By: Geoff Johns (story), Brett Booth (pencils), Norm Rapmund (inks), Andrew Dalhouse (colors), Andres Guinaldo (feature pencils), Rauldo Fernandez & Walden Wong (feature inks), Wil Quintana (feature colors)

The Story: Not every coin you pick up off the street turns out to be lucky.

The Review: Writing one ongoing comic book series is tough enough, but writing multiple ongoings seems to be asking for trouble.  Besides the sheer difficulty of shifting between various storylines and character arcs at the same time, taking on that much work means less time to craft and polish what you’ve written.  This might explain why in any given month, you’ll never find Johns really firing on every single issue he has out.

Just as he’s beginning to develop some new momentum for Justice League, his work on Justice League of America is starting to dip.  His blunt, unsubtle style of writing has become even more so, occasionally failing to take into account his visual medium altogether.  After all, it feels very awkward and a little dull for Waller and A.R.G.U.S. scientist Arthur Light to spend several panels describing and explaining the significance of a Secret Society coin when one or two close-ups of the coin itself could have given us everything we needed to know.

Even more problematic is Johns’ tendency towards the cheesy, which threatens to defeat the credibility of his story.  The Secret Society’s choice of mottos is particularly lame.  “The inscription on the front reads, ‘Oderint dum metuant,’” observes Light.

“It’s Latin, Doctor Light,” Waller says.

“Yes, I know.  ‘Let them hate as long as they fear.’  …There’s a picture of a burning skull on the back with more words—‘Aeternus malum.’”

“‘Forever evil.’”

Perhaps the biggest problem with the series is proper development of all the characters.  Granted, we have such a large cast that giving each member an equal amount of attention every issue is near impossible.  But if Johns is going to spotlight a character to the neglect of others, he has to really make good use of them.  Catwoman’s exploration of the Secret Society base is not such a good use.  She discovers almost nothing new to advance the plot, which makes her initial escape from her bonds and—spoiler alert—subsequent death seem all the more pointless.

It would help, too, that if Johns takes the trouble of introducing other characters, he properly develops them first, before making radical changes to their status or personality.  The return of Light to the new DCU is a semi-big deal, and to start him out as an essentially normal man with a love for his family and his country (“I will do my best, Director Waller.  For America.”) is an interesting choice.  But to then suddenly imbue him with the powers that will presumably lead to his super-villainy within one issue, before we even have a grasp on who he is, is unnecessarily hasty and certainly does nothing to show how he’s a “leading mind on super-human energies.”

I have never been overly fond of Booth’s artwork.  I’m particularly taken aback by the way he draws faces, which seem unnaturally pointy and pouty, giving all the characters an immature appearance no matter how old they are.  Beyond that, he has serious problems of imagination and attention.  Johns isn’t the most descriptive writer in the business, but his in-script descriptions occasionally have more visual power than Booth’s art (compare Steve Trevor’s detailing of “the Invisible Jet” and Booth’s drab depiction of the totally normal-looking plane).  Some choices of action don’t make sense, like Catwoman’s superfluous and utterly pointless acrobats after she frees herself from her chair.

Matt Kindt’s Martian Manhunter back-ups still haven’t quite earned their inclusion in the book, but they do give us some interesting details on J’onn’s past life, before his transformation into the inscrutable hardass of Stormwatch and both Justice Leagues.  Kindt’s sci-fi imaginings are definitely the most valuable aspect of these features, and his vision of the ultra-communal Martian life is quite lovely.  I’m more doubtful about the idea that J’onn’s weakness to fire is more a byproduct of trauma than an innate physiological reaction; it makes it too easy for him to overcome this one flaw in his enormous powers.  Otherwise, the back-up is solid, and Guinaldo provides more convincing artwork than Booth, at any rate.

Conclusion: A dangerously weak issue of a still new, ostensibly major series.  Johns needs to earn some of the dubious storytelling choices made here, or else we’ll only have Kindt’s back-ups to look forward to.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Don’t tell me that half of the characters in the Secret Society will turn out to be robots.