Thursday, June 21, 2012

I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League Takes A Humorous Stab At The Second String Superheroes!

The Good: Very funny, Manages to have some heart (albeit late in the book), A few good character moments, A few of the panels are truly amazing.
The Bad: Very silly, Somewhat hard to accept out of context, Much of the artwork.
The Basics: I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League pretty much makes a mockery of the second-string superheroes who are attempting to come together to form a crime fighting organization, but it does it surprisingly well!

It is hard to recall a graphic novel I came to with so few preconceptions or expectations about as I did when my library got in I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League for me. I’ve been exhausting the local library system’s collection of graphic novels and I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League is part of a stack that came in recently when I tried to get in anything related to the Justice League as I await the next shipment of Flash graphic novels. I was actually pretty stoked, though, when I opened the book and discovered that I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League includes Max Lord!

Max Lord, for those not in the know, is a human with extensive mental abilities who takes it upon himself to watch over the superhero community. He becomes a serious threat to the survival of the superheroes in the DC Universe when he initiates The OMAC Project (reviewed here!). When he takes control of Superman and uses him as a weapon of mass destruction, he essentially precipitates one of the greatest conflicts in the history of the DC Universe. As one who loved that arc and who is a huge fan of Justice League: Generation Lost, I was psyched to see Max Lord in the pages of I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League.

Then I started reading I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League and I am not at all sure how I felt about his place in the story.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League is the rare comedy graphic novel set within the DC Universe. The book employs many of the serious characters, like Power Girl, Max Lord and Guy Gardner (who might be obnoxious, but has a pretty serious side explored in the books I’ve read), but puts them in a very comical context. I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League uses Booster Gold and Blue Beetle as a comedy team that pretty much upsets the balance of the universe. Mary Marvel is present as the voice of naiveté, which plays perfectly off Guy Gardner’s brusque worldliness.

With the DC Universe, apparently, in chaos as the Justice League Of America reforms under Dinah Lance, the second string heroes are assembling under Max Lord as the Super Buddies. Astonished that they are getting paid, save L-Ron the robot, Sue and Ralph Dibney, Booster Gold, Ted Kord, Bea (“Fire”), and Mary Marvel come to work for the side of good. But when Sue determines that their neighbor, Richard Hertz, is a former super villain, she gets outraged (inspiring a rumor that she is pregnant) and attacks him. But things go from bad to worse when Hertz’s business partner is revealed to be Guy Gardner. While Power Girl visits to discuss Blue Beetle’s offer to join the team, Booster wanders into Dr. Fate’s room and accidentally wishes the Super Buddies to Hell.

Teleported to Hell, Elastic Man, Mary Marvel (without her ability to transform), Fire, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle are condemned to cook burgers for the denizens of Hell for all eternity. When Guy purposely sends himself and Power Girl there in order to rescue the Super Buddies, he and Bea are shocked to see Tora (“Ice”) trapped there. Trying to escape themselves becomes a test of willpower when they attempt to rescue her as well.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League establishes itself very quickly as what it intends to be, a comedy version of the DC universe and it works very consistently at that. I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League mixes pretty banal humor like Sue Dibney and Max Lord having serious trouble with wrapping their heads around Richard “Call me Dick!” Hertz and well-developed running gags, like “We get paid for this?!” Writers Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis slowly transform I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League into something that uses the humor in more interesting and supporting way. So, for example, when Ralph Dibney does his trademark nose wiggle (smelling a mystery), the others around him address how esoteric that is in the real-world. And the unlikely pairing of Bea and Mary Marvel actually works astonishingly well as the naïve Mary is quickly taken under the more streetsmart Bea’s wing and that protective instinct actually builds some character.

What is astonishing is that the addition of Guy Gardner, more than anything else, pushed I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League from being a silly comic into one that has actual characters the readers care about. Despite his wisecracking, Gardner is actually ridiculously smart (and yes, he used to be a lawyer!), so when he deduces how to gain access to the Hell that the Super Buddies have been condemned to, it actually works. And while the comedic journey to hell and a parallel universe is very funny and something that is imposed in entirely artificial ways upon the protagonists, it forces character development in Booster Gold (who stops playing the fool), Guy and Bea.

What I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League did not do for me is offer even the slightest clue as to how Max Lord went from being a bumbling administrator to the most dangerous (mostly) human on the planet. Lex Luthor might have money, resources and an intellect that rivals that of Bruce Wayne, but Max Lord is a cunning strategist who has mental abilities that could allow him to enslave and control the most powerful entities in the DC Universe (except, I suppose, any that lack a brain). I was not prepared to see Max Lord as a buffoon, but from his first exchange with Sue Dibney, he seems much more like an ineffectual administrator than one who will go to any lengths (like Lex Luthor) to save humanity.

That brings us to the artwork. I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League is one of the best examples I can think of how if a project is not on the front burner at DC Comics, it is treated as such. Much of I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League features artwork that is vastly oversimplified – Booster Gold in the alternate universe, for example, does not bear any resemblance to our Booster. This might not be such a terrible thing, save that book frequently relies upon the images to present emotions without words, most notably sequences where groups of people have facial expressions that slowly change from panel to panel to panel.

On the flipside, I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League has some absolutely beautiful panels. Ice in the alternate universe is a lot of fun and the artists clearly had fun with Mary Marvel, especially in the alternate universe. More than that, I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League has one of the most beautiful panels in comics I have ever seen. Seriously. Bea and Guy crying on one another in Hell is one of the most beautiful panels drawn for a comic book and it helps readers absolutely care about two unlikely characters to empathize with. If it were available, it is probably one of the few pieces of comic book art I would actually want to purchase.

That said, the serious moments in I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League are few and far between, but it IS a fun book and well worth a read, if not the buy.

For other works that feature Ice, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Birds Of Prey: Dead Of Winter
The Sinestro Corps War, Volume 2
Green Lantern Corps: Ring Quest
Justice League: Generation Lost, Volume 1
Justice League: Generation Lost, Volume 2


For other graphic novel reviews, be sure to check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the books I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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