Today, Spencer and Mikyzptlk are discussing Justice League 23 originally released August 28th, 2013. This issue is part of the Trinity War crossover event. Click here for our complete Trinity War coverage.
Spencer: One of my favorite hobbies is explaining comic book storylines to people who don’t read comics (“Hey guys, did you know that the Justice League once fought a giant floating psychic island that shoots dinosaurs?!”). It’s always fun to watch their expressions, but it’s also an interesting reminder that comics, at their core, are goofy as hell. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m glad comics are finally being respected as an art form, and I wouldn’t be writing here if I didn’t love poring through comics and discussing their depths, but sometimes it’s just fun to turn off my brain and embrace the goofiness, and no story’s been better for that lately than Trinity War. It’s so much fun that I don’t even mind that big fat “to be continued” at the end—well, I don’t mind it that much…
The splintered Leagues finally all reunite in Athens; they’re immediately drawn under the influence of Pandora’s Box. A fight ensues. A wounded, lovesick, possessed Superman, in an attempt to murder Batman, manages to shut off the box just long enough for Firestorm and Element Woman to determine the cause of his sickness: a sliver of Kryptonite lodged in his brain. How’d that happen?!
Oh, the Atom did it.
Yeah, she’s a triple agent, and it’s devastating. I literally sat there slack-jawed for a few moments when we got to this reveal. We already knew the Outsider had planted a mole within the League, but since we also knew that the Atom was already a mole for the JLA, she seemed clear. It’s a clever move, and it’s also one of the most emotionally charged options, considering that the Atom has probably been the most enjoyable, engaging character for the last half-a-dozen issues. Unfortunately, we’re also losing one of the few women of color on any of these teams.
That said, Atom makes a tremendously fun, sassy villain, and it might be worth the tradeoff if she can keep up this level of snark.
Anyway, Atom unleashes a sentient computer virus named Grid into Cyborg, and it immediately takes over, jettisoning his human portions and leaving him to die. As the Leagues rush to rescue Victor, the Outsider emerges, claiming Pandora’s Box for himself. He reveals that both he and the box are refugees from another universe, and that Pandora’s Box is a gateway between dimensions. The whole Trinity War has been a plan years in the making to manipulate the League into delivering the Box into the Outsider’s hands, and it worked hook, line, and sinker. The Outsider destroys the box, and unleashes his masters, The Crime Syndicate of the evil Earth 3, into our world.
We’ve been predicting just this twist in our comments (and elsewhere across the internet) for weeks now, but it somehow still works. Maybe it’s that the Syndicate emerges with such gusto, maybe it’s that they all arrive with such distinct personalities, maybe it’s the dead Aquaman that preceded them, but I’m totally into this ending. It’s the other twist that had me rolling my eyes, but in a good way!
Well, that’s the one meaning behind the Trinity War title I never would have guessed in a million zillion years, and for a very good reason: it’s completely, thoroughly ridiculous. It’s so ridiculous that it circles past “bad” and back around to being brilliant, and I got a hearty laugh out of this one. This is the kind of goofiness that only comics can do, and this issue does it well.
Even when some elements of the issue fall flat, its inherent goofiness helps elevate the material. Take, for example, the Superman/Wonder Woman/Steve Trevor love triangle. Pandora’s Box brings the tensions boiling between Diana’s various suitors to the surface, and while I understand the concept, it’s executed in a way that is not only quite uncomfortable, but also makes the characters come across like petulant children.
Yet again, it’s the sheer ridiculousness of panels like the above that helps salvage them, at least to an extent. I still don’t like the love triangle, and I’m definitely laughing at this panel, not with it, but at least I’m laughing, and that’s preferable to other options. Petulant Steve Trevor is my new favorite character.
Penciller Ivan Reis deserves a lion’s share of the praise for making this issue work. Reis was born to draw the Justice League—nay, to draw the entire DC Universe all at once. His pencils are iconic and expressive, and he’s got an uncanny ability to pack a zillion characters onto one page without it feeling crowded.
