Saturday, September 09, 2006

A League of One

In order to keep myself sane as the maelstrom known as the first week of classes churned around me, I read Christopher Moeller's marvelous JLA: A League of One when time permitted.

The plot of League of One is set into motion by a prophecy which fortells the death of the members of the Justice League should they confront a re-awakened dragon bent on consuming the earth. It's one of those particularly unpleasant prophecies: their deaths are assured, even though they defeat the dragon.

Upon hearing the prophecy, Diana immediately decides that rather than see the entire Justice League perish, she will face the threat on her own: though her own death is assured, none of her friends will have to die with her.

When I first became aware of this graphic novel, I simply was not in the mood to see my superheroes mixing it up with creatures from some bygone age of enchantment. For several reasons, it was foolish of me to think in this way. First of all, Moeller's painted artwork is breathtakingly beautiful. Secondly, rather than a trite plot device, in the right hands dragons are actually good to think with. (To steal a phrase from Clifford Geertz.)

Drakul Karfang, the dragon in Moeller's book, serves as a kind of metaphorical and literal refiner's fire, testing the beings subjected to its flames and feeding upon their inwardly-kept sins and corrptions. It derives strength from frailty; transforming its victims' outward forms so that they resemble their inward states. (Everyone who falls prey to this treatment comes out of it looking pretty much like one of the Orcs in Lord of the Rings — or worse.) As individuals fall under his sway, Drakul's power increases.

Since Diana knows that friendship and honor will compel her team-mates to join her in facing the dragon, she is forced to lie to them and neutralize them one by one. How she does so is handled with considerable inventiveness. For example, her goal is to weaken, rather than pummel Superman into submission, and we're reminded of something we've always known: it's really hard to keep a lie from Batman.

So, a nice paradox drives the narrative: the dragon fattens itself on betrayal and falsehood, and Diana must engage in large, heaping measures of both in order to frustrate the prophecy and save her friends. Like all good fairy tales, Diana's quest in League of One puts both her body and her heart to the ultimate test.

And although the pages in which Diana is subjected to the dragon's fire near the end of the book are finely wrought and quite stirring, I found that a series of panels early in the story carried equal resonance and weight. Before we're told about the prophecy or almost anything else, Moeller takes a few pages to establish Diana's character. Though he makes use of a simple concept, it's finely implemented, and delivers one of the book's dramatic high points.

Here are the panels in which Diana willingly subjects herself to the power of her own lasso.

This is one of my favorite WW graphic novels.

It's a great passage. I love that you like the same part of the book I do. That makes both of us very cool. ;)
Hey Nida!

Yeah, this book is up there on my list, too. I can't praise Moeller highly enough: the way he uses his art to get across that Diana is a character with a profound "interior life" is pretty remarkable.
Very much so. It's right up there with all my Rucka books. *pauses of bitter sigh*

Unfortunately, I don't hold his other Justice League book, in which he turns the leaguers into mech warriors, in as much high regard.
Thanks for the kind words, Melchior. I'm glad you found the idea of Diana being afraid of her own motives worked here. It's something I've thought a lot about (not in terms of superheroes, necessarily).

If you have a chance, check out my Iron Empires graphic novels: Faith Conquers and Sheva's War. I'd be curious what your reaction to them is. Particularly Sheva's War, which was something of a precursor to League of One.
No problem, Chris.

I'm definitely planning to get a hold of your other work, now that the ending of the semester has opened up my schedule again.
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