Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Justice League: The Darkseid War Special 1, originally released April 4, 2016.
Michael: Damn, in a few weeks “The Darkseid War” will have been going on for an entire year — roughly the same amount of time that Jim Gordon was the Caped Crusader in the pages of Batman. Whereas Gordon’s tenure as Batman felt like it was cut short, “The Darkseid War” almost feels like it has been going on for eternity. Though Justice League is still full of powerful superhero smash-em-ups and the League has seen its fair share of changes, “Darkseid War” has been crawling at a snail’s pace. Unfortunately for us all, Justice League: The Darkseid War Special 1 is more of the same.
The good news is that one thing that Justice League: The Darkseid War Special 1 has going for it is the fact that all of the action and story of the book is focused on female characters: Grail and Jessica Cruz. The bad news is that neither Grail nor Jessica’s stories are particularly very interesting or compelling. Jessica’s brief part of the story details her soul/mind’s imprisonment within her power ring as Volthoom has taken control of the ring and her body. Jessica discovers that the souls all of the victims/forebearers of the ring are forever prisoners of Volthoom. Though there’s a brief monologue from Myrina Black, the bulk of Grail’s story is told by Grail herself. She recaps their plight as they escaped Themyscira and survived in the world of man over the decades (centuries?). The end of the issue has Jessica realize that Cyborg is also imprisoned in her ring while Grail transforms Steve Trevor into some sort of Amazonian weapon.
Since Geoff Johns made me fall in love with Green Lantern, I think I tend to go easy on his New 52 stuff; but MAN this issue felt like 80% filler. My above summary is pretty much all you need to know about this issue: Cyborg is going to help Jessica escape and Grail is going to use Steve Trevor as a weapon against Wonder Woman. I had anticipated Justice League: The Darkseid War Special 1 as an essential chapter of the whole event, but it’s clearly just another tie-in. Let’s put it this way: in terms of “Darkseid War” tie-ins go, this issue is more Darkseid War: Superman than it is Darkseid War: Green Lantern.
You can feel how Johns is trying his damnedest to make a “The Darkseid War” story that doesn’t actually deliver any significant story moments. I know Justice League 48 ended with Grail nabbing Steve Trevor, but whatever happened to her whole “resurrect Darkseid” plan? One thing this issue has made clear is how ludicrous Grail’s plan is: she uses the Anti-Monitor to kill Darkseid but then realizes that the Anti-Monitor is too dangerous to be left alive so she has to bring Darkseid back to life so he can kill the Anti-Monitor. Say whaaaaaaaat? And of course there’s a prophecy surrounding Steve Trevor: first man to step foot on Themyscira (except, Myrina indicates that he wasn’t the first.) Prophecies are cool but also kind of lazy, as they heighten the importance of something because “it has been foretold.” (Consequently it is one of my favorite things to do in an improv scene.)
Grail’s Wonder Woman-stylized origin didn’t really land with me, making Jessica Cruz the more enjoyable part of the book. A lot of that probably has to do with Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, whose already impressive artwork reaches another level when highlighted by Alex Sinclair’s Green Lantern colors. They deliver the horror of Volthoom’s prison, the willpower of Jessica Cruz and the comical fear of Power Ring. I hope that Reis and Prado enjoy drawing a cowardly “Hal Jordan” as much as I enjoy seeing one from the former Green Lantern team. The Jessica scenes aren’t particularly deep however — amounting to Power Ring saying: “Be scared! It’s safer” and Jessica saying: “That’s not who I am anymore!.” Nevertheless the sci-fi inner workings of Volthoom’s power ring hearken to the kinds of DC lore that Johns excels at.
Patrick, whaddya got? I feel extra disappointed in this issue because I suggested that we cover it in the first place. Do you find Grail to be very dull and uninteresting, as I do? Isn’t it a bit suspect that Myrina Black just popped in and out of history (fighting…wars?) and no one seemed to know about her till just now? Oh god, that’s making me think of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice… must… course-correct. Most important question of all: do you think Steve Trevor will ever be interesting in current continuity?
