June 7, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Comic Review: JLA The Nail: The Complete Collection

An Elseworlds story asks what would have happened had the Kents not adopted baby Kal-El, and the world had no Superman.

When I buy new trades or comics, I am more likely to go with a writer I like than an artist.  Sure, there are artists whose work I really like or can’t really stand, but writers are what I mostly look for.  There is one exception to this rule, and that’s Alan Davis.  I love his clean, crisp, distinctive linework, and how he may be one of the few working artists who can draw distinctive faces on different characters.

Now, back when the mini-series was new, I did read his Elseworlds story JLA The Nail and its sequel Another Nail.  I had fond memories at least for the first one, and DC just put out a collected edition of the two.  Why not see how well it holds up?

After a brief opener where we see Ma and Pa Kent stay home since Jonathan’s truck had a flat tire caused by, you guessed it, a nail, keeping the two from picking up the baby in the spacecraft coming down in the background, we cut to what is presumably the present and see a world where, with Lex Luthor in charge of Metropolis, the world in general doesn’t trust superheroes.  Yes, the JLA exists, but it’s not an overly popular organization.  It doesn’t help that former member Oliver Queen, severely injured in an attack, spreads conspiracy theories about them as alien invaders.  Still, the line-up is mostly the classic team with members Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, the Flash, the Atom, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkwoman.  With popular opinion turning against them, and a conspiracy of some kind setting some of them up, starting with Batman, can the League get to the bottom of whatever is happening before the whole world goes to hell?

Now, that’s the first story, and, quite frankly, it’s a good one.  It’s not great, but it’s good.  Davis the artist does some beautiful work, drawing as many DC characters as he can including a full-page single splash page for each Leaguer in action.  That said, he’s not the greatest writer.  The first half, The Nail, holds up well and works in part because it plays off the reader’s knowledge of the DC Universe to create some genuine surprises.

It’s in the second half, Another Nail, that the story somewhat falls apart.  That half, including more characters and splash pages, has a lot less of a focus as it bounces all over the place in the narrative.  There’s too much going on, and a master villain that comes out of nowhere, such as it is.  While the second half does tie up some loose ends from the first, it also feels then and now as completely superfluous.  I’d say the second one was more predictable, but it didn’t stay on any one plot long enough to do much of anything as it seems to exist only to allow Davis to draw as many classic DC characters as he can.  For art, that’s fine.  For a story, not so much.

Plus, it might have been nice if the trade had shown where individual issues began and ended.  I could tell when Another Nail started easily enough, but I might have appreciated seeing how Davis plotted out his story from issue to issue by knowing where the different issues began and ended.

Anyway, the first half is still good, but the second leaves a lot to be desired in terms of narrative.

7.5 out of 10 doomed genetic experiments.

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