We've talked about a lot of non-hero comics and writers who don't fit into the mold of traditional super-hero writers, but I think I should make something clear.
I LIKE super heroes.
In fact, one of the things that I like so much about DC (most people accuse me of being much more vested in DC than in Marvel) is that it has such a rich and fleshed out history. I've commented on a number of occasions in this blog about my admiration for the big guns of the Justice League, but today I spent some time remembering why it is that the Justice League means so much; it's a legacy.
I'm going to run a little bit off track here and talk about the time I spent (while sick) lying on my couch watching Absolute Justice. For those of you who don't watch Smallville, the last couple of seasons have been full of introductions of characters from the DCU. We've met Cyborg (Teen Titan), Impulse (also a Titan), Aquaman (JLA), Black Canary (JLA), The Martian Manhunter (JLA), Zatanna (JLA), Green Arrow (JLA) and members of the Legion of Super-Heroes (a personal favorite of mine.) I've probably even forgotten a couple of the characters we've been introduced to.
In Absolute Justice though, the writers remind us of the rich history of DC. They take us back to the fifties (in this it smacks a little bit more like the eighties) and remind us that there were masked mystery men long before our merry band of heroes start to come out of the shadows to stand beside Clark Kent. In Absolute Justice they tell the story of the Justice Society of America, and their fall from grace in America. It isn't the same story that is used in comics, but then not much of what takes place on Smallville is.
What I liked:
Hawkman - Not necessarily the actor, and certainly not the effects they used to make him fly, but rather that they used him instead of Hawkgirl. It bugs the piss out of me that he was passed over in favor of Shayera in the animated series.I know, its the modern day and they have to give some spots to everyone, but Hawkman is iconic.
Nabu - In this tale they make it clear that Kent Nelson is driven mad by the voices and visions granted him by the powerful mystic relic The Helm of Nabu. While that weakens the Nelson character of JSA fame, it fits the story they're telling magnificently and is a perfectly reasonable explanation for his absence all these years. What is more, the Helm is very well down. In a show where so many of the costumes and effects were poor enough that they could have been a part of the Adam West Batman show, the Helm itself is excellent. One day maybe they'll figure out how to make costumes look less.....I don't know.....fake. I also like the way in which they show Fate's magic. Simple yet effective.
J'ohnn J'onzz - The guy they picked for this role is perfect. I really like the casting. I did find the use of a green shirt and a series of criss crossing red gun holsters cheesy, but lots of things about this episode were cheesy.
Checkmate - If you don't follow DC closely, you have no clue who Checkmate are. That's fine. All you need to understand is that they are a covert operation under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council (although in the series I assume they will be completely American.) We meet Amanda Waller who reveals that she works for Checkmate, and we also get our first reference to the Suicide Squad. Its an 'in the know' moment for comic fans that would be worthless to non-comic fans. It was a fun touch.
DCU History - Assuming you can set aside the enormous amount of cheese this episode is served with, the writing of a backstory into the universe of Smallville is tremendous and long overdue. Soon enough Tom Welling will get tired of doing this show and move on. A backstory and fleshing out the DC world will open doors for other series which have a chance to surpass Smallville in their scope and impact. That said, hearing the names of men like Wildcast, Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman and yes, even The Star Spangled Kid was fun. It pulled at my sense of nostalgia for the legacy that exists in the DCU. Would I have preferred to see Green Lantern in action? Or to watch Jay Garrick run? Or see The Spectre (whom they don't speak of, but they do show in the painting of the JSA hanging in the brownstone?) Sure. But this taste was engaging enough, and it opens a lot of doors that they can use in the future if they want to. It was corny and cheesy and yet at moments it was awesome. The scene where Clark peels back the drop sheets and reveals the showcases and meeting table of the JSA was terrific. Even seeing Hawkman's gear (before he put it on and it got lame) was cool.
What I didn't like:
The Cheese - Too much of it. Was it really necessary? Is writing for television really still that weak? Is the only way to explain backstory or try and solicit a response from the audience to go with cheese? Very disappointing.
Amanda Waller - She wasn't fat enough. Seriously. Waller is a big, fat woman. In this she's just big boned. I also didn't like her. She didn't seem tough enough. Waller once tried to stand down Batman. The woman's hardcore.
Tess Mercer - She works for Checkmate? I don't think so. Checkmate would never have let her unleash Zod on Earth. This is a revisionist moment, and it stinks.
The Cosmic Rod - Starman is one of my faves. So having the Cosmic Rod in the hands of the Star Spangled Kid, and never once referencing Starman bugged me. I'm sure there's a reason for that, but I didn't like it. Also, they didn't show any of the rod's wicked power. It was kind of lame actually.
The Villain - Fate killed by The Icicle (or his son.) Really? Ummmmm......raise your hand if you know that Fate is a Lord of Order. True, he's tempered by the broken mind of the human host, but come on. An Ice spear kills him?
I would like to use a VETO.
In any event, this is what I often find missing from my time with Marvel books. I don't feel like there is a real legacy to be admired and a generational story taking place. Sure, Cap fought in World War II with the Invaders, but they are such an afterthought to the Marvel Universe that they might not even exist. And yes, there are a couple of future teams that exist. But as a whole I feel like that universe lacks the sense of historic depth that DC offers me (in great stories no less) on a regular basis.