Look at that spread! I want to hang it on my wall; I could stare at it for hours, trying to pick out all it’s Where’s Waldo-esque details. This isn’t just characters throwing themselves at each other, no no, there’s a story going on through these fights. Some of the elements in the background—such as Flash attacking Catwoman—are even carried over from earlier scenes in the issue. Whole plots are playing out in the wordless backgrounds of these very crowded panels, yet none of it is muddled in the slightest. All three pencillers involved in Trinity War have been top-notch, but it’s hard to outdo Reis, that’s for sure.
It’s a good thing this issue builds up so much good will, ’cause that “To Be Continued” could easily destroy it all. This isn’t the first time Geoff Johns has ended an event on a cliffhanger, and it threatens to reduce Trinity War to nothing more than a prologue (much like Rise of the Third Army), and this event doesn’t deserve that.
So, Mik, could you overlook the cliffhanger ending, or did it ruin your fun? Did you enjoy this issue’s goofiness as much as I did, or were you hoping for something more serious? And hey, who do you think the Syndicate’s prisoner is? My money’s on Alexander Luthor.
Mikyzptlk: I’d say that’s a pretty safe bet, though I’m not sure how I would feel about it. Even though it was a number of years ago, I feel like I got my fill of Alex Luthor, Jr. in the pages of Infinite Crisis. That said, I would be interested to see a rebooted version of his father, ya know, this guy.
Just look at that costume! Oh, and the beard! Ollie Queen would be proud. In all seriousness, I’m not sure who the prisoner is, but I’m damned excited to find out! Like you, Spencer, I was pleased with this ending. I’m not the first to admit that Geoff Johns isn’t a perfect writer. The guy has had an incredible career of a lot of spectacular highs and a few disappointing lows. If there is one thing that Johns is the master of though, is that “To Be Continued” that you mentioned, Spence. By that I mean that Johns has got world-building down to a science, and he knows how to keep the excitement for his stories up. I know we’ve talked about this, like a lot, in the recent past, but just look at what he did for the Green Lantern franchise. Johns is now doing the same thing with the Justice League franchise, and arguably the rest of the DCU by default.
With Trinity War, Johns has repositioned the Justice League titles as one of the central franchises of the DCU and its line of books, similar to how Marvel treats The Avengers. I mean, when was the last time that a major event came out of a Justice League book? I honestly don’t remember, though I’d be more than pleased to hear what our lovely readers have to say on that subject in our comments section. Anyway, with the growing line of “Justice League of Whatever” books cropping up, DC seems to be priming its reader base with anything and everything to do with the League, and I couldn’t be happier. Hm…I wonder if that has anything to do with the Justice League movie on the horizon?
Getting back to the Trinity War storyline, Johns has been crafting this tale since the inception of the New 52. Although it’s been a decidedly bumpy road in getting to this point, I’m extremely happy with how it all turned out. Even if some of the twists were expected, as Spencer pointed out, there were still some genuine thrills and surprises to be found. I was shocked by the Atom reveal, as I loved her character. As important as it is to have heroes of color though (and oh boy, is it ever), it’s just as important to have female villains. Regardless of that, Johns has crafted an interesting character with Rhonda Pineda, and I can’t wait to see more from “Atomica.” One of the biggest surprises for me in this issue was the reveal of this cyber monstrosity.
I absolutely love Cyborg, and I’m glad that Johns has gone out of his way to make sure that he now has an evil counterpart as well. I cannot wait to see Cyborg’s recovery process, and the new powers he will hopefully have at his disposal. Judging by what we already know of The Grid, these are powers that Cyborg will desperately need in order to help the League put a stop to it and its Crime Syndicate partners. The Grid is just another example of Johns’ amazing ability of seeding things throughout his word-building efforts. Just take a look at issue 18 of Justice League.
Did the Justice League inadvertently give up all of their secrets (and the secrets of every other superhero and villain) to a homicidal killing machine? Yikes, the fallout of this should be delightfully devastating.
