Patrick: Sometimes when I’m working on a project under deadline, I find myself pissing away precious minutes wasting time. Usually on the internet – that damn internet! And sometimes that time wastery yields something interesting: I get ideas for unrelated projects or I catch up with an old friend or I learn something. So it’s hard to classify that time as “wasted,” but it certainly makes it harder to cram in all the work it takes to finish that project in time. Naturally, the project suffers as a result. That’s kind of how a feel about Justice League 10.
As this little arc is titled “The Villain’s Journey,” the issue opens on David Graves’ one-man expedition in the Pamir Mountains. This is three years ago, and Graves is already an accomplished writer on the subject of the Justice League, Atlantis and all the other things that would be HUGE DEALS if this were real life (but it’s a comic, so they’re only marginally big deals). Graves is looking for Mount Sumeru, which he postulates is the Nexus between the real world and the after-life. TURNS OUT HE’S RIGHT, and Graves is greeted by three Asuras. The exiled gods imbue Graves with the souls of his dead family (or something…)
Back to the present, Graves has been attacking and torturing just about everyone that knows anything about the Justice Leaguers. Mostly, The Monster Graves interrogated nemeses of the group: Scarecrow, The Key, Captain Cold, whomever. But he also broke all the bones in Steve Trevor’s hands to get access codes to the Watchtower. Graves uses all of this information to attack the league – evidently using the power of their own sadness against them. The issues closes on the image of a defeated League at the feet of David Graves.
So that’s The Villain’s Journey. We don’t have a lot of information about Graves, and Geoff Johns’ attempts to sprinkle the pages with characterization have left more questions about the character than answers. We talk a lot on this site about how we prefer mystery to blatant exposition, but teasing out this “the Justice League killed my family” thing is getting tiring. And the inevitable reveal that Graves’ family was killed as some collateral damage when the League was performing some other good is going to be underwhelming as shit. There’s no way they intentionally killed people: at the very worst, they chose not to rescue a small group of people so they could save tons more lives. Zach, did you read Batwing? They did something similar there with “The Kingdom” – a group of African heroes that failed to provide support to rebelling citizens because they made a deal to eventually end the conflict. So some people were really pissed at them, but like, they did end the conflict, so ultimately they made the right choice.
My point is the “villain’s journey” is the least interesting part of this issue. And that’s not actually a surprise: Justice League has had a tough time giving enough real estate to each of its own over-sized characters and stories to make it congeal as a satisfying whole. But there are enough side-stories and mini-character moments that really capture my imagination.
Take, for instance, the two-page Aquaman adventure that Cyborg interrupts to call a meeting. Arthur rescues people from a cruise ship gone a-gound in a very ripped-from-the-headlines parallel to the Italian cruise liner that did the same a few months ago.
I’ve been asking to see Aquaman address some real-world problems for a while – as much as I find ‘The Others’ and ‘Who Sunk Atlantis’ stuff amusing, the ocean is a huge, dangerous entity in our world that routinely threatens the lives and well fare of billions. Can’t Aquaman fix an oil well leak? Can’t he rescue flood victims? I get why we don’t see Batman out on his nightly rounds, but Aquaman’s day-to-day superheroing could actually be really interesting. And this is the first time that we do get to see that.
I also really did the introduction of the Asuras. DC’s been taking a slightly more literal approach to incorporating gods into its own mythology lately (one need look no further than Wonder Woman for examples of this) and it’s cool to see a little the nature of the deities drift east.
Asuras are present in both Hindi and Buddhist mythologies and it’s nice to see the variety sprinkled in when so many of the other religious icons in this universe appear to be from the Greek and Roman pantheons. Calling characters in from the Religion Bench is kind of a standard play for Johns – he likes deploying the Spectre (who is, as we all know, the living embodiment of God’s wrath), and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the Phantom Stranger was Judas. He even suggested in Blackest Night / Brightest Day that Hawkman and Hawkgirl were Adam and Eve. There’s something about tying the DC characters into a variety of other mythologies endures Johns’ storytelling to me. I don’t know what it is – perhaps its just the validation that it’s okay to let these characters mean something to me.
But I’m left dissatisfied by the interaction between the heroes as they continue to bicker pointlessly. Also, whenever they all get together, it’s clear that Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman’s personalities are eclipsed by the rest of the group. The scene in the Watchtower gives a little more space for Cyborg to jabber on, but that’s largely because his ACCESSALLTHECOMPUTERS ability makes him a exposition machine. And I get it, Hal’s a flippant jerk and Barry’s a push-over. Womp-womp. The only bit I did really enjoy there was actually more of a tease (Johns’ speciality):
I’d read that. Sounds nice and straightforward.
What do you think Zach? Am I being too dismissive of the main story here? Also, I didn’t mention the Shazam story at all, which I found touching until it’s coda in Bagdad.
