Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Justice League 15, originally released December 26th, 2012, This issue is part of the Throne of Atlantis crossover event. Click here for complete ToA coverage.
Drew: Sitcoms and comics are notorious for featuring one- and two-dimensional characters. This isn’t the result of laziness on the writers’ parts — actually, it’s their desire to work indefinitely. Narratives that don’t go on indefinitely are free to give their characters actual character-defining arcs — that’s kind of the point — but those that have no defined endpoint must more or less tread water to avoid ending. This is why we know the status quo will always be restored. Sure, Bruce might stop brooding for a bit, or Hal might lose his ring, or Superman might die, but as long as people are willing to see their further adventures (and pay for them), they’re bound to return to their resting state. Individual titles focusing on those characters are free to bend the rules a bit, but cameos in other titles kind of rely on the platonic form of the heroes. Because Justice League essentially acts as a series of cameos, it is particularly invested in not giving these characters any sense of emotional arcs. Of course, that doesn’t stop Johns from trying to shoehorn those in from time to time, too.
Issue 15 bops around the globe quite a bit, giving us a glimpse of a few of our heroes in action. For Victor, this means investigating a mysterious incident during a missile test (which, incidentally, caused Atlantis to be bombed). For Bruce, this means pursuing some of Scarecrow’s goons, and catching them with an assist from Arthur. For Clark and Diana, this means going over the finer points of maintaining secret identities, but they’re interrupted when a tidal wave washes into Metropolis. Turns out, this is Atlantis’ first volley in apparent retaliation to the perceived attack. Arthur should know — he devised the plan.
That reveal reminds me a bit of Mark Waid’s Tower of Babel storyline, but the basic plot reminds me a bit more of the plan from Tom Clancy’s Sum of All Fears, where two world powers are brought to the brink of war at the hands of a third party attacking one while posing as the other. It’s a clever enough idea that I’m willing to see it explored here, and I’m particularly interested in Arthur’s role here: if his brother was indeed killed in the attack, he might be a candidate again for the throne, but the surviving Atlanteans might be reluctant to trust a surface dweller after this.
That is to say, I liked the plotting of this issue — it sets up an interesting conflict that the Justice League might actually be necessary to solve. The only problem: it only barely sets up that conflict, opting instead for bizarre character moments that are neither necessary nor interesting. I’ll accept that we needed to establish why Bruce and Arthur are standing next to eachother, but did we need to devote four pages to it? Or what about that date between Clark and Diana?
They might dress like normal people from time to time, but they sure as fuck don’t act like normal people. The only thing they talk about on their date? How awesome secret identities are. I get that they probably don’t go to the movies or read, but could Johns at least pretend like they have personalities outside of their costumes.
What’s weird is that he does this quite well in the back-up. Sure, Billy and Freddy are mostly just doing more of what we’ve already seen — taking advantage of Billy looking like an adult while incidentally stopping crime after crime. They can’t seem to go anywhere without somebody pulling a gun, which feels like a joke by the third time it happens, but Johns acknowledges this, suggesting that finding injustice is part of Billy’s power set. Also, flying.
Eventually, Black Adam shows up, but not before introducing the interesting idea that Billy doesn’t really want to be a kid anymore. It makes sense — being a bullied orphan doesn’t really sound that fun — but it kind of flies in Freddy’s expectation (and ours) that being Shazam would just be a fun thing Billy does from time to time.
It’s weird that Johns can make me care so much about the characters in the back-up, but can’t move the needle at all in the feature. What do you think, Patrick, am I being too hard, or is the character work in the lead as bad as I think it is? Also, how funny is it that this is just what’s going on in Atlantis from day-to-day?
Patrick: “Seahorse” is such a misnomer. Yeah, their heads sorta look like horses, but those things are tiny — maxing out at about a foot long. I know we’re talking about ATLANTIS and therefore “things which do not exist” are on the table, but I’m registering the complaint anyway: no way are there seahorses that size.
As far as your criticism of the character work here, the only thing that feels truly superfluous to me is that shit between Clark and Diana. There’s something interesting about Clark’s assertion that all they need to do to stay out of the public’s sight is to not be engaging in heroics, but that’s a much cleverer observation about human beings at large than it is a statement about Clark. Also, I don’t totally understand why Diana would be wearing glasses during their night out — while Clark is wearing is costume under his suit (that thing must smell terrible, by the way), I think Diana must be using magic or something? Someone explain this to me:
I can see that the lasso of truth is whipping around and revealing her true clothes, but that means that… something else is making it appear as though she’s actually wearing a fancy dress. Whatever that something else is can’t make her face look different too?
There is something interesting in the fact that Batman and Aquaman are the only heroes we see engaged in heroics when we’re introduced to them in this issue. Clark and Diana are eventually stirred to action, but not because they’re taking proactive steps against the tidal wave hitting Metropolis — it’s literally not until there’s a gigantic battle ship plummeting to the streets that they take any action. And good ol’ Cyborg is up in the Watch Tower, doing… whatever it is he does. I get that he’s, like, the best at using the internet, but he should be able to access all networks at all times, right? Why would he spend so much time not fighting crime? It makes it ultra-refreshing to see that Batman’s already engaged in cleaning up Gotham when he takes a call from Cyborg. I also like how little Batman speaks in this issue — this isn’t Superhero Fun Camp for Batman, it’s his fucking job.
The transition to Ivan Reis is basically seamless. Not only is his style a welcome change from Tony Daniel’s fill-in work in the last two issues, the way this event features Aquaman makes the move feel almost natural. Reis draws great chaotic action sequences, and it’s easy to imagine where Jim Lee’s sketchier, line-heavy drawings might have cluttered a scene like this one.
If we’re reading The Throne of Atlantis: A Play in Five Acts by Geoff Johns and this is Act I, I think there’s enough in these pages to convince me the rest of the show is worth seeing. I may already be growing weary of the Superman / Wonder Woman ‘shipping (especially because it’s a non-issue in their respective series), but it is interesting to me that Lois Lane is an active element in this story. It’s more the suggestion that there’s going to be good character work than actual good character work.
Our compatriots Shelby and Michael are writing about Act II as we speak, so we don’t have to wait very long to see if any of that sort of promise will be delivered on. This is the last time we get both chapters on the same day, but it’s a compelling little strategy. I for one, can’t wait to pick up Aquaman 15 to see if the wheels are staying on the wagon. Granted: that’s probably not the reason Johns wants me to be eager to pick up the next issue in the cross-over, but it’s working for me.
Oh and what’s the deal with Shazam appearing on the cover of this issue? I get that he’s in the back-up, but not in formation with the Justice League. While I liked the back-up story, I can’t help but feel like it’s wildly out of place in the middle of this Atlanteans-are-going-to-sink-a-city Saga. Unless his battle with Black Adam somehow dovetails with the ToA, it seems like a bit of a mismatch.
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?