Justice League 35

Justice League 35Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Justice League 35, originally released October 15, 2014. 

Spencer: Lex Luthor has basically been the main character of Justice League ever since Forever Evil ended, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. It’s inevitable that Lex will go back to being a full-time villain at some point (unless writer Geoff Johns manages to pull off the biggest reformation in DC history and make it stick), but I’m not sure how much that should influence my reading of Luthor’s intentions. There are two things I do know for certain, though: 1. Luthor’s presence has finally made the rest of the Justice League the competent, inspirational team we’ve been hoping they’d become since the New 52 began, and 2. even if Luthor’s reformation is somehow 100% legit, he still has plenty of misdeeds in his past to face up to.

Lex and Bruce Wayne announce the new partnership of their two companies, which the Justice League is using as an opportunity to search LexCorp in hopes of finding something illegal they can pin on Lex. Lex gives Bruce a tour and the two verbally spar in the most passive-aggressive way possible, but much to Bruce’s chagrin, everything seems on the up-and-up. That’s when a villain named Neutron busts through the League’s defenses and starts tearing apart Luthor’s lab, accidentally unleashing something called the Amazo Virus in the process!

So yeah, I admit that I’ve been having a bit of a hard time following Luthor’s exact motives and character arc since he forced himself onto the Justice League, but fortunately, Justice League 35 has finally given me at least some sort of theory as to what’s up with him. Luthor is obviously still petty, sneaky and underhanded (as his alliance with Owlman, revealed in issue 34, helps to illustrate), but he’s also surprisingly forthcoming about the pointlessness of his grudge against metahumans. His conversation with Bruce late in the issue reveals that it’s a grudge he still holds to some extent, but after his experiences in Forever Evil Luthor also seems genuinely interested in doing something to help humanity instead of sitting back and uselessly judging others.

So while I doubt Luthor is being all that altruistic — and he’s certainly not trustworthy — I do think there’s a part of him that’s legitimately trying to be a “good guy.” That’s where the Amazo Virus comes in.

PastThe Amazo Virus is literally Lex Luthor’s past catching up with him. While Lex isn’t to blame for the virus getting loose, it’s still seemingly one of his creations. If Luthor had forever remained blatantly corrupt I’d bet that we would never even have known about the virus, but his attempt at rehabilitation demands that the sins of his past be reckoned with. I hope that’s what Johns is going for here. A full-fledged reformation is practically impossible for Luthor, but I hope that we get to see him legitimately try, and in the process face the fact that trying to reform involves more than just saying you’re good now; it involves facing up to and dealing with the sins of your past.

(Lex’s renewed attempt to cure his sister Lena also seems to fall into this category, but Lena’s condition is a relatively private affair; if Lex fails, only he knows about it. The Amazo Virus is a much more public mistake for Luthor to deal with).

No matter what happens with Luthor, though, it can’t be argued that his presence on the Justice League has helped the rest of the team come across as more heroic. We’ve spent a lot of time here on Retcon Punch complaining about how terrible the League has been at actually being a team, even five years after their formation, but now that Luthor (and, to a lesser extent, Power Ring) are here, they seem to be on their top behavior. Batman and the Flash have had some of their most humanizing and inspirational moments helping Jessica, and almost every member of the team has stepped up to the plate to try to teach Luthor a thing or two about being a hero.

In his elementScenes like the above have been much more common in the post-Forever Evil world of Justice League, and it’s certainly to the book’s advantage. I care about all of these characters separately, but this is probably the first time since the New 52 began that Johns has truly been able to convince me that they’re worth caring about as a team; they’ve put aside petty in-fighting and instead are just doing their best to make the world a better place. I almost get the impression that they’re trying especially hard in order to show up Luthor, and that hits me a little funny, but I certainly can’t argue with the results.

Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke share penciling duties, and their styles mix well, similar enough to blend together seamlessly. Both artists are excellent at capturing big, iconic, action-packed moments, and this issue is no exception.

Aqua-Boom!I only wish there were more moments worthy of this treatment. This issue is the second in a row to be rather talky, and while I always prefer character and plot development to mindless action, Justice League is a title that needs a little mindless action from time-to-time. That said, I’m sure we’ll get more of that in the months to come; in the meantime, Reis and Mahnke are just as proficient at depicting the smaller moments, with Mahnke especially bringing just the right kind of douchey, passive-aggressive expressions to Bruce and Lex’s tense little arguments.

