Or – “As Swan Songs Go, It’s An Interesting Choice…”

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Brad Meltzer’s run on the Justice League has been an odd and inconsistent lot. He has made a point of elevating characters like Vixen, Black Lightning and Red Arrow (ugh) and has drawn upon tons of continuity, while letting your imagination fill in the blanks with other characters. After all, don’t we all KNOW how Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman act? His quiet moments are well-done, and superior in many ways to the larger overarching plots. The first arc took forever and accomplished little, while the Lightning Saga was a breathless lightspeed run that hit roughly ten THOUSAND point of DC continuity along the way. Last issue was a quiet, tense interlude (the best of the run, no matter what my boss Deon may think) making me wonder if #12 will have Meltzer going out with a bang or a whimper.

Previously, on Justice League of America: The team fought Solomon Grundy, Doctor Impossible, Trident, and some other guys, taking seven issues to form a team of 10 heroes. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though Geo-Force had joined the team without anyone telling us, then they were thrust into a crossover with the Justice Society and the original pre-Crisis incarnation of the Legion of Super-Heroes, leading to the resurrection of Wally West, also known as the second Flash. With that enormous mission undertaken, the team responded to an emergency at the Watergate Hotel that led to Vixen and Red Arrow being trapped in an underwater deathtrap and revealed that Vixen’s powers are malfunctioning. With Wally rejoining, the teams membership has swollen to 12 heroes, all of whom could probably use more time in the sun. On that note, we’re going to focus a large portion of this issue on two MORE heroes who are no longer active with the League. The story starts with a flashback to the day after the first real League meeting, as Flash & Green Lantern and Aquaman & Martian Manhunter meet for (separate) bull sessions about their new group effort. Aquaman asks J’onn if he has any trouble breathing underwater, and the martian responds “I never tried. It’s calming. I enjoy it.” They discuss their new teammates, and both pairs of heroes come to the same agreement.

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I like Eric Wright’s Mike Sekowski-style old League here, but it’s a little weird to see that DC has reversed the decisions of twenty years ago and reinstated the original lineup of the JLA to their place in history. In the here and now, Red Tornado is still having problems with his own humanity, telling wife Kathy that he can’t go with her to meet her mom because of a “League emergency.” She can’t understand why he’s being so distant and mechanical, but he isn’t giving her any hints at all…

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Tornado’s current situation is the most heart-breaking unanswered question that Meltzer is leaving behind as he leaves the book. With luck, incoming writer Dwayne McDuffie will be able to give us an answer to some of those questions… As Tornado heads for the Watchtower (and we discover that it’s NOT an emergency, it’s just routine monitor duty) we see J’Onn and Arthur discussing his situation. “He’s hardening,” says Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter responds that he’s healing from a horrible situation. Nothing much happens on his shift, and at the end of it all, he hands off to Hawkgirl. She tells him to send her love to Traya (his adoptive daughter) and he acts for a moment like he doesn’t understand before bluntly broaching a very uncomfortable topic.

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Wait, she had a WHAT?? Did I miss something in the Walt Simonson issues, or is this new information? Hawkgirl checks in for duty, and some time in she sees a random report on a visitor to Belle Reve. Known terrorist Cheshire receives a visit from her daughter, and Hawkgirl is stunned to find out that the father of that pretty little girl is none other than her recent target of affection, Red Arrow. J’Onn and Arthur discuss her as well, implying that she has a deathwish, and Aquaman reminds his old friend, “Never underestimate…”

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Awww. That Speedy costume is adorable. I want one for MY kid! Lian and Hawkgirl bond a little bit, and the girl tells H.G. that her wings are pretty. Lian and Hawkgirl go off to play in the hologram generator while Red Arrow takes over the monitor duty. While he does, J’Onn and Arthur have a discussion that I don’t really like about how love will destroy them if they’re not careful. It’s one thing to do inter-team romance, but to make it seem so obvious that it’s a doomed romance, I get a little worried. When the duty shift switches again, chairperson Black Canary takes the big chair. Hawkgirl comes looking for Red Arrow, and we reminded of the fact that Canary was there throughout Red Arrow’s growing up, and indeed was the woman who nursed him back from his addiction to heroin, and she has a few words of advice for her fellow “pretty bird.”

