“The Tornado’s Path: Chapter One: Life”
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artist: Ed Benes (p), Sandra Hope (i)
Publisher: DC Comics
Kevin T. Brown
This is a tough review to write. While not perfect, this book has so many damn good aspects that it’s really difficult to narrow it all down. It’s basically 38 pages of what makes the Justice League of America such a great concept. It’s not about a team of heroes getting together, battling villains and saving the world in the process, but rather a team of heroes who know what it means to be a part of something. Justice League of America is just not a team book, it’s a book about a TEAM.
Brad Meltzer just flat out gets it. He’s got these characters down cold. All of them. Their voices, their reasons for doing what they do, their feelings, their passions, and most of all their humanity, especially the humanity of the Red Tornado, who, perhaps not too surprisingly, is probably the most human of all those presented in this story. While all the others in this story are human beings striving to be heroes, he’s a hero striving to be a human being. What do they say about being careful what you wish for…? Apparently that Deadman he was talking with in trying to make “the right choice” to finally become human was not dead, man. But it’s the conversation between “Deadman” and Reddy that really drives this issue home, though it appears that, unfortunately, Reddy’s decision is eventually going to be a fatal one. I’m very curious as to where the mysterious villains are from. I suspect they’re not “from around here.”
So while the major aspect of the story is Red Tornado’s attempt at humanity, one of the other major aspects is the one about “getting the band back together.” Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman go over a pile of photos and trying to put together the best team they can, one in which they all need to agree upon. Now while it might be very dry and droll under a lesser writer, Meltzer infuses a lot of emotion in how each of these characters explains why they want a particular person on the team. Above all else, you can tell through it all that these three are the true leaders of the DCU by how they discuss, argue, joke and just plain talk with another while trying to build something special for the world, and not just for themselves or for ego.
The third aspect of this story was the character bits of the Red Tornado’s family of Kathy Sutton and Traya, and of Justice League members-to-be. The strongest of them all was the focus on Kathy as she talks with Platinum of the Metal Men. Meltzer really keyed in on what makes her so special to Reddy and vice versa, and it goes well beyond just love. Unfortunately, the one nitpick I do have about the story, and the main reason this review got the rating it did, deals with these foci on the other heroes. Some of the story-telling is a little suspect. In one sequence, Hal Jordan and Roy Harper are sitting on a bench talking (great scene though), Hal receives a “call” from Dinah Lance, and off the two of them go. A few pages later Hal, as Green Lantern, is carrying Black Canary and picking up Roy at Ollie Queen’s. Something is definitely lost there and makes little or no sense. The other hero foci (Black Lightning and Vixen) were nicely done as well, but not to the degree of the others.
Now comes the even harder part of this review: Trying to adequately get across how much I enjoyed Ed Benes and Sandra Hope’s artwork in this issue. Literally, words fail me here. Okay, maybe not, but it’s not easy to express. This is quite possibly the best work I’ve ever seen Benes do in his entire career. Period. There’s not a weak page in this book. I know I’ve used this phrase in the past, but it’s apropos: This book is a feast for the eyes. And, yes, while his women are still worthy of “cheesecake status,” Benes has really grown into a complete artist. Not all his people are of heroic proportions, but you know they’re heroic nonetheless. He’s able to instill in his drawing of these character that look of supreme confidence the each hero has, even in their civilian identities. And he’s also able to draw them looking very human, even when they’re dressed as heroes. As I stated, it’s the best work he’s ever done. Finally, one thing I definitely need to point out is the way Dick Dillin is represented in this book. It was wonderful surprise.
No, Justice League of America #1 is not perfect, but it’s as close as you can get. And with one issue in, it’s probably the best book that DC is publishing today. The next 12 months are going to be a joy.
Plot: The Big Three don’t want to play alone anymore. But they’re very picky about who else can join their club. Each one gets a vote, and they discuss as they pick.
Comments: Interesting choice for a first issue of a high profile team book. Very low key. In fact, this is mostly a study of a rather minor (but beloved) character, Red Tornado. There is a new level of friendship among Supes, Bats and Wondy, carrying over in welcome fashion from Infinite Crisis. There’s also a nice Dick Dillin/Frank McLaughlin swipe from an old JLA story that eclipses Benes’ annoying Jim Lee parody utterly for one page.
This issue is as much about Doc Magnus, Platinum and Gold and Boston Brand as it is about the impending JLA, though there are hints that Meltzer is putting a major villain conspiracy in place. He’s going for the slow build-up, and connecting to emotions rather than action, mystery or detective skills, thus far.
Plot-wise, Vixen walks into a trap, Tornado gets what he always wanted but may have sacrificed too much for, Hal goes in for some he-man male bonding with Roy Harper at a boxing ring, and Black Lightning seems to have reconciled himself with the hero community in contrast to his disapproving Outsiders days.
