Thursday, April 24, 2008

Scott on the JLI Part 3

The Quaintness of The Cold War and Guy Gardner: DC’s very own Wolverine!

The 2nd issue of the series opens with a bit of a mystery (I say ‘a bit of a mystery’ since the reader can figure out most of it for themselves) involving the matter of how Dr. Light found herself to be a member of the League. It would seem that a mysterious man claiming to represent the league approached her a few days earlier and presented her with a signal device. It’s pretty obvious that the mysterious man is Maxwell Lord; it’s also pretty obvious that he gave the device to Dr. Light since her position in the UN provided the perfect opportunity to force the new League into action with the manufactured terrorist threat they faced in the first issue. However, it’s still unclear why Lord is manipulating them.

In his typical fashion, Guy Gardner offers to coerce the information from Dr. Light, which draws the ire of Black Canary. At this point in the series, Black Canary is sadly one-dimensional and, basically, doesn’t do much more than react to Guy. It’s kind of like your typical Sam-and-Diane dynamic without any of that nasty sexual tension.

Guy: She’ll be in love with me besides. Just like you, Canary—Right?”
Black Canary: What I’d love, Guy, is to knock you across the room.
Mister Miracle: Gardener, you’re a Green Lantern – can’t you comport yourself with a little dignity?
Guy: “Comport?” Did he just say “Comport”? (muttered) What the hell does comport mean?

In the documentary just released with the Justice League: The New Frontier DVD, they mentioned that, during the international era of the League, the schtick would take over more and more and the series would become sillier and sillier, culminating in the Kooey Kooey Kooey story (Booster and Beetle buy an island or something… I forget). However, at this early point in the series, it manages to be both funny and a pretty action packed superhero comic; a point that was kind of missed in the ‘reunion stories’ of this league (Formerly Known As The Justice League and I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League…. Although those stories do have their own charm). Interestingly, while Giffen was known for his humor, having recently authored Ambush Bug, since most of the laughs in the series come from the dialogue much of the credit can be given to Dematteis who did most of the actual scripting. The wit is fast paced and sharp and, anyone who has read the way he writes Spider-man and Luke Cage in New Avengers has to wonder if a young Brian Michael-Bendis wasn’t paying very close attention to this series.

Speaking of the Avengers, the main action of this two issue arc is focused around the Champions of Angor (though they are never referred to as such here), a group of heroes from a parallel universe who are basically pastiches of Avengers characters from another dimension (Earth 10 now, I think) who were introduced in a Justice League comic back in the early ‘70s in a publicity stunt the same month that the Avengers first encountered Squadron Supreme; the translation being: The Silver Sorceress = The Scarlet Witch, Wandjina = Thor, Blue Jay = Yellow Jacket. Going back to Dr. Light’s dilemma from the previous issue, these heroes have decided to do more than just beat up bad guys. After their own home world was destroyed by nuclear war, they have come to our world not to take over or rule, a la the Authority, but just to get rid of nukes, plain and simple (for a more thorough and eloquent exploration of this same theme I recommend Superman IV: The Quest For Peace…. Kidding). After destroying the nuclear arsenal of Biayla (a small island nation that seems to be the DCU’s Cuba), the group ends up aligning itself with the country’s president Colonel Rumaan Harjavti, a sort of Fidel Castro as played by Danny Devito, who prods them in the direction of the USSR’s sizeable arsenal. To an extent, the main plot of this story seems a bit dated. The fear of nuclear holocaust and tensions with Russia were a hot topic in the 80’s and even fueled both Watchmen and, to a lesser extent, The Dark Knight Returns. Today, of course, we are no longer in danger of nuclear annihilation…. Right? Ok, well at least there’s no more international tensi-… Ok, so maybe the story isn’t so dated after all. In fact, given the current climate, this story seems almost quaint.

The Marvel inspired origin is appropriate for the Champions considering their conflict with Justice League is based on a prevalent Marvel trope, some kind of misunderstanding: One hero or team of heroes encounters another and, not realizing the noble intentions of the other, they end up fighting. In their first encounter with one another, Guy Gardner, as always, rushes in headfirst. He’s sort of the team’s Wolverine… but things work out a bit differently for Guy: he is quickly fried by Wandjina for his impetuousness only to be all the more humiliated when Captain Marvel, -- who was described by Kyle Rayner in Morrison's JLA as "the man with the child in his eyes", is the one who rescues him.

Captain Marvel: In case you haven’t noticed… Captain Whitebread just saved your life.
Guy (his hair frazzled and bearing a classic Maguire expression that can best be described as ‘an embarrassed pout’): I Noticed! I Noticed!

So, the crucial difference between Guy and Wolverine is this: When Wolverine rushes in, even if he is struck down, he comes out looking like a badass; when Guy rushes in he comes out looking like … well… just an ass (and how badass can anyone seem in comparison to Batman… not to mention Blue Beetle…). This fallibility does help make him a bit more tolerable; if he were a jerk that was always right, then he would be… well, he’d be Batman (or, at least, Frank Miller’s Batman).

It’s worth noting that, not only do the Champions of Angor look like Marvel characters, they sound like them too. They typically speak in a heightened melodramatic fashion that would not have been unfamiliar to a mid-70’s marvel reader. Here’s a sample of their dialogue as they rid Biayla of its nuclear arsenal:

Wandjina: Fools! […] We don’t give a damn about your boarders and boundaries—about your petty disputes!
Silver Sorceress: No, indeed! What we care about is ridding this world—all worlds—of these abominable weapons of destruction! […] This nation will never make war again!

