What a strange comic this is.
Since I first heard this comic book series announced in the coverage of 2008’s Wizard World LA (At the time it was to be an ongoing series entitled The Justice League featuring Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Arrow Oliver Queen, Supergirl, Batwoman, Starman Mikaal Tomas, Congorilla, Ray Palmer—not The Atom, but Ray Palmer—and Freddy Freeman, who would hopefully be back in his blue suit by then), to when I picked up the first $3.99, 22-page issue and recoiled at its price (and premise!) and figured I’d maybe buy the trade, to all of the passionate negative (and sometimes quite funny) reviews I read, to my mind being blown by the fact that it involved killing off of Lian Harper to a few weeks ago, when I borrowed a copy of the hardcover collection from the library.
That’s not a complete sentence. Someone should diagram it. I don’t remember how to diagram sentences. If I did, I would diagram it. Then I’d know how to make it a proper complete sentence.
As I look back on my years of experience interacting with this work in some form or another, it all seems like such a swirl. Now that I sit down to write a review, I’m not even sure where to begin.
Here are some random memories. Moments from the time spent reading this work.
The book contained an introduction, which is something I always like to see in collections of serial comics—they can prove to be a nice little something extra to help incentivize a trade purchase, and are often useful in establishing a context for a particular collection (often needed when it comes to these sorts of super-comics) or to make a case for why this particular group of comics is important enough to be represented as a book.
This particular introduction is by writer James Robinson, and he confesses that it was so long in process, a process including “three years of stops and starts and changes/shifts to events with the DC Universe,” that he’s not even sure to begin, so he decided to simply list a collection of 13 thought/memories, which you’ll notice I am patterning this bit of criticism after, since I wasn’t sure where to begin either.
Robinson does seem a bit defensive here and there in the introduction, noting that he “got the word from DC” regarding what they wanted to do to Roy Harper, and that he was “slightly leery.” He mentions arguing successfully that “an equally dark fate should not befall Mia/Speedy," and then there’s his conclusion, which I’ll quote at greater length:
I can honestly say that JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRY FOR JUSTICE was one of the weirdest, darkest tales I’ve ever written. I think it may be the darkest JLA story ever written, although others may beg to differ. AM I proud of that? Not proud, no. I merely state what I feel to be true. I certainly know this tale isn’t to everyone’s taste. I know some people are even angered by it. But it’s a work I stand behind. I hope, reading it as one combined (and therefore quicker) read, you’ll see what I was going for…the slower build, gaining momentum…the growing cast…the growing event.
He may be right about this being the darkest JLA story—it’s main competition is the un-mentioned Identity Crisis, which I think would probably win a dark-off with Cry. I’m sure it does read better like this then it did spread over far too many months, as interminable delays between issues dragged the tale out into drips and drabs, and, eventually, most of DC’s titles moved beyond the events of the conclusion before it actually concluded. It’s parent title, Justice League of America, for example, had almost a dozen issues released that were set after the conclusion of Cry, but before that conclusion actually saw print.
I only read the book as one combined, and therefore quicker read, and while it was a less frustrating read, I’m sure, it was also easier to question the logic of the plot. There isn’t actually very much logic to it. It’s also strange that characters that play an important role in the first scene of the book, like Superman and Wonder Woman, aren’t present for the conclusion—that’s because months and months of real time passed as these issues were being written and drawn, and the cast Robinson started with wasn’t one he had access to by the time it took to make the book. I’m trying to think of an analogy in another medium…the best I can do is that it would be a little like making a made-for-TV miniseries event, but having to use different characters and/or actors in the final episodes, because production took so long that the actors who starred in the first episodes moved on to other projects. (Stranger still, Wonder Woman has a few cameos on the ground at the climax, but she's not present at JLA HQ, where her magic lasso might have saved the day; more on all that conflict later).
The text pieces that ran at the end of each issue of the miniseries are absent from this collection. Robinson mentions them in his introduction. These were basically DC’s excuse—along with a different cover stock—for charging $3.99 for 22-pages worth of story throughout the series, something that was commonplace at Marvel at the time but was then almost unheard of at DC. The pieces basically consisted of illustrated prose by Robinson, introducing the various oddball characters that made up parts of his cast or made cameos, and explaining their histories and what it was about them that Robisnon liked.
