Or – “Two Leagues, Slowly Moving Into Alignment…”
From it’s inception, the latest incarnation of the Justice League has been a troubled one, in both creative and practical terms.Â Initially designed to create an all-star JLA, it quickly became overbalanced, with 14 active members (one of whom, Geo-Force, was never seen to join the team and never seen to quit it, and still somehow ranks as an active member.)Â Worse still, the team was built around the axis of the Big 3 just as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman came to a point where they could barely speak to each other, much less anchor the world’s greatest superteam.Â The fixes for this situation became more and more complicated, until the current JLA roster consisted of Vixen, Doctor Light, Firestorm, Plastic Man and Red Tornado, a very powerful League but one with little following.Â There are currently two active JL titles trying to bring it back into good graces, but is either of them really up to the task?
Justice League of America #39
Written by James Robinson
Art and cover by Mark Bagley
Previously, on Justice League of America:Â TheÂ current JLA was pretty much bound for trouble from day one, as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman arrogantly created their own League within a League to make certain that no one on the team did something that wasn’t Bruce/Clark/Diana approved, like go off and get killed by Darkseid, or join an alien militia, or go to war with their own patron deities or something.Â Chairperson Black Canary was enraged upon finding out that her reign was mostly for show, and disbanded the JLA in anger.Â Of course, this didn’t sit well with Vixen, who took it upon herself to reconvene the JLA in a cave somewhere, and drag in seriously powerful heroes who frankly deserve more respect than they get.Â Things took a dark turn, and somewhere along the line, all of the heroes on the team were hurt, wounded, or turned into Black Lanterns, and now her makeshift team must face the wrath of the Black Lanterns.Â Free advice:Â Don’t keep the bodies of your dead enemies in the basement.Â It always leads to bad things.
Justice League – Cry For Justice #5 (of 7)
Written by James Robinson
Art and cover by Mauro Cascioli
Previously, on Justice League – Cry For Justice:Â When his idea of how justice works wasn’t being services, Hal Jordan cavalierly quit the Justice League of America, taking his man-crush Green Arrow with him, much to the consternation of League chairperson Black Canary (who was doubly angered by the fact that Green Arrow is her HUSBAND.)Â The hard traveling heroes set out on a quest of their own, and were soon joined by like-minded inviduals in Supergirl, Ray “The Atom” Palmer, and current owner of the power of Shazam, Freddy Freeman.Â At the same time, Mikaal Tomas (the blue-skinned alien Starman from the 70’s) and Congorilla (the mind of a great white hunter in the body of a great golden ape) joined forces to make their own path to justice.Â While Bill and Mik went looking for help in the homes of old pals, Supergirl developed a crush on Shazam, Ray Palmer went dark and gritty, and Hal and Ollie foolishly returned to the Justice League’s satellite headquarters, to find that their own former teammates have a few bones to pick with them regarding their actions.Â Â Oddly enough, most of the members present in the Watchtower are no longer on active duty, and haven’t been for some time…Â (Also worth noting:Â All the events in ‘Cry For Justice’ take place BEFORE the events of JLA #39.)
In the home title of the JLA, we are treated toÂ a remembrance of the life and times of Paco Ramone, a woefully underutilized character from the days of the Detroit Justice League, a former gang member who went straight and used his metahuman powers to fight crime as Vibe.Â With the memory download (read: flashback) complete, Black Lantern Vibe tears out of his grave and seeks revenge.Â By the way, the whole “memory download” thing is one of the most clever and less intrusive expositionary devices in recent memory, allowing the Black Lantern ring to do its job and fill in the blanks for those of us who don’t know who the revenants being zombified are.Â Meanwhile, AT the Hall of Justice, (Heh.Â Ted Knight…) the current JLA members find things abandoned in the wake of the mass basement corpse breakout during Blackest Night.Â Zatanna is forced into battle with the shade of her father, Zatara, while Vixen is forced to face her lost Detroit-era partners, the aformentioned Vibe and Hank Heywood, Steel.Â Doctor Light goes searching for a different resurrected body (Doesn’t she know enough not to split up the group?) and finds Doctor Arthur Light (whom she oddly calls “Curry,” making me think she’s confusing him with Arthur Curry, Aquaman) in the basement of the Hall.Â In creepy fashion, Light is licking the salt from the disembodied head of Jason Rusch’s girlfriend Gehenna, who was transformed into salt by Black Lantern Firestorm…Â Ewww.Â I know that he’s now the “rapist supervillain,”and has been brought back as a flesh-eating thing, but that’s just sooo disgusting on so many levels.Â Dr Light I strikes first, and Dr. Light II falls.Â “Now, let’s see what YOU taste like,” says the undead villain to his replacement…
A slightly more pleasant scene greets us in CFJ #5, as Starfire and Donna Troy (who really needs a codename something fierce) have come to the home of Buddy and Ellen Baker (aka Mr. and Mrs. Animal Man) to sunbathe and hang out at the pool.Â In bikinis…Â Really, REALLY tiny bikinis.Â Congorilla and Starman arrive at the Baker house looking for help from A-Man and find that Donna and Kory are willing to join their questÂ as well.Â There’s some nice references to the inter-relationships of the characters (Bill knows Buddy from the Forgotten Heroes, Kory knows Mik from the Justice League of Aliens) and it’s a very nicely handled scene, albeit one full of characters.Â Speaking of full, Hal and Ollie are pretty full of themselves as they confront Black Canary and the rest of the League, snarling and spitting at one another for almost no reason.Â I suspect the manipulations of Prometheus in all of this.Â The JLA monitors burst to life, reporting an all-out villain assault, as super-villains attack heroes they’ve never faced before for seemingly no reason.Â Batwoman calls in to report that she has some clues as to what might be going on, and Firestorm is dispatched to get her and the body of a villain she fought earlier, one who died just as she revealed that she was working for Prometheus.Â (See?Â I told you!)Â In Keystone City, the immortal Shade meets with Jay Garrick, sharing his pieces of the puzzle, when The Flash is suddenly called to the JLA satellite and invites the Shade to come along.Â We see more and more heroes fighting villains around the globe, making an already crowded issue even more so,when suddenly, the Guardian teleports in with some sort of bomb that he gaffled off a villain in Metropolis.Â Supergirl suddenly notices that handsome Shazam has disappeared, and Red Arrow (ugh)Â realizes he has to teleport home to put his daughter to bed.Â It’s a very odd sequence, for a number of reasons.Â Animal Man, Starfire, Donna Troy, Mikaal Tomas and Congorilla arrive, and suddenly, the ape smells a familiar scent.Â Rushing off to find the source, he finds first Supergirl, and then Red Arrow (ugh) …Â whose right arm has beenÂ severed above the elbow.Â (How will he operate his digital watch now?)Â They cauterize his wound, and leap into battle with… something.Â Â The enraged gorillaÂ roars bring the rest of the team running, and the last page shows a badly beaten Congorilla and Wally West (who, by the way, I can’t find anywhere earlier in the issue) as Supergirl engages Shazam in combat!
