Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Unearthed: JSA - All-Stars#2

"Catch a Falling Star: Constellations, Part One" by Matthew Sturges & Freddie Williams II.

This issue's cover does a better job than the previous: 9 of 10 characters are presented in full body shots (the 10th is the missing Stargirl), so it clearly establishes who the main characters are and hints at the plot (these 9 people are looking for Stargirl).

We resume the story with Power Girl (her costume still damaged from last issue's fight) flying across New York, trying to find Stargirl; unfortunately, she can't pick up Arthur Pemberton's trail. Arthur has brought Stargirl to an abandoned warehouse (how original!) and tied her up, leaving her cosmic rod about 8 feet away (I credit you the intelligence to realize where this is going). Arthur begins to explain he captured Stargirl on behalf of a client, when sounds of violence erupt outside. Stargirl assumes it's the JSA as Arthur runs out to investigate, but it soon becomes clear it's not her friends - it's the Injustice Society, comprised of Johnny Sorrow, Tigress, Killer Wasp, Shiv, Icicle, Geomancer and the Wizard. The last I knew, Geomancer was dead; we eventually learn this is a new Geomancer. How do villains keep finding willing volunteers to replace the gomers who die?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Star-K Ranch, that is), a narration box makes it clear that yes, this team really is called "J.S.A. All-Stars." The nine remaining All-Stars ask the original Hourman for help finding Stargirl. He again mentions Roxanne to them and activates her: Roxanne is a computer program, an artificial intelligence represented by a hologram. Roxanne introduces herself thusly: "Hello, mortal creatures. I've just achieved total sentience. Within forty seconds, I will have taken control of all of your world's nuclear weapons. Within eight hours I will have annihilated all human life. Your world is mine now." Power Girl (wearing a fresh costume) is confused, but Roxanne continues: "Settle down, lady. It's just a joke. Not that I couldn't annihilate humanity if I wanted to. Which I don't." Ah, good. the creators have realized the one thing the JSA were lacking was a sassy computer! With a cast of 10 people (plus 2 others in subplots), clearly the second issue was the appropriate time to introduce our new cast member, the "funny" computer program Roxanne! She quickly figures out where Stargirl is because computers can do anything. Yes, I'm sure we did need to invent a new character to solve this problem. It's not as though the JSA don't already know the identity of Stargirl's kidnapper and could just as easily locate him by regular detective work. It would be as simple as finding out where Arthur's been sending all the tanks and androids he's been buying lately, perhaps finding an opportunity for Citizen Steel or Judomaster to express some characterization. But no, a new character, that's it!

Hourman identifies himself as the "official liaison to the other team" (he's an instructor and a liaison?) and thinks they should tell the others about the kidnapping. Magog refuses and Power Girl notes the others have to worry about Mordru (um, so the All-Stars don't think they should help with Mordru? Didn't Mordru almost destroy the Earth the last time they fought?). The team follows Roxanne's instructions to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with Cyclone once again carrying the entire team with her tornados. Magog wants to spread out and asks Cyclone "How far apart can you get us and still keep us in the air?" Cyclone begins to try, but the next panel doesn't show us the results, instead offering a narration box reading "Wow, I'm awesome." You would assume this means she spread the team's cyclones far apart, but in the next panel, they're no longer in separate cyclones and instead traveling on a single tornado.

When they arrive at the warehouse, they find the Injustice Society and Arthur's armies engaged in a pitched war with each other. Magog thinks they should "let 'em fight it out and mp up whoever's left." Which isn't a bad idea, property damage and potential civilian deaths aside. Power Girl reminds him "People could be dying down there!" He answers, "Fine with me." Power Girl responds, "Yeah, except one of them could be Stargirl." Uh, so Power Girl is okay with people dying as long as her friends aren't among them? Wasn't the whole issue of "is it okay to let villains die" a pivotal dividing issue in JSA back when Black Adam broke ranks? And wasn't Power Girl against Adam's murderous ways? In a whispered voice, Magog quips what is either his first joke or first sociopathic spell: "When you put it that way... guess I wouldn't mind contributing to the body count myself." Yes, this is clearly a man you want responsible for life and death situations! Once again he yells out blue, red and gold team assignments, even though no one understood them last issue.

