Tuesday, 29 January 2013

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell review

JLA Classified collects issues # 10-15, is written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Butch Guice (or perhaps not, my trade paperback credits the art to Jackson Guice; is it the same person?). There isn’t a whole lot worth mentioning about New Maps of Hell. At its most basic, it is a story of the JLA encountering an evil force and after some fighting, defeats the evil. Instead of concentrating all the parts of the comic I’ll stick to the more interesting and successful (well, not always) aspects of the story.

Ellis sets the tone of his version of the DCU in the first four pages. A man wishes to jump off a building to commit suicide. He says he wants to be one of the suicide jumpers Superman doesn’t catch. In the next page he jumps and falls. In the third page he falls on top of a car. The fourth page we jump to Superman who says: “Dammit.” To which Lois Lane replies “You can’t catch them all, Smallville.” It’s important to mention that the man jumped at night and when we see Superman on the fourth page it is daytime. I interpreted this as a second suicide jumper or another event in which someone gets injured or killed and Superman wasn’t able to help. This is not a Metropolis where Superman can or will save everyone. Because of his super senses he is forced to witness all the crimes in Metropolis.

That’s ok though because Superman isn’t Batman. Something like that would drive Batman insane but only Batman, Superman doesn’t have a war on Crime. He simply helps out. He helps wherever he goes but he doesn’t lose him mind trying to solve all of the world’s problems. It reminds me somewhat of Grant Morrison’s take on Superman where he acts as an example for humanity to save themselves. He won’t solve all the world’s problems himself for fear of taking away humanity’s individuality and freedom and end up being something like a dictator (find another word for dictator). Ellis doesn’t seem to want to go so far with his take on Superman. He seems to want to acknowledge that Superman logistically can’t be everywhere despite his superpowers. Superman does have to learn to live with that undeniable truth, though.

Ellis adds other revisionist twists, most specifically with the powers of the members of the Justice League. Ellis doesn’t provide realist updates of all of the members; he chooses instead to concentrate on a few of them, notably on the Flash.

Batman has scars but so does the Flash. His body is not riddled with them such as it is with Batman but he has at least one large scar which serves as a reminder of how he got his powers. It’s as if back when he was just a regular human he was able to be scared. Now that he’s a superhuman the only scars he has are those that were present before his transformation. That would explain why people like Wonder Woman, Superman, and J’onn J’onzz who have been thrown through countless walls and windows bear/bare no scars. They’re superhuman and that serves as a good enough explanation. It’s not the case for Batman. He’s very much human and his scars have been shown in many comics by many different artists. It brings us to Green Lantern. His ring shields him. I’m sure when he gets hit and thrown towards a mountain his will is cleary telling his ring to protect him, much like a regular person would life up their arms to protect themselves from a physical blow. He’s got no scars because his super weapon protects him. In short it’s a neat little update for Flash that doesn’t drastically change his character but redefines in an interesting and effective way.

Ellis allows concentrates a lot on Flash’s super powers. He has to be conscious of the effects of his superspeed on the people and things around him. He desmonstrates this in the use of caption boxes: “Four steps and I need to slow down now, or else the bow wave from a dead stop will explode Linda’s internal organs when I pause to –”.

I imagine Superman and other super strong characters have to constantly keep their strength in check while interacting with people and objects around them but Flash has to do that as well. For a character such as Wally West you get a sense that he has a lot of restraint when it comes to the use of his powers and it sheds new light on his as a hero. He has to be conscious of the effects his presence has on his surroundings at the cost of being the cause of more destruction as opposed to the help he is there to offer.  

Jackson (or Butch) Guice draws Lois like a super model. That’s not a problem in itself but he also dresses her like a model from a magazine advertisement. For crying out loud, her blouse doesn’t even cover her midsection! Does the Daily Planet even have a dress code?

In opposition to Lois, Guice draws Wonder Woman in a relaxed version of her iconic swimsuit costume. She looks more comfortable wearing her off-duty clothes. It seems like a good choice of clothing for her while on Themyscira due to what can only be near tropical weather. Where is Themyscira anyway? In the middle of the Greek Islands?

As a complete package, JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell is peppered with sharp dialogue courtesy of Warren Ellis. Guice’s artwork does a good show of showing off Ellis’s interesting realist updates on old characters effectively. Unfortunately his inspired idea for Wonder Woman’s costume is opposed by Lois showing off extra skin while at work. I’m not entirely sure if Guice was inspired by another artist for Diana’s off duty look but he pulls it off very well here. It’s not at all an essential Justice League story, if anything its quite disposable, but it’s a disposable story but two professional comics creators and it makes for an enjoyable read, if somewhat lacking in substance beyond a few interesting ideas not directly related to the story being told.

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