Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Review: Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
It is now five years after the events of Origin, but it might as well be the next day. The seven Leaguers haven't changed much physically (Aquaman shaved his sideburns and took off his necklace) or emotionally, and the team doesn't seem to have evolved much at all. Most of them still don't know one another very well, and most of them don't seem to like one another at all. No one has joined the team, or even been on the their satellite headquarters, not even Steve Trevor, Agent of ARGUS, who has become their one man PR-team/support staff/government liaison (Last night I kept going back in forth in my mind over whether it would be more or less hilarious if instead of Steve Trevor Johns and Lee used a grizzled, bad-ass version of Snapper Carr in this role).
The only exception to the no-one-but-us rule was, apparently, The Martian Manhunter. "We all know what happened when we let someone else onto this satellite and into the Justice League," Batman says in one panel, which leads directly to a two-page splash of Manhunter fighting the entire League by himself (Hey, in the New 52 J'onn can apparently use his Martian vision, make part of his body intangible and part of his body super-strong, all at the same time!).
What was that all about? It's one more of those little snippets of a secret history that is so often referred to, along with what the League has been up to for five years, what happened with Barbara Minerva, the untold story of Aquaman's hatred of Green Arrow, why Superman has a special enmity for The Key and so on. The idea seems to be to tease readers with these little flashes of a story, but it's a strategy that only really works if anything at all of interest is going on around it. Like, that sort of storytelling might have worked on Lost (I didn't watch Lost; did it work on Lost...?) because people wanted to know what was up with that fucking island.
Do people want to know why Martian Manhunter wears a loincloth and lost his spot on the League to a Teen Titan?
I don't know.
This is also the volume where Lee's presence can be seen starting to evaporate completely, and it's odd that he leaves the title without giving it much of a look...beyond the characters' terrible new costumes, of course. There isn't, for example, a single exterior or establishing shot of the Justice League's satellite watchtower headquarters; not that he drew, anyway (There's one, by I think Ivan Reis, who just draws three pages of one issue, and it's in the second issue of the collection, after scenes set on the satellite). That's sort of weird, isn't it?
(Maybe it's simply a matter of my living with them longer, or because DC used to publish maps and suchlike, but I can tell you what the tables they used to sit around in in the original cave HQ, the Bronze Age Satellite HQ, the JLI Embassy or the lunar Watchtower looked like; I can picture the rooms of those bases, but all we get here are a couple of generic interior drawings of metallic rooms.)
This volume contains the second six issues of Justice League, two standlone done-in-ones by guest-artists leading into the four-issue title story.
The first is by artist Gene Ha, which lays out the relationship between the U.S. government, Trevor and the Justice League and doesn't make any goddam sense. Apparently, the U.S. funds the League, but is angry they have no control over it. So why don't they just stop funding it? I don't know.
Nor do I know why Etta Candy looks like this now, aside from The New 52's unspoken "No Fat Chicks" rule:
The second is by Carlos D'Anda, whose smooth, clean art is a welcome respite from all the little lines of Lee and even Ha's work—it's a stubble-free issue!
Lee returns for the "Villains' Journey," in which the David Graves character kinda sorta introduced in the previous volume is reintroduced as a supervillain that looks a bit like a white Martian crossed with a devil (he gets more and more devilish-looking as the arc progresses) and who and goes by the villain name of, um, Graves.
He was a Justice League fan who lost his family and developed cancer during the Darkseid invasion (they caught a rare form of cancer by inhaling the ashes of the destruction; you know, like the real-world malady suffered by many 9/11 first responders, only made silly), and while fashioning himself into a villain discovered a strange place that gave him a strange power involving the creation of pseudo-ghosts.
Props to Johns and Lee for creating a new villain (old ones, like The Weapons Master, Amazo and the previously mentioned Key appear in passing), and for coming up with one with a fairly distinct look, motivation and power-set, but at the end of its first year worth of issues, the Justice League book still doesn't seem like it's coalesced yet.
I can't shake the feeling that I'm reading something akin to an Elseworlds project, an Ultimate Justice League, and I realize that there's a very strong possibility that that is simply me as a reader. That said, however, the fact remains that this isn't a very good comic book—there's a talented writer, but he's producing probably his worst scripts ever, and there's a talented artist (three, in this volume, actually), but he's playing fast and loose with basic storytelling conventions, producing decent art that doesn't function as it should.
Giving Johns and Lee and company a year on the title seems like a more than fair amount of time by which to judge it, and I've read it in its final, collected form, the form it was apparently being written for, and I'm sad to say it still doesn't really work.