Patrick: Ol’ Stevie? Sure! You check out the solicits for the new Wonder Woman bi-weekly? Shit’s written by Greg Rucka. I’m always going to put more stock in creators than in characters, and by that token, it’s worth nothing that Johns is only writing The Rebirth set-up issue, and then co-writing a few things. It doesn’t look like he’ll be leading any on-going series in the new line-up — which is totally bizarre. Dude is the Chief Creative Office at DCE, which is still the most baller title anyone has ever had ever, and not having him assigned to write a single series sends a strange message.
Or… maybe it doesn’t. Michael, I’d put forth that I’m seldom enamored with Johns’ writing on a per-issue basis, and that it’s only on a long enough timeline that his real genius emerges. On a macro level, he’s almost got a Dan Slott or Jonathan Hickman quality to his writing. Where Johns differs from master plot-smiths like Hickman and Slott is in his penchant for invention. Series like Superior Spider-Man and Hickman’s Avengers / New Avengers / Secret Wars do a great job of taking existing characters and concepts and generating new and interesting ways to explore them. Johns, on the other hand, seemingly does that analytical work before he sits down to write, and uses his conclusions to create new stuff from the elements he’s identified. That’s what I see in Justice League: The Darkseid War Special 1.
The Jessica Cruz story may be a tad on the slight side, I appreciate the simplicity of the story. She’s cued up to be the next Green Lantern, right? Hell, Green Lantern 20 predicted “the first female Green Lantern from 2814” and that was two-and-a-half years ago. It might be kind of a simple thing to express a character overcoming their fear, but it’s novel to see that kind of development from a character that we’ve seen wield superpowers over so long. There’s also an interesting parallel between Jessica being afraid of the power she possesses as Power Ring and Grail growing up with her Darkseid-esque bloodlust (and laser eyes!). I also think it’s fascinating that we don’t get to see the action outside of the ring-scape. From the second her soul is absorbed, we just aren’t privy to what’s going on in the real battle — only what’s happening to this character. That’s a neat way to force the focus on to something that’s not quite so monumentally stupid as punching the Anti-Monitor.
I even kinda like Grail being a sort of anti-Wonder Woman. The timeline seems a little fucked up (in this continuity, Wonder Woman isn’t supposed to be older than like 30, yeah?), but aligning one character with the old gods and the other with the New Gods makes for a pleasing parallel. That’s classic Johns, right? He’s identifying an underlying pattern and iterating on it to create something entirely new. Also, I love the idea that Myrina cashed in her favor with the Griffin to protect her from her own daughter. Myrina’s devotion to Grail is at once sad and terrifying.
The most coherent gripe I have with this issue is that the quality of the artwork is wildly inconsistent from page to page. There are like a billion pencilers credited on this issue, so it’s not totally clear where blame lies, but a lot of images just straight-up don’t make visual sense.
Someone want to explain to me what angle this fucking camera is at? I also find that I’m disappointed that Johns’ artists aren’t always picking up on cues that he’s clearly writing in the script. When describing the night of her birth, Grail’s narration reads “Hippolyta gave birth to her in the jungle while my mother gave birth to me, high in the forbidden mountains. The same night, Diana and I. Symmetry by design. Fate at work.” This copy is split up over two panels of identical size. The fact that there’s zero symmetry between these two panels is astounding.
Maybe it’d look to silly with the Joe Prado-esque realism in these character designs, but it would have been amazing to see that symmetry expressed visually. Hell — the word could have even come out of the copy at that point.
I was going to spend a little time speculating about what Grail did to Steve Trevor, but maybe we should all just pile on that in the comments. Here’s my guess: she made him into the new her. Nothing creates drama like making Wonder Woman’s presumptive romantic interest her exact opposite, right?
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