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Friday, March 24, 2006

Where They Went Wrong: Extreme Justice

Over the past few weeks, I've been reading through every major Firestorm appearance, a process that suddenly became terrifying once I made it through Firestorm #100. If I wanted to continue, I was going to have to make it through quite possibly the worst series that DC ever published: Extreme Justice. And believe me...

...it's actually worse than it looks.

Seriously, when the title of the lettercolumn is "To The EXTREME," you know you're in for a rough time.

For the most part, I think you can lay the blame squarely at the feet of Marc Campos. He's the penciller for the first six issues or so, and while Dan Vado's scripts ain't gonna be bringing home any Eisners, Campos's art pushes this book over the line from "bad comic" to "crime against humanity." Admittedly, it was 1995 and everybody was doing it back then, but Good Lord, it's terrible.

In all fairness, Campos has done some good work in his time, like his recent work inking Ivan Reis in the pages of Rann/Thanagar War, but back in '95, his work was atrocious. I could sit here for hours scanning panel after panel of Blue Beetle jumping around with his knees up over his shoulders and Captain Atom constantly flying around on fire for no particular reason other than it allegedly looks cool, but there's one panel in particular that sums it all up. Have a look:

Not only does that panel give me the idea that Marc Campos had never actually seen another human being in his entire life, but it's the only piece of comic art I've ever seen that has a worse grasp of anatomy than Rob Liefeld's famous Captain America. Yeah, you heard me: Marc Campos out-Liefelds Rob Liefeld.

And it never gets any better. A few issues later, in a story by Ivan Velez and Jungle Fantasy's own J. Scott Campbell simulacrum Al Rio, we get what may be the most stirring portrayal of pregnancy in comics history:

I read the entire storyline, wherein Carol Ferris (newly-hired administrator for Extreme Justice's Mount Thunder facility) attends Plastique's bachelorette party and Neron-related hilarity ensues, and I have no idea what's supposed to be happening in that panel. All I know is that Al Rio's the kind of guy who doesn't let a little thing like a woman getting run through with a sword while Evil Dead 2 levels of blood shoot out of her thorax stop him from tossing in an upskirt shot.

But enough about the art! Let's see if we can't make some sense out of the story, and rest assured: we can't.

The main problem here is that Extreme Justice doesn't really do anything. They don't fight a lot of crime, and they certainly don't solve a lot of problems. Things just seem to work themselves out while they happen to be loitering in the general area, and on the rare occasion that they actually do manage to scrape out a victory through their own efforts, the problem was usually their own fault anyway.

Their first big adventure involves a vague and poorly-organized conspiracy to overthrow the government from a decommissioned high-level fallout shelter, which they subsequently move into. Yes, because the true mark of a hero is how fast he can come in and kick you out of your house.

After that, Firestorm shows up, and brother, if you've ever wanted to see a character you like act like a total jackass for twelve issues, Extreme Justice is for you. The issues where Ronnie Raymond (in his phase as hard-partying underwear model RonRay, a name that makes me want to punch someone into a coma) gets his powers back don't make a whole lot of sense, to the point where Scott and I had a two-hour conversation where we figured out exactly how Firestorm works. I'd explain, but trust me: It's long, involved, requires a detailed knowledge of Swamp Thing, and involves multiple uses of the words "metagene" and "Svarozich," and that's way more effort than anyone needs to put in to understand two issues of a book like this.

His main contribution to the story is a subplot about his alcoholism that's done with all the subtlety that you'd expect from Extreme Justice, by which I mean he drinks a lot of beer and then throws up on Maxima during a fight with the Wonder Twins.

Yes, the Wonder Twins: because we so desperately needed them in continuity. They show up in a story involving a "Jrxan Flesh-Driver" that's later merged with Skeets' software to become Booster Gold's new armor, and--guess what?--it doesn't make any sense. And what makes less sense is that the "extremification" of the SuperFriends cartoon continues with an appearance by the Legion of Doom.

