Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Justice League of America: Scary Monsters 1-6

[Jason Powell, in his final epilogue to his HUGE look at every issue of Claremont's initial X-Men run. This has been a tremendous ride. Thanks for everything Jason. And of course you are always welcome to come back and write about whatever you want, whenever you want.]

This one is from 2003, I believe. Claremont was well past the peak of his popularity, and I’m sure one could make a strong case that his writing skills had atrophied by this point as well.

I don’t care – I love these comics.

The premise here: A Lovecraftian race of otherworldly demons is attempting to make an incursion into our world, at a dimensional junction point located – conveniently – in the same physical space as a resort where Wally “Flash” West and Kyle “Green Lantern” Rainer are vacationing. (This trope is a Claremont favorite, of course. See: The N’Garai, Fall of the Mutants, Inferno, Star Trek: Debt of Honor, etc. ) (Alan Moore, an avowed Lovecraft devotee, also uses this one a lot.)

When it becomes clear to Wally and Kyle that something’s amiss here, they summon Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man to help out. And once again – just as with Renegade in “Aliens/Predator” and Huntsman in “WildCATs” – Claremont seems to be using this story as a pilot for his own original superhero. This time it’s a female cop – half-Black, half-Native American – whose tribal ancestors fought the Lovecraftian demons several generations back. So yeah, Claremont is doing the “magical Indian” cliché again. Not very politically correct, but … well, look, I happen to have dated a Native American for years, and hell I’ll just say it: they ARE pretty darn magical.

At six issues, the story is maybe a little long given the straightforward nature of the premise. As the simplistic title suggests, this is just the JLA fighting monsters for six issues. Still, I very much like how Claremont uses his large page-count: He demonstrates a really shrewd understanding of the iconic DC characters, and he fills this series with truly charming character bits. Oh, and since I’ve gone to such pains to suggest that Grant Morrison did absolutely nothing “new” on New X-Men, that it was all just a recycling of Claremont … it’s only fair to concede here that Claremont’s JLA characterization in “Scary Monsters” has got to have been influenced here by Morrison’s revisionary take.

Claremont’s vision of the Superman/Batman relationship I find particularly convincing. As someone who has come to hate the whole “Batman is an ass-kicking genius, and Superman is a hick and a wimp” line of thought (thanks a lot, Frank Miller), I love Claremont’s intelligent, articulate Superman. Clark and Bruce are intellectual equals in this story – and they both know it -- yet each is able to offer something unique to the situation at hand. (Unfortunately I don’t have the issues in front of me, else I’d quote some dialogue from my favorite Batman/Superman scene in the series.)

The other characters are done just as well by Claremont. This is a superhero writer who knows how to craft a story so that each member of the team has something significant to contribute, and at his best he comes up with some delightfully original stuff. Claremont’s use of Plastic Man at one point is hilariously novel, and the use of the Martian Manhunter – not only his powers, but his alien origin – is marvelously creative.

No hidden Easter eggs here for X-Men fans, although there is a more blatant nod to Claremont’s roots: At one point, during a very inventive use of The Flash, Wally comments that what he’s doing is straight out of “Lee and Kirby.” I love a reference to the founding fathers of the Marvel Universe, right smack in the middle of a story starring DC’s biggest icons. Nice one, Chris.

Despite leaving matters perhaps a bit too open-ended in order to set up a solo series for his new super-heroine (which he must’ve known was unlikely to ever see fruition), the story nonetheless ends extremely satisfyingly, with a neat twist that even explains a slight inconsistency in the nature of the Martian Manhunter. (Not being a DC fan, I have no idea if Claremont’s take on DC’s martians accords with canon, but personally I thought it was fantastic.)

Although “Scary Monsters” was published in the era of TPBs, I guess the miniseries didn’t sell well enough to warrant a collected edition. That makes this a fairly obscure little gem, and one I’d heartily recommend. The individual issues are worth picking up anyway, just for the awesome covers, all six of which are drawn beautifully by Art Adams. God, it would have been great if Adams could’ve been convinced to do the interiors as well … !

