Monday, July 15, 2013

Justice League #22 - A Review And A Rant

Remember when super-heroes fought super-villains in the big crossover events?

Seriously.  When was the last time we had a big event book where the heroes fought actual villains rather than other heroes?  And no, alternate universe versions or alien clones of themselves don't count, Flashpoint and Secret Invasion fans.  It's been a while, hasn't it?

I have no objection to heroes fighting other heroes but it seems like that's all the heroes do anymore.  Have we come to the future Mark Waid predicted in Kingdom Come where the villains are underground running the world in secret and the heroes are fighting turf wars over who gets to protect what?  Reading Justice League #22, it's hard to argue that we haven't.

While the plot does feature some random bits involving the Trinity of Sin (i.e. The Question, The Phantom Stranger and Pandora), the main focus of the issue is upon the inevitable battle between The Justice League and the newly formed Justice League of America.  Inevitable, at least, in the eyes of Amanda Waller, who create the JLA specifically to counter the abilities of the original Justice League should they ever work against the interests of the USA.  When the entire Justice League travels to the enemy nation of Kahndaq after newbie hero Shazam crosses the border, Waller sees her chance and sends the JLA in to enforce America's embargo.  Hilarity ensues.   

Thus far, Trinity War seems to be DC Comics' answer to Avengers Vs. X-Men -  a violent free-for-all born out of disagreements that could be solved in five minutes if the characters weren't written like complete imbeciles because that is what the plot demands.  While it isn't out of character for Amanda Waller to see The Justice League as a threat to the nation she serves, it seems uncharacteristically short-sighted for "The Wall" to send a group largely made of untested newbies like Vibe, Stargirl and the new Dr. Light into the field against a more experienced enemy.  Superman charges into battle against Shazam without trying to find out if the other hero instigated a battle with the Kahndaq Army - a question you'd think Superman would consider given that he and Wonder Woman were fighting the same army several issues earlier.  And if there was any doubt that the New 52 version of Billy Batson did not have The Wisdom of Solomon, this issue obliterated it.

Ironically, the only thing that makes this story tolerable and indeed prevents it from being  Avengers Vs. X-Men Starring The Justice Leagues  is same thing that makes it so aggravating - the writing of Geoff Johns.  Johns succeeds where Bendis and Company failed by evoking real ethos in a series of short scenes amid all the strum und drang.  Whereas it was hard to find sympathy for either the fascist Captain America or the single-minded Cyclops, one can't help but feel Billy Batson's guilt and admire his determination to do the right thing even as he goes about it in the worst way possible. 

Where Johns fails is by falling into the same trap of manipulation that turned off so many comic readers when Brad Meltzer pulled it in Identity Crisis.  With a single issue, Meltzer was able to do what so many writers had failed to do and make Ralph and Sue Dibny into something beyond a joke - characters who had earned their seemingly accidental place in The Justice League.  He then destroyed the miracle by setting us up to care about Sue and Ralph only to kill one off and turn the other into an shell of their former self.  Johns does the same thing here, sacrificing the brilliant conceit of turning Dr. Light - perhaps the most hated villain of the past 10 years of DC Comics - into a loving family-man, moralist and would-be hero.  There's no small irony that Dr. Light is the one who pleads for peace and tries to get everyone to discuss their differences before his sudden and grisly death, which triggers the superhero smackdown we were promised. 

Rest In Peace, Dr. Light.  We Hardly Knew Ye. 

The artwork by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Oclair Albert is as good as one might expect.  I haven't seen a bad issue yet from Reis in the past year, be it on Aquaman or Justice League.  But in this case the artwork is like a candy shell on a rabbit pellet.  Sure, it may look good... but it will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Despite this, I will attempt to finish this crossover so that you, my readers, do not have to.  Not that I have much choice with it dominating so many of the books I read on a monthly basis.  Still, I will endure even as I wonder how two writers I enjoy so much can create something that leaves me so disgusted.

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