Posted: Monday, December 18
By: Ray Tate
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Writer/Artist: Dan Brereton
Plot: The JLA faces an evil from ancient times.
JLA: Seven Caskets is a complex horror story with accurate characterization and disturbing imagery. This classy Dan Brereton project appeals to both JLA fans and aficionados of creature features.
The story begins elegantly with two seemingly neutral supernatural events. The ghostly jellyfish attack is almost ethereal and certainly eerie in design. Mr. Brereton does not however predictably build incrementally on the terrors to come. He breaks early from the formula--on page two to be precise and defines the threat with sickening, not to mention immediately imaginable description in the narration. By page two, you know the JLA are needed.
The team enter the adventure quietly. They gather the information around their round table in the Watchtower on the moon. This may not seem like much, but the apres midi entrance establishes the longevity of the heroes, their relationship and alludes to The Super Friends. Although this episode has been animated in the Twilight Zone.
The JLA do not need a special effects laden fanfare entrance. Mr. Brereton is aware of their resonance--yes, I believe if you have a good word, you should beat it to death. Mr. Brereton is aware of their long history together. Despite being the current incarnations bar the ham-fisted Mark Waid agenda, these are without a doubt the same heroes who have been in existence for sixty or so years, Kyle of course being the exception.
When Diana teases Batman, the scene works because these two have known each other not for a mere few years according to DC continuity but for the centuries they've been in comic books. According to post-Crisis continuity, Wonder Woman first became known in Legends. This is not that young hero. These are not young heroes. They are the JLA.
In order for the plot to work the Justice League's longevity must be established. If these heroes were only in the business for the usual apocryphal six years, they wouldn't contribute the mythic quality that lifts the story away from the shallow waters of simple heroes vs. the monsters theme. In many ways, Mr. Brereton has a very easy task. All he must ask readers to do is accept that these characters are the JLA. He doesn't have to introduce them. He does not have to explain their motivations. He does not have to anything except capture what defined their characters, put them together and simply let them interact to write the story. The JLA are part of the cultural psyche. No other team would have the same impact in the story. Even the JSA--the older of the two--simply would fail to create the waves necessary for the story to become bigger than the reduction of its plot.
Once Mr. Brereton reminds readers of the JLA's camaraderie, he finds a use for the most difficult hero to employ Aquaman. By drawing upon classic elements of the Cthulhu mythos, the central monster's presence smoothly fits among the lore of the Atlanteans. Arthur guides the JLA under the sea and reveals the horrible secrets the Atlanteans kept from all species of humanity. At this point, Mr. Brereton takes a classic moment of JLA tradition and interprets the meaning literally. When the group splits up, they do not split into smaller teams but at the seams.
The dissolution of the team is important to the plot, and that is why the JLA had to be friends. If they were not friends, their breakup would have less of an impetus. If they did not know each other longer for whatever DC's chaotic continuity claim, their behavior wouldn't seem so out of character. Case in point. Batman while under the influence states "I don't need these others and their super-powered crutches--point me where I need to go." While that may gibe with the sad state of the JLA today, that doesn't allude to any incarnation of the Batman from the past--not even the past year when Grant Morrison wrote the JLA into greatness. Batman left the JLA, only once, when the government--which would I believe be comparable to the Bush administration--restrained the team from infiltrating Markovia. Justice Batman felt was not being served. Since Superman gave his word that no member would defy international policy, Batman resigned. He entered Markovia alone and came out with a new team. Batman's history of working solo is actually very short with respect to his lifespan.
Mr. Brereton's cubist artwork does not seem beneficial to the worlds of horror, but what seems to be confining actually exhibits a flexible scale which truly makes one shift in his seat. The Moth Man, a fun urban legend, for instance has never looked more dangerous. The so-called Bat-King surpasses the Batman as a figure of terror; and the humor of Wonder Woman facing the darkest knight isn't lost.
The depiction of the heroes pays homage to the stylized sixties trading cards of the sixties, but there are signatures to Mr. Brereton's work that are unmistakable. The blocky but proportionate jaw of Superman is veiled in five-o-clock shadow. This touch makes Kal-el look older and reinforces the characterization and consequences of the plot. As does the indefinite age of Wonder Woman. The scenes beneath the waters recall her silver age power. She's also just as robust in appearance as her male colleagues. The play of her muscles is to be treasured by the eye.
There are some things however Mr. Brereton, nor any other artist, can fix. He's still stuck with the pirate version of Aquaman whose transformation into more than man is hardly as startling as it would be had he been the clean-shaven, short haired chap with the orange shirt, green tights and oh, yeah two hands.
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