Today, Scott and Patrick are discussing Justice League 19, originally released April 17, 2013. This issue is part of the Trinity War crossover event. Click here for our complete Trinity War coverage.
Scott: Much like nations at political odds, the relationships between superheroes can be delicate. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Justice League 19, which finds our heroes causing a ruckus in the Middle East while also tending to some interpersonal matters. Writer Geoff Johns packs a surprising amount of story into this issue, which continues prior plotlines involving new Justice League inductees and the relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman while introducing an intriguing new mystery. It skirts close to melodrama at one point, but the result is a satisfying mix of new questions and answers, a creatively packaged, fast-paced thriller.
Justice League 19 begins in the Batcave, where Alfred and Red Hood are attacked by a mysterious intruder, who is able to access a mysterious room filled with mysterious cases, each marked with a different JLA member’s symbol. Batman recruits Cyborg and Aquaman to help uncover the identity of the thief, but they’re stumped. Meanwhile, new Justice Leaguers Atom and Firestorm arrive at the Watchtower for their certification, only to find that the other members have forgotten or, better yet, are distracted. Superman and Wonder Woman are in the country of Kahndaq, where they’ve rescued 8 hostages, much to the chagrin of Batman, who arrives to tell them of the political turmoil their interference has created, which reflects poorly on all of the Justice League. He also reveals that he knows of their romantic involvement, and warns them to be careful- the rest of the world will be gunning for them, including the Batcave intruder, who has stolen something that could hurt Superman.
So who is this mysterious intruder? Not only does he enter the Batcave unnoticed and leave without a trace, he is able to enter Batman’s super secret room, which requires both handprint and retinal scans.
If Batman were to have a room where he keeps secret plans and items and that can destroy other Justice League members, who would he grant access powers to? I can’t think of anyone besides, well, Batman. But if you’re looking for someone else who might have handprints and retina information identical to Bruce Wayne, you needn’t look further than Batman 19. Whether Clayface could actually pull something like this off, I’m not so sure, it just seems like quite a coincidence that he recently transformed into an exact DNA copy of Bruce Wayne and now someone is possibly using Batman’s DNA info to break into the Batcave. Does Clayface even know that Bruce Wayne is Batman? Not so far as I can tell. Does he have any apparent reason to be going after Superman? Not really. Are Batman and Justice League two separate comics capable of having two simultaneous but entirely distinct storylines that shouldn’t necessarily be read-into like this? Yes, yes they are. But hey, I’m just thinking and typing here.
The art team, led by penciller Ivan Reis, just killed it in this issue, hopping between several very distinct and fully realized worlds. My personal favorite was the Ape-Orc battle, occurring in the MMORPG that Atom was playing before heading off to her Justice League certification.
How awesome is it that newest member of the greatest Superhero team in the world plays World of Warcraft (or some non-copyright infringing lookalike)? Living one fantasy doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in another in your spare time. I’m sure LeBron James plays a little Madden before his games.
The centerpiece of the issue is the extended scene involving Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman- the comic book scene the masses want to see. This one just happens to appeal more to our inner romantic comedy fan than our comic nerd side, which usually knows better than to get suckered into drama like “Two of the three biggest superheroes in the world are dating, and the third one isn’t that cool with it.” But dammit, it’s compelling! Batman is trying to put the onus on Superman and Wonder Woman to recognize the consequences of their relationship, but he’s the one who blew it. Bruce has the detective skills to deduce who is dating who, but he can’t figure out who got into the Batcave, and it looks like Superman will pay the price for Batman’s failure to protect his own property, whatever it is.
It’s not overtly specified that the thief stole the kryptonite ring, but the issue’s cover and the green glow emanating from the “S”-marked case are pretty good hints. It can’t be too comforting for the other Justice League members to know that Batman keeps a box of tools he can use to destroy each of them hidden in a secret room in the Batcave. Even if nothing ever comes of it, the fact that Batman was holding onto that ring threatens to dissolve the trust between Batman and Superman (although Batman can use the defense that Superman could pretty easily kill him anytime he wants).
I haven’t mentioned the significance of Kahndaq, which also plays a role in the Shazam! backup. I hardly ever consider the fact that the Justice Leaguers are Americans, and thus, there is a sense of a jurisdiction over which they can use their powers. I can’t really tell if the outrage in Kahndaq is because they’re Americans or because they’re superheroes. I mean, most the stuff they do in America isn’t strictly legal, so why is it so much worse if they’re doing it in another country? If Kahndaq had its own superheroes (possibly it does?) would it have been OK for them to interfere in the hostage situation? Patrick, do you have any thoughts about this? Surely you have thoughts about other aspects of Justice League 19, like the identity of the thief or the outcome of the Ape-Orc battle. Out with them already!
