Monday, May 26, 2008

Trade Secrets: JLA Presents: Aztek the Ultimate Man

I've finally done it. I think.

I've finally made the switch from floppies to trades. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'll still pick up the occasional monthly book, but no longer will I spend $2.99 a pop for my five minute fix of comics crack. Now don't think for a minute that this wasn't a hard decision for me. I mean, it's not that I was buying a lot of books all that regularly anyway, but there's something about the satisfaction of that weekly trip to the LCBS that scratches a certain itch, you know?

Well, to accompany my momentous decision, I'm back with a new feature: Trade Secrets. What is Trade Secrets? Simple, really. I take a look at a recent trade and tell you what I thought about it. Neat, huh? And our inaugural guests in the Trade Secrets spotlight are none other than GRANT MORRISON (and mark millar), representin' and keepin' it real with DC's new JLA Presents: Aztek the Ultimate Man.

Now, those of you who remember Aztek can skip this next bit. Those of you who don't, well, here's the skinny: back in the day, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar co-wrote this short-lived series (10 issues) about Aztek, the Ultimate Man!!! (Sorry, got a little carried away there for a second.) The back cover copy has this to tell us about Aztek:

"Trained from birth, he is the pinnacle of human perfection, his unique armor giving him powers and abilities far greater than most of Earth's heroes. Like all those who came before him, his life has been dedicated to guarding against a great and ancient evil bent on the destruction of humankind. Like his predecessors, Axtek does not know when evil will strike...only that he must be ready when it does."

Dramatic and original, no? Alright, to be fair, there's no indication that Morrison and Millar are any more responsible for the cover copy than, say, Marketing, but it certainly points very clearly to one thing: the book trades (no pun intended), as much other work by both Morrison and Millar does, on its relationship to the standard tropes of superhero comics. (As if to underscore the metacomics approach often associated with Morrison, DC has chosen to highlight Morrison's role over Miller's, granting him "top billing" over the title, while Millar is relegated to second banana status down with the penciler [N. Steven Harris] and inker [Keith Champagne]. Further, they've tried to give this a little bit of mainstream cachet by associating it with the JLA -- probably not a bad decision, given the fact that Aztek's own title was unable to wrap up his storylines, leaving much of that burden to be carried by Morrison's run on the JLA, soon to be reprinted in DC's new Deluxe format.)

The book is set in one of the DCU's trademark fictional cities, in this case, Vanity. (Really? They couldn't come up with something a little more, um, believable? I mean, I know "you will believe a man can fly" and all, but my Coleridgean suspension of disbelief was wearing a little thin right away. It just seems a little...well, dopey.) In any event, Vanity is, as you might well surmise, "not a nice place." In fact, it's so "not nice" that new villain-types (most of them mind-numbingly dumb--but that's sort of supposed to be the point, 'cause it's metafictional, you know?--the Piper, Synth, Death-Doll, Fixit, the Lizard King, Deathgrip, Bloodhound, Tattoo, and AWOL) are positively popping out of the proverbial woodwork. This is the sort of nod towards "city-as-character" that was exploited to such good effect in James Robinson's Starman, but here it just feels a little flat.

Likewise, the story itself never seems to gather any real momentum, and it certainly isn't aided by N. Steven Harris' workmanlike pencils. There's some interesting layout work here, but on the whole the facial expressions are awkward and not very expressive. I was getting a sort of poor man's Jackson Guice vibe from the art, but, to be fair, I don't want to sour you on Harris' current work based on this particular trade. Heck, I don't even know what Harris' current work even looks like!


Well, that'd be a big fat nothing, and in the case of Aztek, a hero many buyers may not be familiar with, it's also too bad. A foreword or editorial note or even a marketing blurb telling a reader where to go for more Aztek-y goodness would have been a great service to the reader.


Borrow a friend's copy, but you can probably safely skip a purchase. Heck, you could probably even find the individual issues for far less than the cost of the trade.
  • Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, and N. Steven Harris
  • JLA Presents: Aztek the Ultimate Man
  • DC Comics, 2008
  • 240 pp.
  • 19.99 (paper)
  • ISBN 978-1-4012-1688-7

1 comment:

Mark said...

I remember this one. I actually followed the title when it was first published and remember liking it.

Makes me feel a bit old, though.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed this title at the time, but I haven't picked it up in a while.

It's funny to think about a time when Mark Millar wasn't a mega-superstar, when he was simply some kid that Grant Morrision helped break into comics (I even remember Millar's run on Swamp Thing).

I love Aztek's costume. That's about all I have to say at the moment.