I’ve read multiple commentators say the pieces were the best part of the series.
While none of those are included in the trade, Faces of Evil: Prometheus #1 by writer Sterling Gates and artist Frederico Dallocchio is. This was a random one-shot that DC published mainly as an apology or explanation for previous bad comics they’ve published. They make comics like that sometimes. In this case, it was a complicated retread of Prometheus’ origin and appearances in Grant Morrison’s JLA comics, and a rationale for why A.J. Lieberman did such a terrible job with Prometheus’ characterization during the writer’s brief, best-forgotten run on Batman: Gotham Knights, tied-in to Final Crisis.
Why is the issue included, other than the fact that it also features Prometheus? I can only imagine the thought was to include a comic so banal, tiresome and meaningless, so unimaginatively scripted and poorly illustrated that, for all its many faults, Cry For Justice wouldn’t seem quite so bad in comparison.
Much of the criticism leveled at Cry has centered on its events, and thus directed at Robinson and “DC” or “DC’s editors,” the people who were suggesting he do this or that to this or that character.
Certainly, it’s deserved. But the artwork on this series is rather poor as well, and that didn't seem to generate as much attention.
Mauro Cascioli is responsible for much of it, although because he lacks the bare-minimum requirement for an artist working on a monthly comic book—the ability to produce 22 pages of artwork every 30 days—he only actually draws four full issues, and parts of two more. Scott Clark comes in to draw parts of two issues, and one full issue.
If you look at any single panel worth of imagery by Cascioli, it’s evident he can produce great work. As contrarian as I can be, as picky and demanding as I am when I discuss superhero art, I’m not going to suggest Cascioli is a bad artist or anything.
He’s just a bad comic book artist. Let’s look at a few panels in sequence:Don’t read them, just look at them. Look at how that giant table shrinks between panels four and five, how characters shift places between appearances.
The artwork lacks continuity, which I mean here not in the usual superhero comic book sense, but in the filmic sense.
The artwork can be pretty, with characters often looking a bit like they jumped off of Drew Struzan movie posters, but distracting mistakes abound. The Atom II and The Atom III will share a scene, and in two of the three panels the costumes will be mis-drawn. Supergirl’s S-shield will slide up and down her shirt, depending on the panel. Little things like that.
But then, those little things are what this series is built out of—it's a trivia game for advanced players, testing their knowledge against Robinson’s knowledge of obscure DC characters from throughout the company’s history (many of which get trotted out for the sole purpose of being killed off because…well, I don’t know why. Maybe Robinson was given a body count quota that needed to be met?)
Clark’s art suffers for a different reason. First, he’s not Cascioli, making this book Occasion #246 where a big, “important” Big Two event comic is ruined by putting a hot or popular artist on parts of it, only to have to call in others to finish the job for them.
It may be a corporate produced product created by a committee, but it doesn’t have to look like one—I wish DC at least had the courtesy to try and pretend along with us that the comic is an ambitious piece of art driven by passion and individual vision.
The main problem with Clark’s art may simply be that he didn’t have enough time to go nuts. He draws parts of the book’s climax, in which entire cities are beginning to disappear and/or be ground to pieces by the never-quite-explained forces of Prometheus’ city-eating bomb-things, and every superhero in the DC Universe is in a race against the clock to save millions of people and it all looks…small.
The script is like that of a wide-screen Hollywood action movie; the art plays it like a radio drama. (Where was George Perez when this was going on?)
The aforementioned body count is pretty high, but it’s also pretty silly, as you’ll see by some of the particular characters killed. I counted a thirteen “name” characters, beyond the hundreds of nameless casualties in the bomb-thing generated tragedy at the end.