So where'd they go wrong? Well, with Extreme Justice, it's not so much "Where They Went Wrong" as it is "who the hell thought this was a good idea in the first place?" It's a case where narrowing it down to just one problem would be pointless, because there'd still be everything else to contend with. But since we've come this far, I'll make a suggestion:

If you've got a telepathic super-gorilla robot, don't wait until the last issue to bring that bad boy out. It's what we're all here to see.

12 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

Campos once drew a story I liked so much I neither threw it out nor sold it on eBay: UNCANNY ORIGINS #12, by the great Len Wein. An origin story for Dr Strange, ramping up some "bad dad" paternal rivalry angle never seen before or since in his mythos. The sort of Hollywood cliche guff Marvel retrofit into every one's origins these days to make 'em more receptive to poor screenwriters.

Not technically a classic, but enjoyable enough. And cheap at the time ($0.99 cover price).

3/25/2006 6:01 PM

 
Blogger Julio Oliveira said...

I really like the meta-commentary on that cover with Booster: even he can notice that his actions are totally out of character and demands that people give his life back

3/26/2006 12:46 AM

 
Blogger Mark said...

"Oi Editor! Give me back my trademark Giffen/DeMatteis poignant characterisation and witty dialogue! And don't let them shoot Ted Kord in the head, either"

Dang! Too late!

3/26/2006 2:02 PM

 
Anonymous belle waring said...

I love you, Chris. you suffered so we didn't have to. you're like the Jesus of comix.

3/27/2006 6:21 AM

 
Blogger chasdom said...

This is what happens when editorial demands that there be an "Image-style Justice League" comic. Which apparently means Liefeldian. I get the feeling that all involved, including Marc Campos, just got swept up in this edict. Which was a shame, because they really broke some of the best B-List characters that DC had at the time.

I agree with Mark on Uncanny Origins #12, too. Campos can draw. Just not when he's being asked to fill the page with as many lines as McFarlane did.

3/27/2006 5:42 PM

 
Blogger Tim E said...

How can you write

he drinks a lot of beer and then throws up on Maxima during a fight with the Wonder Twins

And NOT show us a picture of that?

7/04/2006 8:19 PM

 
Anonymous Greg Morrow said...

I know about this one: Blame the editor. It was all editorial mandates--"Hey, let's use the Wonder Twins! Hey, let's use the Legion of Doom! Hey, let's use the outdated word 'extreme' to show how extreme we are!"

Innocent writers were ground under the wheels of "do it my way or don't get a check".

7/18/2006 4:18 PM

 
Blogger Allen Knutson said...

The main problem here is that Extreme Justice doesn't really do anything. They don't fight a lot of crime, and they certainly don't solve a lot of problems. Things just seem to work themselves out while they happen to be loitering in the general area, and on the rare occasion that they actually do manage to scrape out a victory through their own efforts, the problem was usually their own fault anyway.

It seems to work for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force...

8/09/2006 12:43 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So a woman is penetrated in the back by a sword while blood pours out and we get to see her crotch at the same time.

And these guys got away with this how??

7/03/2008 3:10 PM

 
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12/13/2008 1:27 AM

 
Blogger Dr. 7 said...

I actually used to get Extreme Justice and I have to be honest, it was extremely unfocused. The Justice League International was split apart at this point into three different teams all calling themselves the Justice League. Captain Atom's team was calling themselves to be the proactive one of the teams. The concept seems good on paper until you get into the everyday. I roughed it out during its run. I even have the book where the sword coming out of Carol Ferris was actually The Predator (not the movie version). The writers tried and the artists tried but the final result was lacking. I'm glad the powers that be put this book out of its misery. Afterwards the clouds parted and the JLA was reborn. maybe if the book went in the direction that Justice League: Cry For Justice did it might have stood a chance. Oh well.

6/24/2011 10:49 PM

 
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