BOOK REVIEW: Becoming Batman by E. Paul Zehr

Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a SuperheroBecoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero by E. Paul Zehr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

[Note: This book is about sport and exercise science, particularly as they pertain to the martial arts. If you’re a martial artist or are interested in fitness and movement arts at the extremes of human capacity, you’re in the right place. If you’re interested in the comics and an overview of topics including how many billions Bruce Wayne needs and what technologies Batman must master, those aren’t questions addressed in this book. Such readers may find the book delving into depths they aren’t interested in on biological science. There are articles on the web that deal with topics like the “Cost of being Batman.”]

Next summer an eagerly awaited movie entitled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters. Who knows how much screen time will involve the fight between the titular characters, but the same battle has played out a number of times in the comics, and its appeal is clear. What are the limits of human capability given training, technology, and sufficient smarts? Can a man really defeat an alien that’s faster than a bullet and more powerful than a locomotive? A popular fanboy mantra is, “I like Batman, because I could be Batman. Batman has no superpowers.” So, yes, if you were a billionaire, genius, with the physique of a Greek god, and knew 127 martial arts, you too could be Batman. Or could you? That question is at the heart of Zehr’s book.

Becoming Batman is arranged into sixteen chapters divided among five parts. It begins logically with the question of whether Bruce Wayne needs to begin at any particular point to achieve success in transforming himself into Batman? (At the extreme, one probably can’t imagine Bruce Wayne becoming Batman if he was born with one leg a foot longer than the other and with a Quasimodo hump, but given a Bruce who is starting out “average,” what are his limitations.) In other words, how much does genetics come into play. In the first part, Zehr introduces a character, Bob Wayne, who doesn’t appear in the comics. Bob is Bruce’s twin, and is used throughout the book for comparison purposes, i.e. to convey what Bruce Wayne would look like if he didn’t train fanatically to be Batman. The question of how much of Batman is innate and how much is painstaking built by exercise and training is critical to determining how many of those fanboys really could be Batman.

There a series of chapters explaining the mechanism by which stressors result in a stronger, faster, more powerful, and more resilient Batman. The idea is that Mother Nature doesn’t over-engineer. The only way one gets stronger muscles is by overloading them, which triggers a process of rebuilding them bigger and better than before. Wolff’s Law defines the same concept for bones, i.e. bone density increases in response to increased loading. (Incidentally, the same is true of the mind. A more agile mind is achieved only by working it, and zoning out in front of the television results in a dumbening.)

The next section shifts from generic exercise science to questions of Batman’s martial arts training. What kind of martial arts (or arts) would Batman practice? There is an often quoted statement in the comics to the effect that Batman had mastered 127 martial arts. (This is ridiculous, but it does spur the intriguing question of how many systems does Batman need to learn to have a well-rounded skill-base without being a dabbler? Many will say one art—the right one–is enough, others will say that–given the varied cast of villains he must defeat–Batman needs a broader skill-set than any existing art provides.) More to the point, how many hours does one need to practice a technique to ingrain the movements into one (e.g. neurologically it takes repetition to optimize efficiency.) This is among the questions discussed in this book.

The fourth section deals with the ravages of being Batman, and how much any human could be expected to endure. In this section, one will learn about the cumulative toll of concussions, the likelihood of Batman avoiding broken bones and other injuries that would necessarily sideline his crime fighting, and the effect that working the night shift would have. (The latter might seem trivial in comparison to the former two topics, but—in fact—it’s not. It’s well established that night workers have higher incidence of some cancers and other ailments. Furthermore, as Bruce Wayne has to keep appearances up, it means not only fighting circadian rhythm issues, but also frequent sleep deprivation—the hazards of which are even clearer and occur in short order.)

There are a number of interesting topic that aren’t don’t pertain to the core question per se, but which are interesting for fans of the Batman canon and the character’s mythos. Famously, Batman doesn’t use guns or lethal force. This raises the question of how realistic it is to regularly fight hardened knaves and miscreants without killing them. One can only knock out so many of Gotham’s baddies before one doesn’t get up.

