Monday, May 19, 2008

Scott on the JLI, Part 6

[Scott continues his look at the Justice League International. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right]

"One Punch"

I will be covering the Gray Man storyline in the next blog but for this one I want to focus on a single moment, perhaps the most famous in the run of this series, the 'one punch' incident.

Guy Gardner has been a thorn in the side of the League since the first issue, particularly Batman's. That relationship comes to a head in the fifth issue of the series. I recently perused a friend's copy of the Legends trade to get a feel for how Gardner was portrayed prior to this series. He was definitely cocky, brash and arrogant but he wasn't quite the misogynistic, jingoistic jerk that he would become in the hands of Giffen and Co. In fact, it seems he was being set up to be a much more traditional team hothead like the Thing or maybe somewhat of a Wolverine style anti-hero.

Mister Miracle seems to be the most weary of the conflict between Garnder and the Dark Knight.

Mister Miracle (Thinking to himself): This is getting tiresome. If we don't boot Garnder the hell out of here... and soon... Mister Miracle just might quit this outfit. Not that it's all Guy's fault. Batman seems to enjoy these infantile confrontations.

It's easy to sympathize with Miracle on this one. Imagine, he's worked hard to finally make it into the league and now this is what he has to deal with

Guy: Did you just hear what I said, Bats?
Batman: I Heard you, Guy
Guy: Well don't you think it's time you wised up and turned command of this team over to me?
Batman: I'd sooner turn it over to Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel: Hey!
Guy: Figures you'd prefer Captain Whitebread over me. Gutless Pansy!
CM: HEY!

I like Batman's roundabout diss of Captain Marvel. As the team's Superman stand-in, there's bound to be some hostility there. Especially when you consider that Captain Marvel's wholesomeness makes Superman look like... well... look like Batman. After reading Giffen and DeMatteiss's 'reunion' stories that featured Mary Marvel, I think it's safe to say that it was their contention that the Marvel Family were, basically, DC's Osmond's. Cap and Mary are the Donnie and Marie of the super-hero set.

Guy: I think it's time I proved once and for all who's top dog around here!
Batman: This isn't a kennel, guy-- so stop acting like a mongrel.
Guy: (taking off his ring) That Does it! That does it! [...] here Beetle, hold my ring, I'm gonna bare-knuckle this bat-eared bozo into oblivion!
[there's a great gag in the next panel where we see Blue Beetle carelessly chucking Guy's ring over his shoulder. This is especially funny when you consider that this is the most powerful weapon in the universe that's getting tossed around]
CM: Batman-- as leader of the league, you should be providing an example. If you stoop to Green Lantern's level, well--
Batman: I know what I'm doing here, Marvel... and maybe when you've had my years of experience... you will, too. Till then, keep out of this.
CM: (storming off pouting like a small child... get it?) mutter mutter mumble mumble mutter mutter

I think it's a nice touch here that Batman comes off as so elitist; both in his treatment of Captain Marvel and his referring to Guy as a 'mongrel' we get a glimpse of how the refined millionaire Bruce Wayne is a crucial part of Batman's personality. After all, you would have to think that you were a bit above everyone else in order to take the law into your own hands wouldn't you?

Batman: All Bark and no bite.
Guy: Oh, I Bite! I BITE!!!

And then, in one of comic's most famous panels, Batman takes Gardner down with a single punch.

While he is berating Guy for his use of the 'top dog' analogy, that is exactly what he was doing with Guy. Miracle was on the money when he thought that Batman has been enjoying these confrontations. He's been waiting for Guy to do this; he's wanted this opportunity to show Guy, and the rest of the League for that matter, that he can take him down if necessary. This is reminiscent of two of the main fights from The Dark Knight Returns: The fight with the Mutant Leader and the fight with Superman. These are both good old fashioned cock fights. It's Batman showing that he's 'top dog'. In the case of the Mutant Leader, that he's top dog in Gotham and, with Superman, that he's top dog of the world. This fight was Batman insuring his place as 'top dog' in the league.

