Sporadic Sequential
Monday, November 24, 2008
The Hypothetical Reviewer

Unlike yesterday's entry, JLA: The Hypothetical Woman is a tight, satisfying superhero read. The TPB collects issues 16-21 of the rotating creative teams title JLA Classified. This arc is by writer Gail Simone and artist José Luís García-López, and it provides a good example of how to handle a large team book in a short number of issues. Rather than trying to cram in everything, Simone starts with a central concept and builds outwards, layering on details to create an engaging story.

The concept that Simone starts with could have easily gone off the rails: What if the JLA were tasked with removing a despotic dictator from power? I can hear the groaning from here, and I had similar concerns: Was this just an attempt to "Authority-ize" the JLA, perhaps written back when The Authority was actually still popular? (And wasn't that result already published as Justice League Elite?) Thankfully, Simone doesn't appear to be attempting to make the JLA "hip" or "relevant" — she's just starting with a topical premise and telling a good story.

The conflict in the book starts small —the League is called in by the UN to depose a dictator, but he thwarts them by negotiating asylum — but builds gradually and convincingly until the situation the JLA faces feels like a genuine threat (something that's not that easy to come up with in sprawling superhero comics, as other jaded readers have noted). I always enjoy it when superheroes have to go up against bad guys whose only power is their twisted intellect (well, that and unlimited access to weapons of speculative function). Here, General Tuzik, in a nice bit of irony, gathers up the discarded remnants of various superhuman battles to use against the League. (So if only the League had done a better job at recycling this could have all been avoided? And does this mean the DC Universe doesn't have the equivalent of a Damage Control? There's a good proposal for a universe-spanning series.) Simone has fun coming up with nasty twists on old JLA villains and gadgets being weaponized by the military, such as Starro as a biological weapon and multiple Chemo constructs.

Simone's characterization is also great — fun and familiar yet with plenty of fresh touches. I especially liked her handle on Batman. He's still the tough, über-competent tactician, but he also seems more grounded. (Seriously, when Batman's the one lecturing the bad guys on the virtues of being part of something "larger than oneself," you know you've come a long way from the grumpy lone wolf characterization.) One great scene has Batman pitted against a new opponent, Jin Si, a martial arts expert who is thought to be virtually unbeatable. As she pummels Batman, we're shown that he's not only fighting her but he's also working out the larger strategy of defeating General Tuzik in his head. (Holy multitasking, Batman!) Noticing that he seems preoccupied, Jin Si taunts him that he seems distracted as she kicks him to the ground, which leads Batman to reply:

Other characters get their share of nice moments as well. Superman is shown putting extreme political pressure on a government official in order to get what he wants, a welcome change from the nice-to-a-fault bland boy scout portrayal. John Stewart reveals the worst job he ever had while recruiting someone whose participation will prove to be crucial. And Wonder Woman is depicted as an actual warrior... and as a teammate thoughtful enough to bake treats when her beaten and battered team needs a pick-me-up. (Based on this story, I'm thinking that I'll probably be checking out Simone's run on Wonder Woman sometime soon.)

As for the art, well, it's by José Luís García-López, who truly is legendary as the back cover blurb puts it. His layouts and compositions are so classic and clean that he makes the story a joy to read. His figures are strong and striking, and he stages events so everything makes sense when you visualize it in your own head. Here García-López is aided by two inkers, Klaus Janson for the first half and Sean Phillips for the second. Both inkers do a good job of enhancing García-López's pencils, letting his style show through without burying his work beneath their inks.

All in all, this was an enjoyable little superhero yarn. It reminded me of Grant Morrison's run on JLA, more in broad spirit than in anything specific. Like Morrison, Simone was able to use fun little bits of DC lore to enhance the story without getting bogged down in minute continuity. In fact, I really only had two nitpicks about the whole story: (1) The titular Hypothetical Woman was nothing more than a cipher, a plot device to create capable counterparts for the JLA. (2) There were a couple of empty word balloons at the very end of the story:

I'm assuming this was an error and that those word balloons were supposed to be filled with some of the General's psychotic sidespeak. Does anyone know what the word balloons originally said?

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