It seems unusual that the "Darkseid War" story arc is playing out in the pages of Justice League, however, even if it is Johns' home title, and features the biggest heroes of the current DC Universe. Darkseid's opponent in his war is going to be a rebooted and redesigned version of Marv Wolfman and George Perez's Anti-Monitor, and he was introduced at the end of Forever Evil, the first of DC's event series of The New 52, which was big enough a deal to get its own limited series, take over the Justice League books, spawn a few tie-in miniseries and hijack the whole line for a month of those weird semi-animated 3D covers. That series was itself prefaced by "Trinity War," a storyline big enough to run through all three then-extant Justice League books (and a few sundry tie-ins).
If those events were all building towards this, well, it seems rather small doesn't it? Yes, this first official chapter is 41(-ish) pages, but I mean small in terms not of story-length, but signals the publisher is sending. Compared to "Trinity War" and Forever Evil, stories building towards this, to the extent that they could be read as the first two acts of a three-act story cycle, this story arc lacks any of the highlighting, sign-posting and fan-goading that the Big Two usually engage in when telling their readers what books are "important" to read (Hell, Convergence and Futures End got much more in the way of highlighting).
That's not a bad thing, of course; it's just an unusual thing.
Well, since this book is supposedly going to be such a big deal, I suppose I will play along and treat it as such. If you've got a copy of Justice League #40, grab it and read it with me, won't you?
This cover, by new Justice League artist Jason Fabok,looks so much like a movie poster that I found myself trying to think of which specific movie poster it borrows its design, lay-out and character posing from. I guess that's a good indication that this comic book is going to be "cinematic"...?
Front and center, we have Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. As is immediately evident, this story is apparently set well before current goings-on in the DC Universe, as Batman is neither dead nor "dead," Green Lantern has a ring, uniform and short hair, and so on. Wonder Woman appears to have a new costume, but I haven't been keeping up with The Finchs on her title, so maybe that's up-to-date.
The background elements, moving clockwise, consist of 1) A lady in a reddish hood with glowing eyes (Is it Pandora? Is Geoff Johns finally going to explain the ending of 2011's Flashpoint in this story arc? Spoiler: No, that's Darkseid's daughter, introduced in the preludes as a sort of anti-Wonder Woman; while Wondy is the daughter of Zeus and an Amazon, this new lady is the daughter of Darkseid and an Amazon), 2) Justice Leaguers Superman, The Flash, Cyborg, Lex Luthor, Power Ring, Aquaman and
Five horizontal panels of equal size stacked atop of one another, slowly zooming out from an empty wine glass as it is filled with wine, followed by a pair of close-ups. See? Cinematic!
The wine pouring into the glass reminded me of Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's hyper-compressed JLA arc introducing Zauriel while pitting the League against Neron, The Demon's Three and a renegade angel; still my favorite Justice League story ever.
Fabok has redesigned both of these two, too. Everybody from Kirby's Fourth World mythology gets redesigned, and it's a tough gig, really, as Kirby's designs are so unfuckwithable, but, on the other hand, are on the silly side, and seem much more so when plopped down in the world of The New 52, where no one wears spandex, only armor, where even The Flash and Captain Marvel look grim and gritty.
I, naturally, hated this new Kanto design immediately, but the more I looked at it, the more it grew on me. Fabok keeps its essential colors and shape, so that even though Kanto doesn't have a hat on, his horned helmet looks a bit like that hat from afar. And he's still got facial hair, which is important.
So it's not ideal, but in a world where such perfect superhero costumes as Carmine Infantino's Flash costume and Joe Shuster and company's Superman costume are deemed in need of drastic tweaks, well, this is fine.
And it could be worse, as we'll see in a few pages!
Of note here is the fact that Kanto kills the woman by flicking a knife at her. A few panels later, he says, "Come, Mother Box," and the knife, now stained with what looks like red paint, returns to his hand with a PING and speaks to him in a mechanical-looking font, its dialogue bubble emanating Kirby dots (Okay, that's a nice touch).