There’s Tony, Starman Mikaal Tomas’ boyfriend. And then there’s Freedom Beast, the more politically correct successor to B’wana Beast. And a Mike Dante, who was apparently a professional colleague of The Atom Ray Palmer. And Jay Garrick’s Golden Age sidekicks, “The Three Dimwits” Winky, Blinky and Noddy (They’re not named, so unless you’ve happened upon any Golden Age Flash stories, you might not even realize Robinson dusted them off to kill them off). And then there’s Tasmanian Devil, the Australian hero who was a member of the Global Guardians and, briefly, the Justice League (two other Global Guardians died are killed, but I couldn’t recognize them; I’ll post a scan below if anyone can name them). And there’s Clayface II (although DC’s half-dozen Clayfaces have all become more-or-less interchangeable). And there are three minor villains of more recent vintage, Penny Dreadful and Arak the WindWalker from the ‘80s Infinity Inc. and Endless Winter, from a JSA Confidential story arc.
The two biggest deaths are, of course, the villain of the piece, Prometheus, a sort of anti-Batman created by Grant Morrison in 1998, who is here shot through the head by Green Arrow Oliver Queen, to avenge the death of Lian Harper, Roy Harper’s young daughter.
It’s the latter death that probably got the most attention and generated the most outrage, and with good reason. What’s most bizarre about her death in the comic itself is how shoehorned in it all is.
Roy Harper, the former Speedy and former Arsenal who was now going by Red Arrow and had retired from the Justice League but was still sorta hanging around the team in this series for some reason, doesn’t even really have any lines until about halfway through the fifth issue of this seven-issue series (I suppose one overall problem with this series is that, during the time it ran, there wasn’t really a Justice League, given the creative team chaos of that book and a line-up that radically changed from story to story—this is and was a B-title lacking an A-title).
Those lines, of course, pertain to his having a daughter, and are used to demonstrate that he loves her. When he notices the time, he leaves the other Justice Leaguers staring at monitor banks, and, when someone asks where he’s going, he explains, “I’m just going to my room to call Lian and wish her sweet dream slike I do every night.”
“Give my grandkid my love,” Green Arrow says.
By the time this issue is over, Roy will be brutally maimed, his right arm torn or somehow cut off. By the end of the next issue, Lian will be dead, found crushed to death in some rubble when Prometheus’ bomb-thing destroys a bunch of Star City.
And that’s why Green Arrow decides to kill Prometheus. For his (not really) grandkid that is clumsily mentioned in order to kill off.
Lian herself never actually appears in the book; all we see of her is her shoes while Green Arrow cradles her body. (Let’s hear it for DC at least having that much restraint to at least not show us the corpse of a toddler in this book…although this all sounds like something that should happen in a book featuring Green Arrow and Roy Harper, like perhaps Green Arrow or Teen Titans.)
If we count the Prometheus one-shot at the end of the book, the body count goes up a little higher. Several New Blood characters have apparently been operating as “The Blood Pack” (the name of a made-for-reality TV superhero team that existed for the length of a four-issue miniseries in 1995) off-panel. Prometheus fights and brutally defeats them. Gunfire merely has his hands chopped off, but Anima—previously seen seemingly dying in Titans East—is killed, being cut completely in half when she leaps at a teleporting Prometheus.
The bottom half of a young woman lying in a pool of blood in a rain-soaked alley has gotta be a symbol for something, right?How about a woman’s torso floating through space…? Do note Anima’s completely un-Anima-like costume.
Here’s what Anima usually wore back when she first appeared and had her own comic book.
You know, as a one-time Anima fan, I think I’m just going to go ahead and pretend that DC never published that particular comic book (I’m sure I’m not the only one). And even if you forced me to admit that they did, and that Anima was therefore killed off (probably for real this time, given that she was cut in half), I’m jusg going to assume that the young blonde lady being called Anima here is a completely different Anima.
That would explain why she’s dressed completely differently. And doesn’t seem to have the same powers. And isn’t accompanied by her big red spirit giant ally monster guy, Animus.
(That is, by the way, what DC did with Prometheus. Someone got the character so incredibly wrong in a few appearances that they published this one-shot to thoroughly explain that that Prometheus wasn’t the real Prometheus, just another guy pretending to be Prometheus—the real Prometheus sets the pretender on fire at the end of Prometheus #1, because that’s gritty and adult….just like cutting young ladies in half and chopping off superheroes’ hands).