Patrick: I’ve never had my opinions solicited so forcefully! I assume that Ape-Orc battle is going to proceed smoothly, with victory going to Atom’s buddies. I mean, she can hop into her computer and manipulate some kind of avatar in this digital world, which means she must be pretty good at the game. You don’t think she’d party-up with a bunch of n00bs, do you? Here’s how good she is: she somehow takes her iPhone into the game with her – and the rest of her party is stuck with strictly medieval gear.
Actually, as silly as it is that Rhonda can literally immerse herself in a video game world, this ability is a fun call-back to one of the earlier Atoms, Ray Palmer. For starters, Ray was able to shrink himself down to such a tiny size that he was able to hop into a telephone receiver and ride the electrons that travels the phone lines. It means he had to dial another phone and wait for the person to pick up, but then he was effectively instantly transported to the location he had just dialed. It’s one of those “sure, why not?” powers. Never mind that it would take an unfathomable amount of accuracy to shrink yourself to the correct size and location to ride an electron — and also never mind that electrons sort of exist in multiple places at once and also never mind that they’re more energy than they are matter: IT’S A FUN IDEA OKAY? Ray also went into self-imposed exile after his wife killed Sue Dibny (every time I think about Identity Crisis, it gets cooler in my mind). While living a tiny-life, he had adventures with teeny-tiny people in a very fantasy-like environment, which I believe Rhonda’s WoWing is also a reference to.
Oh, I guess there are some non-Atom stuff in this issue too… like Scott’s questions about the Americanness of the Justice League. I totally get where you’re coming from, Scott – pointedly, neither of the two people actually causing the international incident are technically American. Clark was born on another planet and Diana’s a damn Amazon. But the fact remains that the US government has a Justice League liaison in place, so as long as someone on the team is American (and they all keep speaking English), they’ll be considered “American.” Also, because Kahndaq ends up being a surrogate for all middle-eastern countries at once, the negative reaction to Superman and Wonder Woman might just be the standard response to outsider involvement of any kind: blame the Americans.
The concept of Kahndaq is fascinating to me. DC obviously has a rich world populated by cities and countries both fictional and real. The appeal of fictional cities, as I understand them, is that they act as a clean slate for writers, artists and readers to project their own urban experiences on. When I was a kid, growing up in southeastern Wisconsin, I was utterly convinced that Gotham City was Chicago, because that was my frame of reference for what a city was like. I now understand that Gotham has a lot more in common with New York, but the universality of it allowed me to engage with the idea as a youngster. But even now, I’m comfortable ascribing Chicago-qualities or Detroit-qualities to Gotham. That makes Kahndaq a mighty-powerful idea – you can ascribe as much political turmoil as you like to the country. But you can also ascribe an almost biblical mysticism to it, as Johns does in the Shazam! back-up.
Very quickly: on the run from Black Adam, Billy and his foster brothers and sisters discover the Black Adam’s history. He was once a little boy living in slavery in ancient Kahndaq, driven to dark magic to seek revenge against his captors. Billy is invigorated by the thought that Adam is actually just a misunderstood kid like he is, so Billy rushes off to reason with him. He soon discovers that Black Adam is profoundly not interested in being reasoned with.
While a page or two of this already-short story gets taken over by the Adam-origin, it’s full of refreshing little tid-bits. First of all, Gary Frank’s acting continues to be just absolutely stellar. There are maybe half a dozen panels that are basically the same in this issue – all of Billy’s face as lit by the iPad – but every single one shows a subtly distinct emotions on his face. My favorite of which is when Billy realizes that he might have something in common with his enemy and the solution to his problems may be talking, instead of violence.
Look at that mix of wonder and hope in his eyes. This moment also says some beautiful things about Billy’s character. Billy isn’t good at making friends – in fact, he’s kind of made a life out of making enemies. His default mode of interaction is confrontation, and failing confrontation, he bails. Not this time. He sees a kindred spirit in the slave-boy with anger management problems and he projects all of his own fears and insecurities on to Black Adam. It’s touching, and it would border on hackneyed except for the fact that it doesn’t work – Black Adam basically spits in Billy’s face. Like most problems in this world, this one will be solved with punchings.
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