All of a sudden, we get a narrator, the first of several. This is one of my big pet peeves about modern superhero comics; writers still write them as they always have, they just put the stuff that used to be in thought bubbles in narration boxes. But thinking, or talking to yourself, is different than narration. This would be a fucking mess in prose, as it moves from omniscient third-person to first-person narration, then another first-person narrator, and so on. Gah.
You can't quite tell from his color-coded, sigil-bearing, personalized narration boxes–which feature yellow print on a field of charcoal gray, with red outlines and, on the corner of teh first box on each page, an unintelligible symbol that upon closer inspection seems to be a fraction of his new costume–but this is Mister Miracle.
Johns' origin of this Mister Miracle seems in line with his standard origin, with only minor tweaks, but I was struck by what a hard time I had reconciling this guy with the one I saw in the pages of Earth 2 and Futures End...It's the reverse of the way shared-universe superhero comics are supposed to read, but I find myself more confused about characters the more times I see them in different books.
Fabok has heavily redesigned Mister Miracle (here's Abhay Khosla's right-to-the-point take), even redesigning the re-design from his previous New 52 appearances. If you squint and look from a distance, it seems to be the same basic design, although from the neck down he appears to be wearing armor made out scrapped bodies of Marvel's The Vision. And a utility belt? That's not very sporting of an escape artist, is it? Houdini kept the key under his tongue, not on a key chain worn around his belt.
For a god, this guy's got a lot of padding, including a huge codpiece. Do the New Gods kick each other in the crotch a lot?
Brad Anderson is the colorist. I'm not sure if he's to blame for how dark Mister Miracle's new duds are or not. I mean, yes, he colored the page, so he's responsible for that, but perhaps Fabok or someone else instructed him to make sure that there was as much black and gray on Miracle as there was red or yellow, and that the green of his cape looked like a drab olive rather than anything bright.
At the end of his origin story, Miracle either takes a box-shaped Mother Box or puts a Mother Box against a tower of Mother Boxes, and says, "This can't be possible" aloud, while narrating, "I'm going to need the Justice League."
Cue Narrator #2! It's Wonder Woman, talking about what she and most of the original Leaguers had in common, the fact that, as children, they were all searching for something. It's a pretty elegant bit, really. Good job, Geoff Johns!
Wonder Woman keeps narrating, and these pages are arranged as a two-page spread, the panels moving horizontally across both pages. The League is investigating a murder scene–giving me an uneasy feeling, as I flashback to Identity Crisis–the scene of the murder on the first three pages.
One big panel runs across the top half of the spread. We see The Flash Barry Allen in three places, investigating stuff at super-speed. Batman is crouched over the body of the Black woman, wearing goggles. Cyborg is doing something with special effects, while
While Batman and Flash talk crime-scene investigation, Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Power Ring Jessica Someone-or-other use their rings in another room to search for clues.
Four-panels here; in the first one, part of Batman's dialogue carried over from the last panel of the previous page gets a narration box, even though it's not narration.
Cyborg's chest symbol has flip-flopped sides, so now it looks like a C; on the previous spread, it was backwards, I think. Shazam explains why he's uncomfortable: "I've never seen a dead body before."
One of the appeals of
Honestly, there's no reason for Shazam to be there. He's not using the wisdom of Solomon to crack the case ("I say we cut the body in half, and give one half to each...wait, that won't work here, will it?"), and he doesn't have any CSI experience or fancy gadgets or magic clue-detecting jewelry. Wonder Woman has the standing-around-looking-tough-next-to-the-government-agent-standing-around covered. Couldn't they have him pull monitor duty or something?
Superman, Lex Luthor and Captain Cold walk down a high-tech hall, discussing Luthor's attempts to cure and get answers out of a person named Neutron, apparently dying of cancer. This must be following up on something from previous story arc "The Amazo Virus," which I did not read.
Superman tells Luthor that she only get his information from asking, not torture, or the threatening of torture. Neither of them seems to recall their first meeting, in which Luthor tortured Superman to extract information from him at the behest of the U.S. government, particularly well.
Captain Cold appears at the bottom of page 11; another example of sub-par staging on Fabok's part.
