Drew: We’ve talked a lot about the five year rule here at Retcon Punch, and while we certainly have our gripes with how it affects continuity, I think we all understand why they did it. Giving every character some past allows them to maintain certain aspects of their pre-relaunch history, but does so without committing to anything specific. This gives writers a great deal of flexibility, without shutting the door for any future writes. Having a mysterious past also allows writers to pull out unknown details to add emotional weight to the proceedings. Doing this runs the risk of coming off as clumsy or cheap, but in Justice League 13, Geoff Johns provides an excellent case study in how to pull it off.
The issue opens with Superman and Wonder Woman still locked in that controversial kiss that ended issue 12. Diana then runs off, leaving Clark to mope (something he’s become so good at since the relaunch). We then skip ahead five days to find Diana locked in battle with Cheetah, Barbara Minerva. During their fight, Diana makes it clear that she wants to help Barbara rid herself of “the Cheetah,” but Barbara makes it equally clear that she has no interest in being helped. After the fight, Diana explains that she feels responsible for Barbara becoming Cheetah, and needs to find a mysterious tribe in South America in order to make things right. She’s resistant to accepting any help, but Clark is able to leverage their chemistry into an invitation to help. So the League heads out to find this tribe, but instead find Cheetah, who attacks, possibly turning Clark into Cheetah in the process.
It’s certainly a goofy issue, but I think Johns manages to transcend the inherent camp, delivering a clever exploration of what it means for Wonder Woman to be close to someone. Between Barbara being possessed by a goddess of the hunt and Steve Trevor being targeted by Graves, Diana has learned just how dangerous being near to her can be. That knowledge makes her hesitate to get involved with Clark at first, and the fact that she allows herself to be fooled one more time really drives this theme home. If you factor in what Brian Azzarello has put her though in Wonder Woman, Diana’s isolation rivals even Clark’s.
That said, some of the goofiness was a little distracting. My chief complaint is the shifting of Cheetah’s origin from Africa to South America, mostly because cheetah’s don’t exist in South America. Penciller Tony Daniel may have realized this, which is why he gives Cheetah South American jaguar rings rather than African cheetah spots, but none of that answers why the change needed to happen. Seemingly arbitrary, nonsense changes have become one of my biggest pet peeves, so Johns is going to have to do some fancy footwork to recover this one.
Otherwise, I was quite pleased with the issue. It always seemed kind of silly to me that Steve Trevor could be publicly known as the Justice League’s liaison, when (almost) everyone on the team maintains a secret identity for the sake of keeping their loved ones safe. Knowing that there’s a normal guy walking around that you could probably leverage against the League is beyond irresponsible, to the point that it’s kind of amazing this is the first time he’d ever been attacked. Having Diana come to this conclusion is smart, but having that decision stem from baggage she already has about what happened to Barbara is a clever move.
I was also quite pleased with the other character work in this issue. As usual, Aquaman just kind of stands there, but Victor and Barry share a nice little moment in the watchtower after Clark asks for a moment alone with Diana. Barry’s worried about what this all means for the team, while Victor is still having a bit of an existential crisis after the last arc. Ever the big brother, Barry offers a pep-talk of sorts, assuring Victor that he’s very much alive and very much human. Then they conspire to eavesdrop on the conversation Supes and Wondy are having.
Speaking of that conversation, Johns conveys a great deal by keeping his touch light. Daniel’s faces are as inscrutable as ever, but even he can’t muddy the simplicity of that sequence.
My only complaint here is that Daniel has Clark levitating throughout the entire scene. I don’t know why I find it so distracting, but I couldn’t come up with a single thematic or narrative reason for why he couldn’t just be on the ground. Patrick, if you have a guess as to why this particular decision was made, I’d love to hear it.
We gave this title a very hard time last month for feeling so obligatory, but I think this installment passes muster. It’s certainly a flawed issue, but I was thought Diana’s emotional through-line was enough to give it a sense of purpose. I’m less convinced of the purpose of the backup, even with teases to both JLA and a possible crossover with the current run of Justice League Dark (thanks to an assist by Jeff Lemire). What about you, Patrick? Did any of this justify its existence for you?
Patrick: Earlier tonight we were talking about series that we may want to drop and Team 7 came up on the chopping block. Don’t fret, Team 7 fans, it’s staying in our pull (for now anyway), but largely because we suspect that the series will play into the grander DC Universe story – specifically the story of the humans dealing with the meta-humans. Amanda Waller has become sort of a shorthand for this conflict, but so far her appearances don’t do much more than to remind the readers that these stories are connected. It’s a thankless, almost administrative, role that Waller and Trevor seem to trade off. I wish they would get more opportunities to interact, because I have yet to see personalities form on either of them.
So, does the back-up justify its own existence? I’m going to say “yes,” but only from a I-have-all-this-outside-information kind of way. For starters, I like this characterization of Ollie – he’s a smart-ass, but he’s not insufferable. Part of this excellent characterization comes from Brad Walker’s expressive art, which depicts him as uniquely cheery in this back-up. Seriously, everyone else is all gigantic scowls and frowns, but Oliver Queen’s got personality.
And the second thing I liked about the back-up was the implication that A.R.G.U.S. sent the shapeshifter Black Orchid to spy on Trevor while he recovered. I went back into the issue proper to look for signs of her, but, well y’know, shapeshifters are hard to spot.
On the subject of the issue itself, it was nice to see the League more or less getting along for once. Barry might have pointed out that Bruce and Arthur were jockying for leadership positions, but it looked to me like everyone was really pitching in to do right by a friend. I wish this sort of story was Justice League‘s (or Geoff Johns’) purview, but both the series and the author favor long, game-changing arcs. But the concept of Justice League is just too dense and too broad for a long Meaningful Narrative, unless that meaning is about the nature of superhero teams. A problem that requires the attention of these six heroes is going to be distractingly huge (like Darkseid invading Earth) or it’s going to be personal. And that’s where this story is different from all the issues that came before it – this is a Justice League problem because they all like Diana. The problem might be that there’s a huntress-spirit transforming a woman into a cheetah-beast, but WHATEVER – it comes from a place of emotional honesty.
Drew, you mention Daniel’s inscrutable faces (why does everyone have an under bite?), but I generally found his staging to be pretty good throughout. The are a couple of occasions where he seems to find the real beauty in the space between the characters. This wide-shot of the team in the jungle serves as the perfect “calm before the storm” moment – there’s just enough detail to determine who’s who, but not so much as to distract from this pretty landscape Daniel has drawn for us.
Oh and I don’t have a reason for why Clark would be hovering so much, but literally every panel he appears in on the Watchtower depicts him floating. Which is strange – it’s space… shouldn’t they all be floating? Also, you don’t see Wonder Woman flying for no reason: she’s a lady.
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?