There’s a chapter about what a fight between Batman and Batgirl would be like. While strength would definitely be to Batman’s advantage, there are advantages that an equally skilled female fighter might bring to the fight? How would Batgirl (or Catwoman) need to fight to put those advantages to use? Finally, for those of us who are no longer spring chicks, there are chapters about how Batman could expect to age, and how long he could keep performing at a level at which he could defeat his enemies.

I enjoyed this book and found it both educational and interesting. It should be clear that Batman is just a teaching tool used to explore the limitations of the human body and its ability to endure a life of fighting. That said, references to the Batman comic books and movies makes for a readable text. Perhaps what I like most about this book is that most of the books that address these subjects are textbooks that are sold on the textbook pricing model (i.e. we have a limited but captive audience so let’s make them pay top dollar.) This is one of the few books that takes on these topics at the readability and pricing model of a popular science book.

I recommend it for those interested in the science of performance, martial arts, and injury.

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READING REPORT: May 1, 2015

Becomingbatman

Most of my reading time this week was divided between two books, one of which was also a new purchase. The newly purchased book that I spent a lot of time with is E. Paul Zehr’s Becoming Batman. This book isn’t at all what one might expect from the title or the cover. If one were to notice that it’s put out by Johns Hopkins University Press, one might realize that it’s not a fanboy fantasy work. What it is is a book about the science of exercise and conditioning for athletes that uses “Batman” as a pedagogic tool to make more digestible scientific information like how our muscles grow or how we make our movement more efficient through practice. It’s a fascinating book if you are interested in science and martial arts (or movement arts more generally.)

 

Wired for StoryThe other book I’ve been tearing through is Wired for Story, which I wrote about last week. It’s a book that explains how human brains are wired to be intrigued by story, and how writers can put this information to good use.

 

Meeting the Dog Girls

The one book that I finished this week is Gay Terry’s Meeting the Dog Girls. This is a collection of short stories (some of which might be classified as flash fiction) that could be called tales of the weird or supernatural fiction. Most of the stories have a quirky sense of humor.

 

ZebrasUlcers_Sapolsky

I bought two other books this week, both of which have been on my reading list for a while. The first is Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky.  As the title suggests, this book is about why humans are unique within the animal kingdom with respect to stress-induced illnesses. Stress reduction and mitigation have been an important question of inquiry for me as of late.

 

afterdark_murakami

The other book is Haruki Murakami’s After Dark. This will be the third or fourth book by Murakami I’ve read, and I enjoy his style. Ironically, this was the first book by Murakami that I noticed in the bookstore, but I never got around to reading it.

BOOK REVIEW: Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison

Batman: Arkham Asylum - A Serious House on Serious EarthBatman: Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This is the third, and probably last, installment in my “Happy 75th Anniversary, Batman” series of reviews. Batman: Arkham Asylum is an attempt to convey a nightmare on the page, and it succeeds both graphically and narratively. It’s quite different from other Batman comics in style and content. It takes the dark nature of the Dark Knight’s mythology to the extreme.

There are two story-lines woven together in Batman: Arkham Asylum. The main line involves Batman entering an Arkham Asylum being run by the inmates. There he finds himself pitted against his foes: the Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow, and others. The other is the 19th century tale of Amadeus Arkham’s descent into madness.

As is common in the Batman mythology, psychiatrists are portrayed as walking the razor’s edge between sanity and insanity. For those who don’t read comic books, this is most readily exemplified by the character of Dr. Crane / Scarecrow in the first film of the Nolan trilogy, Batman Begins. I’m not sure whether the point is to create enemies that are so strong they can bend doctors to their will, or if there is a general disdain for psychiatrists—as one might see a dislike of lawyers in other stories.

Among the nightmarish elements of this work is the fact that Batman’s face is never seen clearly. The Dark Knight is always a vaguely and/or surrealistically silhouetted. There’s a mix of sharpness and haziness in the graphics. The Joker gets his own crazy scrawl font. The graphics are as creepy and strange as can be. On my low-end Kindle, the work was in black and white, which worked well. I did look at the sample pages, and the color version uses a lot of sepia and crimson.

Batman: Arkham Asylum asks us to consider whether Bruce Wayne / Batman is sane or just a lunatic with a moral code.

