Pick of the week: Aug. 31st: Justice League of America #9

Justice League of America #9

Writer/Pencils: Bryan Hitch

Inks: Daniel Henriques

Colorist: Alex Sinclair

Justice League of America (not to be confused with the current Bryan Hitch Justice League) picks up where it left off in the New 52. The reader is viewing three separate timelines at one. Past Rao on Krypton, the Flash at the Stones of Eternity (brought there after fighting the Parasite from issue 1), and the present where the Justice League of America stands over a presumably dead Superman. In the Flash timeline we see the tone going berserk “singing” that “they” have arrived. The Flash and Co. are confused as to who they are speaking of. At that time Rao arrives on the scene to announce that the Stones of Eternity have arrived, and that both sets of stones are now communicating w2ith each other. In the past timeline of Rao on Krypton, we see a Green Lantern who is being held prisoner by time traveling future Rao. Time traveling future Rao has somehow disconnected the Green Lantern from his power ring. Rao that lived during that pat timeline (keep’em straight come on) is on Green Lantern’s side after he has a philosophy battle with time traveling future Rao. Past Rao realizes the evil that he ha become. However, past Rao is powerless to stop time traveling future Rao. Past Rao explains to Green Lantern, that future Rao has had centuries more time with the stone of life and there fore they are under his control and granting him power that past Rao can not match. Past Rao encourages Green Lantern, who is distraught about what he can do, by telling him that “single drops of water can erode mountains”. This gives Green Lantern hope to keep fighting against Rao’s power and attempt to reconnect with his ring. In the present timeline we see Diana trying, unsuccessfully, to revive superman The rest of the league tells her it’s time to give up but Diana refuses to let Superman die. In her last effort she strikes Superman with the lightning bolt of Zeus, trying to jump start his heart. The result is……Successful (Surprise!). Superman stirs and asks where Rao went. Its then the time traveling Rao emerges with……..Well I’ll let you read that for yourself. I will say though that the surprise twist at the end of the issue provides a threat that the reader can actually believe will be a threat to the Justice League.

The idea of telling the story in three different timelines could have been disastrous. As it’s almost like its’ trying to get the reader confused. However, Bryan Hitch handles that delicate tasks beautifully. He manages to craft the story telling on three levels and bring it all back around by the end of the issue. I am really excited that he is continuing this series even with the Rebirth reboot. Hitch is an excellent story teller and this issue just cements that for me. The character work between part Rao and Green Lantern is especially stunning as he manages to humanize a character who out God’s Superman himself.It’s also nice to know that thy have something resembling a coney dog on Krypton:

zV7FoSZ

The dialogue when the Justice League themselves talk is the only real weak point. As I feel it was supposed to come off as funny, but rather just seemed corny.

The art for the issue was very good. I think having Daniel Henriques take over the inks has helped with the completion of the issues and has freed up some extra time for Bryan Hitch to work on the script. The colors by Alex Sinclair are most excellent. The palette used by Sinclair for world build helps carry the story forward and helps the reader keep the three timelines separate from one another. The colors used to convey energy, such as the lightning coming off of the stones of the electricity springing from Zeus’ bolt, feels real and powerful.

Overall, this issue is solid with very minimal problems. I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and will be saddened by its’ absence in my pull list. If you haven’t read any of it I’d highly recommended you remedy that. In the gallery below is all of the covers the issue shipped with.

Rating: 8/10

-Andrew

The Fleischer Bros. Superman Shorts (1941-1943)

Every Comic Book Movie (Ever) is an ongoing series which examines the long-standing relationship between comic books and film through individual works as well as groups of works. While it is likely impossible that a single person could write about every single comic book film ever made, the series hopes to provide insight that ranges widely across eras and styles of filmmaking – covering acknowledged classics, hidden gems, huge disasters, and relatively unknown works with an empathetic and critical eye.

 

This being the first installment of the series, I thought I would write about a film (well, a group of short films) that is both a personal favorite, and something of an unimpeachable classic. Hence, the Fleischer Bros. Superman Shorts.

logo.jpg

Fleischer Studios Logo

Max and Dave Fleischer began making shorts in the late nineteen-teens after Max Fleischer invented, patented, and sold the rotoscope. Starting work at Bray Studios, they eventually created their own studio (Fleischer Bros., Inc.) where they would go on to create original characters like Betty Boop and define pre-existing comic book characters like Popeye and, you guessed it, Superman. Without going too deep into the history, the Fleischers were, for a time, considered

the only real rival to Walt Disney’s animation dominance. In fact, the rotoscoping technique created by Max was used by Disney to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Unfortunately, the studio was plagued by financial troubles and, by the time Superman was being produced, was mostly owned and run by Paramount.

