DC Comics recently relaunched their entire series, giving curious but uninitiated nerds a convenient entry point. Fellow blogger Patrick Ehlers and I are two such nerds, and we’ve decided to jump in with a handful of monthly titles. We really wanted to pull out all the nerd stops, so we’re also going to be writing about them here and on Patrick’s Blog (which you should all be reading anyway) every Friday. This week, I’m hosting the discussion of Justice League, while Patrick is hosting the discussion of The Flash.
Drew: Last month, we talked a lot about our own expectations for the Justice League, and how they might be leading us to judge the title unfairly. After that discussion, I felt I had successfully re-calibrated my expectations for an action title with an ensemble cast, and was even looking forward to seeing the team come together against Darkseid this month. Overall, I’d say that I did enjoy this issue a bit more than the previous four, but it also put a finer point on what’s been bothering me about the title, as well as taking what I consider to be one huge character misstep.
The issue opens with Darkseid eye-fragging jet fighters, to which Flash gives a stern “NO.” Darkseid, not used to being told he can’t eye-frag turns his ire (eye-er) towards the Flash, who suddenly realizes he’s kind of without backup here. Superman steps in, but only just in time to have one of Darkseid’s eye lasers lock onto him. A brief chase ensues, but Supes is hit with that laser, then hauled off to the Monarch’s flying cocoon by one of Darkseid’s minions. Green Lantern doesn’t like this, so he takes a couple cracks at Darkseid, which only serves to anger him enough to break Hal’s arm in two places, then go stomping off towards downtown Metropolis. Batman, admiring Hal’s gusto, decides they are kindred spirits, so he reveals that he is Bruce Wayne, offers a few bits of advice on leadership, then runs off to infiltrate Darkseid’s base and bring back Superman. Hal collects the rest of the team (including Cyborg) and sort of garbles the pep-talk he got from Bruce, but they quickly come up with a plan where Hal makes a distraction while Wonder Woman stabs Darkseid in the eyes. Meanwhile, Batman accidentally finds himself transported to another dimension or something.
If my summaries for this title always end up sounding a little sarcastic, it’s because I kind of resent the petty blow-by-blow that is required for them. Part of that is inherent in such an action-heavy title, but another part is that the action isn’t that interesting. After Superman spent the better part of an issue smashing GL constructs, it’s not particularly exciting to see Darkseid smash them. I suppose this plants the seeds for what Bruce already knows (or is also what puts him on the trail); that only Superman is going to be any kind of match for Darkseid, but I can’t help but feel a little bored by it. Or perhaps it’s how that sequence ends that bothers me so much. Apparently, seeing Hal try and try again, even stating that he is willing to die trying to do the right thing, was enough to make Bruce trust him enough to reveal his identity (“Who the hell’s Bruce Wayne?” Hal asks, in an admittedly funny exchange), but I just don’t buy it. Sure, Bruce may admire Hal’s determination — he may even respect it — but he also thinks Hal is an idiot, flying off half-cocked, willing to take a stupid risk rather than regrouping and coming up with a plan. Bruce doesn’t reveal his secrets to strangers, nor idiots, no mater how much chutzpa they may have. I simply don’t believe this character beat.
I’m also not sure how much I buy him storming the castle on his own. He seems to have put together that Superman is going to be necessary for any victory, and he may have confidence in his ninja skills to get the job done, but he has NO IDEA what these things are capable of, or what is going on inside that tower. Batman is to exact and calculating to run into things that aren’t “part of the plan.” It’s strange that Geoff Johns writes Bruce as pragmatic enough to understand the strategic significance of Superman, but not enough to think twice about running into a building that just appeared out of another dimension. Moments after chiding Hal for wanting to take an unnecessary risk rather than pausing to come up with a practical plan, Bruce rushes into a situation he doesn’t fully understands, and finds himself way over his head. When did Bruce become Hal? Perhaps Johns is just trying to sell Bruce’s line that he and Hal are “somewhat…alike,” which I didn’t really buy.
Okay, all of that is a bit of baggage I carry from my expectations of Batman. Johns has his own take on the character, and he’s entitled to it, even if I think it flies in the face of pretty much everything that defines him. The biggest objective problem in this issue is that the size of the ensemble is kind of strangling the characters. Johns feels an obligation to give everyone a little screen time, which mostly just means throwing characters meaningless dialogue at random. Aquaman’s only line this issue, “And?” is kind of the perfect example of what I’m talking about; not only is the line not necessary, it seems to be only handed to him so he says something. This manifests itself a little more annoyingly in the tendency for the characters to bicker. I get why it might seem like a good idea to have the Flash point out that a minute is a long time, but it’s a petty little hair to split, and paints Barry as the kind of guy who interrupts someone for no reason, even when it’s clear they have something important to say. Not cool.
While I liked Hal’s botched recitation of the advice Bruce gave him, that gag was pretty tired by the second season of Home Improvement. In the end, the “plan” they come up with isn’t that much more thought out than Hal’s previous “let’s smash him with ring constructs” plan, mostly hinging on Wonder Woman’s clam that “it’s settled, then,” even though what she claims is settled hadn’t yet been suggested. I appreciate that the plan they came up with still isn’t going to work, but it still seems like they would have put a little more time into the plan than assigning one person as a distraction and marching in. You’d think with Barry’s speed-force powered brain (which seems like is a thing here, given Barry’s line about thinking fast), he might be able to come up with a more comprehensive plan that accounts for at least a few possible outcomes. I get that showing the planning might be boring, but there’s no reason we couldn’t at least suggest that they thought about this for more than a few seconds.