Mister Miracle continues narrating his origins, while looking at files with the Mother Box, which is apparently his Mother Box. I guess the Mother boxes can change shape now, giving them one thing over the modern smart phones that Jack Kirby predicted decades ago in their invention.
Another horizontal lay-out spread over two pages, apparently to accommodate perhaps the goofiest ad in comics history. Or at least since Marvel had their artists draw Old Spice products into panels.
Along the top, Darkseid enters the room. "Those colors," he says to Miracle, "Why do you wear those colors?"
He is apparently referring to the red, yellow, drab olive and charcoal of Mister Miracle's new costume.
Along the bottom, Nick Lachey argues passionately for each of the two Twix bars in a package of peanut butter Twix, denigrating the other in each panel. Is there anyone who eats peanut butter Twix who only eats one of the Twix, and not the other? Is that the joke? Is it funny? I don't get it. If DC made a bunch of money off of these ads, they sure didn't pass the savings on to readers: This goddam comic still cost $4.99, about half a manga collection or a quarter of a Big Five trade collection or original graphic novel.
With the money you could save just trade-waiting DC comics, you would have plenty left over to buy packages of Twix, eat one, and throw the other away.
Darkseid and Mister Miracle fight. Miracle throws a frisbee from the Tron arcade game at Darkseid. Darkseid eye-beams his legs out from under him and then attempts to stand on him.
Darkseid's foot is gigantic, but if Darkseid is so many times larger than Miracle, it's not apparent until the end of their fight a few pages after Darkseid is introduced into the narrative.
Anyway, Miracle Boom tubes out from under Darkseid's gitantic foot, probably into Justice League #42.
In the Black family kitchen, Cyborg explains that there are 44 surviving Myrina Blacks in the U.S., and that another has just been killed. The League's CSI scene is interrupted when a woman climbs out of The Flash's mouth (Neat visual, that).
She has red eyes, and undercut and a funny-shaped space axe; she's wearing a poncho with an Omega symbol on it and no pants, and speaking in the same colored-bubbles as Darkseid.
It's Darkseid's Daughter!
Dee Dee engages the League in combat, cutting Batman in the shoulder, the small of the back and maybe the throat. Don't worry if he "die"; he's already "dead" in his own book, and the preludes for this storyline have already revealed that he will become a New New God, apparently replacing Metron.
Mister Miracle arrives in a parking garage, not Justice League #42, where he and his Mother Box find a dead boy, one of the Myrina Blacks. Her murderers, Lashina and Kanto, are still there, and they fight in front of the late Ms. Black's size-changing car (look at panel 2 vs. panel 5).
Mother Box mentions Miracle's wounds, and the burn marks on his thigh-armor are clearly visible. I'm not sure who should feel more embarrassed here. Me, for suggesting that Mister Miracle doesn't need to be so heavily armored right before he suffers a terrible wound to his legs, or Mister Miracle, for wearing all that armor and it still not being enough to protect his legs. Good thing Darkseid didn't aim for his crotch, as that massive codpiece wouldn't have helped.
Back to the other fight, Dee Dee unwraps Cyborg like a Christmas present, stabs Shazam from behind, withdrawing her axe blade thing all drippy with silhouetted gore and knocks Wonder Woman around while the Amazing Amazon calls Superman for back-up.
At on point, Dee Dee eye-lasers Wonder Woman's bracelets off, saying, "You're stronger without them, aren't you?"
In Brian Azzarello's run on Wonder Woman, Diana's bracelets weren't there as a reminder to never be enslave to man or anything, but were instead a sort of power dampener, keeping her from accessing the powers she had from being the demi-goddess daughter of Zeus. Here, Diana doesn't transform as she did in Wonder Woman when taking off her bracelets, but, as I said, I have no idea what's what with Wonder Woman at the moment, and given the fact that her bracelets have changed, the way they work in the New 52 may have changed as well.
The narrative sure is jumping around a lot, which makes for an exciting read, but makes it hard to write about in this format. But I'm not giving up!