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BOOK REVIEW: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

A couple of reviews ago, I covered Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which imagined the first year of the Dark Knight’s venture into crime fighting. The Dark Knight Returns is Miller’s take on the other end of the Caped Crusader’s career. It begins ten years after the last sighting of the Batman. Commissioner Gordon is on the verge of retirement, and there’s a mix of new and old threats rising.

There are four parts to this work. The first, also entitled The Dark Knight Returns shows the rise of a powerful gang of thugs called “The Mutants.” The way this gang’s leader is drawn makes him look like he truly is an altogether different species, but it’s his filed teeth and his bulky physique that account for his appearance. The main battle is with the “rehabilitated” Harvey Dent (a.k.a. “Two-Face,” an inappropriate moniker as his face has been fixed and his flighty psychiatrist ensures the community that Dent’s mind is fixed as well.) We see Bruce Wayne’s concern about the deteriorating state of Gotham and his eventual return to crime fighting, which is instigated by a freakish bat flying through his [closed] window. Wayne takes the bat as a sign from the universe that the Batman is indeed needed. Dent engages in a terroristic plot which the Dark Knight must try to foil.

As was the case in Batman: Year One, the story of Commissioner Gordon plays out in parallel with that of Bruce Wayne / Batman. However, in the third book, Gordon has retired and it’s the new Commissioner, Ellen Yendel, who shares the spotlight. Yendel, unlike Gordon, promptly issues an arrest warrant for Batman.

Book Two is called, The Dark Knight Triumphant, and it’s in this episode that Batman comes up against the leader of the Mutants. As in Batman: Year One, Batman arrives to the fight as an underdog. However, as would be expected, the nature of his underdog status is completely different. In Year One, Batman is a supreme physical specimen, but is green to crime fighting. In The Dark Knight Returns we see a battle-hardened veteran Batman who is a spry geriatric, not up to fighting young, mutant thugs. However, as with the former comic, the Dark Knight does redeem himself. Many of the Mutants, being fair-weather friends to their leader, form a cult of Batman in the wake of the Dark Knight’s victory over their former boss.

Besides broadening the readership demographic to retirement community dwellers, another new demographic is appealed to with Carrie Kelley, the new Robin. There are references early in the book to the profound effect that the death of Jason Todd had on Bruce Wayne. Be that as it may, Batman seems quick to bring this young girl into harm’s way given the lingering wound of Jason Todd.

Book Three, Hunt the Dark Knight, pits Batman against his ultimate nemesis, the Joker—who like Dent—has been sprung in no small part due to his lunatic psychiatrist. Miller continues the popular Batman comic disdain for psychiatrists, who are portrayed as a small nudge away from becoming bat-shit crazy (pun intended.) While the battle against the Joker provides this chapter’s crime fight, Commissioner Yendel’s war on Batman is a major part of the storyline. We also discover that time has not been as kind to Selina Kyle as it was to the men of this series. (i.e. Gordon is old but distinguished, and Batman has pretty much the same preternatural physique that he did as the young batman.)

The Dark Knight Falls is the last section, and it’s the most famous for the battle between Batman and Superman. Earlier in the book there’s a foreshadowing call from Clark Kent to let Batman know that the Superman will be out-of-town for a while. Appropriate to the 1986 issue date of this comic, a Cold War crisis is the event consuming Superman’s time. These Cold War tensions result in a nuclear missile launch that Superman diverts, but the Man of Steel hasn’t read up on the Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) effect. [Incidentally, Miller didn’t read up on the use of nuclear weapons as an EMP either, or—at least—he gets it completely wrong. Perhaps, he just figured that his readers wouldn’t know the difference–and he’s probably right. At any rate, I’m not deducting stars for bad science.] The power outage caused by the EMP results in looting and societal chaos. Batman quells this with the help of the cult of Batman mentioned previously. However, this doesn’t go over smoothly with some, which results in Superman’s invasion of Batman’s Gotham turf, and the ultimate battle.

I enjoyed this work more than Batman: Year One in part owing to the serious enemies that the Dark Knight must vanquish. I’d agree with the common view that this is a must-read for those interested in the canon of the Caped Crusader.