Spencer, you asked me if the displayed “To Be Continued” at the end of issue 23 ruined my fun. I’ve got to say that it didn’t bother me in the least. I was fully prepared for Trinity War to lead into Forever Evil, and Johns has more than succeeded in getting me pumped for his next world-building chapter. As for any goofiness you mentioned? I say bring it on! These are funny books after all.
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?
I have to be honest, I wasn’t a fan of this story at all. I don’t want to seem like I’m just bashing it off-handedly, but I really felt it didn’t really even serve that well as a fun, turn your brain off kind of story. It’s not like there were any cool action scenes, it was mostly characters running and flying and teleporting from location to location while occasionally coming to blows for a few panels. To me it barely functioned as anything but a lead-in to Forever Evil, which is kind of crazy considering Johns has been building to this for over a year.
I also feel Johns has barely managed to establish the primary Justice League as a team in the new 52 in spite of the fact that it’s been two years now. As opposed to the Morrison/Waid.Kelly stuff or the Justice League DCAU series, these characters still haven’t really demonstrated why they’re the world’s greatest heroes in this team context. For instance, as a Batman fan first and foremost, it’s disappointing to see him seem so pointless. He doesn’t need the raw power of Superman to be a vital member of the team, but his only real contribution to the Justice League in the new 52 has been being less childish than the rest of the team. I’m not sure, but judging from the comments Johns has made in the past and even the comments he has characters make, with Batman this lies with his perception that Batman’s “just a man”. If you notice, every time a character makes a comment about how Batman can’t do anything or Batman’s just a weak human, he doesn’t particularly prove them wrong as he did in past Justice League incarnations, things just sort of move on or he’s further humiliated. But this sort of thing even extends to the rest at varying degrees, and I think it’s a shame that we’ve now had four Justice Leagues and yet the original one hasn’t really gelled or been re-established for the new 52. Maybe after Forever Evil things will be different, but I don’t have high hopes.
I would say that I do generally agree with this. I think Justice League manages to weasel out of the responsibility of demonstrating why this team is the foremost superhero team of the DCU simply by virtue of the character’s solo series. It’s a cop out, and I would totally love to see more one-off adventures of this team. We see hints of Starro in this issue (and we’ve seen him on the cover of David Graves’ book), and it’s that sort of thing that Johns uses to yadda-yadda-yadda is way through the Justice League’s career.
Which turns it into a weird Catch-22. Like, Trinity War is only fun and engaging if we import our affections for these characters from their solo series and Pre-New-52 stories. But that makes the Earth-3 stuff much less WTF, and just kinda… inevitable. Ultimately, it’s a mix of both, for better or for worse.
I’ve actually been digging Trinity War – especially when it was acknowledging it’s own game-iness. There’s something undeniably fun about collecting all these heroes, but much like Hickman’s Avengers, I’d get sick of building the team bigger for the sake of bigger. But as a 6-issue event that lasted two months? Yeah, I can dig it.
Yeah, that’s the thing, Flash, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman all have good solo books(and maybe the others do too, haven’t kept up with them as much) yet this book has been rather lackluster. The late nineties-early 00s were a pretty lackluster time for most of those characters in their solo books, yet the Justice League cartoons and comics from that time period are amazing. It does seem to rely far too strongly on our affections for the characters based on outside sources, which seems counter-intuitive to the New 52’s stated goal.
Maybe I’d have enjoyed Trinity War a bit more if I felt the main team had been established but doing a story with that many character inevitably makes it more difficult for them all to get their moments, which is bad in cases like this. I feel like in 5 issues the Justice League of America felt more “whole” than this book has in 24 issues. Again, not trying to be overly negative, I’ve just become extremely frustrated with JL as it really could be amazing. Of all the series DC’s got out right now, this is the one I most wish was better than it is.
