Justice League Meets Inside the NBA on TNT: An Appreciation

When I visited my Local Comic-Book Store this week, I was given an incredible birthday present. As I picked up this exciting new adventure in cross-genre interactive comic-book marketing products, the immortal words of Steely Dan rang in my head: “you wouldn’t even know a diamond if you held it in your hand / the things you think are precious I can’t understand,” to which I say damn straight Donald Fagen and/or Walter Becker, that couplet in fact describes precisely my relationship with this unexpectedly wonderful gift.

Called by some1Me. the plastic dashboard Jesus of comic books, this really is the long-awaited Justice League/TNT’s Inside the NBA™ crossover (the crossover love that dare not speak its name, that our hearts have always longed for, but which, for understandable reasons2E.g., a lingering sense of sanity., our brains weren’t even aware of, etc. etc.). It’s here, and it’s clear, that is makes no goddamn sense at all, but life’s un-looked-for joys are always its sweetest.

Looking at this cover, I was excited for what promised to be sixteen glorious pages of Shaq dunking on Batman! The Flash going for a steal from an (exceptionally diminuitive) Barkey! Superman and… some other guy! Wonder Woman using her lasso on… is that Derek Fisher? Okay, to be honest, I have no idea what this cover is promising, other than the Jedi ghosts of superheroes and a team of retired sports stars wearing primary-colored shirts. To find out if the book delivers on this, we must look deeper. Follow me inside… if you dare.

So that was actually Kenny Smith on the right, or, sorry, Kenny “The Jet” Smith,3“The Jet” is silent. and Ernie Johnson in the middle. Turns out I’m not that good at identifying sportscasters by their comic book representations. I swear, Kenny looks more like um, Stephon Marbury maybe. Anyway, after highlighting the architectural oddness of the Barclays Center, we get right down to some serious actionexposition. The hosts of Inside the NBA by TNT® are, for poorly explained reasons, racing from Brooklyn to Madison Square Garden, reenacting the career arc of any given critical darling indie band.

Note the intense Dutch angle that the larger panel is framed with. The Flash’s antenna thingy is literally bursting out of the frame. Can you feel the excitement‽ Chris Webber is a cheater, of course, but we all knew that already.

I was astounded to learn that this was not, in fact, even the first Justice League/ItNBA-TNT℠ comic. The first installment was only distributed at last year’s All-Star game in New Orleans. I had originally assumed that it would detail Chris Webber’s heinous duplicity, but, upon acquiring an exceedingly rare pdf copy, I learned that in fact it mostly focused on punching things and playing basketball, two elements which ::SPOILER ALERT:: do not really feature at all in this issue.

Much like Kenny THE JET/Batman, this whole comic is a partnership that reeks of desperation. As you may be aware, the official comics license for the NBA is held by Marvel, a boondoggle which has led to such creative supernovas as the Tim Duncan/The Punisher crossover. So you can just imagine the panicked state of the DC execs, as they beat their heads against the tasteful rosewood inlays of their in-office bar carts, trying to figure out how to get in on all that mad professional basketball cash.

Well, all credit is due to whichever genius realized that there was a whole un-comics-licensed reservoir of permanently indentured [former] NBA stars working as commentators at TNT’s Inside the NBA©. Every comics-buying girl and boy4Median age: 38. Which is a good thing, considering anyone younger than a high-school junior wasn’t born when Sir Charles retired from the NBA. is sure to be just as thrilled by the antics of Shaq, Barkley, and Kenny Smith as they are by the lesser lights of LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Mikhail Prokhorov.

I’m not sure if this was the intended effect, but one thing that I am learning from this experience is that the hosts of ©==TNT’s-insyde-teh-NBAzzzz==© are terrible people. Ernie is perving on Wonder Woman, Shaq is a bit slow, and they all cheat as bad as Chris Webber.

Look, true nonsensical comic crossover transcendence is hard to come by. For every The Avengers On Late Night With David Letterman or Superman vs. Muhammad Ali you have Archie Meets the Cast of Glee or Spiderman trying way to hard to buddy up with President Obama and not really impressing anyone in the process.

So you will understand the standards that I’m applying when I say that the image of Sir Charles Barkley performing some sort of bizzare crotch surf on Barry Allen’s back in the middle of the East River has made this entire project worthwhile. This is exactly what I came here for5Actually, as I explained earlier, I came here to see Batman dunking on Shaq, but this will suffice..

Superman, on the other hand, has no problem carrying Shaq like a giant baby6Somewhere, Noelle Stevenson is very very happy., in what is more than anything a Botticelli-esque depiction of the human form. If the rest of this comic consists entirely of the superheroes finding new and interesting ways to carry around basketball players, then I will accept it with grace.

Some excellent invisible jet action on this page, but what I really want to highlight is the cameo by NBA-TNT-APOCALYPSE-HOUR-ON-THE-TVⓅ guest and NBA Inside Stuff host Kristen Ledlow. You didn’t think they were going to go all the way through this comic without giving her a shout-out, did you?

No. That is assuredly not a thing that you ever thought.

The people inside the orange SUV have their priorities straight. You can almost hear them.

CHILD: Woah! We almost fell off that bridge! Nice driving, mom.

MOTHER: I’m amazed you could look away from your iPhone for long enough to notice.

CHILD: Why are we hovering several feet off the ground? Couldn’t they just have pulled our car back onto the road? Was this really necessary?

MOTHER: Probably not, but hey, is that Shaq?

CHILD: More importantly, did he really just call himself Diesel? He knows that no one ever actually called him that, right?

But no, it was just that stupid Superman, stealing ShazaamKazaam’s thunder again.

But Shaq is okay with it. Just like he explained early in his rap career, before briefly moving into his basketball sideline, he “knows he got skillz“.

Yes, Barkley is in a wheelbarrow. The Flash, the fastest man in the universe, a hero who can vibrate through solid matter, who routinely breaks the space-time continuum by running into things excessively quickly, has declined to carry him.

Charles is fat, is what they’re saying.

Luckily for Charles Barkley (who, lest we forget, has had his basketball skills stolen by aliens, once challenged Godzilla to a game of 1-on-1 street ball, and was thoroughly walloped by MJ in his only finals appearance) this probably doesn’t even make the top 10 most embarassing events of his career.

Oh, hey, look, it’s Reggie Miller. I would use his appearance to make a joke about unsatisfying conclusions to things, but 1. that wouldn’t be fair to one of the greatest outside shooters in NBA history and 2. Batman’s “punchline” speaks for itself. Unfortunately, this is the only “punch” we’ll be getting in this entire mystifying, preposterous, deeply unsatisfying comic. The best that I can say for it is that it answers one of my most pressing questions, of whether DC can still make comics as horrifically offensive as in the 80s, as cheesily trend-chasing as in the 90s, while accessing the potentially lucrative “post-ironic” boom of this decade, the answer to which question I would say is a solid “Yak-em!”

Thanks Shaq. “Yak-em” for_ever.

   [ + ]

1. Me.
2. E.g., a lingering sense of sanity.
3. “The Jet” is silent.
4. Median age: 38. Which is a good thing, considering anyone younger than a high-school junior wasn’t born when Sir Charles retired from the NBA.
5. Actually, as I explained earlier, I came here to see Batman dunking on Shaq, but this will suffice.
6. Somewhere, Noelle Stevenson is very very happy.

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