ejne7: Comic art illustration of a Latina cop (Default)
[personal profile] ejne7 posting in [community profile] scans_daily
I just read this very interesting piece on Matt Seneca's blog, Death To The Universe. It's titled "Monday panel 39", but he should've used one of his own pull quotes and called it "Everything rioting all at once". The article is, and I want you to hear me out on this, a defence of Rob Liefeld. Seneca argues that, whatever you might think of Liefeld, you have to credit the bonkers genius of a vision so weird, so relentless, so complete in its reinvention of comics art that it's almost transcendent. Though the argument's not getting a ton of support in the comments, it's made me rethink Liefeld -- and my great pleasure in life is to shout "LIIIIIEEFEEEEELD" whenever something goes wrong, from burning toast to the Irish economy, so this is saying something.

More than that, he's made me reconsider the book I've just finished reading, Extreme Justice.



Innocents may have had the good fortune to avoid hearing of this book, one of the three titles into which the mid-Nineties Justice League fractured. EJ was touted as the gritty, edgy, wicked stepchild of the group, a band of superpowered desperados prepared to take down an array of cosmic threats by whatever means necessary. In practice, it ended up having whole issues devoted to Plastique's bridal shower, but the concept was there. And the art - at least to begin with - was EXTREME to the max.

I want to talk only about the first few arcs, since a change of writers eventually turned the story into something much more like the kind of comic I like to read. (There's another post, in fact, in the way the book acknowledges in the text that it needs to acquire direction and impetus.) For now, those early issues: a cataclysm of crazy art, bombastic storytelling, and nothing making even the faintest scrap of sense.



From Extreme Justice #3. These two pages are a double-page spread that you have to turn sideways-on halfway through. Just adds to the dada. As does the fact that English apparently ain't Beetle's first language.


Holding up an early issue of EJ at arm's length, it's like looking at a vandalized stained glass window. Every panel is a shard. Every line bissects another at some acute angle, smashing the action into a bleeding pileup of colour and line. It's eye-bleedingly difficult to follow. The structure fragments so hard that on some pages, there's no way to be sure how many panels are present. Is that a gutter, or a line jigsawing randomly through someone's face? Is that Amazing Man's leg, or a Gatling gun? From panel to panel, every character is a chameleon: skin and hair change colour at will, til Beetle's reliably-blue costume is the only thing anchoring the rest in place. But with all that said - yeah, there's a kind of hypnotic charm in the profusion of it all. That urge to hold the thing at arm's length comes from somewhere: the need to see a double page spread as a remote whole, to drink in the effect rather than the content - in a good light, this stuff feels somewhere between impressionism and dada and you know, it deserves some respect for that.

But some of it is just horrible. Whenever a character opens his mouth, bizarre strings of ... something connect the upper and lower lip, turning everyone into an ersatz Jonah Hex:



Though in places the colourist's work pulls off that stained-glass effect, elsewhere the colouring and linework stuffs up so badly that in one panel Captain Atom's head is actually merging into Blue Beetle's torso, a scenario I've yet to see explored in even the most outre of fanfiction.


Jesus Ted where is your nose?


And while the heaving muscles and dynamite-up-the-arse poses might have defined the style of the posturing Nineties heroes at Image, they become hilarious on a bunch of characters like this.



Scarcely comprehensible Boostle action from EJ #2


And that, in the end, that's my problem. That's why I don't think Seneca's Liefeld defense translates to this book: this style is a horrible fit with this title. It's the root problem with (early) EJ, for me: the total mismatch of goals and influences. The book is all over the place, unsure of the effect it wanted to achieve, and though I love some of the moments,1 the series overall reads like a collision between the Groovy Train and a late-Soviet battle tank. I mean, why set up a team to be EXTREME (leaving on the initial "e" only as a concession to not producing the single most Nineties thing ever written, causing some kind of Nineties Singularity that would surely have devoured the world, leaving only a teetering stack of pogs and slam bracelets), then populate it with characters like Booster Gold and the Blue Beetle? Characters whose entire charm resides in the fact that they are the kind of good-natured schmucks that the rest of us would be if we were superheroes, who at this point in comics history were best known as the Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis of the DCU, who made up for their lack of powers with an endless supply of fart cushions and pronounced lack of interest in spending hours brooding on the nature of JUSTICE. (God knows these two are among my all-time favourite characters; this is not intended as a dig.)

