Justice League of America 4

JLA 4

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.

Walk it off, Selina

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:

Oh you giant winged dork

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:

Amanda has the ability to duplicate and manipulate coins.  Only explanation.

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?

41 comments on “Justice League of America 4

  1. I hate to be so harsh on this book, because I’ve stood up for it in the past–I enjoyed Issues 1 and 2 more than most, and I still think #3 was a legitimately good book–but this issue was just a mess. What’s going on, Johns?

    I really think this issue needed to start sooner. It should have launched as soon as JLI was cancelled instead of waiting, like, 8 months. That way we could have a storyline or two under our belts before we started prepping up for Trinity War. There’s no room to get to know these characters at the pace we’re currently going.

    • Honestly, I think the notion that this issue is worse than the previous ones is just us being charitable to those early issues. Remember how the first issue was mostly a conversation between Waller and Trevor? I think we wanted this issue to be good, so we let these things slide as “set-up” on the good faith that things would get better. They haven’t, and the polish is starting to wear off of this thing. (I feel exactly the same way about Aquaman, and to a lesser degree, Justice League, which sets up an unfortunate pattern for Johns titles. I know folks swear by those series, but I’m not entirely convinced.)

      • I maintain that — even if it does have some virtues — the first issue of this series was basically pointless. Johns might be losing track of what he needs to hype in-book and what’s already been hyped in the real world. Remember how much of early Aquaman was him trying to prove that Arthur was cool IN UNIVERSE? Dude needs to refocus on storytelling – which he can be so good at.

      • And to think, I started the New 52 reading only the Johns titles. Last night I wrote this and a lead for Aquaman 20, and was miserable about it.

        Honestly, I think Johns needs to stop with all this Big Picture stuff. Third Army, Throne of Atlantis, Wrath of the First Lantern, Trinity War, Villains Month: stop trying to micromanage a third of the DCU and just tell me a good story.

        • Yeah, I think Johns was a lot better in his bullpen days. I don’t know if it’s that he’s spread too thin with his other duties, or if it’s just that he’s become “too big to edit,” but I’m missing Geoff Johns: master storyteller.

        • I miss that Johns too. I’ve always thought his decline was because of his added responsibilities, but it could be anything. Some writers just lose their spark after a while, but I’m not ready to believe that about Johns.

          That said, I liked the first 3 issues of this series, so this issue is the only really big misstep in the book as far as I’m concerned. It’s a big, pointless misstep though,since Catwoman’s obviously going to make it out alive. Oh well, at least we are getting Trinity War and Villain’s Month out of this right? RIGHT?!?

          Please, someone tell me it will be ok. *sob* *sob*

        • I dunno–with the possible exception of the Green Lantern finale, Throne of Atlantis is easily the best thing Johns has written post-reboot, but otherwise I agree with you entirely.

  2. I’ll go to bat for Dr. Light as a necessary and vital part of the DC Universe. I know we all flinch a little when rape is introduced as a topic in comic books, but I think Identity Crisis told the story tastefully and made it matter in a way other violent crimes don’t always matter in comics. The fallout from the attack is just as catastrophic as Lights actions, and basically no one comes out of the incident looking good. The goddamn Justice League doesn’t know how to deal having someone close to them violated like that, and a surprisingly mature and nuanced story spins out of that. That’s easy to reduce to “Dr. Light is a rapist” which makes it seem like he’s only there to Watchmen-up the story, but I think there’s more to it than that. He’s a catalyst for a lot of League in-fighting, and not just “dark and edgy.”

    • My problem with Dr. Light (pre-reboot) isn’t necessarily that they made him a rapist; Identity Crisis handled that fine. It’s that once he became a rapist, they NEVER DID ANYTHING ELSE WITH HIM.

      With the exception of one storyline in Teen Titans, every appearance Light had after Identity Crisis either references his rape or was explicitly involving rape. One storyline in Judd Winick’s “Green Arrow” had Dr. Light stealing the powers of the female, good-guy Dr. Light and calling it a “power rape”. He became a crude, one-note character whose one note was rape.

      DC was doing the character a favor when they killed him off. Maybe this new version will have less baggage and be able to do some different stuff.

      • Hahaha. Christ, Winick is a crummy writer. Yeah, I can’t defend Rape Man, but maybe that’s what reboots are for – scrubbing the embarrassing parts of the character away.

        Incidentally, Rape Man was always the hardest Mega Man boss to fight. The worst part is, there’s no way to feel good about using the weapon you get from him.

  3. So: fridging Catwoman (except totally not because, duh, she’s not dead). Not only is it a shitty narrative short hand, but wouldn’t Catwoman’s death kinda pale in comparison to Damian’s death? Like, if you wanted to drive Batman crazy with grief, you’re too damned late, bad guys.