The fallout from the punch is hysterical and serves as a further showcase of Maguire's subtlety as an artist. Blue Beetle isn't just smiling as he shouts 'One Punch!' repeatedly, Maguire shows him in full guffaw, leaning against a control panel for balance, head tossed back in laughter with one hand clutching his stomach. A couple of panels later we even see him poking his fingers under his goggles to wipe away tears of laughter. It wasn't just the 'funny faces' that made Maguire's art so humanizing to these characters, it was the body language as well. Martian Manhunter and Black Canary arrive late on the scene and Canary remarks:

What happenned to him? Is he dead? Naw, we couldn't be that lucky.

This is the beginning of a running gag in the series where various members of the team contemplate that they may be rid of Guy only to think "Nah, we couldn't be that lucky." When she learns of what has happenned, Black Canary is distraught; not because two team members are fighting mind you... but that she missed it.

Martian Manhunter: Sorry we're late Batman (thinking to himself) but not as sorry as Black Canary.

Black Canary: I missed it! Batman BELTED him and I missed it!... oh god I'm depressed.

This is a great funny moment in a series known for them. Not only that, but it helps clarify a valid plot point. Why would someone as full of themselves as Gardner continue taking orders from Batman? After all, the general spookiness thing can only work for so long. Now, he has reason to tread lightly around the Dark Knight.

A few years back, Geoff Johns would attempt to do a 'call back' to this scene at the end of Green Lantern: Rebirth. In that scene, a resurrected Hal Jordan takes out a Batman who has been pestering him with a single punch. For me, the call back just didn't work for a few reasons. First of all, it just wasn't funny. Funny is one of Johns' weaknesses which is why his writing the new Booster Gold series is a pretty atrocious mis-casting. Secondly, Batman may have been a thorn in Jordan's side throughout Rebirth like Gardner was to him in Justice League but the difference is that Batman was justified in this. Throughout Rebirth, Batman serves as a sort of conscience; he constantly reminds us that, before Jordan died, he had become a major villain... not to mention a murderer (even though most of those 'murders' have been subsequently retconned away). Ultimately, I sided with Batman throughout the series. When Gardner got punched he was being an arrogant jerk, when Batman got punched it was because he had a valid point.... one that, apparently, could only be silenced through violence. Lastly, when Batman punched out Gardner it made him just that much more badass. Batman is a badass and you always have to give credit to those moments that empahasize this. When Jordan did it, not only does it serve to make Batman a little less Badass, but it was also attempting to make Hal Jordan more Badass. Look, there are many great things about Hal Jordan but his Badassery is not one of them and, at the end of the day, it's completely in character for Batman to take an unruly ally out in a single punch and it's completely out of character for Jordan.

12 comments:

Thacher said...

I disagree on a couple of points here.

One, I find Johns & Katz's Booster Gold to be excellent, especially the humor. Skeets' little quips and especially the Jonah Hex issue give the series a great humorous slant.

Two, comparing the Hal punch in Rebirth to the Batman punch is JLA seems to be an apples and oranges kind of thing. The JLI punch was played completely for humor on a character that had been an obnoxious joke for a while. It was, like you said, built up over time to culminate in this one gag.

The Hal Jordan punch was Jordan taking frustration out on someone who had been making serious digs and questioning his character, specifically all of the Parallax stuff, which had been explicitly shown as not being Jordan's fault, as he was completely controlled and influenced by an outside force. Batman's continued insistence that Hal take more responsibility for those actions is kind of dick move. Jordan lashing out as a response to that is rational and humanizing, and more realistic than punching out an ally for cheap laughs.

scott91777 said...

I tried a couple of issues of the Booster Gold series and I found the humor extremely lacking... it seemed to me like Johns was doing an 'imitation' of the classic Booster but not quite succeeding in a 'duplication' if that makes any sense.

Christian said...

I'm pretty sure being influenced by an outside force to become a murderer is still regarded as weakness in character.

Then again I've never been a fan of Hal. Obnoxious and self-rightious with little repercussions for his grave mistakes. At least when Batman fucks up everyone lashes into him, including himself, whereas Hal's modus operandi is to start lashing out at anything that bears just a fraction of the blame.

scott91777 said...

Yeah, I always felt the "Oh, it was all just Parallax" was a very weak justification for his actions. I mean, on some level, it had to be him, right?