That's the problem that spills over into the art: you cannot draw Ted Kord bristling with Steranko effects or bulging with muscles soaked in creatine, because he's Ted Kord. Ted Kord is supposed to look like a schlub - a cheery, pleasant, often-athletic, heroic schlub, but still the kind of guy who would not look out of place in, well, a comic book shop. In EJ he looks like a 'roid rage baby engaged in a diabolical game of Twister. And the writer was too good to render them far enough out of character to fit the swaggering style.

1 Amazing Man and Maxima, after some awkwardly Nineties attempts at dealing with racial politics and fetishism, get it on! Booster Gold gets turned into a tentacle lion! Captain Atom gets a Haircut Of Character Development! Yeah :)

Date: 2011-01-03 05:59 pm (UTC)
jcbaggee: Jesus (Default)
From: [personal profile] jcbaggee
....is Captain Atom fusing with Beetle's crotch in that one panel?

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Date: 2011-01-03 06:53 pm (UTC)
icon_uk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
"I keep telling you Captain Atom, you're a jock, I'm a nerd, and you have atomic powers... but that does NOT make us Firestorm, so stop trying to MERGE dammit"

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Date: 2011-01-03 06:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] daningram.insanejournal.com
Booster Gold and Blue Beetle. Two names everyone thinks of when talking about serious, grim and gritty hard core heroes.

...right?

Date: 2011-01-03 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] darkknightjrk
Well, Beetle has roots in more street-level superheroics, but yeah, if I got my numbers right, this is right after Giffen's JLI ended, where the two did basically become neutered cartoon characters, so I guess they felt like they should be toughened up some, but...yeesh, I can't tell if it works because I CAN'T SEE A FUCKING THING IN THAT BOOK. I swear, it's like my eyes glaze over as self-defense against whatever the hell is on the page.

Date: 2011-01-03 06:22 pm (UTC)
btravage: (Default)
From: [personal profile] btravage
This art would make excellent graffiti if nothing else.

Date: 2011-01-03 06:47 pm (UTC)
fifthie: tastes the best (Default)
From: [personal profile] fifthie
Someone should do a count of all the TOUGH, PRO-ACKTIVE Justice Leagues that have been done, rated by comparative ridiculousness.

Date: 2011-01-04 03:31 am (UTC)
okkult3000: (Default)
From: [personal profile] okkult3000
Ah, the pro-active super-team. In a sane world, this would mean that the superheroes would fund youth outreach programs and contribute to charities. In the world of '90s comics, it means that the team's leader talks about how they're gonna go out and DO something about all these damn supervillains, not like all those stuffy Silver Agers who wait until someone actually commits a crime before starting a fight. Then the team fights some faddish and/or socially-relevant supervillains and gets quietly cancelled no later than 1996.

Date: 2011-01-04 10:40 pm (UTC)
q99: (Default)
From: [personal profile] q99
I've love that!


JL Elite would be my top, as I actively enjoyed them and their story was good (going undercover was often a big thing, so they had to do stuff like diffuse a conflict between their 'meta gang' and the JSA).


Hm, does Task Force count? We've got Extreme and Cry for Justice, to be sure.

Date: 2011-01-03 07:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] karthzon.livejournal.com
Sorry, but the moment he called DKSA anything but a failure, he lost me. And when he started lauding Liefeld's art in the most pretentious way possible, arguing that it at the same time transcends mere comic book art and is the most triumphant, purest example of it, i knew he was talking (or writing, as it may be) out of his ass. This is some of the most meaningless bullshit I've ever read.

Liefeld, consistent? When he can't even draw the same character the same way twice within the same page? When every panel in his comics showcases a different way of failing to depict a human body's proportions? And since when did consistency become more important than such things as "basic understanding of the human shape" and "ability to draw characters interacting with their environment"?