    • Oh, it’s def not fridging — I think it has to be the hero’s love interest to qualify, and Batman is neither the hero of this book, nor is Catwoman his love interest (I mean, I get that that’s at least sort of, but she’s way not fridgable). Point is, I don’t think you can fridge a main character for the purposes of motivating a non-main character.

      • I think Simone intended “fridging” to apply to the death of any female character used specifically to motivate a man. If all this does is get Batman to punch someone, then I think it totes qualifies. But if it’s part of Catwoman’s journey, then the move can be justified. As it stands, it’s not a very Catwoman-empowering move.

        • I feel like it can’t just be “a man,” though — it has to be the man. Like, a woman in a shitty situation is only a damsel in distress if she’s saved by the hero — some rando on the street doesn’t qualify. I see fridging as an extension of damsel in distress issues, and I really think it needs to be the main character doing the saving. Like, I don’t think we’d consider Nora Fries fridged (even if she’s very literally on ice), even though her death (of sorts) motivates a man. Because that man isn’t the hero of the story, his motives are somehow nobler and less dis-empowering.

        • But that reading only works if you assume that JLA is the only book out there. Batman may not be the hero of this specific series, but he IS the hero of the greater narrative it’s participating in.

        • The day any of the Batman titles give a flying fuck about what happens in JLA is the day I also give a flying fuck about what happens in JLA (that is to say, probably not anytime soon).

        • Seriously, though, I don’t think a character can be killed in one of their titles as a way to motivate a character that doesn’t even appear in said title. In no way is this about Batman.

        • What about the way in which Catwoman says “Batman will come after you if you kill me” and the other dude says “That’s the point.”? (paraphrasing). The greater narrative I was referring to was the JL, JLA, JLD trinity war stuff. Bats totally qualifies as one of the heroes of this story.

        • Kinda. He’s a hero, but I really don’t think this event is going to have anything to do with any of the characters motives for wanting to fight a secret society of bad guys. Hell, I doubt the Trinity War is really going to have anything to do with fighting these bad guys at all. I think Spencer’s assessment that it could have been an attempted fridging isn’t bad — the Society Leader doesn’t know he’s only featured in a title of second-stringers.

          Leaving aside all of this stuff: let’s pretend that Catwoman had been killed and the result was a rampaging Batman cameo. That would effectively fridge the whole series. Oh, you wanted a story where a team was able to do stuff? What if Batman just did it for them, instead? The title itself would have no agency. I just don’t think it’s possible this could be seen as fridging without killing this series.

        • I should clarify — in no way do I think Nora Fries has any agency (hell, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her not frozen), but somehow her use as a plot device is less offensive to me. I think it’s because, rather than being the means to an end, she’s the means to more means — her story colors Fries’ in a way that could go (and until BTAS was) totally unexplored. It’s not necessarily great, but it’s certainly not fridging.

    • This is my reply to your entire fridging conversation:

      As far as I’m concerned, fridging has always been when a female character is maimed or raped or killed solely to advance the storyline of a male character. I don’t think it matters who the male character is or what book he appears in.

      That said, I don’t think this thing with Catwoman is a fridging, at least not yet. First of all, she’s not dead, or at least not dead for long. Secondly, we haven’t seen how the story plays out yet.

      If the Society leader gets exactly what he wants; if Catwoman is dead and it leads a raging Batman straight into the Society’s hands, then that’s definitely a fridging. But I doubt it will play out like that. Catwoman will be back, likely in the next issue, and she’ll probably want to get revenge. If Catwoman has any sort of agency or rematch with the Society leader, than it’s not a fridging.

      Or here’s how I see it: The Society leader himself is trying to straight up fridge Selina, but I don’t necessarily think Johns fridged her. It depends on how the story plays out.

  4. 1) I must be old. I’ve never heard of fridging.
    2) I only know Johns from New 52 stuff. I dropped Justice League and Aquaman, never could read Green Lantern, and this I found horrible (while reading in the store). To those of us whose DC awareness goes back only 21 months, Johns is a shitty writer.

    • I’m in a similar boat, my first intro to Johns’ was Justice League and Aquaman, both of which I eventually dropped, and I tried the first 3 issues of JLA and just couldn’t muster any interest. However, I went back and read some of his pre-52 Superman stuff (Secret Origins, Brainiac) and those books actually made me interested in Superman, even though I’d previously always filed him as boring; too powerful. I’m starting to read through his Green Lantern run as well and though I can’t say I love the stuff the way I loved Brainiac, it’s pretty good, and to be faire I’ve never read any GL before so I’m still adjusting to that universe.