For all of the death and its random application (Remember this character? He’s dead! Did you know Jay Garrick used to hang out with these comedic sidekicks? No? Well he did, and they’re dead!), the most troubling aspect about the book is probably the torture scenes.
The villains torture innocent people to death, of course; in the first issue, we’re told Ray Palmer’s colleague was tortured and killed by Killer Moth (Isn’t there another moth for that sort of thing? A Torturer Moth…?).
But so do the heroes. The first torture scene occurs in the first issue, in which Ray Palmer—who, as Chris Sims pointed out during Blackest Night, was chosen to receive an indigo power ring because he was one of the most compassionate human beings on the planet—tells Killer Moth, “Welcome to pain” and uses his size-manipulation powers to grow inside the Moth’s skull.(That is, as Sims also noted, the exact same way Ray Palmer’s crazy wife accidentally killed Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis).
The Atom later does this to who he thinks is Prometheus, but who is actually the shape-shifting Clayface II, who is actually just sentient clay (It works too; even if Clayface was able to completely imitate Prometheus down to a microscopic level, his skull and brain would be so flexible that having a little man growing in them wouldn’t have to hurt him).
During that torture session, The Atom justifies what he’s doing: “All I’ve done is give this psycho the mother of all headaches,” rating physical pain as far below that of emotional pain of mourning over lost loved ones, “The pain we feel can’t be fixed with an aspirin.”
The Atom would do this on five more villains, including Deadline.
Starman also tortures Houngan for information.
While those are the only two heroes who are actively torturing villains, Green Latnern Hal Jordan, The Atom Ryan Choi, Supergirl (!!!) and Green Arrow will all watch and fail to intervene during different sessions.
It’s not until Ray Palmer is torturing Deadline—near the end of Cry #4—that Green Arrow finally says that, “This is getting beyond out of control” and that “heroes don’t torture. This has to stop.”
Ray and Hal try to argue with Green Arrow.
“I figured this might not jibe with our liberal views,” Ray says, “but good men have died, and I’m not killing anybody.”
“Torture is wrong,” Green Arrow answers. “Torture is what they do, not us.”
This is actually an extremely compelling issue, and one that perhaps should be discussed more often in different types of heroic action fiction, particularly since we’ve so recently discovered that Americans have been instructed to use and have used torture (and/or “enhanced interrogation”) in order to fight our wars in this new century.
Hearing about what’s been done by Americans in our name was probably the most appalled I’ve ever actually been. Nevertheless, the good guys roughing up the bad guys to get information is a staple of so much action fiction—even after the so-called “torture memos” came out and we’ve had to listen to government lawyers argue in public about who much pain has to be inflicted in order to cross the line between legal “enhanced interrogation” and “torture” and hear elements of the Abu Ghraib scandal and of the cover-up of it.
It might be nice to have a mature, serious discussion about the rights and wrongs of inflicting violence against the violent, of doing evil to fight evil in a superhero narrative.
It would probably be better to do so in one with fewer talking gorillas, though.
And just as it seemed so wrong to have Superman in Identity Crisis, a story about a rape, having Supergirl complicit in torture doesn’t seem quite right.
Also, it would have been nice if the entire story wasn’t so incredibly ridiculous, and the debate framed so lamely. Not liking torture is a “liberal” viewpoint, Ray Palmer says. Torturing is therefore…a conservative virtue? Normal? What is it The Atom mean by that? (And does that mean The Atom is Republican? Did he vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008?)
The discussion ends there though, as Green Arrow takes Hal Jordan and Ray Palmer down before they can attack him for wanting to stop them from attacking the bound and helpless villain they were torturing, and then Supergirl breaks up the fight and they all fly off to do something else.
In other words, the discussion never really happens.
I had a really hard time reading about, let alone liking, many of the heroes of Identity Crisis after reading that book—Zatanna, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Hawkman, Flash Barry Allen and Green Lantern Hal Jordan all seem compromised as heroes and characters by their actions in that story; to a certain extent, they were broken as heroes (I had suspected writer Brad Meltzer had chosen those particular characters for the sub-plot involving lobotomizing villains and tampering with Batman’s mind because they were at that point mostly semi-retired or unused characters. Of course, DC then focused attention on all of them to the point that the two who were deceased at the time of the story are alive and even Zatanna has her own title).