Also, if you aren’t a comics fan but are wondering how Batman and Superman could end up fighting–as per the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie–this might give you some insight. [Though I wouldn’t expect that movie to follow this work in any of the vaguest ways.] Also, there are other Caped Crusader versus Man of Steel interpretations out there, though this is probably the most famous.

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BOOK REVIEW: Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, et. al.

Batman: Year OneBatman: Year One by Frank Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Amazon recently had a sale on classic Batman collections in celebration of the Caped Crusader’s 75th anniversary. I bought a few titles, including this one.

Batman: Year One is Frank Miller’s vision of the hero’s first year of crime fighting. Unlike the first movie in the Nolan trilogy, Batman Begins, there’s no backstory about Bruce Wayne’s training. The comic begins with Bruce Wayne beginning to go on the equivalent of self-sanctioned “neighborhood watch” rounds in Gotham’s seedy underbelly. He’s in his planning and research phase, and only quasi-reluctantly gets into brawls with street thugs. His goal is, ostensibly, intelligence gathering.

Miller’s work isn’t aimed at a boyish market. From the intimation of underage prostitution to themes of marital infidelity to the unsubtle homage to Edward Hopper’s famous painting Nighthawks, this book is directed at a more mature reader. It’s grittier, but Batman hasn’t yet become so sophisticated as to abandon wearing his underwear outside his pants.

The four chapters that make up this graphic novel parallel and twist together the stories of Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne as they each begin their Gotham crime fighting careers. In many versions of the Batman mythology, Gordon is a young cop who helps boyhood Bruce Wayne on the night his parents are killed. This is one of the ways in which the Miller version differs. In Batman: Year One Gordon is a detective who moves to Gotham from Chicago at about the same time Bruce Wayne is sticking his toe in the waters of Gotham crime. This comes in handy for Miller later in works like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in which he is able to have a geriatric Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon coexisting.

The interests of Gordon and Batman only align at the very end of the last chapter. Until then, Gordon is trying to find and apprehend Batman like all the other cops. In fact, Gordon is leading the crusade against the Dark Knight when his bosses still have little interest in it—until Batman crashes their ball.

There are no supervillains yet—only corrupt cops and organized crime. Bruce Wayne, who adopts the guise of Batman only after a bat flies through his window (never heard of that happening), gets off to a rough start. He isn’t yet the phantom nightmare that he will later become, and is still learning his lessons. In his early encounters with criminals, he prevails mostly by being able to take a punch.

Besides Bruce Wayne’s inner monologue being a bit ham-handed, I enjoyed this work. The ham-handed inner monologue is—no doubt–intended to convey that Wayne is a man of thought as well as a man of action, but it’s hard to believe that someone who could transform himself into the Batman would be that riddled with doubt. That said, the dialogue is better written than the typical comic. There’s not a lot of the “As-you-know-Bob” dialogue that often plagues this genre.

If you’re a fan of the Dark Knight, this is worth reading.

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BOOK REVIEW: Injustice: Gods Among Us by Tom Taylor

Injustice: Gods Among Us #1Injustice: Gods Among Us #1 by Tom Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

If you’re among those who were distraught over Superman’s uncharacteristic behavior at the climax of the Man of Steel movie, this graphic novel isn’t for you. However, the author and illustrator do know how to build tension and keep it rolling. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they achieve this via a mountain of corpses. If you’re good with that, you’ll likely enjoy this work. If not, you may find it a tad dark and / or gratuitous in its violence.

With the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice filming for a summer of 2016 release date, many are wondering how a Batman versus Superman battle might occur (and how the Caped Crusader could credibly avoid being smashed to pulp 30 seconds into the movie.) This comic offers one possible approach—though it’s exceedingly unlikely to be the tack portrayed in the movie. (This book is ancillary to a video game, and wouldn’t necessarily be seen as core canon of the Justice League.)

