Extreme Justice #1
The movie dodged a bullet
"Mad Dogs and Superheroes”
Writers – Brian Augustyn and Ruben Diaz
Penciller – Marc Campos
Inker – Ken Branch
Letters – Kevin Cunningham
Colorist – Lee Loughridge
Editor – Dan Vado
For those of you who spent two hours in the theater this weekend seeing Justice League, I want you to know it could have been worse.
Yes, the new movie is enjoyable and entertaining. It is a vast improvement from Director Zak Snyder’s previous two efforts in the DC canon franchise. It has a lighter tone, both visually and emotionally. The film has moments of superheroes doing superhero stuff in a way that is thrilling and not overly cringe-worthy. You feel these characters (for the most part) have understandable motives and are likeable. Heck, Superman even smiles. Several times.
The overly critical may focus in on a few factors that drag the movie down and it in no way has the polish that most of the MCU has going for it. The costumes, for one, clearly suffer as they were made before Snyder exited the film and before Whedon joined on. Each would work well with a darker filter applied and in action scenes that only take place in the dark. However in the brighter finished product, each seems like something found on the rack at Halloween with lots of fake muscles drawn on and painted two-toned so it showed texture.
The film waffles between grim and gritty sequences and quippy dialogue added by Whedon in an effort to humanize these god-like superbeings so much that you suffer a bit from whiplash while watching. The back and forth creates a humming discord as you try to attribute scene-by-scene whose movie you are actually watching.
And the plot! Oh my. It is at least understandable and straight-forward, but there are exposition sequences that really drag the movie right to the edge of campy, made-for-TV superhero fare in such a way that you can’t help but facepalm. Batman is now a precog, because we need a reason for him to assemble a team. Superman’s death is BARELY addressed. Bringing him back requires the efforts of three heroes working in concert because…just because. And the individual character motivations are a bit…sketchy. Why exactly did Aquaman join?
It needed a bunch of things.
But it wasn’t the worst movie. Nor even a bad one. Just cheesy and simple, with too many hands in the kitchen.
And it could have been so much worse.
It could have been Extreme Justice worse.
I wasn’t buying comics during the Extreme Justice 90’s era, yet the Crapbox has given me about a quarter of the books entire run. That might sound like an impressive amount, but the title lasted only 19 issues, so a scant four or five issues really isn’t much.
But what Extreme Justice lacked in longevity it made up for in bad hair and 90’s attitude. Replacing the defunct Justice League International (f/k/a Justice League Europe) the premise of the book was these were heroes who split from the main Justice League over dissatisfaction with the groups UN charter coming with too many strings attached. They eventually invaded the foreign nation of Bialya (round 2 for most of this group) to fight the Extremists in a mission so destructive that it ended with all versions of the Justice League disbanded.
But here we have their humble unshorn beginnings, in a book that seems fit for the first year of Image titles even without the presence of a preponderance of pouches.
We begin this issue with Lieutenant Crater and his group of sci-fi armored army troops investigating a disturbance in a government mine. Seems something set off some alarms and Crater’s team gets sent in, weapons loaded and bodies in suits borrowed from Halo.
Crater answers with the standard “I don’t know and YOU don’t want to know” kind of gruff talk. We turn the page and discover who tripped those alarms…
…It’s Captain Atom. At least I think that’s Captain Atom. Hard to tell with all of that mullet on his head. Seriously though: Captain Atom was one of my favorite Charlton and he never got a fair shake during his brief DC time in the limelight. I have one brief pre-crisis appearance of him with Superman and Firestorm in which he is given zero things to do. His stint with the JLE likewise didn’t go well. Heck, he had Wonder Woman on his team and I don’t think she even showed up once while he was leading them. His own series turned him into a government shill that had to lie to everyone about his origin. Then Management decided he would make a better villain than a hero…only to reverse itself after news of his flip became common knowledge…and on and on it goes.
Which is sad. Because I liked Captain Atom. I liked his power set and his revised origin story as recorded by Cary Bates and Pat Broderick. I wanted to see him do great things.
Not end up in a book so desperate for young boy’s pocket change that it would force him to wear an embarrassing silver mullet and float around with a quantum explosion effect just for impact. It’s just sad.
Back to our story, Crater and Atom are old friends, but this mission puts them on opposite sides of things. Atom has taken the mine over as a secret x-treme base. Crater is reluctant to tell Atom he has to leave. And this private thinks he’s gotten the drop on Captain Atom’s oddly shaped butt…
…until Maxima, a character I’m not too fond of, shows up against a background of flame and uses her power of tossing fire at people.
Wait! Wha? Is that even in her power set? I thought she was a generic strongman character. Superman power set but not much else. Turns out I’m wrong and she has TELEPATHY, which is what you see her using on this recruit here.
Telepathy. That makes the background look like fire. (*sigh* the 90’s)
Anyway, the sole thing to come of this is the soldiers are convinced to leave saying they found the cave collapses with no way to get in rather than tangle with superheroes. Especially since it appears the government is in the wrong this time.
So, Cap gets to keep his underground hideout for the moment even if it does mean he has gained an adversary once the word from the strike team makes it up the chain Appears this shadowy gentleman in the black interior of a private jet has been using those caves for something called operation “Freedom Rings”.
When I hear the words Freedom Rings all I can think of are egg-washed yellow onions double-dipped in breadcrumb coating and deep-fried to perfection. I mean it doesn’t sound ominous – it sounds delicious!
We are already on page seven of this monster and I don’t have a real care about what is going on, so the writer and artist decide I need a map of where Cap is at. So here it is.