As the team breaks up to fight the various villains, Tigress attacks Wildcat, dubbing him "Tomcat." Wizard conjures up "Infernalemurs" to fight King Chimera, a funny idea which belongs in a better comic book. Within the warehouse, Stargirl realizes she needs to enact her own rescue so she concentrates on the nearby cosmic rod until it flies into her hands, enabling her to destroy her bonds. She even invokes "the force" while doing so, lest you think the writer is unaware of the cliches he's backed into. Come to think of it, isn't Stargirl still wearing her special belt? Isn't the belt what gives her super powers? Couldn't she use the belt's power to break the ropes?

Arthur Pemberton finally joins the fight, wearing a suit of massive armour. He left Stargirl to join the fight pages ago, back when the JSA were still at the ranch. I guess it takes him hours to put on his armour? Power Girl attacks Arthur and Sorrow suggests he and Arthur declare a temporary truce, even though Sorrow and/or his men have already killed several of Arthur's. I'm just sayin', if Arthur wants to turn one enemy against the other, he'd be wiser to make an alliance with the JSA until Johnny Sorrow is beaten. Anyway, Stargirl joins the fight and King Chimera uses an illusion to trick Wizard into thinking his Infernalemurs have switched sides, creating a diversion for Judomaster to kick Wizard in the head. Shiv declares herself Stargirl's arch-nemesis, but Stargirl demonstrates she's so powerful they aren't equals.

Geomancer notices Cyclone and describes her as "It's like Billie Burke put on Margaret Hamilton's costume by mistake." Icicle complains "Nobody gets your pretentious references, Geomancer." I didn't understand who Billie Burke was, but I did catch yet another Wizard of Oz reference, which Cyclone collects like driftwood. Icicle moves into try and kill Cyclone, but Magog tries to shoot Icicle in the back of the head. Power Girl catches the bullet just in time and declares "We don't kill!" Magog responds, "Oh, please!" Again, why is Magog a member of the JSA when they have very clearly stated they don't kill enemies? Johnny Sorrow tells Wizard to teleport the Injustice Society to safety; as he leaves, he tells Stargirl he wants her to love him. Considering Arthur Pemberton and Johnny Sorrow each have teleportation powers, one wonders why trying to capture Stargirl has been treated as a Machiavellian plot. Why not just teleport into her home, nab her and teleport away again?

That evening at the ranch, Magog and Power Girl get into a argument over his actions while he argues "it is a war, you people just haven't figured it out yet." Damage & Wildcat eavesdrop and joke about it. Elsewhere, Roxanne takes Stargirl and Cyclone aside, claiming she's new to sentience and wants their help to become "more... human." Cyclone is interested, but then Roxanne counts with: "No, not really -- you humans are irrational and you excrete fluids. No offense, but it's just kind of gross." *sigh* why are the creators so in love with the sassy computer? Can we please develop the rest of the cast? Speaking of which, Stargirl tells Hourman how she hoped the other JSA team's members would come to rescue her and he admits he has similar feelings about hoping to see his old Infinity, Inc. team. Stargirl wonders what Johnny Sorrow wants but Hourman insists "whatever freakishly inappropriate thing it is, he's not gonna get it." Elsewhere, Sand has a dream where he sees Johnny Sorrow and the Injustice Society conjuring up Johnny's master, the demonic King of Tears. And the story ends here.

This issue piles cliches into its shopping cart until the cart collapses through the Earth into a Stygian abyss. Seriously, this is a comic book from 2010 which uses hoary old tropes like "an abandoned warehouse," "villain ties up hero but leaves them unattended with their weapon nearby," "the bad guys have a falling out and attack each other," and "computers are magic."

As I stated above, given the JSA franchise's problem with having too many characters and too little space to focus on them, why would the creators add an all-new character by the second issue? Citizen Steel, Cyclone & Judomaster have no personalities; Wildcat & Damage are bare ciphers. Rather than expand on these skimpy characters, we have to endure a sassy computer? No. Thank. You.

JUDOMASTER DIALOGUE METER: She had no dialogue this issue.

Because this comic book cost $3.99, an attempt was made to validate its price by including a back-up feature starring Hourman & Liberty Belle as a couple of Nick & Nora wannabes getting into a plot involving Icicle & Tigress... because, I guess the JSA have a remarkably small rogues gallery? It's by Jan Van Meter & Travis Moore and reads much better than the main feature.

Tomorrow: JSA: All-Stars#3!

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