This book consists of six parts. In part I, the Joker outwits Superman, tricking him into an act that is so horrendous that it will shake the Man of Steel’s core values. In part II, Superman takes a proactive stance against global conflict. In part III, the U.S. government supports a covert action designed to give them leverage against Superman, and to dissuade him from enforcing his previously announced ceasefire. Aquaman and his nautical army oppose Superman in the fourth part because the former is displeased with a dictator setting rules in the maritime domain—even if it is a largely benevolent dictator. In the penultimate part, Batman and Nightwing resist Superman’s attempt to clear out Arkham Asylum and to put the lunatics somewhere where they can’t keep breaking out and causing trouble (as the Joker caused for Superman.) In the final part Batman is exposed to a life-altering event (as Superman had been at the book’s beginning), but the bulk of this section is just picking teams for the epic game of superhero dodgeball that is presumably to unfold in later volumes.

What worked? The setup in which the Joker bests Superman is well-played. The Joker’s willingness to die for the ultimate prank, his perfect psychopathy, and his love of sowing the seeds of chaos make him the perfect man for the job. Harley Quinn gets a few laughs in this otherwise morose book. There’s a lot to think about in terms of the morality of a benevolent dictator. If a god-like creature, i.e. Superman, were to exist on Earth, what should he/she/it take on and what should he leave alone? That’s a question that’s at the core of this book. As in many good storylines, there’s a blurring of the lines between good and evil, a blurring which is essential to have a Batman versus Superman battle make sense.

What doesn’t work? We come into the middle of the Joker’s plot and are supposed to accept that he and Harley Quinn could pull off the phenomenally complex plan in a manner in which it seems easy. It involves hijacking a nuclear sub, successfully taking control of and reprogramming a nuclear weapon, and not only giving Superman a hallucination but controlling the nature of the hallucination. For these events to play out, the Joker needs more than his usual complete lack of moral compass; he needs access to far greater intellectual ability than he usually has to display. And that’s not the only point at which events seem a little too easy. (However, yes, I do realize we are talking about a world in which there are people who can fly under their own locomotion and make complex constructs out of thin air. I didn’t say it was a deal breaker. I’m just saying there were some opportunities for tension missed.)

There is also a death that should have a profound impact on Batman, but which he seems to shrug off pretty well after a couple of hours of bereavement—and possibly some behind-the-scenes Catwoman nookie. I assume the effects of said death will play out in later volumes, but it seemed gratuitous given its lack of effect within the volume. Unlike the death that fundamentally alters Superman’s course, Batman seems to remain unchanged. I’m presuming that the death wasn’t just to create an excuse to bring Selina Kyle (Catwoman) into the storyline, and addition of mixed outcomes. Kyle’s left-of-Marx preachiness will grate on the nerves of politically conservative readers. (Not that it should, regardless of one’s views, one should be able to accept that realistic character development will include individuals with extreme views—just as one sees such individuals in real life… or on Facebook. I’m just saying that, sadly, in our world people don’t want to hear opposing views unless they are being lampooned, and so some will stay away just to avoid hearing characters spouting views contrary to their own. I don’t know how we got there, but…)

I enjoyed this comic overall. Like most entries in its genre, it’s a quick read, and it’s better written than most.

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BOOK REVIEW: Inventing Iron Man by E. Paul Zehr

Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human MachineInventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine by E. Paul Zehr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

As the title suggests, this book examines whether Iron Man could exist in the real world. As with Michio Kaku’s book Physics of the Impossible, answering the question involves defining the various meanings of “impossible.”

One way to parse the question is, “Is Iron Man possible today given the existing state of technology?” In and of itself, this question is of limited interest because the answer is, “no.” There’s certainly a demand, and so if Iron Man could exist given current technology, he probably would. That’s not to say it isn’t interesting to learn about what technologies are holding us back and where the cutting edge of relevant technologies lies—both of which are addressed by the book.

Still, a more interesting inquiry is, “Will Iron Man ever be reality given the physical laws that we know to govern the universe?” While more intriguing, it’s also a harder question to definitively answer. It’s impossible to foresee all the technological developments that might come along to answer the seemingly insurmountable challenges (e.g. Tony Stark’s inevitable Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).) The book deals with the critical question of what challenges would have to be overcome for Iron Man to be reality.