Drew, we haven’t had a chance to talk about Justice League much over the last few months, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts about the current direction. Did you find this issue a little slow, or did it still manage to capture your attention? What’s your take on Lex Luthor’s attempted reformation? Did that big panel of Aquaman standing stoically atop a roof hit you as funny as it hit me?

Drew: Nobody knowing how to use Aquaman in a land fight continues to be one of my favorite things about that character, but I think it actually speaks to the weaknesses of this series as a whole. That is, Johns seems to struggle with ideas for how to show the League working together. He’s great at putting them through their paces and testing their fortitude as a team, but that seems to be his only gear. The montage of rescue operations was fun, but also wholly uncreative. Johns manages to come up with a good use of Aquaman, but that relegates Batman to the “standing stoically atop a roof” role (though that is a better fit than Aquaman).

The focus on Luthor is especially perplexing because Johns isn’t particularly good at writing the kind of hyper-intelligent dialogue that he attempts.

Luthor talks mumbo-jumboHahaha. What? That reads less as intelligent, and more as barely literate. I understand his sentiment, but if this is supposed to be his big appeal to the public’s trust, shouldn’t it at least be coherent? Wouldn’t an expert manipulator like Luthor have focus-grouped some easier-to-follow syntax?

Unfortunately, I’m not any fonder of his take on Bruce. Batman has long been associated with a stereotypically male stoicism. That is, he’s the kind of guy who would never cry in public.

Bruce Wayne CriesI’m not pointing this out because I’m particularly invested in Bruce acting like John Wayne all the time, and while I get that this is the New 52 and we need to throw out what we know about the characters, we’re talking about a dude who didn’t cry at his own son’s funeral. I’m just not sure tears of joy are believably within Bruce’s emotional lexicon.

There were a lot of things about this issue I can point at and say I didn’t like, yet I wound up enjoying the issue in spite of myself. The too brief glimpses we get of the League working together were charming, and absolutely every line uttered by Shazam was perfect. This issue’s title as “prelude to Outbreak” had me groaning about yet another bloated event (which was made all the worse because that title page comes after the promising montage of the Justice League doing Justice League things), but I think Johns has already hooked me. A virus is definitely an offbeat (and timely) villain for the Justice League, even if it will probably turn people into super-powered robots — that is, something Superman can punch.

All in all, I’d say this issue was pretty typical of my experience with Johns in the New 52: there’s a lot I didn’t like, but there were also just enough teases of greatness to make me want to come back. It’s a sensible model if those cool moments are for some reason a finite resource, I just wish Johns would realize that they aren’t.

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?

14 comments on “Justice League 35

  1. Drew, Bruce wasn’t crying because of legitimate emotion. That entire speech was an attempt to show up Luthor and get the crowd on his side (as Diana says, Luthor is good, but Bruce is better), and Lex even calls him out on invoking his parents’ name afterwards, to which Bruce just smiles smugly. Apparently, Bruce can just cry on cue.

      • I mean, regardless of who’s “better,” what the hell is that crowd doing there? This isn’t a new product launch or movie stars or whatever: it’s two businessmen talking about a merger. Why does the public care? And further: why is it expected or beneficial that either of them make emotional speeches?

        • I actually thought it was really weird that there were no video cameras or microphones in that scene. I figured it was a press conference, but aside from a few digital cameras, there didn’t seem to be any press.

        • I assumed that’s why Clark and Lois were there – as press. Also, that scene was visually confusing to me. There’s a part were Clark has something to Lois, but it totally read like he was speaking at a volume that everyone assembled could hear them, it wasn’t until a few panels later that I realized they were having a personal conversation.

        • That’s actually Diana, not Lois. But yeah, the start of that conversation is shown from a distance, making it seem like it should be heard from that far away. Not the most elegant transition, to be sure.

  2. I think my biggest problem with this series is that Johns is just interested in different things. All of the fun teamwork and day-to-day missions are relegated to short montages (or dismissed entirely as having happened in between the first and second arcs of this series), but that’s all I really want to see.

