Justice League 15

justice league 15 Throne

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.

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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?

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.

Billy and Freddy 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?

"Hi-ho Sea-lver!"

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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:

Wonder Woman's dress turns into body armor

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.

Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane outrun a tidal wave

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.

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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?

30 comments on “Justice League 15

  1. It’s weird how Johns’ exposition can be so heavy-handed in some places, but so light in others. Like, I’m willing to accept that Batman is apprehending baddies on a boat — I don’t need more explanation, but Johns’ll be damned if he’s not going to give it anyway. Contrast that with the two panels we get of what’s going on in Atlantis. Of course Orm is riding around on a giant seahorse. Explanation of that is clearly less necessary than of Batman catching bad guys.

    • Hey, speaking of the sea horses, why are they only minimally armored? Like they have helmets and a little plating around where their shoulders would be (you know, if they had limbs). Are they War Seahorses or is that just a shiny sash for show?

    • It’s not explained at all on the page but if absolutely fits with Geoff Johns’ mission statement to basically revert characters back to their silver age version and then awesome-ify that by retaining the fantastic elements of the silver age comics but subverting the silliness of those fantasy elements into something more modern and badass looking. The silliest-assed thing about old Aquaman is seeing him riding around on his goofy-looking seahorse steed Storm; while this isn’t a New 52 introduction of Storm it is rubbing really close and yet when I see Ocean Master riding around on a giant seahorse in Atlantas as drawn by Ivan Reis, honestly, my reaction is the intended “fuck yeah”

      • Correction, upon closer inspection that doesn’t appear to be Orm on the seahorse, just an Atlantean guard or something… still really cool looking though

  2. I am totally fine ignoring the solo books of all these character EXCEPT when Justice League makes awkward mention of those adventures. I can’t remember if it was here or in Aquaman, but someone says Flash is off fighting Gorillas. Which just raises too many fucking questions for my liking. Superman and Wonder Woman didn’t think it worth their time to help Flash defend his city against a band of super-villains AND the Gorilla army? (They had to go out on a date!) FURTHER, Green Lantern 14 showed the WHOLE LEAGUE going to check out Simon-Baz-Green-Lantern. I’m going to stop thinking about it now, because I can feel myself getting mad, and that’s a silly thing to be mad about.

    • Well, in this situation, the League was too busy rescuing three major cities from tidal waves and repelling an Atlantis war force from American soil to go help Flash, and I’d say the Atlantis war was probably the more urgent mission.

      I just wish poor Flash wasn’t being excluded from the crossover.

      • But it does seem arbitrary that Flash is off saving central city, right? By all rights, Superman should be fighting H’el and Wonder Woman should be off collecting her siblings. It’s so weird that Johns kinda picks and chooses which main series are going to impact this one.

        • Well, they can’t ALL be happening at the same exact time, but yeah, its strange. I can think of two reasons behind it:

          1. Johns couldn’t think of anything to do with Flash during the crossover, or just felt like he had too many characters to juggle and decided to exclude one, or

          2. Manapul and Bucceletto have some plans that would be undermined/contradicted by Flash appearing in Justice League, and asked editorial to keep him out of the book for a few months.

          Either way, I’m happy that Johns at least decided to give some sort of explanation as to where Flash is instead of just letting him fall off the face of the Earth. Still, I don’t completely disagree with you: it always takes me out of a League story when they mention what’s going on in the solo books. Morison’s JLA in the 90s was forced to do it all the time and it was really distracting.

    • This only addresses a small point of your concern, but Aquaman does have a line (I, also, can’t remember if its JL or Aquaman #15… dammit) here that implies a lot about the professionalism of being a super heroe: to paraphrase, he says “I had this adventure dealing with the Trench creatures, but if there are MORE of them then that would propel it to being Justice League business.” I think that you can, in most professional things, have too many cooks in the kitchen at some point – so if Flash is able to handle the Grodd invasion alone (or with just the help of The Rogues) and hasn’t basically made a request elevating it to be “Justice League business” then the other heroes may think it appropriate not to intervene

    • I’ve generally disliked trying to split the focus of this title to following all seven leads, so any excuse to remove some from play is totally okay with me. I think that’s how Johns is treating it. Sure, it’s kind of arbitrary to say that the events of The Flash are occupying Barry while the events of Superman aren’t occupying Clark, but it explains away why somebody wouldn’t be involved in this HUGE FUCKING WAR.