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Aww. That’s sweet. J’Onn and Arthur remark on how much more confident and together Canary is, and wonder if marrying Oliver will change that. “That’s not our business,” says Arthur. But this… as chairperson, now she’s finally showing the world her true potential.” Meanwhile, some time later, Black Lightning takes the shift, and gets a call from the Silver Ghost, a two-bit supervillain with some information about Trident. B.L.’s time in the Luthor White House has made him the darling of the villain camp, and minor leaguers like the Ghost try and use him to get in to Luthor’s good graces…

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“…what’s he planning that he’s taking so long to hit back?” Y’know, that’s a horrible thought but a good point. Vixen takes the next shift, and desperately tries to channel the powers of a nearby ant to no avail. When Geo-Force comes in (and, seriously, WHEN did he join again??) looking for Red Tornado, Vixen asks if they’re working to restore his powers to normal. Geo-Force at first denies what’s going on before it dawns on him why she’s asking..

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Geo realizes that it was SHE who used his gravity powers to save Red Arrow’s life several issues ago, and the two of them talk for a while. Arthur and J’Onn discuss the two new kids, with J’Onn ever-supportive of Vixen and Arthur remarking (ironically) that kings tend to be quiet and introspective. Also, they have their hands bitten off a lot. While they discuss, Red Tornado flies up from his lab, looking for Red Arrow. He can’t find anyone, and decides to check in Roy’s quarters, overriding the security (a bad move) to find Arrow and Hawkgirl in a somewhat compromising position (seen up top.) Meanwhile, a Metropolis attorney named Addison gets a phone call from the Silver Ghost, with a message for his client… Lex Luthor.

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And, you ask, what is Geo-Force doing in a sleazy back alley? He’s checking out a lead on why his powers are futzed up. A lead called Deathstroke. “You look tired,” smirks the mercenary maniac, and Geo-Force snaps back “Your small talk annoys me.” Slade laughs the remark off, and confirms that no one followed ‘Force before they get to the point. “I’m a king, Slade. Not a fool…” I had always thought that Brion was a PRINCE, but then, princes become kings, don’t they?

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“…and you get what YOU want.” While this discussion goes on, unbeknownst to Deathstroke, the core three Leaguers watch over a closed-circuit feed. “When did Geo-Force tell you?” asks Wonder Woman, and Batman tells her that Geo came to him immediately. “His greatest fear has ALWAYS been his family,” says Bruce, “and their legacy.” That legacy, by the way, is a history of insanity, as shown by his late sister Terra. The big 3 have sent in Geo-Force as a mole to get the drop on Deathstroke (and probably, by extension, the entire Society) and Aquaman and J’Onn remark that it’s good to see the troika back and not fighting constantly. Amen to that, fellers… Green Lantern goes on monitor duty, bonding with an old friend who has recently returned, swapping stories with the Flash…

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“I’m not saying it’s our time,” J’Onn interrupts, but he reminds his long-time confidante that the League is like a living beastie, and eventually they both know they WILL return to active duty. As Felix Faust finally makes his move (said plan being the reason for the continuous monitor duty) GL and Flash sound the alert, and the whole team responds. “The League… for all it’s changes…The League never really changes,” says J’Onn as the full team leaps into action for the first time. It’s a beautiful page, but it annoys me. We waited SEVEN ISSUES to even have a team, and now, after 12, we FINALLY have the full membership compliment? There’s something wrong with storytelling that decompressed, in my view.

Still, it’s an interesting book, but it has it’s faults. Ed Benes is not the most versatile artist in the world, and the fact that Red Tornado’s wife and Black Canary are interchangeable bothers me. His take on Hal Jordan rubs me the wrong way, the art on the whole feels “scratchy” and the overall effect comes off as very evocative of Jim Lee. The story is nicely done, with some good character moments, but I’m not sure that “The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same” is the kind of message that the League stands for in MY mind. Still, it was nice to see J’Onn and Arthur acknowledged as founders again (what with all the focus on the Super/Wonder/Bat triangle) and I liked the bits with Vixen, Black Lightning, and Geo-Force. Meltzer’s strength comes in his dialogue and emotions, but a lot of the PLOT connections are lost in translation. In a way, I’m glad that somebody who writes as tight as McDuffie is coming on, as the book could use a run of cleanly plotted stories. The interlocking covers motif is getting a bit old, as well, since this is the THIRD time in a dozen issues that we’ve had to buy TWO books to get a complete picture. What ever happened to the wraparound cover? On the Bang/Whimper scale, I think this issue isn’t quite either. It’s more of a “Whump,” the sound of dropping off a box of your belongings while knowing that there’s still half a truck worth of junk to unload into your new apartment. What this issue HAS achieved works well, but there are many questions left unanswered, and my disappointment with the art downgrade it a bit. Still and all, it balances out to a solid 2.5 out of 5 star rating. Meltzer’s take on the JLA impressed as much as it disappointed and revitalized sales, but I’m looking forward to another writer’s take on the concept.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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13 Comments

  1. August 16, 2007 at 2:04 pm — Reply

    Unrelated Superman , Superboy & “Tom Welling”…I get it now.