All of my issues aside, I actually liked this issue quite a bit more than the previous ones, and (to echo my prediction from last month, a seemingly common refrain for Johns titles) I anticipate liking the next one even more. Separating Superman and Batman from the rest of the cast will give them some room to breathe, and I suspect it will get us away from the “few continuous moments in real time” mentality of this issue. The story (aside from Bruce’s revelation to Hal) seems largely organic, and I thought Hal’s trick to get away from the eye laser was pretty cool. The team is finally assembled, and we’re going to get some kind of mini showdown next month. I’m sure it’s just a prelude for when Superman finally shows up, but it’ll be fun to see everyone working together, even if they aren’t successful.
Geeze, I didn’t talk about the art at all. I dunno, it looks like a Jim Lee book, with all the positive and negative connotations that designation entails. Did anything here stand out as particularly notable to you?
Patrick: As usual, I want to talk about Batman. Like you, I didn’t believe the story that was presented to me. Neither Hal nor Bruce are very good at accepting the help of others, but while Hal suffers from some extreme pride, Bruce is just secretive and cautious. So why the hell would Batman unmask to what is ostensibly a stranger and then barrel into the lions’ den? Reading this scene, I was hit with some pretty impressive cognitive dissonance. The only way I can understand this exchange is to believe that Batman is the only guy there who knows how to sidestep all of everyone’s bullshit and get something done. He appealed directly to the Green Lantern because he knows Hal is just a man with a super-powered ring and an super-sized ego. At this point in the group’s history, Batman can’t command the loyalty of a team of superheroes, but he can divide and conquer. As Batman is wont to do, he selects psychological tools over physical tools, and bends the Green Lantern to Batman’s will.
But even if you’re willing to go on that generous little journey with me, it still doesn’t much explain why Bruce gives himself over to the baddies without knowing what he’s getting himself into. Twice, he expresses that what he finds there is not what he expected. Twice! Now, maybe it’s because the series doesn’t utilize voice-over boxes, but I find most of the characters’ dialogue expendable. Honestly, I think you could cut 75% of the speech bubbles in this issue and it’d be stronger for it. And I know the other characters call him out on it, but Jesus Christ, Hal’s multiple utterances of “____ got this!” are embarrassing. One more nitpicky thing about language: why do Batman and Green Lantern have nothing better to call each other than “moron” and “idiot?” Why can’t Bruce call Hal a “jackass?” That’s so clearly what he wants to call him. That or “motherfucker,” but I can respect the Teen rating.
As much as we can object to the characterization of Bats and Lantern, it’s the Barry Allen characterization that rubs me the wrongest way. He makes quips, he tells jokes about not being “not that great at making chitchat” and his inability to fly. Also, I think you might be reading the panel wrong – his enhanced cognitive abilities aren’t in play. He says “You’re moving fast, Barry; think fast.” He’s giving himself a little pep-talk. I think we should remember that we’re still currently operating “5 years earlier” for this rest of this arc. And, with the notable (or obvious) exceptions of Action Comics and All-Star Western, I believe everything else in the New 52 is supposed to be occurring in the “present day” – whatever that means. Therefore, Barry hasn’t discovered his ability to tap into the Speed Force with his mind.
The sequence with Superman and The Flash outrunning Darkseid’s eye-beams does provide us with an interesting panel that plays to none of what we consider Lee’s strengths or weaknesses. It’s a simple overhead drawing of a small section of Metropolis with our super-speed characters’ paths represented by streaks of color. It’s cool and creates a kind of simple beauty and charm that the slug-fest just don’t.
- Why does “Darkseid” have to be spelled that way? Every time I write it, I have to look it up. “I” before “E,” except after “C” or like sounding as “A” as in “neighbor and “weigh.” Look, I get that aliens have names that are spelled hilariously, but if the dude’s name is a homophone with “Darkside,” why not just spell it that way?
- Aquaman gets one more line than the one you pointed out: when Batman asks Flash why they took Superman, he says “Let’s ask him” referring to Darkseid. Way to contribute, King of Atlantis. Johns’ number one goal was to make Aquaman cool, right?
- Watching Darkseid smash constructs may seem redundant, but that sequences does end in Hal’s arm being broken in two places (Cyborg… pulling his weight?). One of the things I always love is seeing constructs used as non-weapons, so watching Hal use his powers to make a splint for himself, brought a smile to my face.
Wait, that last one kinda turned it around. There’s a tendency for us to really rag on books when they don’t knock us out cold. Justice League is largely fine, and it’s usually at least good for some fun action and as much superhero iconography as you can handle. This month’s issue did all of that and delivered that weird little moment between Hal and Bruce. It’s not shattering my expectations and it not something I can use for the “anyone can enjoy comics” argument, but it does put a bunch of my favorite heroes into a fist-fight with an evil outer-space demi-god. There are certainly worse things in life – and in comics.
I did this over on our Flash write-up, but I’m going to do it here too. I’m leaving with an image that gets at what I like about this series. It’s The Flash squaring off against Darkseid. The wreckage of Metropolis in the background and the bodies of unconscious heroes at their feet – it makes an impression.
Here’s a list of what we’re reading. The list is Batman heavy, and we’re not going to write about everything. That being said, feedback and suggestions on what to read and discuss are welcome. Overlapping books in bold:
Animal Man, Batgirl, Batman, Batwoman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League, Nightwing, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin