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Subj: Justice League of America #8 - Deliver Us From....
Posted: Sat Apr 02, 2016 at 10:42:44 am EDT (Viewed 511 times)
So Here I am. What Are You Going To Do?"
Perhaps to prove the adage that everything comes to he who waits the talented Bryan Hitch finally ensures that finding its way to us, finally, is the eighth issue of the Justice League of America!
That Bryan Hitch's debut as a writer & Artist is so seriously hindered by such constant lateness should come as no great surprise, after all despite, or rather because, of his name being made on shrewdly chosen special oneshot projects and limited series Hitch has always managed his carreer as an artist to conform to what he knows if his achievable page rate output, by being tempted to take on a specially created Justice League and try his hand at full creative input as he has it has clearly turned out to be an overly ambitious and ill judged gamble that he could keep to a set timetable and emulate his respected comicbook predecessors as a combined writer/Artist. And despite its atrocious lateness and other structural problems in the plot I do find that inability to keep to monthly output a great pity, as his work on Justice League of America this last year has shown quite an impressive ability for plotting and creating a strong moral dillema to engage the attentions of the readership. He also shows an equally surprising understanding of the general ethos of the League at itss best, the dynamic of what made the series work when at its commercial peak.
So, lateness. It has undermined much of the reception and good will to his series. And the pacing has been slow. And...
Rather than make the shortcomings the issue I would rather look to the positves of this latest issue, and on balance those positives are quite enough to make the book worth the wait I have to say. Yes Hitch wastes the first five pages on a soundless space vista, five pages that could have been condensed and lost nothing, but on the other hand the storytelling he uses here is in fact very effective. With a first page that devotes too much space to the creator credits byline waffle we are still served an effective and economical "Story so far" in the space of just two panels, and its economy in bringing the new/returning reader up to date is really something I must congratulate Hitch on. It is quite rare for a writer to even think of the reader like this, much less sum up the situation in just two brief but very effectively constructed panels as we watch crowds on earth and a shot of a devastated and lost disciple of Rao plead for guidance from the heavens. And the heavens are the scene, and allegorical backdrop, for the next four pages of pure Bryan Hitch panoramic shooting as we close in on the Moon and watch in a silent vaccuum as Superman launches from the wreckage of the shattered Ark and battles Kryptonian god Rao in earnest towards the earth... the two landing in suitably explosive style in a remote location by what might be the Himalaya's.
It is fair to say that if you like a heroic capable Superman, then this issue of the JLA is for you. Bryan Hitch's gift to you, the reader. For although nearly every member is presented with their own part to play in the story unfolding it is Superman and Batman who are the two dynamics that reinforce Hitch's Justice League, it''s soul and engine. Both are deferred to by their teammates and both are presented in a capable and faithful manner that recaptures the dynamic the two had in the best of the Grant Morrison era of the series. Batman is the director, Smart, Patient, observing events and duly the strategy, while Superman is the teams big man, its most powerful member, their moral inspiration and rock.
Over the last several issues we have followed Superman as he has moved from warmly greeting the arriving Church of Rao and its figurehead to becoming ever more questioning as to the reality and purpose of this miraculous and seemingly all-powerful benevolent deity and his followers. His questioning finally proved apt as he is confronted by Rao and shown an uncomfortable distinction between what it means to unquestionably serve and worship a messianic figure and the actual reality that supports the figure itself. As a moral the story works on a number of levels, Rao and his Church can, and will, solve humanity's aches and pains. But to do so involves unquestioning spiritual surrender, the relinquishing of any questioning of what they see and why it is actually happening. In doing so the people as a whole dissapear and in their place is a mass, a mass of likeminded people who share in a perpetual state of shared bliss as in effect individuality and self has ceased to be. All their is is a shared experience.
Is freedom from pain worth such a price? That is the question Bryan Hitch poses, and whether he will choose to actually deliver a firm verdict on that matter or not the reader is nontheless left pondering the "What If's..." of the dillema. Freedom from want, from pain, if you simply accept to believe in one vision. One figure.