I don’t think you are being overly negative – I think you’re speaking truth to power. If Geoff Johns wants Justice League to be the center of the DC Universe (and he clearly does) it needs to step up its game beyond the cheap thrills of collecting heroes.
Were you reading Justice League Dark? That team’s been pretty well established, and it was actually kind of a bummer not to see more of them in this event. I think having an affection for that team helped me get more out of this.
I haven’t actually. I don’t know what it is but while I like some individual characters in the “magic” side of DC overall I’m not really a fan of the magic side as the primary focus of anything. It’s a shame, because it sounds like Justice League Dark is good in spite of the goofy name, but yeah.
I had a really hard time with “magic” when I started reading comics (which, except for binging of Johns’ Green Lantern and reading must-read Batman graphic novels, was two years ago, with the launch of the New 52). I was firmly of the position that it’s all fucking magic, and calling what Zatanna does “magic” and what Flash does “not-magic” was ridiculous to me. I still find the distinction goofy, but I’ve had such a nice time with the magicky line in the New 52 (Swamp Thing, Animal Man, JLD, Constantine, Sword of Sorcery), that I’ve kinda just thrown those hang-ups aside. Point is: I totally get what you’re saying there.
I got the collect Throne of Atlantis from DC this week, and it reminded me that that’s a pretty fun model for Justice League, as a book. Like it just provided some extra real estate to play out a story with a bigger scope for Aquaman for like three months. I’d love it if Justice League would just cycle through it’s individual characters’ solo series to support them for a while – it simultaneously focuses JL and broadens the perspective of the solo series.
I know that’s not totally on-topic, but just something I was thinking about and wanted to express to y’all.
This idea is Awesome Sauce!!!
I enjoyed this event. I feel the explanation for Superman didn’t kill was satisfying as that has been a piece of the story that had really bothered – and I totally thought they were going to pass it off as:
Supes got high of Pandora’s box – 🙂
I also liked that we got tons of small moments of characters interacting which really helped make the world feel whole and gave a good sense as to where everyone stands relative to everyone else.
Also – those last 4 pages of reveals:
Atom is the traitor
Atom made supes kill
Atom befriend a sentient alien hiding in Cyborg
Atom is from Earth-3
The Sea King Is Here!
The Sea King Is Dead
Atomic and J. Quick are an item
Pandora’s Box is actually a portal to another universe
The Outsider is Evil Alfred
The Crime Syndicate is here
Correction – all that info took like 15 pages to come out
Yeah, I was pretty impressed by the rate of new twists and throws being revealed in the second half of this issue.
What’s up with that Sea King scene anyway? It’s like, “hooray, Aquaman is here!” and a second later he’s dead. Is it a joke? I laughed my ass off at it, but I don’t know if I was SUPPOSED to (that happened a lot this issue). Also, Geoff, way to go, making Aquaman a big joke again after two years of legitimizing him 😛
AQUAMAN QUESTION: I know I insisted that we drop that series like a bad habit (which… it had sorta become), but I recently splurged and picked up the issues I had missed – partially because I’ve seen exciting things about issue 23. Anyone else reading it right now?
And I just finished reading them over my lunch break. The Death of the King arc does read pretty well all at once. It’s the return of Geoff Johns, Trade Writer! I’m sorta super excited for that finale issue in October.
It’s amazing to me that you’re finishing up your lunch break barely an hour before I’m ready to eat dinner here. TIME ZONES!!!
I think this Death of the King arc is trying to stuff a little too much into it, but it’s still a lot of fun, and yeah, I imagine it will read better in trade.
Aquaman has been good the whole time! I’m actually a bit surprised you decided to drop it in the first place. From the first three issues which served solely to establish that Aquaman is a total badass for new, Super Friends and Conan tainted readers, to the adventure movie vibe that The Others gave off in abundance, to the outstanding spectacle that was Throne of Atlantis, and now the cool political drama that Death of a King has been, there’s nowhere – except maaaybe issue #20 – that I would see being considered not good enough to merit continued readership.
What issue compelled you to drop it?