      TLDR: Read old Geoff Johns, and then wonder why new Geoff Johns blows like the rest of us.

  5. Wow, I can’t believe I’m the only defender of recent Johns work consider how well each of his titles perform. I just feel like Johns is usually committed to a more traditional style of comic storytelling that is rooted in silver age narrative style and a type of 80’s/Wolfman-style world-building that developes across multiple titles, one-shots, events, and tie-ins that could only be pieced into a convenient trade if you took the 4th World Omnibus approach. Most comics take a self-contained, movie-script approach to each arc, write for the trade, and lose sight of the many different ways the format can be advantaged if you consider the universe as a whole as being THE narrative. I, and I can only assume he, often find myself nostalgic for a time when a comic book could just be a comic book. Sure, not every issue is his very best, but of all of the current writers that are anchored in a pre-internet comic culture (Giffen, Levitz, Jurgens, Perez, Didio, etc.) Johns is the only one of them that I’d even consider following a handful of titles from – and usually find my 3 or 4 bucks to have been well-spent

    • I’ve got nothing against the long-slow-aimless burn (LOST fan right here). I don’t think Spencer or Shelby are suggesting that it’s Johns’ approach that’s lacking in this series, but his execution. Like having lived through 20 issues of Justice League, I don’t feel particularly good about the world that series has created for itself or the world that it’s forced on the rest of the DC Universe. I’m all for spending time on cultivating a large cast of characters and tons of concepts, but I feel like one of those things needs to be fun or compelling to make an impression on me. Someone mentioned Throne of Atlantis as a recent success, and I agree that that’s the most fun I’ve had in either title since the relaunch.

      • That’s fair, I guess I’m just enjoying his books a lot more than you all. I like that he’s suddenly bringing political concepts into the DCU without having any preachy political agenda – his only concern seems to be in adding those layers of complexity. With JLA and ARGUS he’s treating superheros like the WMD’s that they are and is taking serious interest into the world’s reaction their existence; with Simon Baz and Black Adam he’s exploring volatile cultural misunderstandings; with Aquaman he’s exploring the idea that Atlantis is basically an OFAC country. And while tacking those real-world issues he’s giving me delightful things like a version of The Atom who can literally enter the World Of Warcraft, a Hal Jordan/Sinestro buddy cop plot turned on its ear, a bratty inversion of comics’ most smugly saccharine antiquity, and a insanely bad ass, shotgun-toting Alfred Pennyworth. I really believe that his world building has just gotten more purposeful and nuanced and less fantastic than his bright, shiny, and game-changing expansion of the Green Lantern universe

  6. Re: The Catwoman Incident – Basically, I think you have to legitimately either kill a character or defile them in some way that it will damage their future stories in order for it to qualify as a fridging no matter what circumstances lead up to the “death”. I want to avoid a completely unrelated spoiler, but it seems to me the only thing Johns is guilty of here is a little built of borrowing (it’s not direct enough to be plagiurism, but it seemed obvious enough to me.) Without saying too much, there’s an extremely popular TV series that ended a season with this exact cliffhanger: you’ve shown the protagonist to have been killed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, by showing direct and graphic footage of the incident. The audience knows that the character is not dead since no cancellations have made the news, but the trick of the cliffhanger is in the audience waiting to see how the writer’s could possibly write themselves out of the corner they’ve willingly placed themselves in. I don’t believe it qualifies as a fridging because I don’t expect the there to be any lasting effects. I may be wrong, since there have been hints that the Selina we have been following since the reboot may actually be someone who’s stolen the real Selina Kyle’s life and it may in fact be an imposter who was killed, but that also would not qualify as a friding as it is a completely different narrative device.

    • Whoa, WHAT? Where is this “Selina might not be Selina” bit from? Man, I hope that turns out to be true, they kick Ann Nocenti to the curb and bring back a Catwoman worthy of being interested in with a good writer to back it up. Fact is, when I first heard or Selina’s death in this issue I thought it might be part of a “slash and burn” op Green Arrow style to re-reboot her solo title. I really miss Jeph Loeb’s Catwoman (see: When in Rome, Hush)

    • Kinda don’t know how to feel about that. Kindt’s okay, but I feel like there’s a centered quality that his writing lacks. That’s a frustratingly vague way of describing my problem with it – I know. It’s all just very inactive writing, even when discussing Frankenstein’s feats of courage in Rot World, it felt like he was telling a story about telling the story, and not relaying the action directly. How’s everyone else feel about Kindt?

      • Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT is outrageously brilliant. Never got too into his DC stuff, but read 1-6 of Mind MGMT last week and was blown away. Very Manhattan Projects like.

  7. Pingback: Justice League 21 / Justice League of America 5 | Retcon Punch

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