[You may not always realize it, but there are a number of random print comics on sale at general retail outlets across America on any given week. A lot of them are for kids. Whenever Kiel comes across such a comic at a grocery store, a stop n' gulp, a newsstand or anywhere else they sell Doritos, he buys it. This column is the place where he rambles about those purchases.
As always, reviews on The CKT should NOT be considered any of the following things: The opinion of anyone who works at DC or Marvel. Brief. Smart. Entertaining. Insightful. Spoiler-free. Or vaguely resembling something resembling actual comics criticism. We cool? - KP]
General Mills Presents: Justice League #1: Unstoppable Forces
Written By Scott Beatty
Art By Christian Duce
Free With Cereal...my box of Trix cost $3.99
Hey! An actual comic from an actual grocery store!
When I was a kid, I LOVED it any time DC or Marvel would offer some throwaway comic as a publicity stunt whether it be mailaway offerings on the back of pizza boxes or random Toys R' Us handouts. So when I heard that DC was working up a handful of Justice League one-shots to stuff in cereal boxes as the latest in DC Entertainment's attempts to brand build with little kids (never forget attempt #1), I was all for it. I know a lot of people would write this kind of thing off as the most crass of marketing ploys, but I know from experience that little things like this can be both entertaining for certain kids and foster a deeper love of comics in the chase to nab the books up if not the execution of the story on the page.
But to my mind, for the actual comics of one of these promotions to actually work they need to accomplish two basic goals: some solid action comic entertainment value (not just basic competency but some honest-to-goodness storytelling thrills) and that indefinable quality that makes these characters seem radical in the eyes of America's eight-year-olds. And this installment of the digest-size giveaways doesn't really succeed on either account.
While I've always found Scott Beatty's work perfectly serviceable in general and have honestly dug a lot of his more YA-ish work (Batgirl: Year One and Son of Vulcan both come to mind), his script here doesn't ever cohere in a way that overcomes its structural flaws. Setting aside the broad plotholes you'd be willing to write off for this kind of thing (the story opens with the League burying the Shaggy Man under a mountain and then forgetting about the comatose villain for two years while an entire city is built atop his resting place), the arc of the whole comic falls flat. The Shaggy Man is put down, he breaks out, and then the League finds a slightly better way to put him down. It's basic stuff, made even more undramatic by some awkward storytelling moments both in dialogue and the art.
Speaking of which, I have never seen Duce's name or work around before, but from the look of it, the artist is on his first full gig here. Not only does his cartooning embody the sameness of most licensing art, his storytelling has some major hiccups in the fight scenes in particular. There's got to be room for growth with someone this new, but woof...not an auspicious start.
But hey, there are a few better points on the "make these characters seem rad" front. Starting with the inarguable fun of cut-out Batman masks on the back of the cereal box:
Sure, this isn't part of the comic in question, but I think this cheap but fun part of the promotion points to something about how DC has approached this kind of thing. As I'm sure you can tell, the image above isn't from the actual box of cereal I bought. But as far as I can tell, EVERY box that contained a Justice League mini had a Batman mask on the back – nothing for the Flash of GL even.
If nothing else, DC as a corporate entity gets that Batman is a bad ass to everyone. They won that battle sometime around 1989, and the sentiment is as powerful now amongst general audiences as it's ever been probably. So the challenge here becomes making the the rest of their properties (God, I hate referring to characters like that, but in a product like this what the hell else can you call them?) seem as cool as the Dark Knight. If DC Comics is really going to compete as DC Entertainment the way Warner Bros. wants them to, their recently rebranded "Big Four" of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Flash need to be able to hold their own in t-shirt sales against Captain America, Hulk, Thor and Iron Man at least if not Spider-Man and Wolverine to boot.
So it seems to reason that if this giveaway is going to justify its cost in the eyes of DCE, the characters should all get their due on the page in one way or another. And this comic almost pulls some of that off. Batman is uber-prepared and flies a jet. Superman can punch out anything. Green Lantern makes some fun, goofy stuff with his ring (and some inexplicable stuff...do kids think big metal spikes are cool?). Flash even finds a few decent moments in creating whirlwinds, though I'm not sure how awesome it is to declare yourself "faster than a text."
But Aquaman and Wonder Woman? Holy shit do they get the shaft here. The King of the Seas spends most of his page time running himself down for having lame superpowers. Honest to God, there's a whole page where he stands there and just complains about not being useful on dry land to which Batman replies "You're a last line of defense." And poor Wonder Woman's plane seems cooler than here in this thing. She's only in about five panels and has two lines of dialogue. I guess little girls don't eat cereal anymore?
Overall, I'm probably being too harsh on something that was put together under a handful of content restraints and on a tight budget/deadline, but I'd like to think that a comic with hundreds of thousands of copies in print which will doubtlessly land in the hands of thousands of kids would put a better foot forward.
I'd still like to read Paul Tobin and Derec Donovan's attempt at one of these as they were the creative team on this I thought would do the best job at the outset, but I'm not due for more cereal pickups for a while. Let me know if you find one, huh?