But Cost. The cost is the other question which Hitch is posing to the reader. As Rao and Superman battle in the valley below a stunning mountain range it almost seems as if the Man of Steel is not only holding his own against this returned Kryptonian God but might even win the day, such is the force of his inner conviction. As a scene this battle might seem no different to other such previous clashes we have followed in the last five years - Superman Vs H'el, Superman Vs. Wraith, Superman Vs. Helspont, Superman Vs. Doomsday, Superman Vs. Ullysses. All follow similar tempo's and play out in similar fashions but what seperated Hitch's treatment here from many of those examples is the sense of moral conviction given to Superman and his willingness for unhesitating self-sacrifice. Which might seem to be overemphasising the point given the context as seen, but reading this and last issue the sense of a traditional heroic Superman fits with Hitch's very clear intention to deliver a very traditional, but modern, tale of the Justice League of America of which you, like me, might remember from days gone by when you first encountered the team and thrilled to straightforward stories of heroes battling alien hostile forces every other month to protect the earth...
As Superman seems ascendant over Rao the momentum of his attack is suddenly neutered as a rising Rao delivers a stark and terrifying truth to Superman. For as Batman and Co have gradually discovered the nature of this God's power comes not from his Kryptonian heritage but also from his position as the Church of Rao's principle guiding light. Disconnected to the Ark which Superman destroyed Rao reminds Superman that he is still nontheless linked to the faithful masses of the . Every attack on him is reflected through that metaphysical link to affect the peoples of earth, and Superman's resistance to Rao has cost the lives of innocent people. That Rao is willingly using innocents in such a callous and ruthless manner is left to the audience to see, but the implicit truth of Rao's words is understandably crusing for Superman. That he has not only cost the lives of innocents, even if unknowingly, is enough to stop him in his tracks and send him to his knees in despair and regret, but Rao's matter-of-factness on the situation belies any notion that he shares Superman's sense of deep regret at the tragedy. For Rao's concern is to win. To control, at any cost. Often labelled a God himself by some sections of society the further unspoken allegory on display is that this then is a clash of differing aspects, a contrast between the ideologies of the compassionate caring God that is Superman and the alien distant wrath of Rao. Both are Kryptonian, yet both represent near opposite ends of the moral spectrum. Superman is half-earthman with all of the experiences and outlooks that brings, while Rao is all Kryptonian philosophy taken to its extreme. A figure who has spent 250'000 years pursuing Immortaality and worship at the cost of any sense of compassion for others. The reality being that Rao is a man searching for perpetual longevity, a parasite needing the constant attention of the masses in order to physically survive, something an actual God would not necessarily need.
Consider that he taunts Superman's powerlessness at the situation, very deliberately exploiting his compassion for others as both a weapon and shield then delivering a brutal beating in the full awareness that the fight ended there, this is just for pleasure.
Bryan Hitch constructs a powerful and entirely convincing moral play of both Superman's limits and what in the end are his true strengths as a character and hero. Thousands of miles away in Metropolis and the workshop of John Irons Silas Stone and his Son detect the seismic world-shaking battle on their instruments, but as the earth and surrounding landscape around them buckles and shatters from the forces unleashed by Rao's sadstic battering a severely injured Superman is spared further pain by the arrival of the Justice League's Aquaman and Wonder Woman - Mystical weapons making for an unexpectedly effective counterstrike to the unprepared Rao. That Wonder Woman appears to be more barbarian warrior charging in than the onetime wise woman and intellectual peer to Superman is one of the dissapointing features of the issue. Superman despite his injuries tries to call off the savage-with-a-spear-and-sword from further injuring Rao, but Wonder Woman is indifferent, and sadly the presentation is not at all her finest hour. Not that is an unusual one either in the dismal reactionary world of Dan Didio's 'New 52'. The unpleasant violence and irrationality of the character is only accerbrated by the sight of the ever-compassionate Superman as he continues to try warn Aquaman to have her withdraw, and then his selflessness in action as he unhesitatingly moves to protect Aquaman from grevious injury from one of Rao's energy blasts.
With such a heavily tumultuous time for Superman in recent years it is this attention to character and warm that make me wish Bryan Hitch's obvious respect for the character was more the norm than the exception today. This is the moral figure of the Justice League and DC Universe that has been missing since at least 2011, and in a respect Hitch's work on both him and Wonder Woman is a fine example of how bi-polar both characters are in this New 52 universe, they both go from one extreme to another in terms of presentation as they move between individual titles, and the end result after five years of this corrosive and unstable treatment is a pair of characters now struggling to connect with their audience.
As The Batman arrives at The Foundry with "a package" we learn that contrary to appearances all is in hand. Using a flashback scene to show Batman contacting the captive Superman aboard Rao's ark last issue we are filled in on the Batman's outline of a plan and that Superman needs to somehow draw Rao's attention for the next hour while the motions are undertaken to devise a means to break Rao's hold over the people of earth. A brief message to the captive Superman, yet it is one filled with a respect and love for Superman as Batman refers to him as Clark and calls on him to do his utmost to distract Rao for the next hour while the pieces are moved into place. Despite its brevity is is one of the finest moments in the book for me as it shows the bonds that link these two go beyond merely buisiness. Friendship in todays DCU can be aa fractious affair, but Bryan Hitch isn't writing a Justice League that is of the 'New 52' specifically, his is a much more personal and respectful vision of the characters.
Events on the battlefield have taken a spectacularly rendered turn as Rao vents his anger in the form of an energy barrage that might obliterate lesser heroes, Wonder Woman is able to block using her shield but with Superman still recovering the odds are slowly moving in Raos favour until The Batman's plan finally takes its first step by transporting the plays via Boom-Tube to Metropolis, and the mysterious standing stones that somehow link to Rao throughout history. The awaiting Batman and Cyborg have prepared an unexpected surprise for Rao, in the form of The Parasite. Rao's base intentions are now made clear as he spits pettiness concerning his plan for earths people, it is perhaps a shame that he degenerates so quickly into stock super-villain speeches as the potential and previous delivery of the character was for a rather complex moral challenge. Here he is reduced to more conventional Justice League fare and is now interchangable with the likes of Starbreaker, Despero, or Nekron.
The Parasite has been coerced into cooperation by The Batman, with a free 'meal' on offer The Parasite enthusiastically complies at the sight of the appetising Rao and begins to feed. As a plan it is a clever one, albeit just one component, as the plan is to replicate an earlier experiement on one of Rao's converts, but on a much greater scale, in order to generate enough power to break Rao's link to his subjects and victims across the globe. First The Parasite must reduce Rao in energy, a feat which the watching and still weakened Superman objects to as it may cost more innocent lives. But the plan needs more power... Batman asks Wonder Woman for advice, Why? An odd moment.
It seems charging up The Parasite is the plan. With him feeding off Rao, and now Aquaman Wonder Woman and the joined Superman, there should be enough power in The Parasite to make it possible to generate a pulse that will duplicate the earlier experiement on Rao's disciple and thereby break Rao's parasitic link to the peaople. Annd yet the power still isn''t there, until The Flash arrives! With his connection to the Speedforce added to the Parasite's gluttony finally the critical mass is reached and Cyborg is able to tap the Parasite as a battaery to power the mysterious standing stones... but a last effort from Rao places the pproces in jeapordy before Superman moves to drag Rao to the ground and in another fine moment shows why he is the inspiration of all Superheores. He is the example. When he wrestles Rao to the ground and swears his goal to deny this petty godling there is no dount at all as to the conviction and strength behind that vow.
And as the hold over earth is broken so too is Superman's own hold on life...
With an often muted colour pallette and an emphasis on a light blue hue to light scenes Bryan Hitch's debut Justice League of America storyline has been a mixed quality, a presentation that has tended to avoid the widescreen appraoches he has used in previous successes such as The Authority and The Age of Ultron in favour of a more conventional superheor narrative. It is intriguing to read this latest issue and note the similarities between the League seen here and the world Hitch illustrated and helped create for The Authority, with the use of Cyborg evoking The Engineer and Rao using some of Apollo's visual signatures the comparisons are obvious even though The Authority was never more than a thinly guised take on the Justice League itself. That the book has failed to set the sales charts afre is puzzling, in many ways the structure and marketing of this title has been similar to that of Scott Snyder and Jim Lees Superman unchained, and yet this is a book that has somewhat more heart and soul poured into it than that title and as such despite its considerable handicaps I cannot help but appreciate Hitch's JLA and, cautiously, champion its considerable merits. This latest issue delivers a satisfying end chapter to the storyline, some wonderful characterisation for Superman and Batman, and yet with various subplots still hanging loose and a proper epilogue for Rao and his ethical challenge still to be delivered I am hopeful next issue will be a final wrap to the storyline that delivers on the initial purpose of Hitch's raising the issues of worship and salvation. For to truly wor as a rounded story this will require just that degree of a fitting summary from one character or another concerning the true role of saviour and Superhero in the world they inhabit. And I have every expectation that the one to deliver it will be Superman himself, the very literal living avatar for a saviour sent down to us from the heavens above...
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