Today, Spencer and Shelby are discussing Justice League of America 4, originally released May 29th, 2013.
Spencer: I’ll be honest: from the very start, Justice League of America has seemed more concerned with putting pieces in place for the upcoming “Trinity War” than it has with telling a compelling story. Unfortunately, for a story so focused on getting its players from Point A to Point B, the way writer Geoff Johns does so strains credibility. He makes several attempts to keep this issue engaging, but its biggest failing is simply that the heroes come across as really, really dumb.
Thanks to A.R.G.U.S. scientist Dr. Arthur Light, the JLA is able to track Catwoman’s signal and find the Society’s secret base. The team—minus stowaway Stargirl, who has yet to reveal herself—infiltrates the mansion, but is attacked by Professor Ivo’s mindless beast, the Shaggy Man, who neutralizes the League rather effortlessly. Meanwhile, Catwoman is caught sneaking around the mansion and is subsequently captured. When she tells her captor that Batman will come to rescue her, he reveals that it’s exactly what he wants; he shoots Selina in the head, seemingly killing her.
This kind of cliffhanger usually feels cheap to me, because—unless Johns pulls some kind of grand trick here—we all know Selina isn’t dead. I mean, she has her own book that’s not ending any time soon! Still, this fake-out death managed to intrigue me, if only because I have no idea how Catwoman will get out of it. A point-blank, on-panel bullet to the brain is pretty hard to survive—just ask Ted Kord.
Unfortunately, while the ending of Catwoman’s story is interesting, the way she gets there doesn’t add up. Selina’s mission is to infiltrate the Secret Society, right? I can understand her sneaking around the mansion—she’s a thief and she doesn’t seem to handle boredom well—but what really threw me for a loop was when she attacked Professor Ivo. Why would she do that?! He was literally about to take her to the Society’s leader, and as a mole that has to be high on her list of priorities. She had absolutely nothing to gain by attacking Ivo; all she managed to do was blow her cover. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The rest of Selina’s team doesn’t fare any better, charging into the Society’s mansion despite having no information on the threats inside, no contact with their mole, and no plan of attack. Again, it’s just stupid. Is this supposed to be a sign that the JLA is poorly trained and unprepared, or is this just bad writing?
Then there’s Dr. Light. When the Society’s leader shoots Selina, he also manages to pretty much fry poor Light…somehow. Pre-reboot, Dr. Light was a villain that began as a complete doofus whom the Teen Titans beat up on a regular basis, but later became a despicable rapist whom was so hated (both in-universe and by the readers) that DC had him brutally tortured and murdered by the Spectre. I’m intrigued to see what will become of Dr. Light now, but mainly because I want to see how this controversial character will be handled in comparison to his older incarnation, not because of anything that’s done with him in this issue. (Light’s characterization here boils down to “scientist with a wife”, and while I appreciate the effort to humanize him, it’s not memorable in the least.)
The best part of this issue is probably Stargirl, who manages to escape her room and follow her teammates into battle. Honestly, I’m just thrilled to see someone pull a fast one on Amanda Waller, but I’m also glad to see Stargirl standing up for what she believes in, despite Waller’s threats. It’s an impulsive decision, possibly even a stupid one, but it’s one I can admire and one with believable motivation, which is more than I can say for the rest of the cast’s stupid decisions.
Brett Booth fills in as penciller this month, most likely as a transition between David Finch and the upcoming regular artist, Doug Mahnke (As we all know, going straight from Finch to Mahnke will give you the bends). Booth brings his typical style to the proceedings, and I must say, his brighter, cartoonier work is a nice change of pace from Finch’s dark, often muddled pencils.
That said, I’m not sure if Booth’s work is the best fit for this title. It’s almost a little too cartoony in places, which can clash with Justice League of America’s darker tone. Catwoman’s facial expression when she first sees Ivo’s disfigurement—and the expressions on Waller and Steve Trevor when they discuss Green Arrow—are all exaggerated to the point of being jarring.
Also, while Hawkman has never had the most dignified costume, he looks like a complete doofus in this issue:
Booth’s greatest strength has always been the dynamism and sense of movement he gives his characters, and that’s still present in this issue. It’s most prominent in Catwoman’s somersaults early on, but there’s also some real heft behind the panel where Katana slashes the Shaggy Man’s face. Unfortunately, this sense of movement fails him at one critical point in the issue:
That coin flip is quite possibly the least dynamic, most static image I’ve ever seen on the printed page.
While we have Mahnke’s art to look forward to in the future, I’m not so sure what’s going to happen with the writing. This should be an excellent book; the concept is interesting, the cast is fantastic, but the execution just refuses to click into place, at least not for long. Here’s hoping that the “Trinity War” will help center things a little.
Matt Kindt’s back-up is certainly centered—and it’s a much better story because of it—but I’ll be a gentleman and leave it to my partner-in-crime, Shelby. Also: did the team’s poor decisions make any more sense to you than they did to me, Shelby? Any idea how/if Catwoman will survive? And will we ever see Simon Baz again?!
Shelby: Well, I imagine Waller will pump her full of her Suicide Squad magic serum; provided all of Selina’s blood doesn’t explode out of her body, she’ll be right as rain in no time.
I do wish there were some sort of magic potion to make this book better. What little character development we saw in issues one and two have seemingly been tossed by the wayside. Remember how Hawkman used to be this savage badass? Now the best he can muster is a little excitement to fight Shaggy Man before he is summarily defeated. Do you like the way Green Arrow is developing in his own title? Well too bad! Here he’s just trying to be the Deadman of the group, with his quips and nicknames for the rest of the team. Spencer, you are totally right when you say Stargirl is the only character with any sort of integrity in this book. Honestly, the way this last issue progressed, it seemed to me that she was the only character that Johns cares about, the only one he’s putting any thought into writing. I know that sounds harsh, but even though we’re only four issues in, this book is so much flatter now than it was when it started. Johns is rushing through his character development for the sake of getting the team ready for Trinity War; it’s the same complaint I had against Justice League; he’s too focused on the development of the team as a character instead of the individual members as characters.
I honestly wasn’t all that impressed with the backup, either. I like learning more about J’onn, especially New 52 J’onn, but I feel like Kindt is circling the bulls-eye instead of hitting it. J’onn explains that he is vulnerable to fire because everyone on Mars died and burned and he wasn’t there to do anything about it. That’s interesting, sort of a psychosomatic vulnerability, I like that. Except, why did they all die? He’s got survivor’s guilt, so what did he survive? What happened on Mars that he could have stopped?
This book frustrates me. Between Waller’s needless bitchiness and the team’s bumbling ineptitude, I have a really hard time justifying this book. Maybe now that Johns is off Green Lantern duty, he’ll be able to focus a little bit more on fleshing out these characters and developing solid voices for them. Until then, I’ll probably keep reading and bemoaning the route the book is taking. For America.
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?