Reading these scenes does the same for me. Hal Jordan and Ray Palmer come across as monsters; Green Arrow and Supergirl are either simply monstrous, but not as monstrous as the other two, or cowards.
No one come off as particularly heroic in these scenes, even if Green Arrow eventually convinces everyone that torture is bad. If you’re a member of an organization called “The Justice League,” if you hang out with Superman on a regular basis, TORTURE = BAD is probably something you should already know. (And by the way, where is Superman and his super-senses at this point? This seems like the sort of thing that would have him flying in to lecture—if not beat-up—his unruly allies).
The more times I flip through the book, the more I begin to think that Robinson may be right about it being the darkest Justice League story. It’s certainly gory; there are a bunch of torn-to-pieces gorillas lying in pools of blood in the first issue, and when Donna Troy takes down Prometheus, she does it by pounding his face in, thick splashes of blood flying from her knuckles in panel after panel.
It’s main competition, as I noted, is Identity Crisis, with which it shares an awful lot in common, not least of all an uncomfortable and poorly handled subject that has come to define the book—as rape is to Identity Crisis, torture is to Cry for Justice.
Also like IC, Cry lacks a great deal of logic in its operation, and reads a bit like the more daring bits were written first, and a plot attached to it later, as the writer constructed a series around those dark events.
IC is certainly much more ridiculous, and much less “fair” with the reader, but the logic of Prometheus’ actions in Cry don’t make much sense.
His plan involves hiring just about every minor, cannon fodder-level villain in the DC Universe (that is, everyone who’s not shown on the cover of the first issue) to steal a bunch of DC artifacts for him—The Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill, The Atom’s Time Pool, etc.—and to then to coerce a super-intelligent gorilla from Gorilla City and I.Q. Quimby into building him a series of complicated teleportation devices.
These are powerful enough to teleport an entire city, anywhere in time or space or other dimensions, after first protecting them with impenetrable forcefields.
“Instead of destroying cities…something a monkey could do if you strapped a big enough bomb on its back,” Prometheus explains once captured, the idea here would be to simply whisk the heroes’ home towns away. “With limitless possibilities of where they’d been sent, you’d never find them. With the dead, you mourn and move on. With this you’d be tortured forever.”
To activate his weapons, he needed to be aboard the Justice League’s satellite, so he’s been posing as Freddy Freeman through much of the series in order to get on the satellite and activate the weapons (What method he uses that enables him to disguise himself as, and replicate all the considerable superpowers of Freeman/Captain Marvel Jr./Shazam is never explained). Once his task was done, he was going to fight his way to freedom.
Things don’t go according to that plan. First, the devices don’t really work—they simply destroy cities. Second, he’s captured.
At that point, he plans to tell them how to shut down the devices in exchange for them letting him go, creating a dilemma for the heroes.
Why does Prometheus want to escape more than he wants to destroy all those cities, to get freedom instead of revenge, as he says? (It’s not apparent from Cry, but the one-shot included demonstrates that the JLA were pretty harsh with Prometheus the last time they caught him).
They keep their word and let him go, which is the heroic thing to do, but then, the series has shown these heroes being much less than heroic, and the epilogue shows Green Arrow killing Prometheus…breaking a promise to a man caught in the act of genocide seems a lesser sin than shooting an arrow into his head when he’s not looking.
There are other, smaller, head-scratching moments. For example, how on earth is Prometheus caught off-guard by Green Arrow and actually killed by an arrow being shot at him, when he’s taken on multiple versions of the Justice League and always at least tied them? For all his preparations, his detailed plans to defeat each and every superhero and protect himself from their powers, his armor isn’t arrow-proof?
But it was the artificiality of Prometheus’ plan and the false-urgency it created at the end that seemed to deflate the story more than anything else to me.
For what could easily be classified as a “fight” comic, Robinson, Cascioli and company make strange choices regarding what action to show, and what to have occur off-panel.
