By: Geoff Johns (writer), Gene Ha (artist), Art Lyon (colorist), Gary Frank (feature artist), Brad Anderson (feature colorist)
The Story: Working with the League isn’t unlike babysitting surly teens, as Steve Trevor learns.
The Review: Something I learned the hard, painful way back in college was that you could bring your most creative ideas in the world to the table, write them using the choicest words you know, put all your thought into crafting a unified plot, and still end up with a lifeless dud of a story. What’s missing from the equation here? The character. If you don’t have a character readers would be willing to follow along for whatever length of work you produce, you’re toast.
Sad to say, but Justice League is browning in the oven quick—and yes, that’s a terrible metaphor, but there’s a reason why I’m reviewing fiction now, rather than writing it for a living. Johns didn’t do the greatest job developing the team in his first arc, as they came across as little more than straw men (and woman), spouting short blurbs that merely echo personality. Six issues of work, and you didn’t really connect with them at all.
If the League manages to win you over, I suspect it’s by virtue of their sheer star power; you like them because you’ve always liked them. For me, it’s Wonder Woman and Aquaman—which is somewhat unfortunate as both get the least to do in this series. The problems Johns had writing them before remain painfully present. It’s truly remarkable he can create several whole, running storylines around Aquaman in his own ongoing, yet here the king of Atlantis gets only two lines, one of which is, “I don’t need an umbrella, Lantern.” Still, that’s less irritating than the broken-record quality of Diana’s dialogue: “Then I’m ready to hit him. How’s our opponent fight?”
The rest of the League don’t fare better; they speak little beyond the substance of the plot, and even when they do, they tend to be grating than ingratiating. If you thought the obnoxious Hal of previous issues was due to his five-year decrease in age, think again; he’s easily just as annoying and bratty here, perhaps even more so. To liaison Steve Trevor, he demands, rather mindlessly, “…we need more rations. Food and drinks and stuff. Have them leave ‘em at the drop-off and I’ll swing by later.” To Batman’s reasonable belief that the League could operate more effectively, with less risk to person and property, Hal boasts, “I like risk.”
It sure offers a sharp contrast to the general outpouring of confidence and praise from the reporters at Trevor’s press conference: “I’m betting the seven of them could put their heads together and fix our economy and balance the budget you guys have blown. They could reform educaton!” Trevor, as he does with all things, takes their comments in stride, though clearly unhappy juggling demands from his military division, the government, the media, and the League itself. If there’s one redeeming factor about this issue, it’s Johns sensitive portrayal of Trevor, although he receives so much focus, the League feels peripheral in their own title.
Ha’s organic style definitely brings a different, some might say more serious, flavor than Jim Lee’s populist appeal, but it’s a suitable look for the title. The acting from the characters feels more emotionally true, particularly during Wonder Woman’s video-chat with Trevor, during which you can get a kick out of both their reactions at the ongoing commentary from her teammates in the background. Love their weary expressions as Batman and Lantern bicker, then simultaneously lash out at Flash.
The “Shazam!” feature feels more fleshed out, better paced, and better constructed than the main event, truth be told. Its only flaw lies in the protagonist; from his traditionally goody two-shoes demeanor, he’s been re-envisioned as a shameless brat who manipulates and mocks the foster parents who wish to give him a better life. It’s difficult not to detest him—no doubt something Johns wants, for whatever reason—so you’ll need to take a big leap of faith to believe a hero lies in this boy’s heart. Frank is one of those celebrated artists whose work I haven’t gotten a chance to talk about, and I can only say he’s celebrated for a reason. He draws some of the most believable, personable characters I’ve seen, and some of the most beautifully composed sets; that exterior of holiday-season Philadelphia is lovely, especially with Anderson in charge of putting each colored twinkle in the Christmas lights.
Conclusion: The art beats the stories by a mile, though there are some redeeming moments. It’s just been frustrating waiting for this series to reach the potential it’s always promised, and now it feels like we’ll never get there.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - Hoodie Captain Marvel—I mean, Shazam? Yeah…no.