Stew’s Reviews: JLA – Gods & Monsters
You know what’s been badly lacking in this series of late? My reading something that really didn’t sit well with me. I’ve been reviewing a lot of books, and while some have been pedestrian—or, perhaps little better than “okay”—I haven’t come across anything in a while that really stunk up my chimney.
And that’s fine! I mean, honestly, I’d rather push through some works that I enjoy exploring and visiting some worlds that are vibrant and alive. And yet… the internet is powered by hate. So while “Yeah, this is a good read; get yourself a copy” is fun for me, we could always use some good old condemnation. Where is the vitriol? Where are the big feelings?
I’m wishing a bad read on myself, and that seems unwise.
Also, I hope you were able to navigate all of my incredibly clever foreshadowing here.
TITLE: JLA: Gods & Monsters
Writer and Artist: J.M. DeMatteis, Bruce Timm, Thony Silas
Protagonists: Nobody. All of the characters here are awful, and none of them deserve to be called a protagonist.
Antagonists: Dr. Psycho.
Justice League: Gods and Monsters is an Elseworlds tale that shows how the Justice League came to be on a parallel Earth that is filled with sideways versions of the characters we know from the DC Universe proper, and it focuses mostly—as DC stories are wont to do—on the Trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. These aren’t the DC heroes you are familiar with, however. The G&M version of Wonder Woman is Bekka, a New Gods character from the basic DC Universe who was the wife of Orion. This world’s Batman is actually Kirk Langstrom, the Man-Bat of the world we all know and love. And its Superman is Lor-Zod, the son of General Zod. Despite these not being the Diana, Bruce, and Clark with whom we are so familiar, they all adopt the monikers of their more well-known counterparts in the Gods and Monsters universe.
The heroes are brought together under the machinations of Jackson Alpert, a disabled man whose Forever People project enables regular folks to gain superpowers so that they can work to make the world a better place. Alpert seems altruistic, but his intentions are quickly brought to light: His process won’t empower himself, and he wants to find a way to make that happen. And he needs these heroes to do it.
So, all right. That’s the end of my unbiased plot breakdown. Now let’s get to brass tacks.
This book is not just bad, it’s an active discredit to the abilities of both Bruce Timm and J.M. DeMatteis, both are whom have resumes upon which this is a blight. There is simply no joy to be found in the universe. The plot is a pale shadow of an idea often presented with more depth in countless other books (“What if Superman and/or Batman and/or Wonder Woman was not heroic?”). It’s not just shocking to me that DeMatteis and Tim collaborated and this was the result… it’s almost unnerving. Perhaps they are the water and oil of the comic creator universe.
All that said, Thony Silas’ art is fine. There is nothing wrong with it. It’s not “save the story from itself” art, but it’s acceptable. Really not much else to say here other than I’d absolutely read a book we drew if the story wasn’t drizzling.
Across the story, the disembodied narration of Lois Lane explains the events you are seeing on the page and how they ultimately lead to the formation of the Justice League. Picture every negative aspect of Skyler White from Breaking Bad. She’s resoundingly negative (to the point where the only bit I enjoyed about the trinity characters was taking solace in knowing how much this whiny brat of a narrator disliked them), interrupts the flow of the story, and—honestly?—is just poorly written. Several times she falls into saying things like “reports vary on what happened next” or “no one is sure what came after” or “there is no information for what followed”, and it creates less of an unreliable narrator than it does an environment where the narrator feels pointless. By the time she revealed that her disdain for the league is tied to the death of a loved one, you don’t feel anything because you already only want this voice to go away.
Not that the trinity themselves are any great prize in comparison. Bekka is a teenage boy wish fulfillment character who just wants no-strings-attached sex from Superman. There is a nuance to creating a strong female character who takes what she wants that is lost here as Wonder Woman just comes across as a sex object early on. This aspect of her character fades out as the action picks up, but it’s too prevalent early on to be easily forgotten. Kirk Langstrom is all right as a vampiric not-quite-Batman, but you can’t read him and not harken to Batman: Red Rain (another DC Elseworlds story featuring a Batman who has become a vampire). He may be the strongest of the three characters, but there’s still just not that much to him. If Batman is the best, though, Superman is the worst of the Gods and Monsters protagonists. He is just a self-righteous egotistical Superman. That’s it. He’s not particularly nefarious or mysterious; he’s just a Superman who is a bit of an asshole. There are no meat on these bones.
The series culminates in a battle where the trinity fight against Jackson Alpert, revealed to have been Dr. Psycho the entire time. And after he finds a way to imbue himself with superpowers, he morphs into one of the Justice League’s most menacing foes. Is it the destructive force of Doomsday? The godlike menace of Darkseid? The calculating deviousness of Brainiac? No, he actually becomes… Imperiex? Friggin’ IMPERIEX is the payoff here? Imperiex was a pathetic character in regular DC continuity! The last thing the world needed was an even sillier parallel version of him! But that’s what we get, as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman fight a copy of a copy of Galactus. Great. The “heroes” win, but their battle has turned Earth against them. They rectify that, under enforcement from the U.S. government, by establishing the Justice League, and… it’s all pretty much whatever at that point. Imperiex. Christ.
Talking Point: How much did the world not need to be reminded of Imperiex, especially when there were so many better options? DISCUSS.
No, that’s not it. Bruce Timm and J.M. DeMatteis, though. I am ashamed. So let’s wash this out of our minds by focusing on happier times. What are your favorite episodes or movies from Timm’s DC animated universe?
One of the worst comics I have read in quite a while. There was almost nothing to the series that was anything close to pleasant.