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Crossed-Out Crossovers: Judgment Day

By | May 11th, 2011
Posted in Columns | % Comments

There are two Judgment Day crossovers that I’m aware of within the history of superhero comics. One of them is written by Alan Moore. This is the other one. And boy, is it… it’s really something. Let’s chat after the jump, because I’m not sure the things there are to say about this Judgment Day can be said in public.

Last time, we talked about how Marvel has never really had a big Thor crossover — most of what they have are Avengers events that happen to feature Thor or Thor concepts. Never to be outdone, DC took its most prominent mega-team — the Justice League, rendered in triplicate here — and its most prominent Norwegian character, and told a tale about them. The thing is, DC’s most prominent Norwegian character is, uh, Ice.

There’s nothing wrong with Ice. During the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League days, she had some of the best comedic moments, dutifully following a script that inevitably built to Fire saying something provocative or Guy Gardner doing something obnoxiously masculine, and her blushing or gasping or clasping her palm over her mouth. Wash, freeze, repeat. This is the stuff great supporting characters are built from. Key word: supporting. If you’re going to make a big event focus on her, then you’ve got to make it a good one, and you’ve got to make it make sense. DC Comics, or the Justice League’s editorial team, or the writers, or whoever outlined this thing, went a bit in the opposite direction.
So much is thrown around in Judgment Day that it’s honestly very hard to summarize it without being punishingly glib. A giant alien wearing a beret (but now sporting giant Satan/Loki horns) arrives, ready to conquer the Earth. He decides to go the nice simple route and put all death and birth into permanent stasis, because that’s what he does. The Justice League is all “let’s stop this jerk,” and do so in a way that really pisses off the UN, who deploy the Leaguebusters, a team built specifically for the purpose of having a fight scene with the League for like half an issue and then never appearing again, ever. Oh, and the Overmaster turns Ice evil, because that’s what he does. Then Ice turns good again long enough to die. This can be assumed to mean something to someone, somewhere.

Judgment Day is years away from the JLA’s return to relevance in the aptly-titled JLA series. In fact, it’s flat-out a nadir for the franchise, the lowest low in a series of them that befell various Justice League stuff throughout the 90s, after Giffen and DeMatteis left and took the superhero-sitcom ball with them. It’s all action and no sense; it’s the Liefeld League, but without even the weird idiosyncratic pseudo-charm that Liefeld’s stuff has (sometimes). At its best, the Justice League represents a group of great characters coming together and moving through stories that grow out of and around them, against cosmic threats and personal crises (or just against their irritation with each other)… and so on. There are plenty of good Justice League stories to bear this out, and even a couple of great ones. Judgment Day isn’t so much a synergistic combination of the many elements that make for great Justice League stories as a ten-care pile-up, spewing flaming metal, toxic smoke, and bloody gore. It’s the kind of story you find a severed leg next to, smeared across the pavement.

It shouldn’t have been this way, of course. One-third of the story is written by Mark Waid, of all people, a man who regularly turns crap into, if not gold, then at least mostly untarnished silver. Gerard Jones carries another half, and while he probably will not make many top-5 dead-or-alive lists for Justice League writers, he at least carved out a unique niche in the League’s history, with his runs on Justice League Europe, International, and then America which fused hysterical melodrama to a dogged obsession with perverse (by Comics Code standards, anyway) sexual subtexts. Last in line is Dan Vado, who you might know better as the owner and publisher of Slave Labor Graphics; he’s a man who only publishes what he likes, but let us not forget that as a mainstream superhero writer he helped to give us Extreme Justice. This is a weird assortment, to be sure, but there have been far worse assemblies — I don’t know what exactly went wrong here, but not only does each writer seem totally ignorant of the others’ playbooks, each writer seems to never quite be sure what playbook they themselves are working from. Marvel cranks out confused, awful crossovers as a way of product. DC, at its lowest peak, turned it into an artform somehow.

Continued below

Literally nothing works here. No part is functional in a way that it should function. Even the art is far below the standards of its creators. Chuck Wojtkiewicz, who I understand has wandered off into video game design art, was still coming together — although his art is the main point I would recommend the later, post-Zero Hour run of Justice League America over. Sal Velluto had much better moments working on Black Panther. And Marc Campos… well, he’s a fine inker, let’s say that much. Velluto and Campos are firmly enslaved by 90s extremism, inflating musculatures — which in Velluto’s 80s-Kyle-Baker-esque style just looks goofy, and in Campos’s case looks like some sort of 22-page pamphlet about why you shouldn’t shoot up HGH. Wojtkiewicz strays off on his own path, further adding to the story’s fundamental disconnect from itself.
We haven’t even started talking about the little details, and we won’t. L-Ron, adorable robot sidekick, possessing the body of Despero. Lionheart, English superhero whose costume begged the eternal question, “What if a penis was jacketed like a bullet, and had a human face?” Booster Gold losing an arm and having to cannibalize his robot friend for life-sustaining power armor. Whether or not that was the Scottish Mirror Master on the Leaguebusters, or what. The fact that Amazing-Man was integral toward saving the day. It’s just — you know, I could sit here and pick apart every stupid little thing and add a smear of snark across it like I was finger-painting-by-numbers… but you know, cynicism isn’t very fun. And of all the things I’ve read for this column so far, Judgment Day is by far the most cynicism-inducing.

It’s a masterclass, though. How to take an enduring, popular franchise and try to tank it when it’s already taking on water left and right. How to confuse the hell out of anyone who tries to decipher it, like a modern-day hieroglyphic artifact. How to belly-flop so badly and broadly that the intention can barely be teased out of it. How to suck, basically. There’s your quote pull for the TPB in 2015. Justice League: Judgment Day. “How to suck.”


//TAGS | Crossed-Out Crossovers

Patrick Tobin

Patrick Tobin (American) is likely shaming his journalism professors from the University of Glasgow by writing about comic books. Luckily, he's also written about film for The Drouth and The Directory of World Cinema: Great Britain. He can be reached via e-mail right here.

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