Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Justice League of America 7 originally released August 14th, 2013. This issue is part of the Trinity War crossover event. Click here for our complete Trinity War coverage.
Drew: Determining a level of focus is perhaps the most important step in evaluating a work of art. These foci are specific to the style at hand — harmonic analysis is likely going to tell you very little about a rap song, just as an examination of brush strokes wouldn’t add much to a discussion of da Vinci. Intriguingly, these styles often begin to resemble each other as you zoom in and out — abstract paintings may share concepts of form, color, or composition with those of the Rennaisance masters, for example — further increasing the importance focus in an analysis. Geoff Johns has always written “big” — he’s been at the helm (or at least sharing the helm) of some of DC’s most important events over the past decade — and his writing has often chafed at the analyses of his critics. Justice League of America 7 actually avoids many of the pitfalls Johns is often cited for (a lot of stuff actually happens here), but it still has me wondering if we’re simply using the wrong tool for the job of evaluating a giant, Geoff Johns-penned event.
The issue finds one third of our reshuffled heroes (who I’m going to call the “idealists”) chasing down Doctor Psycho, who they think may have made Superman kill Dr. Light. He didn’t, but the whole thing works as an effective distraction, allowing the Secret Society to blow up Dr. Light’s body, which does…something. Meanwhile, another third of the heroes (who I’m calling the “pragmatists”) are just hoping to recover Batman, Katana, and Deadman from the Phantom Stranger. They succeed, but lose the Stranger, just as he was about to tell them the truth about Pandora’s box. Speaking of that box, Pandora was about to give it to Lex Luthor when the final third of our heroes (the “warriors”) arrive to stop him. Wonder Woman takes the box, grows a third eye, and proceeds to brandish a giant sword menacingly.
That’s a lot of stuff, but ultimately the only beat here that seems to matter is Wonder Woman getting the box from Pandora. Doctor Psycho is a total red herring, which could have easily been avoided by forgetting that Doctor Psycho exists (you know, just like everyone else did). Phantom Stranger’s “death” is similarly only necessary because he was inserted into the narrative in the first place, which I guess is the result of wanting each group aligned with one of the members of the Trinity of Sin. Actually, the respective Trinity members may have been a better shorthand for these groups, but I was impressed by how ideologically unified these teams seem to be.
Take, for example, the pragmatists. Here’s a team photo, to refresh your memory.
Between Batman, Catwoman, Katana, and Steve Trevor, this team has the most non-powered mortals. Vibe and Baz are also pretty green (ha), making this group perhaps the most over-their-head of any of the three. It’s no wonder, then, that they all chose to follow the man who could promise answers as to just what the fuck is going on. The other groups all follow similar lines of thinking — is it really any wonder that Green Arrow teamed with Superman, or that Hawkman followed Wonder Woman?
It’s not the most closely observed character work — which is perhaps the most common criticism leveled at Johns — but it’s certainly true to the characters. Ultimately, though, a story of this scope simply can’t support the kind of nuanced characters we expect of solo titles. The characters become a bit abstracted, representing ideals rather than actually having them, which returns to the root of comics. We’ve come to expect a level of complexity from our heroes’ psyches, but the bright costumes they wear and the bold ideas they stand for were designed for a time when the focus was pulled a bit further back. Johns’ characterizations have always fallen a bit more along those vague do-gooder lines, but I see them now both as more by necessity and by design than his detractors might argue.
Of course, co-writer Jeff Lemire does a great deal to mitigate Johns’ tendency for abstraction. I hesitate to credit any line or sequence to a single writer, but I can’t help but suspect that Lemire played an instrumental role in the more colorful moments here — Green Arrow accidentally shooting Cyborg, and Baz struggling to get into the House of Mystery. They’re utterly dispensable fluff, but far from feeling like padding, they flesh out the world the story takes place in.
It’s that focus on the world, rather than the characters that is really what I’m getting at. This is a character study, the character just happens to be the DC Universe itself. In fact, it may explain why otherwise-disposable characters like Doctor Psycho and the Phantom Stranger show up — this story is about the whole DC Universe, not just the characters we like and care about. It’s definitely a different focus than I’m used to when talking about comics, but it makes me excited for the next two issues of this event. What do you think, Taylor, is there something to this approach, or am I grasping at straws here?
Taylor: I think you’re really on to something there, Drew. When we examine the plot or characters of this event in the least we come up with a trifling amount of substance. Does anyone reading this event really believe that Superman killed Dr. Light or at the very least acted on his own volition? Does anyone really really feel like they know Batman’s motivations any better? Does anyone actually care the Phantom Stranger at all? These are the questions which currently are simmering below the surface of the Trinity War, and frankly, anyone hoping to find answers for them should look elsewhere. Perhaps the only question I actually find intriguing revolves around Pandora’s Box. Who can open it? What will happen when they do? Will we find out in the next issue because Wonder Woman nabbed the box?
I guess the point I’m trying to get at is there really isn’t any suspense in this story at all. Normally that would spell doom for any title, much less a huge event like the Trinity War, but for some reason that’s not the case here. I think it’s an accurate assumption that the DCU is what’s under close examination here, and perhaps there’s no greater testament to that then the number of characters who grace the panels every month. It’s this wash of personalities that makes this event interesting rather than the action and based on that unique feature alone, I would have to say this event has already been fairly successful. While it’s true that characters aren’t developed in any way, it’s also true that that is replaced with seeing heroes interact with characters they normally would never spend time with. While that’s basically the point of any crossover event, it’s rare to see it take center stage and become the main showpiece.
A lot of the credit for this focus has to go to Jeff Lemire. While Geoff Johns certainly has been putting in his time with the Trinity War, it seems that all of the best moments have that certain Lemire flair we’ve all come to appreciate. Those of us who have been reading Justice League Dark are already familiar with Lemire’s style and it’s nice to see him getting the chance to insert his own voice into this massive event. Aside from the examples given by Drew above, a perfect instance of Lemire’s writing happens when a cadre of hereos are trying to get into the House of Mystery without the aid of Constantine.
The charm of this scene is derived from Lemire’s acknowledgment of comic book tropes and his subsequent exploitation of those tropes in order to quickly built relationships among characters. Superheroes are basically all-powerful beings, so seeing them struggle to open a door, even if it is magical, is a jab at the supposed might of these individuals. It’s a play against our expectations and, when used well, it’s funny without undercutting the source material from which it came. Add to this Catwoman’s matter-of-fact attitude when handling the premise of talking to a house — and getting a response — and you suddenly have a little bit of synergy (I hate myself for using that word) going on in this scene.
Again, this is all created by diverse elements of the DCU coming together in a new way to create something that feels a bit unique. Nothing here is staggeringly new but it’s arranged in such a way that we take notice of the DCU because of the differences we notice among it’s various pieces. This isn’t accomplished in the writing alone, as the pencils of Doug Mahnke prove in this issue. As you mentioned, Drew, a lot of stuff actually happens in this issue, and when it takes place it all happens at once. Mahnke shows this to us in a neat way:
It might not be the most innovative way to show a bunch of stuff happening all at once, but it’s effective. Particularly, in this title where it’s easy to forgot that all the events are tied together somehow, it’s nice to have a reminder that all of they have a common origin and all affect each other equally. With this type of paneling we get a more dynamic idea of how the DCU is connected and also how it is reacting to the events of the Trinity War. So while John’s is certainly going big here, it’s easy to think of it as simply one idea, as opposed to many. This makes the scale of what’s happening more manageable for the reader and makes Johns appear firmly in control of his craft.
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?