The major fight scene is between Prometheus and the various League members and hangers-on on the satellite, in which he whips through them using a series of specially-designed bullets to and gadgets, ala his first appearance in Morrison’s JLA (Oddly, he neglects to kill anyone, even when they’re as easy to kill as not kill—as in the case of Gehenna and Jason once they’re de-Firestormed, and he experiences the same can-defeat-any-hero-but-wasn’t-planning-on-having-to-fight-a-villain scenario that he did in that first story (Here he’s faced with The Shade instead of Catwoman).
Prior to that, almost all of the action scenes revolve around Congorilla and Starman—fighting each other, fighting dudes in robot armor, fighting Penny Dreadful and Arak—while Green Lantern and Green Arrow stay out of the action.
Here, for example, we see them lead to an HQ full of villains, and they leap into the fray: From there, the scene shifts to check in on some other characters, and we return to GL and GA, this is the scene:The entire battle happened off-panel. How did they defeat the Composite Superman? What happens when fearless Hal Jordan encounters Master of Fear, The Scarecrow? Eh, who knows.
That may have been part of the slow build Robinson mentioned in the introduction, as we get only tastes of actual action until the climax, but an awful lot of the key events—the things that people will remember this story for—occur in allusion.
We don’t often see the many characters who get killed get killed—the image of Winky, Blinky and Noddy above, for example, is there only appearance. We don’t get to see Prometheus-as-Freddy fight Red Arrow, or Supergirl fight him. And, as mentioned previously, the big climax involving the disasters in all of the fictional cities across the DCU focuses mainly on a solitary hero striking a pose here or there, as if the cities falling apart is happing just beyond the borders of the panel.
That’s fine, I suppose. There are certainly a lot of comic books about Green Arrow and Green Lantern fighting villains out there, it just seemed strange to me.
It could also be because of the way the book evolved. The book was originally going to be about Hal and Ollie leading a proactive group of heroes going out and hunting down villains before they can raise their heads, but it got changed into a limited series. Near the end, the two Green characters talk about many of the villains they've fought and captured during the time span covered by this series, and there are a few panels showing longshots of them in action against villains not seen otherwise in the book. The restructuring may have meant Robinson had to race through a lot of stuff to make sure he had room to include what he regarded as the important stuff.
My favorite part of the book is when Black Canary calls Green Arrow “shiftless.”
My second favorite part is when Congorilla shows up at Animal Man’s House, and they show a panel of The Forgotten Heroes, which attempts to reveal a bad-ass version of Cave Carson, with his shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal ripped biceps and a pickaxe poised menacingly over his head.
I also liked the splash page where we see Green Arrow holding Lian’s body, and, standing behind him, is Black Canary, who looks like she just did a face-palm, slap-yourself-on-the-head-because-you-can’t-believe-how-stupid-this-shit-is sort of move.
In addition to Cry and Faces of Evil: Prometheus #1, this collection also included a couple of those two-page origins stories from the backs of 52 and Countdown. The choices of which to include all seem to deal with characters originally announced as the line-up for this team, but which didn’t really matter given the way the book eventually came out (Roy Harper, for example, seems to get a slightly larger role than Batwoman, and yet Batwoman has an origin in the back).
If you’re curious, these are The Atom Ray Palmer (by Len Wien, Mark Bagley and John Dell), Batwoman (by Wein, Don Kramer and Michael Babinski), Congorilla (Wein, Adrian Syaf and Dell), Green Arrow Oliver Queen (Mark Waid, Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens), Green Lantern Hal Jordan (Waid, Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert) “Shazam!” Freddy Freeman (Wein, Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes) and Starman Mikaal Tomas (Wein and Sergio Carrera).
As much as I disliked this comic, I'd still kinda like to read the one that Robinson and DC announced way back during that 2008 Wizard World LA panel—it sure sounded like an awesome comic book. Robinson's run on JLoA with Mark Bagley has been pretty decent stuff, although it has been fairly troubled, as is evidenced by the first few issues in which Robinson built up a big, new League based on the events of Cry, and then for whatever behind-the-scenes reasons, had to slash that roster down to a fraction of the line-up that was around for only two or three issue.