    You may have seen this, but I read this at newsarama.

    http://blog.newsarama.com/2007/08/16/whats-so-super-about-superboy/

  2. August 16, 2007 at 2:28 pm — Reply

    Rob you might want to check out our Major Spoilers dictionary, and then check out the article I wrote a couple of weeks ago.
    http://www.majorspoilers.com/archives/2054.htm/

    Cheers
    Stephen

  3. Brent F.
    August 16, 2007 at 2:43 pm — Reply

    I think the revelation of Hawkgirl having a daughter is new. Pre-Hawkgirl Kendra’s past is still somewhat mysterious. This daughter could be one of the reasons she committed suicide.

  4. jman
    August 16, 2007 at 3:15 pm — Reply

    My thing with decompression, I think the editor(s) should place some timelines on how many issues it takes to complete a story arc. I hate feeling they’re just doing arificial extenstion in order to keep the reader BUYING instead of enjoying what you read…But it’s all about money, so what if it can be summed up in 3 or four issues instead of 7, such as with the Solomon Grundy arc.

  5. Maximus Rift
    August 16, 2007 at 7:49 pm — Reply

    You know, an official timeline would be nice for both and Marvel. They could put it on the webpage of make one at the end of the year.

  6. Jim
    August 17, 2007 at 8:04 am — Reply

    I can see what Meltzer is going for here: the story behind the story, and that’s a cool idea. The problem I had with this issue is that there’s nothing really at stake. There’s no real conflict. I enjoyed the last issue of JLA more because Meltzer combined the character moments with some real conflict (being trapped in a sinking building counts, I think). I agree with Matthew’s review that while Meltzer has a good sense of the characters, some of his plots have been uninspiring. I don’t know his novels but aren’t they thrillers? So that’s a little unexpected…. This issue felt very much like the JLA #0 where the Big 3 runs through the history of the league and comments on it now.

    And what’s with the switching color-coded narration?

  7. Josh
    August 17, 2007 at 8:11 am — Reply

    Hawkgirl having a daughter: wasn’t that covered/revealed in JSA or one of the mini-series that were released (Michael Chabon did the Mr. Terrific issue)? I could’ve sworn that was revealed a while ago, and that the daughter wasn’t dead, but with foster parents.

  8. Roy
    August 17, 2007 at 9:05 am — Reply

    I second that.

  9. Josh
    August 17, 2007 at 10:10 am — Reply

    Oh yeah…

    …Red Arrow…groan…

  10. August 17, 2007 at 6:35 pm — Reply

    “Stand around and talk” was a pretty poor direction to take the JLA in but I wouldn’t have minded as much if the character development had actually been good.

    Unfortunately, Brad Meltzer’s character work was pretty glib (for example, Roy Harper dealing with his druggy past…gee, we’ve never seen that storyline before) and his dialogue abyssmal.

  11. Sean
    August 18, 2007 at 2:28 am — Reply

    I’m confused about what’s up with Aquaman, so if someone could clear this up for me that would be awesome. I thought there is a brand new Aquaman running around… er swimming around… now since the OYL jump. One who has no past connections to the JLA and the old Aquaman who was in the league was missing. So who is the Aquaman we’re seeing in this issue? Is the old one back and there two Aquaman’s around now? Or did Meltzer not get the memo about the new Aquaman and just did whatever he wanted?

  12. August 18, 2007 at 8:55 am — Reply

    Sean: The Aquaman that appeared at the beginning of the story is the original Aquaman told in a flashback. The Aquaman at the end of the issue? Well maybe it is the original A.C. and not the redux guy from OYL. Perhaps Rip Hunter’s Lab holds more clues.

  13. Christopher
    August 18, 2007 at 7:35 pm — Reply

    I, for one, am still waiting on the official word on whether or not Black Canary was present during the founding of the League, as established post-Crisis in Secret Origins #32 (1989) and reinforced in Waid’s outstanding JLA: Year One limited series. I know that so much of the League’s history has suffered from retcon upon retcon, but it would be nice to know once and for all where Dinah stands in this post-post-Crisis DCU. Because didn’t a recent back-up feature in a certain weekly comic book reiterate that Dinah is still, indeed, considered a founder (which contradicts with Meltzer’s recent flashbacks)?

    Thoughts, anyone?

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