Geoff Johns and the Batman Problem

Before Grant Morrison's JLA, the creative challenge for any Justice League writer was the overpowered Superman. With JLA Batman became the writer's peril. But with Justice League #5 Geoff Johns introduces a new kind of creative danger.

Justice League #5

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Geoff Johns, Jim Lee
Price: $2.99
Publication Date: 2012-03

Were the original creators of the very first Justice League scared of Superman? Decades later with Justice League International, the Justice League incarnation that spanned the 80s-90s and loosely chronicled the emerging post-Soviet world, the creators certainly appeared to be. Justice League International simply wrote Superman out of the League, as did the book Wonder Woman. And there's little reason to blame them. Superman is definitely a problem. He's simply too powerful. He bend steel beams, dodge bullets (but he doesn't need to), shoot heat-vision bolts from his eyes, fly, give a locomotive a run for its money, the list is seemingly endless. And what could keep him in check save the incredibly rare shards of Kryptonite? The art of the Justice League always lay in creating villains that were large enough to push the other members to their limits.

It wasn't until Grant Morrison's handling of the League in the seminal JLA, that we began to realize the real problem wasn't Superman at all, but Batman. In the opening arc, "New World Order", it was Batman who first realized that the media-friendly group of intergalactic troubadour-superheroes was in fact attempting a planetary-scale brainwash. It was Batman who first uncovered the secret that these aliens were in fact White Martians. And when their ruse was finally uncovered, and when Superman and Wonder Woman each fought a single White Martian to a standstill, it was Batman who singlehandedly defeated four.

Grant had set the tone for the League. Batman was singularly capable, it was his capacity for self-discipline and his tactical assessment of every situation that made him superhuman. The real problem with the League was that the superheroes with "real" powers dulled their resilience by relying on those powers far too much. Not so with Batman. Batman could simply, solve everything. He was Mister Spock and Bruce Lee and Sherlock Holmes all rolled into one. Even after Grant, with Mark Waid's Tower of Babel and later with Joe Kelly's Obsidian Age and Dwayne McDuffie's landmark Lightning Saga, we continued to see the real problem Batman presented.

It only made sense then, for Geoff Johns, DC's Chief Creative Officer and writer at the helm of the newest Justice League book, to tackle the problem directly and shift the focus of the first issue to Batman. Last August's release of Justice League #1 seemed the right kind of move on Geoff's part. In a very direct sense, Batman demanded to be confronted by any writer of any Justice League book. And yet, playing off Batman against Green Lantern, each as foil, then counter-foil to the other, seemed to make no sense. Without a broader context, without a broader project, what was really going on here? The real context was the grudge that Batman couldn't let go of. The idea that Green Lantern, in succumbing to Parallax's possession, had evidenced some inner weakness. To Batman weakness was unforgivable, to his detective's mind, the Parallax possession must have been the last in a long line of tiny, cumulative failures. But all of this was a thing of the past with the New 52, wasn't it?

Geoff has time and again mentioned that, for him, the Justice League really begins with Green Lantern and with the Flash. They're the core of the League, much more so than the founder-member trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. They're why there is a League rather than simple superhero team-ups. It should have been clear then, even with issue one. The heart of the drama in that issue seemed so clearly the human element of Vic Stone's life as a young wide receiver on the cusp of earning a college scholarship. But the heart of the story was as much Geoff dealing with the traditional genre of League stories (that is, the Batman problem), as it was imprinting his own vision on the League (that is, articulating Green Lantern).

If that emergent dynamic wasn't as explicit in issue one, if that issue seemed little more than a context-free (therefore emotionally uninteresting) Batman "versus" Green Lantern, the problem is solved in this, issue #5. Geoff shifts the emotional engagement of the drama back to the superheroes and back to Batman and Green Lantern in particular. It's a pure thrill to see Superman and the Flash outrun Darkseid's Omega Beams. But even better, even more engaging is reading the turning tide in the battle of egos between Batman and Green Lantern. Those twenty-four magnificent panels are of the most compelling you'll find in mainstream superhero comics. They are the very definition of not only Geoff's vision for the League, but why there is a League in the first place.

And it is with this issue that Geoff introduces a new problem for the League, the Green Lantern problem. If there are any reservations to be had, it's that destruction of Metropolis (and indeed the globe) seems to be growing more and more abstract as the emotional drama of the story shifts to the superheroes.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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