JLA: Batman - The Stone King - by Alan Grant. A Review (may contain spoilers)
Oh man, has their ever been a better time to be a JLA fan. Look at what the last few months have given us. JL(A) animated over on Cartoon Network (and I am sure some day we will get to see all the episodes, even if we have to have our friends in Europe tape them and ship them over to us ), the announcement last week by DC Direct that we are getting a slew of Silver Age figures based on the Superman Clan, and BATMAN!!!!!!!!!!! Then the news tonight that Mattel now has the license to produce Justice League toys (those who wish to appologize to Julius Marx for saying that the toys would never see the light of day, the line forms on the left).
Now while it may seem, at least in my opinion that the comic book JLA is beginning to lose some of it's luster, their is more than enough new merchandise to satisfy the tastes of most fans. Which brings us to the topic at hand:
Justice League of America: Batman - The Stone King
This is the first is a projected series of novels dealing with the JLA, as told from the perspective of individual members. As the title suggest, this novel is told from the vantage point of the Dark Knight.
Lets start with the cover, since in this case you can tell a lot about a book by it's cover. The title is designed to clue you in on the name Batman first then JLA after that. A wonderful ALex Ross cowel shot of the Caped Crusader is front and center. If Ross did the paintings for the covers of the telephone company directories I'd buy every one of them that I could, I love his work.
The book itself is what I would consider "summer light" reading. You won't need a PHD in physics to breeze through this one. It is NOT young adult reading as other reviewers have painted it, but you won't lose sleep over it either It is the perfect summer time fare.
But that said, it suffers from Justice League Ittis. Grant knows his Dark Knight. His "Mud Pack" series in Detective was a wonderful run, so his credentials are established. But the JLA is more than Bats. It is a team. And in this case the team is a lot of window dressing. First this is the current JLA line up. You wont find Barry Allen or Hal Jordan here. Which is fine. Because you really won't miss them either. For a good 50% of the novel the major heroes, except for Bats and J'onn J'onzz are entombed in rock and have nothing to do but appear as back drop for the villan. This is a common failing of first time JLA writters. How the heck do you craft a story with 6 super heros, and give them all something to do. For Grant the answer is simple. You immobilize 4 of them for most of the story. That would be acceptable if the villian of our story was a real heavy hitter, like Darkseid, but it's not, it's the Stone King.
The Stone Who??? You ask. No, he's not the octagenarian rocker Mick Jagger. The novel spends a good amount of time setting his back story. SK is an ancient shamen who was entrusted with the well being of his people, but he saw that he could manipulate his people, so that instead of worshipping their gods, they would worship him. By using the powers of the world around him, he enslaved his charges. Forcing them to worship him. To build a pyramid temple to him. But eventually his followers grew weary of this despotic dictator, and destroyed him. Sacraficing him on the very alter he had them build at the center of his temple.
Interesting to note that this pyramid was built on the current site of Gotham City. And while Grant does indeed make mention of the "No Man's Land" stroy line, he never really clues us in on how this very ancient temple, which was buried under ground, survived that destruction. Grant also mentions that a handful of non-metahuman warriors snuck up on the Stone King one night and killed him. Remember, this is the same guy that it takes the JLA over 250 pages to defeat.
But surfice it to say, all hell breaks loose and the JLA has to rush to Gotham and defeat SK. Well, ok, the JLA has almost nothing to do with defeating this "Major" villian who is preparing to clense the world of the unworthy. Actually it's really Batman's show from start to finish. As I have said, the JLA is little more then window dressing. You could have replaced them with the JSA, the Titans, or the old Outsiders, since their major reason to be in this story is for Batman to rescue them. Which he does.
Any story like this really lives or dies on the characterization of the team. For the most part Grant does well, with the exception of two areas that I found troubling. One is that I believe he way overestimates the power of Wonder Woman. In one of the few moments of the book where Wonder Woman isn't entombed in granite, she and Superman travel to the very core of the planet where they excert their combined strenghted in preventing a series of globe descimating earthquakes. Grant states several times that Diana is as invulnerable as Superman. Maybe I missed something in the revamped mythology around the Princess. I know she is powerful, and indeed may be the most powerful female hero in the DC panthenoen, but as powerful and invulnerable as Superman? I don't think so. If I am wrong, then I will stand corrected.
The other, and by far more troubling moment is during the only real appearance of a "Super Villian" in the story, Batman's nemisis Scarecrow. Bat's visits Professor Crane at Arkham to get from him the chemical formula to create a particular type of fear toxin. In doing so he cuts a deal with Scarecrow to give him a particularly valuable book that the good Professor is lusting after. That just strikes me as being way, way out of character for Batman on two fronts. Would he really parley with one of his enemies to get a weapon from him. I don't think so. And at the same time have we not seen Batman in the past reverse engenieer one of Crane's toxins? Do we really think that the Dark Knight Detective would need to have Scarecrow help him make such a product, or better yet do we really think Bat's would even use such a device? Even if the fate of the world hung in the balance? Batman is obsessed with one thing only, bringing justice to the unjust. Wouldn't he feel that by using the weapon of one of the nut cases he keeps running up against, he is undermining his own moralistic crusade.
So at the end of this, how good a read is this. It's ok. Not as good as Rucka's "No Man's Land", which I consider to be the best novel based on a comic book. But by far better than some of the drek coming out on the Marvel side. And without a doubt it is light years better than the worst comic book based novel ever, IMHO, the X-Men/Star Trek Next Gen cossover. It's obvious that Grant feels very comfortable with Batman, and far less comfortable with the other hero's, except for the Martian Manhunter who he uses well in this tale. One of the funniest moments in the book, and completely unintentionally, is when on the same page he refers to Green Lantern as the "Emerald Warrior" no less than 4 times. I thank Alan was really running out of things to say.
Is it worth buying? Yeah it is. It's a fun read, and the treatment of Batman is pretty good for the most part. The JLA fairs far less well.
The next novel in the series is suppose to be a Wonder Woman outing. Let's hope that the Amazon Princess can show us what the Justice League really is all about.