Oh lots of things. Shelby and I are huge Mera fans, and we both H A T E D that Mera issue early on (like 5 or 6), so we were super touchy when it came to how Johns depicted her in this series. Additionally, I think we were all a little repulsed by the level of hot-headed machismo Johns was trying to pass off as cool. Like, every goddamned issues has someone demanding that Arthur calm down a second so they can work out a solution together, and he’s like “no, me!”
But more than that, I think the pacing really got to us – certainly got to me. VERY MUCH enjoyed shotgunning the 5 chapters of the Death of the King, but there are so many subplots that reading the individual issues felt schizophrenic and boring at the same time. Topo is a great example. Reading them straight through, I was like “YEAH FUCKING TOPO FTW!” But if I was just reading them as they came out, and there was 4 months and like 200 comics between them, I would have been like “what the fuck is this thing?” That’s as much my problem as the comic’s, but I’d argue that this arc particularly (but probably the whole series in general) reads much much cleaner in trade.
Admittedly it DOES read better in trade – rereading the Others especially was far more exciting – but I’ve nevertheless immensely enjoyed the single issues. It’s among my favorite books every month, and is one of the more consistently enjoyable titles, I find.
So I’m assuming that the Outsider is the one who stole Kryptonite from the Batcave–since his status as another version of Alfred would grant him access–and then he gave a shard to Atomica to put in Superman’s brain. I wonder what he’s done with the rest?
It still doesn’t explain who released Despero and why (wait, is THAT where the rest of the Kryptonite went? Didn’t Despero have some? If so, again, why?)
I’m still wondering about the Bat cave intruder. He seemed way too ripped to be the Outsider, but I guess he could be hiding a chiseled physique underneath that cane. Idk.
Wasn’t he wearing the outfit of that elderly secret agent character from Aquaman’s “The Others” story? I figured he was hired by Alternate!Alfred.
The Operative! I actually thought the be-sacked prisoner from Earth-3 looked like The Prisoner — also of the Others. THEY’RE EVERYWHERE.
Right, the Operative. Not sure why he’s working against the Justice League after his adventures with Arthur, but I guess he’s just more interested in money than loyalty.
Maybe it was He-Man! There’s more to that dumb crossover than meets the eye.
Can we talk about how masterfully the tease on the page right before the big Superman-shoves-a-column-into-Baz page was crafted? There had been a reasonably lengthy conversation about Baz and Green Lanterns, and then suddenly:
“Hey, new guy.”
I got so excited because I thought we were in for a reappearance of Hal. I was ecstatic, and then I turn that page, and audibly gasped – what a spread, and I was expecting something so different.
Well played Johns, intentional or not.
Doesn’t someone say “Hey, new guy” in the Free Comic Book Day issue right before that Jim Lee gatefold of all the heroes beating the shit out of eachother? I was super excited that we were getting to that point and that a Johns prophecy was more or less actually coming to pass.
Yeah, I loved that that double-pager was basically the FCBD gatefold from a different camera angle (basically). Does anybody get the impression that Mera was originally supposed to be part of this thing, and the Black Orchid reveal was just there to explain it away? Pretending to be Mera, of all people really doesn’t make any sense, especially if she’s not even supposed to be there.
Black Orchid? I’m pretty sure that was J’onn masquerading as Mera.
I actually stopped reading the issue for about five minutes when I got to that spread; at first I was just taking it all in, but then I noticed Mera and became a tad obsessed with trying to figure out how Mera got there and believing that J’onn made some sort of grand mistake by adding her in there.
Thank god the reveal came on the next page, or I might have exploded of nerd rage.
Erp, you’re right. Either way, it’s a strange choice — more confusing than deceptive.
I’ve said it elsewhere but Power Ring, for me, is easily the most enjoyable CSA member. He also has final boss potential for the end of Forever Evil considering he’s A) prone to quick violence if frightened B) Volthoom hides in his ring so he probably wields god-like power.
The fight between him and Sinestro is going to rule.
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