But who cares about all that? What we care about is the roster. So who do you think will be picked? The candidates, other than those already mentioned, are: Captain Marvel, Supergirl, Flash (some version, maybe Bart), Power Girl (yes!), Green Arrow, Mr. Terrific, Hawkman, Atom (Ray, not the new one), Aquaman, Cyborg, and Vixen. Black Canary seems to be a given (though we see much more of her butt than her face). I love that Bats has no compunction about plundering extant team to get the lineup he wants.
Of course, there’s plenty more big names on the two covers, and I won’t say who else seems most likely at this point. But I like the hints we’re getting, and I’m finding it fun to figure out what the DC Universe is like again after the latest Crisis. It does seem to be slightly cheerier, if only because of unconfirmed reports that Bruce can occasionally grin again.
Heck, I’m happy a Meltzer comic actually had women with speaking lines, period. This is not the travesty that was his Crisis of taste, and with the potential to pick up on the good from 52 rather than the bad from the hopefully now finite Crisis; I’m cautiously optimistic. But get better art, soon.
When I heard that DC was reviving Justice League of America, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Although I still only recently began collecting comic books, I managed to track down and read the classic Conway/Perez issues from the seventies. To me, that was what the Justice League should be. The Satellite era had a great cast, and to my delight focused more on the characters and interesting plots than subjecting the reader to “Oh my god, the Earth is doomed with a greater threat each issue that requires an attempt at epicness over quality!” To my eternal sadness, Morrison’s JLA did the latter for most of its run. I could never really get into that volume, until the “Crisis of Conscience” story arc near the run’s end. So, like I said, I was very happy that JLoA was coming back.
The basic plot of this first issue concerns two main storylines. In the first, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman meet at the Batcave in a direct continuation of Justice League of America #0 to discuss the membership of new League they are forming. Meanwhile, after his (most recent) death, the Red Tornado is facing a life changing decision, while his close family watches on. When Hal Jordan, Roy Harper, and Dinah Lance go to investigate, we find out that “Reddy” might be in trouble. Meanwhile, Black Lightning does some investigating, and Vixen gets an interesting dinner date.
Now, Brad Meltzer is a writer you either love or you hate. While I certainly enjoyed “Archers Quest” on Green Arrow, his heavy use of thought captions was a far cry from Kevin Smith’s fast paced stories and witty dialogue. So, especially with this comic, it’s a matter of, “it’s good writing, but is the style your thing?” There is a heavy use of captions again, but they are dead on in characterization, so that’s not really a problem.
Meltzer’s taken an interesting cast of characters to form his new League. While this is apparently not the full lineup, his choices provide a nice group to open the series with. The League is centered with the so-called “Trinity” of the DCU. I enjoy the fact that Meltzer gave Batman some touches of humanity, even a slight sense of humor. It’s a nice distance from the Pre-OYL “Uber-Bat” presented since JLA. Superman is his usual nice guy self, and in a nice bit of unity between series, feels just like the character Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek reinvented for OYL. Wonder Woman is the one oddity; since there have only been two issues of her new series released, we haven’t really gotten a real sense of who she is OYL. Judging from Meltzer, she’s mellowed a bit, but is still her same warrior self, to my continued lack of excitement of the character. It’s not Meltzer’s fault; I’m just not a fan. With regards to the other characters, we’ve got the over-exposed Hal Jordan, who’s appearance in the book rings true with what Johns is doing with him over in his solo title. I’m not really a Jordan fan, but Meltzer certainly knows how to give him some humor and harken back to the classic “Hard Traveling Heroes” time. Meanwhile, there’s Roy Harper, Arsenal to the readers. I’m a pretty big Arsenal fan, and since he hadn’t shown up in OYL until now, I was getting a bit worried. To my delight, he’s written perfectly in character as a fun loving father, and complete with his bows and arrows, not the guns that Judd Winick forced on him back in Outsiders. Roy’s mentor Oliver Queen is there as well, and while he’s passed over in favor of Roy for a mission, he’s not bitter, which is nice to see. Oh, I love Roy and all, but I still wish Ollie was back in the League after spending twenty years out of it. Other characters like Vixen and Black Lightning get a little page time, and while Vixen isn’t really fleshed out, Black Lightning is. I’ve always liked his character, and I’m glad that he’s being used in a such an interesting way. His position as a mole in the villain community is great, and his conversation with the druggy-Signal Man shows how seriously he takes his role.
Yet the main star of this issue is the Red Tornado. Like Ollie, he’s been continually passed over by the League since the Satellite era, even though he’s such a great character. Meltzer manages to poke fun at his multiple deaths and resurrections, but wisely maintains “John Smith”’s role as a family man. His significant other, Kathy Sutton, and their daughter, Traya, are supportive, loving, and a perfect supporting cast to the android. The development he goes through in this issue was really heartfelt and the last page certainly brought a smile to my face. Still, with what happened with the new villain “Dr. Impossible” (who’s “father box” and “hush tube” were neatly inventive), I am really starting to worry about Reddy.
