Justice League of America, Volume I: The Tornado’s Path – A Graphic Novel Review

Let’s just get this straight: I love the Justice League of America. I always have, and I always will. I loved the Detroit stories, I loved the “Bwah-ha-ha” era, I loved when Jurgens tried to get it more serious, and I loved it when Nuklon and Obsidian joined the team. When Morrison came along, I thought the comic book gods had smiled upon us, and when Waid took over from Morrison, I thought all was still right in the world. When Joe Kelly came along I was thoroughly impressed, and then, after he left, well, things got a little rough for a while. However, who comes in to save the day but the otherworldly Geoff Johns. And then, well, it got rough again.

However, when I heard Brad Meltzer had been tapped to reboot the title, I was more than ecstatic. Meltzer earned my undying loyalty with Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest, and Identity Crisis was very strong as well. I realized from those two works that Meltzer’s strengths are definitely characterization and the interpersonal relationships between characters.

So, when I gave in once again to my weak will and read the message boards as to what people thought of his work (because I’m a wait for the trade kinda guy) on JLofA, I was disappointed that they were largely saying negative things (I know, the message boards being negative, big surprise). This concerned me, because I couldn’t believe Meltzer was doing a poor job.

Fact is, he didn’t do a poor job at all.

The Tornado’s Path works in almost all aspects. Meltzer is harkening back to my favorite era of the league, before the Detroit era, and that’s when they were one big happy family hanging out and acting like the greatest super hero team in the world. But, he puts his own twist on it. Instead of the team coming together and then breaking off into splinter groups to deal with problems, like in the old days, the series begins with them teaming up into small groups and then coming together to form a larger whole.

There were some complaints that this slowed the action down, but this baby had plenty of action from the get-go. Sure, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman spend half the book simply talking with each other, but the rest of the team is out there in splinter groups getting things done. This allows Meltzer to establish the rest of the team and help the reader get a feel for them. It’s not like anyone doesn’t already know what the Big Three are about, right?

I also heard a bit of rumbling because Meltzer has all of his JLofA members calling each other by first name. This didn’t bother me at all. I mean, these people are friends, that’s what’s Meltzer is trying to establish. If you were friends with a police officer, would you always call him Officer Smith? Probably not. The code-names are there to protect their identities, but if the team already knows their identities, why would they continue to use code-names when in private?

The Tornado’s Path is basically a storyline to reestablish the Justice League of America and to bring Red Tornado back into the forefront of the DCU. I’ve always thought Reddy was cool, but after Zero Hour, things got a little weird for him for a long time. Thank God Johns finally brought back the very-human Reddy, and Meltzer took that even one step further. Are there some plot holes in The Tornado’s Path? You bet, but nothing that impedes the sheer exuberance of seeing the JLofA done right. We’ve got lots of heroes, we’ve got lots of villains, we’ve got lots of characterization, we’ve got some mystery and humor to go along with the action–this one’s got it all.

And finally, I’d like to talk about two things: One–I am one hundred percent in favor of Meltzer’s lineup. The Big Three is an obvious choice that I’m glad they made. Hal Jordan makes a lot of sense as he’s becoming a bigger and bigger deal in the DCU. Black Canary is also a logical choice because of her status in the DCU among characters, and it’s high time she became editorially more important. Hawkgirl makes sense because she fills in for Hawkman as Red Arrow fills in for Green Arrow, thus keeping the Hawk vs. Arrow classic feud in an all-new and interesting way. Red Tornado HAS to be on the JLofA and I’m glad somebody finally realized that fact. Vixen is a cool character with a lot of room for growth, so she’s a good choice for giving the writer some breathing room. Black Lightning has long been one of my favorite characters, and it’s time he FINALLY is getting some respect. I prefer his red and blue costume, but I can deal with the shaved head and bodysuit. And finally, Meltzer is the only one who’s ever made me care about Roy Harper in the least. I’m excited to see where this character, who has been around since 1941, goes in the JLofA.

Two–In my opinion, you have to read the collected editions of Meltzer’s work for it to truly shine. He is a novelist, remember, so his pacing is geared towards intro, climax, and conclusion with lots of characterization in between. I loved The Archer’s Quest, which I first read in collected edition, but Identity Crisis wasn’t as good for me, and I read that in the single monthly installments. Trust me, those who said The Tornado’s Path was too slow may have a leg to stand on if they were reading the monthly issues, but if you read the collected edition, you will be amazed at what a page-turner it really is.

The Justice League of America is in very good hands, indeed.

Green Arrow: Moving Targets – A Graphic Novel Review

Warning: If you’ve ignored national media for the last year, you may read some spoilers below…

So why write a review for Green Arrow: Moving Targets you ask? Is it the excellent writing? Perhaps the exquisite art? None of the above; but, don’t get me wrong, both are adequate, perhaps even above average in the comic book world. No, the reason I’m writing this review is because Judd Winick (some of you may remember him from an early season of MTV’s The Real World) has written an HIV positive character into the DC mythos.

Green Arrow’s had some hard luck with his sidekicks. His first junior superhero named Roy Harper, aka Speedy, became a drug addict ironically enough. Well, Speedy cleaned up his act and is now a full grown superhero called Arsenal. Then, Green Arrow discovered he had an illegitimate son named Connor Hawke, who, after dad died, took over the role of Green Arrow. Well, I won’t bog things down with explanation, but the first Green Arrow returned from the dead and now works side-by-side with his son, but not as a sidekick, as a partner.

Enter Mia Dearden. She was a fifteen-year-old prostitute that Green Arrow took off the streets and gave a home as introduced by writer Kevin Smith. Winick decided to take things a step further and revealed she was HIV positive from her days as a prostitute. Although pestering Green Arrow to let her become his sidekick long before her discovery, Green Arrow finally gave in, granting her the control over her own life she desperately needed, and so Speedy was reborn.

Now, despite some obvious issues I have with this plot (How do you rationalize a teenage girl with HIV working as a vigilante who uses a bow and arrows? Why did she have to contract HIV by prostituting? Not everyone with HIV acquired it through “illicit behavior,” you know?), I will grant Winick credit with treating it as sensibly as one can in the comic book genre. He kept Mia strong and assertive, without crossing into sanctimonious territory. Not only that, but Mia’s story is more sub-plot to the overall story taking place in Moving Targets. That overall plot, by the way, paled in comparison to Mia’s plight.

So, would I recommend Green Arrow generally? No, I wouldn’t, though Meltzer’s Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest was excellent. But, I would give Green Arrow: Moving Targets a read simply to witness a writer introduce a rather pioneering character into the conservative universe of DC.