As Zehr suggests, the appeal of Iron Man is that he’s considered to be among superheroes for the common man. Like Batman, the sufficiently bright and diligent nerd may fantasize that, “That could be me.” You or I can’t be Superman or Wolverine, but given enough money, smarts, and training we could be Batman, or—even better—pilot the Iron Man suit. Put in this light, the book may seem like just another frivolous attempt to capitalize on the popularity of superheroes to sell books. However, there’s actually a great deal of food for thought packed in the book. Like others, I read the book because its title is Inventing Iron Man and not Neuro-motor control of a self-propelled armor system or some other suitably scholarly title.

Dr. Zehr has the bona fides to delve into this topic. He is a Professor who investigates questions of how the nervous system controls movement. That subject may not constitute the sum total of critical concerns, but it’s one of the most important challenges. For Iron Man to move the way he does in the movies and comic books, Tony Stark’s impulses to move have to be transmitted seamlessly to the servo-motors that move the suit. From dodging Col. Rhodes’ (i.e. War Machine’s) punches to ducking RPGs, Stark can’t be quick enough if he has to manually steer the device. Then, of course, there’s the issue of feedback. Any neophyte meditator who’s had his or her foot fall sound asleep will know how difficult it is to walk surefootedly when one can’t feel anything through one’s foot.

[Iron Man 3 spoiler commentary in this paragraph.] One of the most damning challenges for making Iron Man a reality is the high probability of severe concussions. Let’s say you make the suit out of a material that is virtually indestructible? This may be possible. However, the pilot’s mushy brain is still sloshing around inside that impenetrable armor. One can remotely pilot the suit in order to negate this (as has been done in the comic books and the third movie), but—at that point—is it still Iron Man? I know from a writer’s perspective it’s a lot harder to maintain tension if there’s nothing human on the line. In the third movie about 30 autonomously piloted suits get wiped out and the viewer doesn’t care—the only source of tension is that Tony Stark is without armor half the time.

Some of the most interesting discussions are about where the current state of the art lies with respect to: a.) direct mind control over mechanical systems; b.) a “flying suit”; and c.) robotic movement enhancers. Zehr conducts interviews with those engineers and technologists involved in such technologies, and finds out where we are presently. Letter “a” above seems to be the least developed of the three technologies, but they are all active lines of research.

I enjoyed this book and found it interesting. I think anyone who is interested in the state of technology and its limits will find it a nice pop-sci introduction to the subject. The use of superheroes as a pedagogic device may be overdone, but it continues to work because we are fascinated by the edge of possibility, and that’s what superheroes represent.

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BOOK REVIEW: Justice League Vol. 1: Origin by Geoff Johns

Justice League, Vol. 1: OriginJustice League, Vol. 1: Origin by Geoff Johns

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Amazon Page

Amazon had the Kindle edition of this graphic novel on sale recently. With all the talk of a Justice League movie, and whether it can ever get off the ground, my curiosity in these characters was piqued.

This volume was released in August of 2011 as the leading edge of a reboot of the entire DC comics line called “the New 52.” This is the origin story for the Justice League as a team, though all but one of the individual characters–Cyborg–is an existing hero at the time the story begins. The other characters, i.e. Batman, Green Lantern, Superman, Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are familiar to the world but are not well liked. (and are introduced into the story arc in that order.)The volume consists of Issues #1 – 6 of the Justice League [New 52] reboot.

In the beginning, there’s only one dyad among this group who knows each other personally, the Green Lantern and the Flash–we don’t really know how they know each other. Most of the other characters are aware of each other’s existence (or myth), but have never met. Of course, Cyborg doesn’t exist at the beginning of the story, and his individual origin story is woven in throughout the book as a subplot so that he can be introduced into the arc at the climax. The characters are assumed to each operate in his (or her) own domains, i.e. Gotham City, Metropolis, Coast City, Central City, etc.

As the story opens, Batman is chasing down a stocky, non-human creature on the roof tops of Gotham in order to try to figure out what the nefarious character is up to. Green Lantern is inexplicably introduced into the middle of this chase scene. Batman and Green Lantern viscerally despise each other from the get go. This isn’t surprising as Green Lantern is an arrogant ass throughout the entire story. Perhaps the highlight of the book (which is sad as it happens so early) is when Lantern is busy mocking Batman, and the Dark Knight steals his ring–the source of his power–right off his finger.