This pathos-laden speech stands in stark contrast with the playful banter of the League:

Blue Beetle: You think it’s too late to petition for a NEW Green Lantern? Hey, Bats—Maybe you could wear the ring?
Batman: It would only get in my way [nice touch—Batman is so badass he doesn’t need a power ring… more on this later]
BB: … yeah…. Besides who’d ever buy a super hero called the “Green Batman”? I mean that’s almost as dumb as…
Batman: The Blue Beetle?

In reading these two exchanges, The Champions come off as sounding like they’re from a completely different dimension than the league. It’s also worth pointing out that the Batman/Beetle exchange was taking place in the middle of the story’s action without distracting from it.

At the beginning of the 3rd issue, the League (in Beetle’s Bug) are pursuing the Champions when, suddenly, Beetle puts on the breaks (in MaGuire ‘funny face’ watching; Beetle is shown with a terrific expression of lip-biting terror just before he hits the breaks). So, what is it that has the great Blue Beetle so intimidated that he halts his pursuit? He’s just realized that the Champions of Angor have crossed the Russian border.

Blue Beetle (to Batman): You’re not thinking of going in there?! I mean what if we’re shot down? Do you know how much this bug cost me? Batman?

First of all, I’d just like to point out the humor in this line of dialogue: Of course Batman has an idea how much the Bug cost… he’s spent a fortune on his own arsenal. Secondly, the conflict regarding the Russian border is something relatively fresh at the time this comic was published; again, one of the operative buzzwords in superhero comics at this point was ‘realism.’ In the old days, a group calling itself the Justice League of AMERICA trounced around the world doing whatever it pleased in the name of saving the world; it’s a miracle more international incidents didn’t happen. As part of the increased ‘realism’ of this period, comics began to attempt to realistically reflect the international tensions of the world. Sometimes, this would be taken to rather ridiculous extremes; who can forget when Joker achieved diplomatic immunity after murdering Robin (Jason Todd) by being appointed an Ambassador by the Ayatollah Khomeini (seriously, I’m not making that up…sadly)? However, for a super-team that needs to be able to save the world on a daily basis, being confined to the borders of your own country can be a bit of a hindrance to say the least. This arc is a pretty brilliant way for Giffen to set us up for the team going international at the end of this volume.


Jason Powell said...

True fact: I read this entry before I scrolled down and read your response to my X-Men entry, and I seriously considered posting something about how Guy Gardner sounds like Cockrum's Wolverine -- not even knowing you'd already made the comparison!

It definitely sounds as if there's a parallel there. From Uncanny 95 to 108, you get quite a few examples of Wolverine rushing in and "coming out looking like just an ass."

By the way ... "for a more thorough and eloquent exploration of this same theme I recommend Superman IV: The Quest For Peace…. Kidding"

... You seriously had me goin' for a second there. Ya bastiche. :)

scott91777 said...

Hey, how can you talk about JLI without making a few bad jokes of your own.

The greatest difference with Gardner is that, for whatever reason, he has always remained the comic character; he never evolved the way Wolverine did... even though various bits would be added to his backstory (abuse father etc.) in order to explain his behavoir. Another paralell between Wolverine and Gardner is their disrespect for their respective leaders. Cyclops is to Wolverine as Batman is to Gardener Gardner... I guess it worked out better for Wolvie because Cyclops just isn't as cool as Batman.

I'm curious, does anyone know how much of Gardner's character is an invention of Dematteis and Giffen? They depicted him as jinoistic, misoginistic and, basically, just a dick. I know he was already drawn as tempermental hothead but was it always as extreme as he is here in this series?

Oh, and Jason,

Something you mentioned in one of your previous entries reminded me of something. You said that, before Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Cyclops had been the most popular X-men. This made me think of MY first encounter with the X-men which was an episode of the old Spider-Man and his Amazing friends where the X-men appear... sans Wolverine (he is replaced by the deceased Thunderbird... whose power is to turn into a bear for some reason). Nighcrawler, however, was prominently featured.
I had always assumed that this was because Wolverine wasn't kid friendly enough... but maybe it's just because Nightcrawler was the more popular character.

At what point would you say Wolverine began to become the most popular X-man?

Jason said...

That's a funny point about the Gardner/Batman, Wolverine/Cyclops parallel. It's true, it's much easier for a character to seem cooler than Cyclops than it is for anyone to be made cooler than Batman.

I should clarify -- I don't know that Nightcrawler was ever a fan-favorite; he was just Cockrum's favorite, whereas Cockrum seemed to not like Wolverine. Hence, the earliest X-Men issues have a lot of Wolverine getting bounced around and made a fool of, while Nightcrawler gets something cool to do in almost every circumstance.

As for when Wolverine started to become a fan favorite, I'd say as early as 1979. Well before "Amazing Friends," surely. (I remember that episode -- Thunderbird turning into a bear was so great!!!) My guess is that the only reason Wolverine was left out of that was because "Amazing Friends" was very all-ages, and -- to quote Paul O'Brien, "an all-ages Wolverine doesn't make a great deal of sense. After all, his main weapon against the bad guys is to cut them up with his claws."