Review: Justice League of America #38


Or – “In Which A Hero Must DIE…”


Every few years, we see the League at a crisis moment, a flashpoint where all the popular heroes are off doing their crossovers, and the remaining members are Tasmanian Devil, General Glory and The Creeper.  With a whole new League around the corner, the few remaining members of the JLA have been dealing with a growing sense of unrest and aimlessness.  Who will stay?  Who will leave?  And didn’t they promise that Leaguer would die?


Justice League of America #38

JLA1.jpgby James Robinson
Pencils by Mark Bagley
Inks by Rob Hunter

Previously, on Justice League of America:  Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were only trying to help when they formed their own little “Star Chamber” within the greater League.  Unfortunately, their attempt at being guiding hands only served to make them look autocratic, faithless, and snotty about the “little people” in the JLA.  Most offended was chairperson Black Canary, who disbanded the JLA in a snit after discovering th plot (and also after her husband and his boyfriend flew off to spearhead their own League with an couple of aliens, Tiny Tim, and a great ape) but not all of her team members were willing to give up on the dream.  Vixen, whose resume includes the Justice League Detroit years, was able to form a small nucleus of heroes who still felt the need to work for Justice instead of just crying about it.  Facing the likes of Roulette and Amos Fortune, the new JLA was at least able to get a few wins under their belt before it all came crumbling down.  The question now becomes, who will pick up the torch from the interim torchbearers, and which former Global Guardian will end up on the new roster?  (There’s always one, it’s the law of comics…)

We open with former JLE member Blue Jay (actually a Hank Pym analogue from a world called Angor, making me wonder if this counts as an episode of “Crap!  ON!  YELLOWJACKET!” or not) racing through trophies of previous League missions, including the bodies of Amazo, Starro, and possibly Hank Heywood III, as well as the Bell, the Wheel and the Jar.  It’s not clear where he is, but he rushes to try and get away, to warn his former partners of an oncoming threat.  Before he is able to escape, Jay is blown away, and his mysterious captor laments the decision to kill him.  “I always liked you…” says an off-panel voice.  Meanwhile, in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, the JLA members meet in the original team headquarters: a cave in the hills.  (I am amazed to see a reference the JLI years in the form of statues of General Glory, both Crimson Foxes, Ted Kord, and even Maxima, by the way.)  Vixen has assembled what’s left of her team: Plastic Man, Red Tornado, and Doctor Light II.  After events that apparently happen in future issues of “Cry For Justice,” the team is wounded and limping after an interaction with Prometheus.  Plas is melting, Vixen has a busted leg, and Light is in a sling.  Suddenly, out of nowhere comes Despero!

Literally.  OUT.  OF.  NOWHERE.  The pink monster from space has already defeated Gypsy (something he has done before) and lays into the team.  Vixen seemingly channels the powers of a White Martian (!!) and Red Tornado is torn apart again.  The tide is turned by the arrival of Zatanna, whom Despero seems to find attractive.  Zee tries to teleport him away, but her teleportation spell is interrupted by a DIFFERENT teleport spell and the monstrous alien is gone.  Zatanna chides them for not meeting at the Hall of Justice, quickly explaining the seriousness of the situation:  Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff…  Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!  Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…  The dead rising from the grave!  Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!  Oh, yeah, and ringy thingies.  Mari sneers that there’s no sense in this JLA getting involved, concluding that, “We’re nothing.”  Zatanna, also a veteran of the Detroit League, reminds her that things are never quite as bad as they seem when it comes to the Justice League of America.  Foolishly, though, Zatanna ends her pep talk with this warning:  “Nothing good awaits us in the Hall of Justice.”  As she speaks these words, we see the corpse of Arthur Light shambling into view in full Black Lantern garb…

There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to this issue’s story.  Despero suddenly pops in, and just as suddenly pops out, as if to remind us that he did this before, in the historic Breakdowns crossover.  After swearing to Superman last issue that she won’t give up on the Justice League, Vixen suddenly changes her mind in this issue.  Having the pivotal events to this decision appear off-panel (indeed, off-panel and in the FUTURE) doesn’t help the situation much.  Robinson sets up an intriguing first couple of pages, delivers on the promise of a Leaguer’s death, but we then get several pages of characters standing around talking.  Yes, I’m sure it’s difficult to take over a title in mid-stream like this, but I’m not entirely sold on the writing end of the results here.  Of course, on the art side, I’m highly impressed, with Bagley delivering the most attractive Vixen since the JLU cartoon, an impressive Zatanna, and delivers on the premise of a disrupted, melting Plastic Man most disgustingly.  Every time a new writer comes on this book, I hope that he or she will be the Great White Hope, the Rocky Marciano to beat up on the 257-year-old Joe Louise that is this latest JLA volume’s uneven quality.  I’m cautiously optimistic for the long run, but as a first salvo, this isn’t James Robinson’s best work.  Call this a precursor, I suppose, as the real meat of his new team hasn’t arrived yet, and there’s the question of a couple dozen zombie villains to resolve first.  Justice League of America #38 falls slightly below average for me, earning 2 out of 5 stars for the art and for the interesting premise of the Blue Jay sequence.  Let’s hope that this time it all gels and finally gives us that transcendent JLA title we’ve been hoping for since Meltzer launched this book in the far-flung past of 2006…