I think Justice League would be a better book if it had more of The Justice League in it.
That may seem an odd comment but I stand by it. Since the opening six-issue story arc, this book - despite having numerous action scenes involving The Justice League - hasn't really felt like it was about The Justice League. The Justice League is present but there is little depth to that presence. And up until Issue #9, the main focus of the stories has been on someone other than The Justice League members themselves.
Case In Point; I just did a page count on Justice League #7 and determined that after cutting out the Shazam back-up story, just over half of this comic's pages are devoted to The Justice League fighting a monster created by mad science. But it doesn't feel like it. The action sequence is just fluff building up to the real focus of this issue. And that focus is fixed firmly upon one Colonel Steve Trevor.
In the five years since the Justice League formed, Col. Trevor has become a sort of spokesperson/government liaison for the team. In theory, this means his job is to field questions from reporters after every incident the Justice League gets involved in and deliver requests from the League to the US Congress and vice-versa. In practice, Col. Trevor's job is to discourage reporters from openly questioning the efficiency of the U.S.A and convincing various Congressional committees that issuing demands to people who could potentially rip the planet in half is a bad idea.
This could be boring except for the fact that Geoff Johns has developed Steve Trevor far beyond his usual role as Wonder Woman's dude in distress. Steve Trevor is, in a word, badass. He's a man of action who chafes at being stuck in a glorified desk job and yet he sticks with it for reasons beyond merely serving his country or protecting the world. I hesitate to make the obvious comparisons to Nick Fury because Col. Trevor, as written here, is much deeper than that.
Gene Ha was the guest artist on this issue and he proves to be a fitting choice. Perhaps most famous for his work with Alan Moore on Top 10, Ha's detail-oriented style is, for my money at any rate, a better fit for this material than Jim Lee's more bombastic pencils would have been. Ha draws a mean action scene but his ability to put layers into scenes of people merely talking helps to elevate this book.
Issue #8 may as well have been titled "Everyone Hates Green Arrow". Again, the Justice League is present for most of the issue but the focus this time is upon a superhero who isn't a League member and his efforts to impress the team into asking him to join. Again, we don't really get any insight into any of the League members beyond the basic information we've already gleaned in the opening story-arc. Superman is a nice guy. Wonder Woman likes fighting. Aquaman is a tight-ass. Batman is a tighter tight-ass. Hal Jordan is an asshole. The Flash is a wimp. And Cyborg... uh, is there.
This whole issue feels really uneven, being chiefly comprised of a series of interludes where The League confronts some crisis taking up the main story of another DC Comics title (Night of Owls over in Batman, The Cultists from Justice League Dark, etc) and Green Arrow shows up to help out... much to the annoyance of most of the Justice League. Hints are dropped as to Aquaman having some prior dealings with Green Arrow (hints that were also dropped in the Green Arrow book) but no details are given. Later, Oliver Queen refers to his own dark past and becoming Green Arrow to make amends for his own personal sins but we are not given an inkling just what his past crimes might have been.
What's really vexing to me is that despite so little being said about Green Arrow's backstory, Geoff Johns still gives the character of Oliver Queen more depth and development in this one issue than Ollie's gotten in his entire DCnU series so far. And I'm uncertain if that's a complement to Johns or a commendation of the current Green Arrow book and all three writers who have worked on it in the past nine months.
The artwork by Carlos D'anda is as uneven as the story. Consider the shifting size of Green Arrow's mask in the above page scan and how it seems, at times, to go over his hairline. There's also a continuity error in the earlier pages, where the arrow Green Arrow shot into an Amazo robot is not visible in any far shots of the robot until Green Arrow points it out.
Thankfully, Jim Lee returns to the art duties with Issue #9 and with him returns the Geoff Johns we all know and love from JSA. This time, the story is focused on The League. This time, we get a lot of the little character moments Johns is famous for, as most of the team gets brief flashbacks amid the action of the issue that lend further insight into their characters and their backgrounds.
These scenes give this issue a depth that the previous two issues lacked. You wouldn't think that a quick panel or two of Clark Kent remembering being the last one picked for teams back in high-school could add so much to the story but it does. And even though most of these scenes merely highlight what we already know about the characters (i.e. Hal Jordan has authority issues, Barry Allen is a goody-two-shoes, Cyborg has issues with his dad), we do get some new information, such as precisely why Wonder Woman and Steve Tervor's relationship fell apart.
Of course the one thing that everyone picked up on in this issue was one of Bruce's memories involved a letter - a letter that looks suspiciously like it might have been the one that the Batman of the Flashpoint universe, Thomas Wayne, asked Barry Allen to give his son. What does this mean? Who can say? Personally, I'm less interested in the state of the universe and more interested in the state of the characters and this issue does give us more information on that.
In all this talk of character, it occurs to me that I've said little about how this issue sets up a storyline involving a new villain who is out to destroy the Justice League. But then again, what little we see of the man called Graves is mostly set-up. No doubt we will be seeing more of him in the coming months. Yes, I am still reading this book. For all it's faults and unevenness, it is still a good read. And if you haven't given it a shot yet, I highly recommend jumping on with Issue #9.