Michael: Guys I did it again: I thought that my love for Geoff Johns and the Justice League would win out over the cynical critic that lives inside of my brain. But I was wrong; oh so very wrong. Justice League 49 is the penultimate chapter in “The Darkseid War,” continuing the story’s overarching theme of “doing stuff, undoing stuff and redoing the stuff – at high volumes.”
Justice League 49 is full of so many characters with their own separate (often fluctuating) motivations that it makes me think of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End; which we all know is never a good thing. My biggest takeaway from that gratuitous sequel was how seemingly every character double-crossed or triple-crossed one another at random. That was never storytelling for me, it was just random crap happening. Though not as egregious as At World’s End, “The Darkseid War” has felt very similar to me – culminating in this week’s Justice League 49. Arguably, when you’ve got as many characters as the New Gods, the Justice League and the Crime Syndicate you’re bound to have some betrayals and shakeups. I’ve never felt the necessity of these many changes however – it all feels very arbitrary and pointless.
Grail shows up at the end of the issue and sics her new lapdog Steve Trevor on the Anti-Monitor, killing him in the process. Despite the fact that she should be pretty familiar with her daughter’s plans by now, Myrina Black was totally caught off guard by Trevor’s attack. Myrina Black’s response is the embodiment of my own to this particular issue: “wait…why?” As I said, random crap just keeps happening because…
There are too many characters Justice League 49 for its own good. It’s like Johns tries to balance this heavy character load by divvying up the dialogue, just in case you forgot a particular character was involved. That dialogue doesn’t always add up to one cohesive story however. We check in Mister Miracle and Big Barda, who debate about abandoning the League to return to liberate the Darkseid-less Apokolips. Barda makes a valid argument for leaving, but at this point in the narrative that just distracts from the main conflict at hand…and kind of makes her look like a jackass.
I’m hard-pressed to figure out who this issue is focusing on (not to mention “The Darkseid War” overall.) Is it Wonder Woman? Mobius? Luthor? Batman? Johns continues to use Wonder Woman as the narrator of this tale, but she doesn’t really add much to the story beyond platitudes about war and peace; which is frustrating and disappointing. I was also disappointed by the Darkseid-powered Lex Luthor. Mobius vs. Luthor is just one power-mad super-person fighting another. Visually, I found Luthor wanting as well. Remember when Luthor first got his powers in Justice League 45 and Francis Manapul made him look like this?
Jason Fabok’s Darkseid-Luthor is completely devoid of the jagged blue rock look of Darkseid. His Omega beams don’t even zig-zag for crying out loud! Fabok’s a good artist and he definitely knows how to make a book like this: full of pretty super-people and epic explosions. Unfortunately that seems to be all this issue is good at – the “epic-ness” of Justice League 49 ends up hurting the story. Every story beat and development is treated like a game-changer. Case-in-point: Superwoman’s baby. I’m all about the mythic trope of the unborn messiah/demon child, but the lack of details surrounding this child felt like needless teasing instead of intriguing mystery. Now the big mystery is “who’s the daddy?”, an answer Batman knows but neglects to inform anyone else about; meaning that it will blow our socks off when it’s revealed, right?
Mark can you find anything intriguing about Justice League 49? Are you ready for it to be done like me? Is there anyone in particular that you’re rooting for or find particularly compelling? Help me Mark, you’re my only hope.
Mark: There are just too many moving parts in Justice League 49. Each one on its own could potentially make a compelling story, but all together it’s quite a mess.
Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity in all of this is Mister Miracle being left to languish on the sidelines. I remember being super pumped at the beginning of “Darkseid War” to see what Johns had in store for him. One thing I think Johns is great at is taking underutilized DC characters and reinvigorating them. Scot Free is so cool, he’s just begging for someone to come along and make him relevant again. Sadly, after a compelling first issue he was quickly relegated to the sidelines once again.
You ask a good question, Michael. Who is Justice League 49— or all of “Darkseid War” for that matter—about? Who are we supposed to care about? The most sympathetic character Jessica Cruz, trapped in the Power Ring by Volthoom. Everyone else is either kind of a dick or rendered useless by Johns. Well, that’s a little harsh. Maybe not “rendered useless” so much as “forced to do nothing because the story already features too many characters doing things inexplicably.”
The issue’s not all dire. Fabok’s art is good, and I can easily tell what’s going on at any given time. I know that sounds like faint praise, but I genuinely think it’s impressive. It’s not easy to grapple with action on this scale and juggle so many characters and come away unscathed. And while this sounds like a burn, I’m glad this story is coming to a close. “Darkseid War” is not a bad idea, just a good idea poorly executed, and as we get to the closing chapters Johns is forced to wrap things up. After what feels like months of wheel spinning, we’re finally seeing some sort of closure and (hopefully) he’ll be able to pay off some of what was initially promised.
I do wonder if Justice League 49 will work better in the inevitable omnibus. I remember LOST‘s second season being mostly interminable when you had to wait a week between episodes, but when I rewatched it on DVD and could play one right after the other the weaker episodes didn’t seem so bad. I imagine “Darkseid War” will benefit from a similar effect. Taken in isolation this is not a very good comic book, but as part of the whole I’m going to guess it’s pretty, pretty, pretty okay.
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?