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Justice League #22 – Review

By: Geoff Johns (story), Ivan Reis (pencils), Joe Prado & Oclair Albert (inks), Rod Reis (colors)

The Story: Fight, fight!  The Justice Leagues are having a fight!  Someone get the popcorn!

The Review: It’s become kind of cliché for reviewers like me to say they’re tired of Big Events, but I can say, with absolute sincerity, that I’m dead tired of them, as exhausted by the endless teases and thinly veiled hints and ominous foreshadowings as by the yearly summer blockbusters themselves.  It just reeks to me of people coming up with stories for a purpose rather than finding purpose for stories, which is how fiction should be.

But if we absolutely must have one, I suppose the one Johns has on his hands will do.  It certainly has all the potential for over-the-top, world-spanning action, what with three Justice Leagues pitted against each other.  That said, Johns has to pour a lot of grease in the logic train to get to where he wants to go with this storyline.

There’s a reason why hero-versus-hero conflicts tend to bore me: they’re almost always poorly sold, requiring characters to act against their better instincts and personality to make the confrontation possible.  In other words, it often feels like the only reason a writer can make the story work is by portraying our heroes as if their brains are partly missing.  In this case, it’s the fact that everyone involved decides that respect for sovereignty means nothing, entering Kahndaq without warning, strategy, or second thoughts—even though the nation’s already up in arms about the Wonder Woman/Superman hostage fiasco months earlier.  It’s okay for Shazam to be that stupid—he is, after all, a kid—but no one in either the Justice League or JLA thought it might be a good idea to phone ahead first?

This could all very well be a side-effect of Johns not having the finest handle on all his characters just yet.  Writing both teams exclusively, he has a plethora of superheroes under his wing, and the vast majority haven’t found their voices or roles just yet.  For some characters, Johns he can’t seem to get them right no matter what he does.  Portraying Wonder Woman as an unrepentant villain-killer, even “[o]nly if it comes to that,” is a gross oversimplification of her values, and the fact that she and Superman can’t even begin to have a meaningful discussion on the matter proves that Johns isn’t interested in tackling the subject seriously anyway.  It’s just something onto which he can latch so as to drive the inevitable wedge between the couple.

But Johns has always been a rather simplistic writer, certainly with plot and quite as often with character.  His most radical re-conceptions frequently require no more than flipping traditional portrayals with an unsubtle ironic twist—Dr. Light’s “[T]he last thing I want to do is hurt kids,” and, “We all just want to do what’s right,” for example.  It’s just so predictable that at some point, Light will hurt kids and he’ll eventually just want to do what’s wrong.

Just as predictable is how this entire conflict starts based on a misunderstanding.  Johns didn’t choose to show Superman falling under the evil sway of Pandora’s box for no reason, and it’s certainly no coincidence that later in the issue his unexpectedly violent actions* is what causes a major superhero battle to break out in the middle of a politically delicate zone.  At least Johns has the good sense to admit right away this is all a farce on the Secret Society’s part, but until we see more of how the string-pulling led to this point, it remains an unconvincing plot device.

Maybe the whole thing is just an excuse to show what a superstar of an artist Reis is.  When you look at the sheer sumptuousness of his work in this issue—just panels on panels of perfectly formed, expressive figures and tons of eye-popping action in between—it’s no wonder he had to take a break from this title for a couple months.  And Rod Reis is just as tremendous on this issue, with colors so warm and luscious you kind of just want to bathe in it.  It’s not the most terrific mainstream story ever written, but it sure looks like it.

Conclusion: All in all, a functional first issue to a straightforward story, the typical Big Event business.  There’s little mystery here besides trying to figure out the point of all this.*  At least you get some top-notch artwork out of it.

Grade: B-

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Kind of bad timing on Johns’ part, considering Superman’s controversial head-turning moment in Man of Steel.

* I suspect it may be money.

- Whatever happened to Xanadu’s catchphrase, “Enter freely, and without fear”?

- I don’t think any of those Tarot cards Xanadu is pulling are real, by the way.  Certainly, I’ve never seen my psychic work with any of them.

- Dr. Light refers to his wife as “Kim.”  As in Kimiyo Hoshi?  I do believe I see some Asiatic features in his family photo…

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4 Responses

  1. THANK YOU for voicing some of the concerns and annoyances I’m having with this issue, especially in regards to the unsubtle foreshadowing of Dr Light and Wonder Woman’s bloodthirsty attitude (did this subject not come up at ALL in the five years these people have worked together?) Admittedly, I’m still intrigued by the upcoming developments, but I don’t think this deserves over-enthusiastic praise at this point.

    By the way, do you also think some of these portrayals (Superman in particular) are influenced by outside media like certain movie and game adaptation.

    • I can’t really speculate as to where certain ideas come from or how they’re influenced. What I can say is that all art goes in trends, and the trend now is to have complicated, internally conflicted characters. It’s partly a reflection of society–it’s hard for any of us to conceive of happy lives of pure contentment at this point of our economic/political history–and partly the way the audience’s brains are wired nowadays. Most people find role models of virtue boring and cheesy; they don’t really care to aspire to perfection anymore. Flawed characters are by contrast far more relatable and credible. Hence, you have an angst-ridden, more rebellious Superman.

  2. Johns never was a writer that was original or even particularly satisfying when it came to creativity, yet there was a time when he was absolutely delightful in terms of superheroics. When he wrote JSA and the Wally West run on Flash, he was actually pretty good.

    Now, though, he seems to have problem ever since the New 52 which I believe come from two factor. First, he works really well with continuity, however obscure it might be. Second, he is really good at writing villains, like Captain Cold, Black Adam or Sinestro. With the relaunch, a lot of the continuity he used went away, which does really hinders him of what he’s good at. As for the villains, he hasn’t really taken a specific one he wanted to write and develop yet, which is a shame.

    • I do think Johns enjoys himself the most when he has the challenge of a marginalized character that he can then revive. He’s not necessarily innovative, but he knows how to take what’s already there and tweak it to make it more functional. He’s a great repairman, not inventor.

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