James Robinson is a writer whom I respect and enjoy, and his work on Starman is legendary, damn fine comics work in my book.Â That said, both of these issues are troubling, for different reasons.
JLA RUMINATIONS:Â The story here is nice and topical, and everyone’s closet skeletons come out to roost.Â The plotting is badly damaged by the fact that we still haven’t seen what happened to injure Plastic Man and Vixen, that battle having not yet been shown, as it takes place in future issues of CFJ.Â The return of Vibe and Steel is creepy, and the overall effect of this issue gets across the zombie-movie feel of Blackest Night.Â Mark Bagley’s pencils feel a tiny bit rushed here, though (if something like that can be said about someone who pencils as fast as Bags is reputed to.)Â The unforgivable sin to me, though, is the fact that no editor caught the Arthur Curry/Arthur Light problem.Â In a previous issue of JLA, Diana Prince and Dinah Lance were misidentified (with a picture of one character labeled as another) and I find it to be pretty insurmountable that these sort of things are allowed to creep through.Â I enjoy the character mix here, with Vixen and Gypsy back together to face their lost teammates, and Zatanna allowed to take the ‘Superman’ role as the most powerful hero on the field.Â Given the super-hype about the new JLA team coming, though, it feels like a lame duck team going through the motions.Â Justice League of America #39 earns a right down the middle 2.5 out of 5 stars, better than many recent issues, but still not what IÂ hope forÂ from my JLA.
CFJ RUMINATIONS:Â I really want to love this book.Â Robinson crams every panel with comic history goodness, and Mauro Cascioli does lovely, fully painted art that is impressive as all hell.Â The problems are in the details.Â The cheesecake moments (Zatanna’s decolletage, Donna dn Kory in their bikinis, Supergirl’s midriff) distract me from the story, and the general storytelling isn’t fitting what’s actually happening on the page.Â Given the adjustments to JLA plans recently, I would not be at all surprsed to hear that this book has been heavily retrofitted to current events, i.e. the appearance of Barry Allen’s Flash in one panel of this issue, or the reference to the new Batman in one word balloon.Â Another issue that I have is the sheer overwhelming volume of characters here.Â If we only deal with super-powered types, this issue’s heroes, in order of appearance are: Starfire, Donna Troy, Starman III, Congorilla, Animal Man, The Forgotten Heroes, Wonder Woman, Shazam, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Red Arrow (ugh), Vixen, Black Canary, Red Tornado, Plastic Man, Zatanna, Hawkgirl II, Hawkman I, Atom I, Supergirl VII, Stargirl, Robotman, Flash II, Batwoman II, Flash I, The Shade, Crimson Avenger II, Guardian III, The Odd Man, and Flash III.Â At least I THINK that’s the order, and I’m ignoring the cameo of the Forgotten Heroes.Â The last few pages of the book make NO narrative sense whatsoever, and the decision to amputate Red Arrow(ugh)’s arm bothers me for a number of reasons.Â I hope that it’s not permanent…Â The implication of the end of the story is that, somehow, Shazam is the one responsible for ripping off R.A.(u)’s arm, but where does the Flash come in?Â Why did Wonder Woman’s boot appear in the foreground of one panel?Â Where does this all take place in reference to the death of the Hawks in Final Crisis?Â Or the breakup of Green Arrow and Black Canary in their own title?Â Why does Firestorm II wear the costume of Firestorm I throughout?Â No matter how pretty the art, no matter how wonderful the ideas behind this limited series may have been, the execution of it all comes across as scattershot and renders even the maiming of a long-time, beloved character kinda meaningless.Â I will be happy to see this story come to an end, so that we can finally get on with the business of a Justice League title that (hopefully) will have less editorial thumb-printing.Â Justice League: Cry For Justice #5 falls apart about halfway through and never recovers, earning a highly disappointed 1.5 out of 5 stars overall.Â The character moments are good, but the plot splinters, and as beautiful as the art is, it has a tendency to undermine the story and raise questions that the book can’t answer.Â
Even given my problems with the books, I keep my fingers crossed for a successful relaunch.Â I hope that the inclusion of a backup Trinity won’t lead us down the exact same path that JLA has gone so many times before.Â It is perfectly possible to have a successful Justice League title without Hal, without Clark, without Bruce, even without Diana, as long as the characters are presented in a way that makes sense, that excites and entertains.Â I still have hope that Robinson and Bagley can do that, though I hope it comes sooner rather than later.