The Green Lantern and Batman witness the inhuman creature planting a piece of alien-looking technology (later revealed to be a “mother box”), and Green Lantern’s ring confirms it to be otherworldly. The pair decide to pay a visit to the Earth’s resident alien, a.k.a. Superman. Green Lantern immediately runs afoul of Superman, arrogantly thinking he can subdue the Man of Steel, and has to call his old friend the Flash. The quartet finally stop fighting and begrudgingly agree to put their heads together.

After seeing a piece of the Cyborg origin story, we are introduced to Wonder Woman. She is probably the character that we get the greatest sense of. (Besides Lantern, who is unlikable throughout.] The Amazonian seems more alien than Superman. She’s never had ice cream but loves it, but not quite as much as a good fight. She’s not emotional about fighting, neither fearful nor angry, but is at her most happy when fighting. She’s the character most out of touch with the world she is occupies. She joins up with the four in the chase for the winged, alien monsters, forming a quintet and instilling some gender equity.

The Cyborg origin story comes to a head when Silas Stone, a brilliant defense industry scientist, turns his dying son, Victor, into the Cyborg, thinking it the only way to save the young man after he suffered severe burns from a mother box explosion. The former star football player is now a kind of Frankenstein’s monster, part himself and part autonomous machine. There’s a cacophony in his head as he can now pick up various radio signals.

It’s shortly thereafter that Aquaman is introduced. Considerable artistic effort was put into manning up Aguaman, who always seemed the weak link in this team. The group happens to be standing around near the water when Aquaman and his fish minions chase some of the evil army to the surface

The enemy is Darkseid, a juggernaut warlord from another world (or a parallel universe), whose army of evil minions have been the ones that the newly formed League have been fighting both individually and as a group. When Cyborg goes running away from his father–and his creator as a machine-man, he runs into the six superheroes, and the team of seven is fully assembled. Darkseid’s power is so great that he relatively easily captures and subdues Superman.

Batman goes to rescue Superman as the rest of the team regroups. The Dark Knight’s tactic is letting one of the evil, winged, juggernaut minions capture him–as they have been capturing others.

I won’t spoil the ending, but will say that it was pretty weak, and a large part of the reason I gave this work such a low rating.

A two star rating may seem a little harsh. The dialogue in this work is better than most comic books. There’s relatively less “As you know, Bob,…” style exposition. There is some, as when Green Lantern feels the need to explain to Batman about how there are other Green Lanterns and this is his space sector. However, there are also clever uses of action to present background, as when Lantern begins to admit that he’s a show-off and it turns out he’s brushing up against Wonder Woman’s truth lasso. (This is a much better way to do it than Wonder Woman saying, “And now my lasso is around you and you’ll have to tell the truth, for whosoever the lasso touches cannot bear false witness.” Which would be the typical comic book way of revealing the lasso’s power.)

There are two problems with this work that are too serious to overlook. First is the deus ex machina ending. The authors make a bold choice as to who will save the day, perhaps to create surprise and perhaps to highlight the character. But the whole resolution strains credulity. Second, there is no good explanation for why these characters keep piling into each other (except for the Xenophobic thought processes of Batman and the Green Lantern that Superman must know about anything alien.) These evil minions are supposedly everywhere, and yet the individual superheroes keep running into each other–and continuing to stay together despite the fact that most of them clearly don’t like the others. I think the author takes this “we hate each other, but are begrudgingly working together” trope a little too far. It feels as if this Wizard of Oz cast hadn’t come together by commonly following the yellow brick road, but rather that seven separate and randomly moving tornadoes picked up one each and just happened to stack them in a neat pile.

Besides Green Lantern being arrogant and unlikable and Wonder Woman being endearingly alien, we get very little sense of individual characters. Batman and the Flash are the voices of reason of two differing type, but Superman and Aquaman are just muscle.

I have a black and white Kindle, but the art looked good to me–but that’s not my forte. I applaud the artists for getting rid of Superman’s red tighty-whities and making Aquaman look more manly. At the end there’s some alternative artwork and info on costume development for those who geek out on such things.

If there’s any hope for a Justice League movie, it’s not to be found in this story line. If you’re a DC fan, you’ve already read this–like it or not. If you’re wondering whether to become a DC fan, I wouldn’t start here.

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