercover operation has been sussed by Rumaan (or Queen Bee, more likely). I guess Bruce Wayne didn't get an invite to the big secret weapon reveal party like I'd thought. I suppose if you're revealing a secret weapon to bring Western Civilization to its knees, you don't invite the guy who makes all of Western Civilization's weapons which are constantly killing your people. What was I even thinking?! Sometimes it's like I don't understand global imperialist attitudes at all! It sure is a lot harder to read comic books that purport to be about justice when you finally understand how the term "justice" is often used to justify insatiable greed. But then that's why DC invented Bialya in the first place! They're just pure evil! Every citizen in the country is unequivocally evil so you don't have to worry about collateral damage (which is just Newspeak for killing innocent civilians when you meant to murder different civilians that probably weren't quite as innocent (but still civilians)).

So instead of heading to the gala as Bruce Wayne, Batman disguises himself as Maxwell Lord. I don't know if that's a better choice! Why would the guy running the new Justice League be a good disguise to infiltrate a terrorist ball where they're going to be announcing their new terrorisms?! Hopefully Lois Lane and Clark Kent are here but in actual good disguises.

Helping out with the procurement of Bialya's new secret weapon are Jack O'Lantern and Owl Lady and maybe some other members of the Global Guardians. See what happens when you put other super hero teams out of work?! They become the bad guys to make ends meet! I think this is everybody's argument for not firing police because if they lose their jobs, they'll become criminals. Which isn't the best argument for the police, I'm afraid. I guess we all just know they're criminals and at least being a police officer keeps them out of non-racist murder trouble. It's just that some of us are actually concerned about all the racist murders they love to commit.

It's possible the Global Guardians are performing the old loopity loop play which normal people call being a double agent.

I read this comic book thirty years ago or so which is why I can't remember what the Bialyan secret weapon is. I want to say it's The Extremists but I don't think that story happens until Justice League Europe begins. Anyway, the secret weapon is . . .

Oh yeah! The good guys from The Extremist world had already arrived. That's probably why my brain wanted this to be The Extremists.

Wandjina was the teammate of Blue Jay and the Scarlet Witch whom everybody thought had sacrificed himself earlier to stop a nuclear disaster. But he actually survived! I think.

Wandjina's first act as Rumaan's secret weapon is to kill Rumaan. He was less Rumaan's secret weapon and more Queen Bee's secret weapon. If that's even Queen Bee. Nobody has called her by name this entire issue! She might be Lady Shiva for all I know! It could go either way because she's been referred to as queen and lady!

No letters this issue! Just an add for The New Guardians which looks terrible because one of them is Harbinger. Although one of them is also The Floronic Man so maybe that balanced it out? There's also an add for Animal Man which I probably thought looked terrible at the time because the name Grant Morrison meant nothing to me in 1988. That would be rectified when I began reading Doom Patrol. Justice League International #16 Rating: C-. I was about to rate this a "B" and then I remembered all of the terrible jokes and also how Batman went from pretending to be Bruce Wayne to Maxwell Lord to seem less suspicious. I think my fictional memo from Dick Giordano was more correct than I realized because this issue would have been better with a little more Bruce Wayne and a little less Booster and Beetle, even though they were only in the comic for about four pages. It was way too many!