And so ends my little post-1991 Claremont examination.

I think I have now said all I can say about Claremont’s work. And about comics in general, to be quite honest. With this, I’m hanging up my comics-blogger hat. Thanks for reading, guys!

-- fin --

23 comments:

Arthur said...

So who did the art? I thought this might be the run where he re-teamed with Byrne, but I'm sure you would have noted that. I definitely want to check this out.

Also, bravo for completing this series! I loved Claremont's run, and I'm still enough of a fan of his to pick up X-Men Forever (and enjoy it!), but a cursory look at, say, the CBR forums makes me think that I'm the only one who's ever liked his stuff beyond the Dark Phoenix Saga. Thanks as well for taking a look at his whole run. If I'm ever questioned about my love for Claremont, I'll have this series to point to.

(Speaking of the Dark Phoenix Saga... Frankly, I find that to be one of the lesser stories in his run, especially in light of Jean's resurrection. It wasn't until Days of Future Past that Claremont seemed to realize what this book was about, and he began hammering it home since that point. Themes of alienation and prejudice and persecution come more to the fore after that point, and that's the stuff that really resonated with me.)

Thanks again for all the great hours of reading!

Art

Teebore said...

I remember reading the Claremont/Byrne re-teaming on Justice League and being fairly underwhelmed by a stock vampire story, but this I don't think I've ever read. I shall have to check it out.

And once again, kudos and thanks and all that for all the insightful and fun blog posts, and for creating a pro-Claremont haven on the internet.

You may be hanging up your comics-blogger hat, but keep us posted on whatever your next ventures may be.

Evan said...

Just fyi, I attended a lecture at columbia university where claremont was one of the spreakers. He told me x-men forever would be ending in january as a part of marvel cutting their lower selling titles for 2011.

Arthur said...

@Evan -- That's $8.00 and two trips to the comic store I'll save every month then. I was gone from comics completely, but XMF drew me back in. I have no interest in the main X-Men books at all.

(Actually, I'll still be getting tpbs of Marvel's G.I. Joe run. Larry Hama's run on GIJ is almost as underrated as Claremont's. Plus, there's the new GI Joe: A Real American Hero book out now, a Forever type book where Hama picks up where he left off in 1993. So I guess I'm just done with the super-hero stuff.)

What was the lecture about? Anything interesting from CC?

Jason said...

Thanks for the kind words, guys.

I knew "Forever" couldn't possibly last. I gave it 36 issues. Looks like I wasn't too far off.

Arthur, I actually just bought some old Larry Hama Wolverine back issues. Hama and Silvestri ... that was good stuff. (Except I hated all that memory-implant crap.)

Jason said...

Arthur, I don't remember who did the art for this arc, sorry.

j said...

"Arthur, I actually just bought some old Larry Hama Wolverine back issues. Hama and Silvestri ... that was good stuff. (Except I hated all that memory-implant crap.)"

I read an interview one time where Hama said he hated doing anything dealing with Wolverine's past but Marvel made him do some issues about it.

That run was still great though

Jason said...

"I read an interview one time where Hama said he hated doing anything dealing with Wolverine's past but Marvel made him do some issues about it. "

That's nice to know, somehow.

Arthur said...

I guess this question is more for Geoff: what's next in the pipeline? Neil M. has a few Claremont posts in the works. Is that starting next week?

Geoff Klock said...

Neil has four posts that will go up over the next four weeks.

dschonbe said...

Geoff,

What ever happened to Graham Tedesco-Blair's analysis of Ennis' Punisher Max series? I was really enjoying the first few posts.

Jason,

Thanks again for the series. Your weekly installments will be missed.

-Dan S.

Jason said...

"Neil has four posts that will go up over the next four weeks. "

Sweet!

Anonymous said...