      That said, it is kind of funny that Clark and Diana are fully aware that millions of lives may be in peril, but they’re cool just letting Flash handle it. They just really wanted to go on this date.

    • Yeah: agreed. It kind of goes without saying that he was going to do a better job than Daniel, but I really prefer his art to Lee’s – especially when Johns is in Blockbuster Mode (as he clearly is here).

      The Shazam on the cover looks a little wonky though. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to Frank’s soft, squishy, expressive faces. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the first non-Frank Shazam drawing we’re seeing in the New 52, yes?

      • I thought you had forgotten the FCBD issue, but then I remembered it was Black Adam, and not Shazam in that gatefold. I think you’re right (though there might be some Jim Lee concept sketches/character designs out there).

  3. I am not sure where my opinion lies, but with the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship…it feels like Clark is trying to mold Diana into a female version of himself…which I find a taaaad unsettling.

    Yes, I know on a meta level Wonder Woman was originally inspired by and an homage to Superman (but what hero isn’t in someway?) I just think with the way she’s been freed up and set on her new course by Azzarello in the New 52 that there would be some opposition or even a little rub on why Clark is doing what he’s doing. Clearly Diana has time to unwind in her London flat [we get glimpses of it in early WW issues] and when not in her super outfit folks don’t really recognize her. She’s confident enough just to wear her tiara around as a hair piece thing. I don’t see ANY plausible way why she’d go along with this mild-mannered glasses-wearing shtick for much longer.

    • Well and Clark makes a specific point that maybe her god-family doesn’t really allow her to have a normal civilian identity. She’s already splitting her time between superhero and… however you want to classify her family struggles on/around Olympus. When he’s not being Superman, Clark writes articles. When Diana’s not being Wonder Woman, she’s still fighting bad guys. She’s just more of an in-born warrior that he is – so I think she views the night out as a fun time, but nothing she’d want to do forever.

      • When Diana’s not being Wonder Woman she’s being…Well, Diana. While Azz doesn’t go into small details he does drop enough that we can infer that Diana has a life outside of superheroics – she happily goes to a bar, dressed in civvies and enjoys a drink and listens to a band. It’s just that when she does these things she’s still herself and doesnt have a seperate identity like Clark does. So it’s not as though all she does is fight bad guys (gods or supervillains), she has a life, it’s just hasn’t been explored as much. But then that’s been a problem with WW comics for ages now…

        It annoys me that Johns is writing this as though the idea of hiding herself in plain sight is new for Diana. She’s done it several times in her own title now. The whole thing feels like a bit of a mess and it distracts me from the story.

        As for the lasso transformation – it’s a bit of nostalgia. Way back in the day Diana Prince used to transform into Wonder Woman by twirling the lasso round herself. It pretty much works just like the Wonder Spin from the 70’s tv show.

        • Ah! You spelled out my main question with that relationship scene.

          Johns only has one voice for Wonder Woman and it’s the same old “fish out of water” story that was present in her five-years-ago self. It’s like he thinks she hasn’t had any personal growth in that time. What I like about Azzarello is that he doesn’t hog up his own book much with her life but does drop those hints, as you mentioned.

          Johns looks to be character building without a foundation, most of the time.

    • I’ve just resolved, out of my excitement, to make an offer on a page of Aquaman original art by Reis from The Others’ arc tomorrow at my LCS. It’s the page where Vostok-X is killed by Black Manta but you can only tell what happened by Vostok’s expression in the last panel (you would see the full scenario on the following splash page after the page turn). I admire it every time I visit because it is uninked and the pencils look so perfect. Why is some original art uninked now? Are they inking a high-res copy of it in order to preserve the pencils? The first I was ever aware that this is happening now was when they released the trade of Hush that is completely uninked

  4. Does Superman’s biotech armor smell bad? It’s a bit of minutae that doesn’t matter at all but since you’ve brought it up it is fun to ponder. I don’t think it necessarily would, we know from that first Lobdell issue of Superman that the single bead of sweat the dripped from his forehead (when he was “lifting weights” at some kind of Stormwatch-ed out version of Gold’s Gym) was possibly the only time he’s ever sweat in his life and it was only one drop. Of course there are other day-to-day super-antics that could soil a suit beyond simple perspiration. But, given that the suit is Kryptonian biotech, who knows what the hell its doing to the molecules of the regular tee once it starts spreading out from the “S” – it could be doing some kind of purifying jazz. My whole understanding of his New 52 armor is murkey, but I think I buy that it is so advanced that its practical magical and does shit I don’t even consider.

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