Despite this, Max and Dave were still heavily involved with Superman. They had just come off their first feature, Gulliver’s Travels, and were working on their second when Paramount, hoping to adapt the extremely popular at the time Superman, approached the Fleischers about bringing the character to life. They weren’t interested. But instead of saying no, the brothers told Paramount they could only make Superman for roughly ten times the amount of their previous shorts, expecting Paramount to balk and leave them in peace. Instead, Paramount negotiated an agreement for roughly half that much and Superman went into production as one of the most expensive animated shorts of that time.

mos.jpg

The Fleischer’s Man of Steel

The expense shows. Few animated films, from that time or any other, look as dynamic and lavish as the shorts the Fleischers produced. The first (titled “Superman,” but usually referred to as “The Mad Scientist”) pits Superman against what would become a common enemy in these shorts: a rogue scientist using advanced technology for nefarious means. The short introduces a number of iconic elements, beginning with a brief prologue explaining Superman’s origins and the classic invocation: “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” The story begins when Lois Lane sets out to track down a man who has been sending mysterious threats to Metropolis. She takes a plane to a towering, gothic mountain atop which sits the scientist’s laboratory. He promptly captures Lois (with the help of his henchman, a ruffled vulture/raven hybrid) and begins attacking the city with a massive death ray. As the destruction of the city begins, Clark Kent slips into a supply closet and, as the iconic score plays, rips of his tie and hat to reveal his identity as Superman. He begins his battle with the death ray, swooping (not quite flying) through the city, saving citizens and preserving the Daily Planet building as it arcs elegantly and destructively toward the ground.

In the end, he rescues Lois (and, importantly, the evil scientist) from the destruction of the death ray and the laboratory. Lois writes a front page column and Superman disappears into the ether until the next crisis. Meanwhile, Lois asks Clark where he was the whole time.

land clark.jpg

Lois and Clark, after the crisis

The shorts all follow this same basic formula, the first four especially. Lois jumps right into the thick of it, Superman is nearly defeated, but overcomes the villain, rescuing everyone in the end. It establishes a template familiar from the comics while adding a few of its own signature elements. One of those is the reliance on music to tell the story. There is little spoken dialogue in the Fleischer shorts, so the music does a lot of the heavy lifting. It helps to tell the story, creating drama and tension, while also serving as an all-purpose source for sound effects. When Superman punches the bullets from the death ray, the music turns to sharp stabs in unison with Superman’s powerful fists. The shorts alternate between heavy sci-fi plots where mad scientists or monsters are unleashed on the city and lighter sci-fi fair, where criminals use slick, new technology to rob trains and vaults.

What is most striking about these shorts, to me, is their audacity of design. They dwell in a kind of retro-futurism where contemporary architecture and automobiles exists alongside impossibly tall buildings, high mountain labs, and enclosed crosswalks which stretch from building to building somewhere around the 95th floor. The lines recall both art deco and early Soviet propaganda, while the lighting draws from noir; everything is rendered in gothic proportions. The Fleischer’s Metropolis and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis do not dwell far apart from each other. This is perhaps the most enduring influence of these shorts. Bruce Timm consulted them in designing the Gotham of Batman: The Animated Series; Brad Bird looked to them when building The Iron Giant; Hayao Miyazaki stole more than a few tricks from the Fleischers for Castle in the Sky and other films.

The Fleischer’s Metropolis Bruce Timm’s Gotham

In later Fleischer shorts (like The Bulleteers), the formula modulates slightly, moving into to a light serialization. Lois and Clarks relationship noticeably progresses at the end of each short, but the action is still the meat of these. Clark and Lois travel to a volcano where Superman saves everyone from an eruption. They travel to a carnival where he saves them from a giant gorilla. But by this point, a year into the Superman shorts, Max and Dave were no longer on speaking terms and Paramount was worried.

Dola Gang from Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky Bulleteers from Superman

After Terror on the Midway, Paramount dissolved Fleischer Studios and reorganized its few remaining elements as Famous Studios. They continued to make Superman shorts, but these were markedly different than what came before. It was the end of 1942 and the U.S. was on the war path. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor almost a year earlier and every movie studio in the country was playing their part in the escalating war effort. Paramount and Famous Studios were no exception. The rest of the Superman shorts serve as pretty standard fair propaganda. The animation quality drops noticeably with the absence of the Fleischers and the plots are clunky, often involving saboteurs and peddling nasty racial stereotypes of the Japanese. The Superman of Famous Studios is the ultimate warrior of U.S. interests abroad. Trapped in Japan with Lois, Clark sneaks out at night to wreak havoc on the Japanese war effort. He destroys bridges and air bases and battleships. Where Superman used to rescue his adversaries, here he destroys them when they aren’t looking. A night watchmen on a ship undoubtedly dies when Superman pulls the vessel underwater until it explodes. The same fate is met by countless soldiers crossing a bridge at night when Superman annihilates it.

Still, these do not impinge on the revolutionary, earlier shorts of the Fleischers, which still stand today as one of the great achievements of not only animation, but filmmaking itself. With their dynamic and singular animation style, the Fleischer Bros. Superman shorts remain one of, if not the definitive comic-book adaptation.

 

-Ian