Date: 2011-01-03 08:21 pm (UTC)
icon_uk: (TheBlackCat Angry Terry)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
He also cites "Batman: Odyssey" as one of the hits of last year. Pretty? Yes, that's a given. A good comic? Lord no....

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Date: 2011-01-04 07:54 am (UTC)
bj_l: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bj_l
DKSA is not a failure. It's good.

Date: 2011-01-03 08:37 pm (UTC)
onlybythenight: Justice Riders Blue Beetle (intelligence inducement engine my ass) (just a crazy inventor [ted])
From: [personal profile] onlybythenight
Oh lord, Xtreem Justice. I'm so exceedingly fond of it, even the early parts. They're just trying so hard to be extreme and hardcore. It's just laughable. Also, you know, it's shockingly gay for a nineties comic that didn't have Rictor and Shatterstar.

Date: 2011-01-03 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] keeva
At least one of the writers of Extreme Justice is gay.

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Date: 2011-01-03 09:00 pm (UTC)
icon_uk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
Exxxxxxtreeeeeeme! Hardcore! AND umm.... introduced the Wonder Twins to the mainstream DCU!

Date: 2011-01-03 09:43 pm (UTC)
blackruzsa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] blackruzsa
My only defense for this art:
the title DOES say EXTREME.

.... yeah that's it XD

Date: 2011-01-03 10:37 pm (UTC)
thokstar: Spot (Default)
From: [personal profile] thokstar
All of you are doing it wrong. It's EXTREME JUSTICE. Every single letter needs to be capitalized.

Date: 2011-01-03 11:18 pm (UTC)
nezchan: Navis at breakfast (Default)
From: [personal profile] nezchan
The ironic part is, it still looks better than Cry For Justice.

Date: 2011-01-04 12:37 am (UTC)
darkblade: (Default)
From: [personal profile] darkblade
Better written too.

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Date: 2011-01-04 05:40 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] psychopathicus_rex
While the artwork is ridiculously busy, and the story obviously more concerned about BOOM POW WHACK VIOLENCE VIOLENCE VIOLENCE than actual coherency, there is something sublimely ridiculous about a grim, over-muscled Beetle spitting out that "aw shucks' line through gritted teeth. It's like if Dirty Harry suddenly told a knock-knock joke or something.

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Date: 2011-01-04 09:16 am (UTC)
abates: Tetrap from Doctor Who story "Time and the Rani" (Default)
From: [personal profile] abates
In that one panel with the "KRANG!" sound effect, is Beetle hitting someone with his butt? (I can't tell what that is he's hitting. It looks like a Michael Bay style Transformer)

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Date: 2011-01-04 10:24 am (UTC)
feyandstrange: "Are you saying that disabled access is a Dalek conspiracy?' (pic#496214)
From: [personal profile] feyandstrange
I remember that, some time in the Nineties after staggering away from having read too many of these sorts of things, getting into an argument about whether this style could actually be made to not suck if someone competent drew it.

It might be possible. I mean, take the basic page layouts and re-draw it, in the same sort of style but with maybe a bit more attention to anatomy and accuracy. (And colorists that don't suck.)

I would, I think, need several stiff drinks before I attempted it myself, and I'm not that good at this sort of thing (either parody or extreeeeeme action).

Am I right in thinking that Image has some tolerable artists? Or is that the mists of time and "back then anything was better" desperation talking?

I remember hating the bad anatomy a lot, and hating the implied sexism of the really bad girl anatomy, not to mention the lack of girls around at the time. Bleah, nineties.

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Date: 2011-01-04 09:10 pm (UTC)
halloweenjack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] halloweenjack
I think that you could call Seneca's apologia for Liefeld the Ed Wood Defense, and it wouldn't have worked for Ed Wood if he'd not only been staggeringly successful with the likes of Glen or Glenda? and Plan 9 From Outer Space, but actually inspired other filmmakers to make even worse movies, dominating cinema for the better part of a decade and crowding better work out of the theaters. If Rob Liefeld had remained a wannabe, filling sketchbook after sketchbook with shoulderpads and thigh pouches, he would be revered as a mad genius, somewhere between another J-Bolt and the sort of primitive artist that the uptown crowd might latch onto and arrange a gallery show for.

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