With the news of J. Michael Straczynski’s upcoming work on the Superman and Wonder Woman monthlies, and the graphic novel Superman: Earth One, I have been quite excited to see specifically what he can do differently with such iconic comic characters, especially the Man of Steel. Although I am an off & on fan of DC’s The Brave and the Bold in its various incarnations over the years, it is not something I routinely purchase every month; however, reading JMS’ recent issue #33 has made me regret that decision and gives me great hope for his new projects that launch this year.
One of the things that both casual and seasoned readers should immediately appreciate about JMS is his ability to tell a succinct, well-developed story in a thirty-two page single issue. Although mega-events and three-issue or more arcs have become the norm for most sequential stories, except the occasional promotional one-shots, JMS is resurrecting a long-forgotten art and his strength at crafting such stories is welcome in the wake of series crossovers and comic event fatigue. In our current economic climate, an environment that has caused me to trim down my own buying pile and be extremely selective about what I can afford to purchase monthly or in trade collected format with a bookstore discount coupon, The Brave and the Bold also holds at the $2.99 price tag which is a welcome cost among the industry push towards a $3.99 figure.
I admit that I purchased this recent issue solely to see how JMS handles Wonder Woman as I am a casual reader of Gail Simone’s work on the series and I was interested to see his approach to the character. What immediately struck me about the story was JMS’ own presumptions about what the audience may or may not know about his three characters, and this, I contend, is one of his greatest accomplishments. If you are only familiar with Wonder Woman, Zatanna, or Batgirl from one of their various incarnations in television or film, you can still enjoy this story immensely because while knowing the hardships faced by Wonder Woman and Zatanna towards Barbara Gordon and her violent past may increase your level of comfort as a reader, the dramatic reveal and the conflict woven in the story is no less powerful for newcomers. The juxtaposition too between the knowledge of Wonder Woman and Zatanna and the unfolding events of Barbara’s life is beautifully captured by artist Cliff Chiang who reinforces the mood, atmosphere, and pacing of the narrative. Lastly, readers should also recognize the modern feel of the story, its contemporary vibe and approach that enhances its realism while simultaneously producing a timeless quality to the work itself as it explores emotional connections between friends and families.
Unfortunately, most contemporary superhero comics fall into the categories of romantic nostalgia and pastiche, emotionless action big-screen drivel, or formulaic potboiler good vs. evil. Of course, there are exceptions and writers such as Simone, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and a few others are challenging these conventions within the superhero genre. My only other exposure to JMS is his previous Flash and Blackhawk story in issue #28, which I purchased mainly as a fan of the Flash. That issue has been nominated for a 2010 Eisner as Best Single Issue or One Shot. If his work on that story and this current one are any indication of his approach to the DC Universe and its stable of heroes, then JMS belongs with those few writers who are challenging the formula and the promise of his future work is eagerly anticipated.