The only real complaint I have with the story is that it feels like half of an issue. It’s all set up and no pay off. The Trinity is forming the League again. Okay. But they haven’t actually gathered anyone up. Reddy’s friends get worried and investigate. Reddy makes a life changing decision, and Vixen and Black Lightning are off on their own little thing. Had these stories converged at least a little before the final page I would have probably liked the issue more. As is though, again, it feels like half of an issue.
The art is certainly A-list like the book deserves, but the A-lister isn’t one of my favorites. Ed Benes’s art has a certain sketchyness to it, similar to Rags Morales, that I just can’t get into. His characters are way over muscular, and his women are certainly drawn with a bit of T&A influence. It’s not bad by any real standard, it’s just not my thing. I understand that Superman is supposed to be tough and all, but there is no way that Clark Kent could look like a professional wrestler. The colors to the book are pretty good all around, and are a nice complement to Benes’ pencils. The cover to this issue is pretty stunning, with a huge cast. My only real complaints about the cover involve Arsenal’s “Red Arrow” getup that he thankfully never sported in the issue, and his apparent over muscular physique. That, and the changes to the previous cover look as if the new drawings were pasted over the old ones.
Overall, this is a great issue of wonderful potential. The art may not be to one’s fancy, but the story is great. A bit slow, sure, but with the dead on characterization and the tear-jerking final page more than makes up for it. I certainly am looking forward to the next part of “The Tornado’s Path.”
Caryn A. Tate:
It’s obvious in this issue that Mr. Meltzer has a love for most of the Justice League characters, particularly Red Tornado, and it’s great to see. As I read, instead of feeling like the writer is using certain characters because he’s being forced to, or they don’t quite understand what is supposed to be so cool about this or that hero, I felt that a lot of the lesser known characters are about to bloom here. Several of them I don’t know much at all about, including Red Tornado—who has a large role in this storyline—and it’s a lot of fun for me to watch his personality and history unfold.
This issue begins with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman meeting in the Batcave to start the process of putting the League back together. They are putting up a vote as to which assortment of heroes should be invited as members into the new Justice League. Meanwhile, we are shown that Red Tornado has died, but his soul has not yet returned to his body (which apparently it always has before, almost immediately after death). His wife, Kathy, is worried about what this could mean and where he is, but Tornado’s whereabouts are shown to the reader—he’s discussing becoming completely human (in a human body) with Deadman. The upside to this is that he would, he thinks, become a “whole” man and enjoy his wife and his family more fully; but the downside is that he would become completely mortal as well. There’s something more brewing behind this transformation that Tornado doesn’t know about, though—something that has got to have enormous consequences within the League.
Mr. Meltzer’s script and dialogue throughout this issue flow smoothly and realistically. Although this is a super sized issue, it moves so effortlessly that I barely noticed the extra length, and that’s how a long comic should be done. The pacing is natural and reminds me quite a bit of a great film in the way that the storytelling took us back and forth between settings and characters, but didn’t make me feel that it was jumping around. Instead, the story shows us exactly what we need to know to understand what’s happening, what each character is doing, and what part they are playing in the plot.
The characterization is, overall, great; Superman deals with choosing new members of the League the way I would imagine him to do it, and Vixen seems the way I would picture her as well. (Speaking of Vixen, I’m more interested in her character now than I have ever been before, even though she’s only in this issue for a few pages.) I love the
characterization of Green Arrow here—it was heartwarming and felt honest. Now and then, however, Mr. Meltzer’s characterization becomes just a little bit heavy-handed. For example, at the beginning of the issue, Superman is thinking about something that Wonder Woman just said, and he thinks, ”She doesn’t need the lasso to convince me that’s the truth.” It’s not a huge problem, but it’s a bit much. I mean, who really thinks like that? But these moments are very few and far between.
The art is superb and expertly crafted. Ed Benes is, frankly, one of the best pencillers out there, and I’m very happy that he’s working on this book. I went through this issue again after already reading it twice, looking at his work to see if I could find one thing I didn’t like. I could not. One of my favorite things about Mr. Benes’ art is the fact that he draws each hero in the most flattering way possible—male and female. It’s exciting to see him drawing Black Canary again (I miss his work on Birds of Prey), and of course Superman, and it’s even more amazing to see his pencils on other characters that I haven’t seen him work on before. I love the way that he draws Wonder Woman—not only is she beautiful and powerful, but she looks truly kind. The inks and the colors accompany the pencils perfectly; the inks never become oppressive or do anything other than what they should—highlight the pencils and help them look their best.
I’m more excited about Justice League of America than I have been for a long time, and I can’t wait to see what the next issue has in store. Red Tornado, in particular, is more interesting than I’ve ever seen him, and I think “The Tornado’s Path” will become a key storyline for the Justice League and Tornado in particular.
What did you think of this book?
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