Jason, wasn't there talk about you doing a top 20 list of your favorite Claremont stories/issues? (Or did I imagine that somehow?)

In any case, how about just listing them here in the comments for our pleasure?

scottmcdarmont said...

Congratulations on the end of your Run Jason... I guess that means the rest of us will have to stop being lazy blog more (Geoff, I've got one on what Morrison is doing with Batman that I've planned that I should get to you in the next day or two.

For the record, while I was always a fan of Miller's "Ass-Kicking, Genius" Batman, I was never fond of his Wimpy Hick Superman. However, I think if we read Miller's work more closely (particularly Strikes Again) we can see that maybe a bit of unreliable narrator is at work; Miller's Batman certainly sees Superman that way-- but I'm not entirely sure Miller does-- or if his Batman isn't perhaps 'overcompensating' a bit. After all, in DKSA it is Superman who Batman hands the world over to after he has defeated Luthor.

And it's Kyle RAYNER Jason, not Rainer...

Jeremy said...

Wait, what happen to that "Top 20 issues of Claremont's X-men you said you were gonna do waaaaay back when during the Paul Smith run? I've been waiting on that for months now :/

Jason said...

I know I mentioned the "top 20" thing, but I didn't realize anyone was interested enough to ask about it. :)

I'll go ahead and work something up and e-mail it to Geoff. (I still have the list as an excel spreadsheet, shouldn't take too much time to work up some paragraphs.)

Thanks for the interest!

-- Jason

Jeremy said...

Great, looking forward to it!

And thanks again for all these wonderful posts. They gave me a newfound respect for Claremont's X-men as one of the greatest of all comic book runs.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this series quite a bit, Jason. Thank you for doing it, and i hope you write up that top 20 list.

Hama/Silvestri Wolverine comics are great fun. I'm still amaze that they teamed Wolverine up with Hemmingway.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

Put me down as another person who wants to see your top 20 list, Jason. Other than the Marvel Fanfare issues, I think I read every issue you reviewed. It's pretty unlikely that I'll undertake a full re-read of Claremont's run anytime soon, but I can see myself revisiting his high points more frequently. Unfortunately, most "top issue lists" seem to focus on significant continuity points, while I'd be more interested in re-reading the most well-written, intriguing or affecting issues. In addition to the stuff I already know I want to revisit (the Paul Smith era, the Vignettes trades, Uncanny 183, Asgardian Wars, the original Genosha arc, etc.), I'd definitely add anything to the list that made our foremost Claremont expert's favorites.

-- Mike

Jason said...

"Hama/Silvestri Wolverine comics are great fun. I'm still amaze that they teamed Wolverine up with Hemmingway."

Dude! I just re-bought the three Hemingway issues less than a week ago! So funny that you would mention that particular story.

That three-parter is actually my favorite of the Hama/Silvestri run! (And I don't even like Hemingway, so that was quite a feat.)

"In addition to the stuff I already know I want to revisit (the Paul Smith era, the Vignettes trades, Uncanny 183, Asgardian Wars, the original Genosha arc, etc.), I'd definitely add anything to the list that made our foremost Claremont expert's favorites. "

Thanks, Mike! (Although you've called quite a few of my faves right there in your parenthetical!)

scottmcdarmont said...

Re: Hama/Silvestri Wolverine:

I heart Albert and Elsie Dee....

Jeff said...

Jason,
I would like to extend my sincere thanks for the work you have put in to this series. I was a big fan of X-Men when I was young and as I aged I lost touch with it, never appreciating Chris Claremont's work. I probably would not have been able to even tell you his name if asked a few years ago.

After this series and many volumes of Essential X-Men later and I now appreciate the work of Chris Claremont in ways I never did. Thanks for giving me a reason to enjoy one of the greatest runs in comics history.

-Jeff Goodhind

Jason said...

Jeff,
Thanks! That is so nice to hear.

Scott,
Yeah, they were fun. What a weird addition to Wolverine's cast ...