Justice League 13

Alternating Currents: Justice League 13, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Justice League 12, originally released October 17th, 2012.

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.

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a...WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!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.

CLARK AND DIANA SITTIN' IN A TREE...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?

28 comments on “Justice League 13

  1. I wasn’t totally sure if the spy they were talking about was Black Orchid. That’s where my thoughts went immediately, too, but they never mention any names. The fact that Lemire co-wrote the backup AND that it seems to tie into Justice League Dark definitely makes a strong case for Black Orchid, but I’m also kind of excited by a character that terrifies Steve that we have yet to meet.

    Also, did this issue confirm that Diana can fly? Like, they were floating during the kissing, but was that reality, or just a subjective representation of the magic of the moment? We see her boots leave the rooftop when she hightails it, but it’s possible she was just jumping to the next roof. CAN SHE FLY, OR WHAT?

      • Yeah, she can fly. Azzarello even reintroduced her gaining that ability from Hermes a little bit ago.
        I think Clark is a hover-addict. He never has to walk anywhere as Superman, but as Clark Kent he has to stumble and bumble around. He just ODs on hovering to make up for it. Heh.

  2. I think I’m realizing that the problem I’m having with this title (and most of our team titles, honestly), is that they aren’t very personal. The nature of a team story kind of necessitates that we stay “in costume” the whole time, which ignores a whole source of drama for superheroes. Johns takes a step in the right direction by focusing on the interpersonal relationships within the team here. I hope he can keep this up going forward — and that other writers take a lesson from this playbook.

    • Actually, that’s a good point – but both Diana and Cyborg don’t really have lives out of costume. It’s interesting that the emotional hooks of both Villains’ journey and this Cheetah thing hinge on WW. I may be biased because, it turns out I love that character, but keeping a focus on Diana could go a long way to anchoring this series in something worth caring about.

  3. I wasn’t totally wild about Daniel’s art in this. There is one panel when the team hits the jungle where it looks like Diana’s sword is behind her hand instead of in it like it should be. It’s one mistake, but I caught it right away, and it was enough to pull me out of what was happening.

  4. I really like investigating Diana’s hesitation to keeping people close. You can see how Superman would be a good candidate to get close because you’d think he indestructible enough to not be able to get hurt. With The Cheetah, Johns has put EVEN SUPERMAN in danger by being close to Diana. It’s like we saw the light at the end of the tunnel of her isolation, and then it turned into a cheetah.

    • A-ha, that makes sense. Inasmuch as any of it makes sense, anyway.

      Welcome to Retcon Punch Steven, glad to have ya!

  5. I liked Daniels here better than Lee’s stuff, but knowing that the *next* guy is Ivan Reis… well, I just can’t get there fast enough. Wonder Woman and cyborg stole this issue for me. Though, that image of Supes and WW standing in front of the open view of planet Earth in the Watchtower (and the way Supes is depicted in particular, floatiness aside) has me REALLY excited for an Andy Diggle/Tony Daniel Superman. As someone who doesn’t jibe with the Lobdell interperetation I’m extremely excited we’ll be getting Andy Diggle and Scott Snyder Superman arcs next year

  6. I missed the Shazam back-up and hope he’s back next month, but I am interested in the Justice League of America now (though I was even before that back-up), and I love the way Johns writes Green Arrow.

    I think letting Hal Jordan leave the group was really an essential move–he had such a large personality that he was drowning the other members of the group out, and I already feel like everyone else in the group is getting more attention now that he’s gone.

    Much like you guys, I especially enjoyed the scene between the Flash and Cyborg (Interestingly, Geoff Johns wrote a very similar scene between Wally!Flash and Cyborg almost exactly ten years ago. I’m not judging him, it’s just amusing to me: http://fastestfanalive.com/post/33826676760/whodiditbetterv1). Being the only Leaguer without his own title, I think that there should’ve been more focus on him from the very beginning; he probably should have been the viewpoint character from the start, but I’m interested in seeing where Johns takes him now that we have the promise of more screen-time.

    I am enjoying the focus on Wonder Woman too (considering that her ongoing book is pretty far removed from general DCU Superheroics, I can see why Johns is basing Justice League off a lot of the currently unexplored superheroic side of her back-story) and like how competent and intimidating he made Cheetah. I don’t think I had quite 100% connected the dots about how Diana was distancing herself from Superman because of what happened to Minerva and Steve, but it’s a really nice thread there and already more interesting than almost any emotional development from this book yet, so I’m hopeful for the future.

    • Huh. I didn’t miss the Shazam back-up at all: didn’t even remember that it used to be there, in fact. That’s a big leap from a couple issues ago, when I was basically reading this title for the Shazam stuff.

      • Between the no-Shazam, the change in artist, and the focus on Wonder Woman, lack of Hal and a brand new story arc, this felt like a brand new book. I hadn’t really appreciated how much had changed.

    • Oooh! I really like the idea of taking Cyborg’s viewpoint a little more. He makes a great audience surrogate — in addition to being a kid (so may need things explained from time to time), he’s essentially omniscient. I don’t want to suggest that this title should switch to a documentary feel, but he’ll essentially always know as much as we know, which makes him a great lens for viewing the action here.

    • Same here. Somebody desperately needs to remove Ann Nocenti from that book – she needs to be on something more inherently wacky and sci-fi… back-up stories in Threshold maybe? Ollie needs a more grounded writer. The guy doesn’t even have super powers. If Kyle Higgins can take on another book then I think you’ve got the right guy already on the payroll

  7. Flash knows “sexy toaster time” is what makes or breaks humanity.
    I’m glad Barry has a little humor in him, he has to step up his comedy gold since Hal’s off team.

  8. I liked the issue and Daniel’s art more than usual, but his Steve Trevor was kind of terrifying. I don’t know why but his face looked like a different guy in every panel.

    Also is Suicide Squad run as part of ARGUS or is Amanda Waller double dipping in the secret government agencies game?

    • I would assume it’s like an ARGUS black op – I don’t know of any other US group that would have the intelligence on metas to organize it. I may be wrong here, but I believe things like Checkmate and CADMUS are not tied to US government

  9. Pingback: Villain Month Guide: Part 4 – Everyone Else | Retcon Punch

  10. Pingback: Justice League 29 | Retcon Punch

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