From this it appears his superhero dungeon party needs to go down four more levels until the reach Smaug’s lair. That large cavern is likely to be filled with Piercers though, so they better be careful.
It’s enough to give Cap a headache.
And in walks a second character I love, another Charlton migration favorite. Blue Beetle!
But this isn’t the “BWAH-HA-HA!” Beetle of the JLI years. Nor even the savvy Batman-lite version from his short-lived limited series. No, this is the EXTREME Beetle who has extra-long spiky hair and gets smacked around by Captain Atom for questioning his command decisions.
Beetle exits asking a question that I and the audience would also like an answer to: What are they supposed to be doing in this book?
What is their mission? Why are they all pissy at each other? Where are our oversized pouches? What am I doing reading this garbage? Why a MULLET?
Well, you know what asking questions in an EXTREME book will get you?
That’s right: Characters yelling at each other.
Followed by moments of monologue about what Cap thinks makes a person a hero/you can’t tell good from bad sometimes/world need a league that can do the dirty work that needs doing…and please… zzzz…. wake me up when he’s done… zzzzz*
Oh, he’s done! Great. So Ted can now leave and start a Blue and Gold book with Booster? What?
No! He’s staying in the book that mischaracterizes him and everyone by Maxima? @$@##%@,That sucks. When will I get my Booster and Beetle book? Never?
From here we move on to the destroyed JLA headquarters where Ronnie Raymond a/k/a Firestorm shows up looking like he’s been taking fashion tips from Marvel’s Nomad. I’m becoming convinced that an alien invasion destroyed all hair clippers and scissors in the DC universe at this time. I must have missed the “Hair Stylist Crisis” event.
Anyway, he meets Oberon and a Booster-less Skeets who informs him the JLA is no more, a portent that probably leads to Firestorm hooking up with EXTREME JUSTICE in a future issue. He certainly has the hair for it. I’m also now assuming that is one of the qualifying factors of membership: must have 90’s hair.
Sadly, this is a stripped down, depowered and cancer-stricken Ronnie Raymond. He and Skeets decide to hook up and find the JL in hopes they can cure Ronnie and find Booster.
I’m assuming the cancer thing came from Ronnie’s own book, and while it IS logical given he’s a nuclear-powered hero, it isn’t really a storyline I find interesting given that typically there ends up BEING a magic cure so we can keep legacy characters around. It’s far too soap-operatic for me. On the flip side, if they let the cancer kill him, it’s just sad and tragic.
Meanwhile, we check in on Booster, who is hanging out in a version of his costume that makes him look like a Rocket Red crossed with Judge Dredd. I’m cringing thinking he will end up X-TREME’d up too, but he cracks a joke about finding his manager and then we get this bit of exposition stating that Maxima and “Will” are exploring the rest of the cave complex.
They are currently in “The Neighborhood”, an underground approximation of an American small town, complete with a painted backdrop and sky.
Will turns out to be Amazing-Man, a character I’ve never heard of. The only guy that goes by something close to that handle that I was aware of looked like he stepped out of a Richie Rich magazine and fell into the DC Universe by mistake.
I will say this: I would love to see DC work this character into Extreme Justice. Doesn’t matter that I never read him, it would make for an awesome contrast with the rest of the cast. Them all pumped up and flames behind them and mulletized and here…little guy in polkdot underwear…
DC Rebirth? Call me. I can make you Guardians of the Galaxy money.
So, of course Maxima and Amazing Man are attacked by three barely sketched out characters. One is a flying bug thing, one is a giant robot/suit of armor and the other is squiggly lines. All of them are surrounded by fire and flames and…it’s that time in the book when things hit other things.
The squiggly one mentally attacks Maxima with mental fire energy, knocking her on her butt…
…while Amazing Man tries to siphon “Synapse”, the flying bug thing. He ends up depleted and in the path of “Kill Unit”, the tank-armored bruiser.
Then the carvery arrives because they want some scenes in the fiery energy glowing backdrop too…
Ugh! They have GOT to cut Captain Atom’s hair!
This is DC doing 90’s Image, folks. This is so much extreme punching and flying at the camera and speed lines that it almost makes me feel dizzy.
What follows is a boring action sequence that has neither tension nor stakes, mainly because the book hasn’t given us any.
Lots of people punch things…
…and things punch back…
…amid general destruction, speed lines, and fire-filled backgrounds.
This is what I mean by “Justice League” could have been worse. The movie could have been like this book. Lots of explosions and action set pieces…
…but no emotional investment from the audience in the characters or their struggles. With no real idea what this fight is really for, this series of pages might as well be blank for the amount of drama or tension it creates.
It pulls every trick in the book trying to get us to care about this conflict, including the trickery of telling us one of the heroes is in mortal danger.
But we know better. That is what makes this ending splash-page feel as flat as the paper it is printed on. Captain Atom will be fine next issue, fiery explosive death notwithstanding.
After reading this first issue (and Entirely forgetting it), I set the other Extreme Justice books aside. They don’t seem my cup o’ tea, and that’s coming from a BIG fan of three of its linchpin characters. It eschews good storytelling for bland, bombastic action sequences and I can’t stand that.
Petty much my same assessment of Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. They take interesting story concepts and reduce them down to punchfests that divest those initial ideas of their complicated premises. Who else has killed Superman only to spend zero on-screen time on all the interesting stories that might come from a world without him in it? Just like Atom’s death here, it’s a gimmick to the writer.
The good news is that Justice League, the movie, treats the concepts better than that. Even though it has roots in movies I dislike greatly, it has evolved into something that is worth checking out. Give it a try before it is out of theaters…because it looks like that might be pretty soon given its box office take.