    I feel like Johns’ strength may lie in his ability to subvert our expectations, but that makes him really bad at establishing those expectations. Like, a similar take on the post-crisis Justice League would work — their ability to work together had long been established, so any threats to that ability would have actual buy-in from the audience — but it kind of falls flat in the New 52, where we’ve only ever seen them working well together in little glimpses.

    I get why the villains have to be huge — the Justice League handily squashing smaller problems wouldn’t be much of a story — but what if the story wasn’t about the villains for once? Wouldn’t a day in the life of the Leauge not trusting Luthor be an interesting story? They see his motives one way, but he reveals something different at the end of the issue? Heck, I’d read an issue where Billy’s being an annoying kid just got on everyone’s nerves. It would be Big, but with superpowers. Who wouldn’t like that?

  3. I got the feeling the “day in the life” was kind of the point if 34, and of 35 to a lesser extent.

    Also, Bruce has definitely evoked his parents memory publicly in the original animated series as well as the movies, but I think the point of the panel is to be purposefully uncertain, is he conning people, or is a little of the truest Bruce Wayne peeking through?

    Also, off topics, but I’m surprised there was no coverage of death of wolverine or axis? Both pretty huge events

    • Deciding which comics to cover is always tough for a small site like ours, but it always comes down to the collective interest of our writing staff. If anyone is reading something they really want to cover, we’ll usually add it to our list, but that didn’t happen with Death of Wolverine and hasn’t happened with Axis. I can’t speak for anyone else on the site, but I know I’ve been experiencing some serious event fatigue as of late.

      Personally, Death of Wolverine struck me as a total cash-grab that I suspect will be undone within a few months (and from what I’ve been told by people I trust, wasn’t that good, anyway). Axis strikes me as a retread of the first arc of the current volume of Uncanny Avengers, which I really didn’t like. I dropped that title a while ago, and it hasn’t impacted my ability to enjoy and understand other X-Men or Avengers titles, so I don’t see much reason to start picking it up now.

      In the end, it really comes down to our limited resources: we can only cover so many issues in a week, and frankly, we’d rather cover series we care about rather than the ones the publisher is pushing as important. Like, if we decided to cover Axis 3 this week, that would mean we couldn’t cover She-Hulk or Lazarus or some other series we know we like. These are the same decisions any comic fan with a budget has to make, and we’ve chosen to prioritize our tried-and-true pull over these events. Different readers will obviously make different decisions — to each their own — but hopefully that gives you some idea of our thought process.

      • These are all good points, but I do wonder if we need to keep mindful of the tastes of our readership, too. We’ve been asked “No Futures End issues?” “No Death of Wolverine” and “No AXIS?” a couple of times, so they’re clearly on people’s minds…

        I think it might come down to our format being the wrong way to discuss “event comics.” Those things almost always demand that you take into consideration what’s going on in the entirety of the event, while one of our guidelines for writing an AC is “For the purpose of this write-up, this issue is the most important issue of this series, this version of these characters is the most important version of these characters” – that helps us stay focused on what the issue is, rather than what it isn’t. But that attitude becomes an impediment when the writers are expecting you to read 8 other books that week all tangentially related to the same story.

        • That’s a good point. I’d say that we can be (and have been) flexible with that guideline in the past — indeed, we have covered certain events pretty thoroughly — but it comes down to a question of value. I’m not sure the result of that comprehensive event coverage was worth the time and effort we put into it. That’s more than a little a reflection of my own attitude about events (they’ve quickly gone from a reason to pick up a comic to a reason not to for me), but it also speaks to the nature of the events. If we need to read a half-dozen other issues to make sense of one, that seems like a waste of an article.

          That said, I think the buy-in for Death of Wolverine was pretty low. It even had Charles Soule, a writer we generally like, at the helm. Still, I’m pretty wary of anything either publisher pimps as a “must read,” and this one just never convinced me it was worth not covering (or even not buying) the other comics I like.

  4. Yea, death of wolverine and axis are lower on my mind than say Godhead, but i’d think they were pretty pivotal to Marvel’s line. Just curious is all, appreciate the consideration!

  5. Would event comics be easier to handle if they were covered in full, once the event was over? Maybe dissecting the best moments/ or the impact felt or measuring success of the project? In that case Axis may not qualify yet, but thoughts on DoW might work…

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