Thacher said...

Humor is a personal preference, and it either works for you or it doesn't. Given the growth they've tried to show Booster go through in 52 and his own series, he's going to be a little different than the "classic Booster." I don't see it as a "imitation" or "duplication" of the character, just growth with the character.

I think the Parallax thing kind of goes the same way. You either accept what is basically sci-fi demonic possession or you don't. It was laid out fairly explicitly that Parallax was in him for quite some time, corrupting Hal and affecting his judgment, until Parallax ultimately took over. Absent the Parallax entity, he wouldn't have done those things. It's not influence, it's control.

But yeah, if you don't buy it, you don't buy it and there's nothing anyone can do to change that. I felt that Rebirth was a great way to tie all the Parallax/Kyle Rayner changes together, but if you don't like the central Parallax conceit then you're pretty much out of luck.

While I don't have a lot of familiarity with Silver-Age Hal Jordan, I don't really recognize the Hal you're describing Christian. If he was like that then, I don't really see that in the character that's around now.

Geoff Klock said...

The problem with the Parallax thing is that the influence of demons or whatever is more interesting if we feel they are an external way of showing an internal conflict, rather than what just amounts to mind control. The witches in MacBeth don't put anything in MacBeth's head that is already there. Fantasy is great, but it needs a human element to work.

I should say -- I know very little about the parallax thing.

scott91777 said...

Geoff,

You're aboslutely right, the whole possession thing only works when it serves to bring to the surface something that was already present in the character; using it as a simple way of excusing the actions of a character is cheap. This is Batman's concern that he voices in that series and, when Johns has Jordan punch him in the face for reminding us of this, he's also basically punching the faces of all of us who would point this out.

Maybe that's why I don't like it... I don't like being punched in the face.

On the other hand, maybe we're just overthinking this...

Thacher said...

I don't think it's cheap or excusing anything to use the Parallax entity in this way at all, nor do I think there is only one right way to tell the "possession story." Saying it only works one certain way seems pretty dogmatic and, in my mind, leads to formulaic storytelling. One of the things that makes the Parallax story interesting to me is that it twisted Jordan into the opposite of what he had always tried to be: a hero, a loyal friend and an officer of the corps. In that, I find tragedy and it makes me interested in reading more of his story as he tries to make up for what he's done.

Ultimately, I guess we just have to agree to disagree. The main point I take umbrage with in the initial review was that the Hal punches Batman was a callback to the Batman punches Guy.

That's cool. I'm used to this blog eloquently explaining why the things I like aren't good and that I shouldn't like them. ;)

scott91777 said...

I said it was a call back because immediately after Hal punches Batman we have Guy saying "One Punch!" Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have made the connection.

Casey said...

fair enough that guy does say one punch but i dont think thats why hal did it. I think that the whole hal jordan batman thing was its own entity but if guy is there to witness that he has to say that. I mean hes guy gardner what do you expect?

Matthew J. Brady said...

While I don't really care that much about Green Lantern, I'll throw in a half-considered opinion about Rebirth. The thing with it is, they had to redeem the character in order to tell stories with him. As a mass-murderer, he can't just say, "whoops, sorry about that" and start being a hero again. So they had to figure out a way to "undo" those murders, or at least his complicity in them. And that's what they came up with. Sure, it makes the whole "possession" angle kind of boring, but now they can pretend it's the 60s again and tell more stories about Hal the fighter pilot! Ah, comics, where you have to tell long stories just to be able to tell the stories you want to tell.

Marc D. said...

No one should ever forget that Hal Jordan was Parallax, and I don't fault Batman for reminding us of this fact. I didn't mind the Hal Jordan "one punch", however, because Batman had it coming.

The Guy Gardner one punch was just silly. Guy used his ring to make himself superhumanly strong. Hal Jordan had to rope-a-dope him to win in GL #25, even remarking that only by letting Guy beat on him until he tired himself out could he possibly prevail. Yet Bruce Wayne KOs him in one panel?

I'm still waiting for GUY to one-punch Batman like he one-punched Power Girl in I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League. That punch at the end of Rebirth should have been Guy on Bats, not Hal.