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JLA #84
writer: Joe Kelly
artists: Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen

Whether you liked the previous issue or not, that supposed stand-alone tale really does offer an interesting perspective for this issue. Even though Superman's greatest fears about Lex Luthor as President are like something out of The Dead Zone, the Man of Steel still makes the harder moral choice.

Criminals all over the world are shutting down mentally and emotionally, for reasons yet to be explained. Ironically, it's at the same time that the Martian Manhunter is learning to open up. As he comments, "I've never actually worked at relaxing before."

Not that he relaxes very well. Even when trying to be Mister Suburb, barbecuing for a visiting Superman, he still makes sure that he scans his body on the molecular level for any errant parasites and bacteria. How many of our wives wish we would do that…

The breakdown of these criminal minds, however, pulls J'onn out of his relaxation and his new relationship with Scorch. Though Superman promises to have him back soon, it clearly doesn't sit well with the former super-villain. (And despite the cover, we'd have to guess it still is former, or she'd be breaking down herself. Unless she's the mastermind behind it all. Naaah.)

Every step of the way, this book is back to its best form, especially with Mahnke and Nguyen back on the art chores. In fine Justice League tradition, they're re-using the cover that marked their debut in a clever way, and you may not realize how much you'd missed them on the book until you see their pages.

Kelly's run has had its ups and downs. Most of the downs occurred when he focused on one member exclusively. Where his strengths really lie are in the group dynamics, and thus the psychology of each team member reflected from that group. That's a long-winded way of saying that the characterization is back at its peak this issue, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the arc.


JSA #51
writers: David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns
artists: Leonard Kirk and Keith Champagne

Why do people love this book so much? Could it be just the opportunity to see so many favorite heroes of yesteryear thundering toward the bad guy in a gorgeous two-page spread? That's certainly part of it. Something about JSA really tugs at the heart of the old-school comics fans like myself. Not that I'm old.

But it's also been surprisingly intricate plotting that still never gets in the way of the storytelling. Case in point: there's a twist on the last couple of pages that was set up at least three years ago, only revisited once or twice before now, and unlike the "glory days" of Chris Claremont's X-Men, it's not annoying to realize it. Because things were still happening.

As much as this title is about legacy, it's also about change. And Johns, often with Goyer, has never been afraid of change. The two writers have at last given real definition to Mordru, a villain who has been kicking around all-powerfully for decades without having much real motivation past grabbing for ultimate power. Please. Anybody can do that.

But they've also been setting up interesting things on the horizon for Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate, and a host of other characters you thought you knew. Where other books have used the team dynamic as an excuse for witty repartee, that tends to take a backseat to solid characterization in JSA, and maybe that's another reason for its strange freshness. Few members consider themselves clever; they're just fighting for the right.

With this issue, the books says farewell to half of its current creative team. Penciler Kirk has been taken off the book, a shame because he has really hit his stride with it. Goyer leaves to focus more time on Hollywood (including a Batman film script). Both will be missed, but again, JSA is about legacy and change. Johns will no doubt keep changing that legacy, and still make us love it.


Powers #33
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Michael Avon Oeming

If you left this book in disgust when it came time for the monkey love, you're a fool. Or maybe Bendis and Oeming were fools for thinking anybody would leave, as the letter column a couple of issues ago implied.

You didn't just miss Bendis' shot at doing Ultimate Moonboy (though I'm still pulling for it); it was the beginning of no less than a complete history of the Powers "universe." And with this issue, #33, Bendis and Oeming attempt to answer the most basic question about superheroes: why do they bother?

Through the three issues of this arc, one character (possibly two) has remained consistent. But until now, honestly, it didn't occur to me that we've met him before. In fact, we know him quite well. It was the white stripe in the hair that threw me.

At least Bendis makes it a bit subtle. If not subtle, at least poetic, as the character gets the name we know him by. What we get in exchange is the promise (next issue) of a huge superhero team-up done as a Hong Kong Historical Kung Fu flick: Crouching Tigra, Hidden Dragonman.

It allows Oeming to really cut loose with some of his most emotional art, as the protagonist deals with his pain, working through it to a sense of responsibility toward mankind. And there's a flipside: you can almost understand why any some might choose to be supervillains.

Though Bendis obviously has written it well, it wouldn't work without being able to really see the inner struggle happening. Can you say that a comic book is really well-acted, under the smooth comicotography of Oeming?

Usually this book is gritty and terse, one of Bendis' hallmarks. But this arc has instead been exuberant and sweeping in scope, proving the creative team to be not just the best at what they do, but one of the most versatile in comics. Every month, every issue, Powers is a must-read.

Even when you're just looking at super-powered australopithecines in heat.


Derek McCaw


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