Zach: Patrick, I can’t really bash you on viewing the “primary story” as throwaway; because it does feel like that, in a sense.
Yet, what this issue does for me is let me know Johns is tilting his hand some towards the audience. He’s letting us in on what he’s thinking. I’ve been quite hesitant on the direction for some time since this arc has kicked off. I’ve always known he’s had a game plan – I mean, come on, he’s a writer and he’s Geoff Johns; but lately with the Justice League series it’s only been visible through hints and clues left through each issue’s back up (go back and reread all of the lab notes from the Red Room or the book entries from Graves’ novels, it’s all there), hints in his interviews, and that Free Comic Book Day issue is filled to the brim with Easter Eggs. They made it FCBD fucking holiday for me, I was scavenger hunting so much. But FINALLY we can see a method to the series’ newest arc.
Johns is exploiting the personal weaknesses of each character interaction.
Showing the cracks in the League after demonstrating how they work effectively as a team through issues 6-8 and even in their own personal units built of team members such as in 9 then taking a sledgehammer to it is an interesting approach.
I’d argue that this comes off as a weakness because Johns’ Justice League is comprised of big egos. The Flash who is the mediator for them all as Cyborg stands around awkwardly. And Patrick’s dead on, it’s really starting to become noticeable that Aquaman, Diana, and Cyborg are not shining as brightly when the League’s dialogue scenes occur.
Jumping back to the Villain’s Journey itself. Johns is cleverly bridging the five-year time-jump with Daniel Graves’ origin story. I see what he is attempting to do: David Graves’ fall from grace, all the way to his mission to become a sword of vengeance, bound to the souls of his loved ones, gives a great contrasting mirror for many of the League members. The fact of the matter is that story isn’t very compelling. I too am feeling the strain on caring for a man who is complaining constantly on how “The Justice League killed my family.” He feels like a plot device rather than a character.
Addressing your sidebar Patrick, I’ve been reading Batwing, and that continues to be a compelling read, and if this book goes the route of collateral damage similar to that, I’ll feel cheated. We saw David Graves in Justice League 6 trying his best to get his family out of a bad spot and with that we can assume he’d continue to do so unless things were too dire. I just can’t stand behind the main plotline if the narrative feels so… off. Too forced for my taste.
I’m not sure how I feel about this issue. The little character back-and-forth has actually become the selling point for me. And for all intents and purposes, Justice League 10 is a breather for all of the colossal action that has happened (and will happen). We eat lunch with the Justice League, basically. Oh and a mission-brief. But come on.
The team banter though, reveals a lot of the inter-workings of the Super Seven, past and present. We get references to failed members, and we get a sense of who likes to hang with who. This lets the reader really try to piece together the rest of their stories with only a line or two of dialogue given. Johns does have a knack for that. He makes clear that the World’s Finest duo are still good friends, even though this new incarnation of Supes has a stronger attitude. That’s cool, it still jives well with Batman, and makes them stronger for it.
I don’t think you hit on this subject Patrick, so I’ll try to be as concise as possible: there are a lot of people making this book happen. We know Jim Lee has done this before with deadlines, and it has happened again where things have gone a little awry.
With all of these talents stepping in, the artwork has points where it hops some, like your favorite record starting to skipping. The switch between inkers is noticeable a few times and I could almost go page to page telling you who colored which and who inked what. Alex Sinclair’s work is a different flavor from Hi-Fi’s and the song skips some for it. I don’t want this to sound too condescending though, I’m just mentioning what I thought was wrong because I feel that is sometimes hard to do with Jim Lee and his team’s art.
On to the Shazam backup: Johns really has taken the time to make Billy a real character rather than the ‘wonderful golden boy who the audience falls in love with almost due to pity since he can’t find a home.’ I loved the previous incarnation of Billy, really. He was everything I wanted to be as a kid (and even still as I’m getting older). But Johns wraps that core in a troubled real-world scenario and it changes the character accordingly. The core — that golden center — is still present and Johns wants us to know that. The star here, though, is Gary Frank and everyone should know that. He is stepping up his pencils in my eyes. Just as Geoff has used the back up to flesh out why Billy is the way he is, Frank has fleshed out his own version of Batson. He is so expressive with his pencils: when someone is yelling I feel it off the page, and when there are quieter moments like so:
When the backup leads us to Baghdad, the emotional weight disappears and everything really relies on Gary Frank. Johns’ Sivana plays out as expected and really seems to be nothing more than the man who opens the door for Black Adam (metaphorically and literally). I’m waiting for Sivana to jump away from this Lex Luthor shadow that has been bestowed on him and show the audience there is more to him than his baldness, having a scar and being a scientist.
But hey, at least Black Adam’s here.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?