Back at wherever Luthor and Superman are, the two prepare to join Wonder Woman and the others. Captain Cold has disappeared again, but Lena Luthor, Lex' sister, is sitting in front of a couple of computers, doing her Oracle impression. (Oh shit, now that I look closer, I see that she's actually in a wheelchair too. By "her Oracle impression," I just meant she was sitting in front of generic computer screens, knowing things convenient for a lady sitting in front of computers talking to the super-people to know. "Oracle-ing" seems to be increasingly popular in superhero fiction–The CW's Ollie Queen has his own Oracle, CW's Flash has a whole team of Oracles, et cetera, and I guess Luthor has one in his Luthor Cave or wherever they are).
Anyway, Luthor suits up in his new kryptonite-powered armor and, when Superman sasses him–Superman, your girlfriend is getting murdered; maybe now's not the time to tell off Luthor and say you guys don't need his help?–Luthor blasts him with a kryptonite-powered repulsor beam.
I'm assuming it's a purple beam because that's Luthor's favorite color, but the kryptonite power source is green kryptonite; I don't think there's purple krytponite, is there?
Then Lena shoots her brotehr three times, twice in the back and once in the arm! With a gun that looks like a conventional firearm, and smokes and makes "BLAM BLAM BLAM" noises like a conventional fire arm, but fires what look like laser beams, and, whatever the projectiles are, they're enough to completely penetrate Luthor's super-armor, two of the shots going in one side, through his body and out the other side of the armor.
Is Luthor totally dead forever now? Probably.
Back to the League vs. Dee Dee fight. She takes down Green Lantern and Power Ring, and summons an army of shadows, not unlike that The Anti-Monitor raised in Crisis On Infinite Earths. In thsi sequence it's made clear that Batman, Shazam and Cyborg are not dead, all of them at have at least gotten to their knees.
There's a cutaway to Ultraman's cell, where he's on the floor, saying in a small voice to himself, "He's coming. The monster is coming for us."
You'll probably recall that the reason Ultraman and the Crime Syndicate came to Earth-0/The New 52-iverse in "Trinity War" and Forever Evil was that The Anti-Monitor had destroyed their world, Earth-3.
Speak of the devil. Or anti-god. Or whatever. The Anti-Monitor appears on a two-page spread, surrounded by a halo of light and Kirby dots, with black shadow lightning swirling around where his feet would be.
A purple narration box with an "S" in it features the dialogue–like, there's quotation marks and everything, so this is more of a voiceover as in a film or TV show than narration as in prose–"The destroyer is here!"
No one associated with the color purple and an S have appeared in the book yet, so there's no indication who's talking.
A very busy page, as we jump back and forth to the Luthor Cave a few times, Johns and Fabok picking up the tempo before the denoument of the last few pages.
There's Superman cradling a bleeding Luthor and asking Lena, "Why?" while the purple S continues to talk in the corner.
There's Superwoman, finishing the purple S's sentence. So it's Superwoman, also in a cell since the end of Forever Evil, who was talking. She's huddled on a bench in her cell, and say's "Oh, sweet child," a reminder that Superwoman is pregnant, but we're not sure who the father is. Ultraman, Owlman and the late Lex Luthor of Earth-3 were all suggested during the course of Forever Evil, but maybe it's actually The Anti-Monitor's or Darkseid's. Presumably it will be revealed during the course of this story (and maybe they'll resolve the end of Flashpoint, too? The Anti-Monitor coming could conceivably be a threat of large enough magnitude for Pandora to decide she somehow needed to merge pre-Flashpoint DCU with the WildStorm Universe and the "Vertigo Universe"...although Johns would then have to make sure there were some WildStorm heroes in here, and Veritgo immigrants other than Swamp Thing and Constantine, who had arrived in the DCU prior to Flashpoint).
There's Lena Luthor, holding a Mother Box aloft and instructing it to send Luthor and Superman "to their end...For Darkseid."
There's Kanto and Lashina attacking Miracle (note Kanto's helmet here; in profile, the top horns visually approximate the shape of the feather in his cap), and Miracle asking his Mother Box to "steal their coordinates! Jump and cover! NOW!
"MY NAME IS MYRINA BLACK" she says in huge font at Mister Miracle, and asks him to join her in her war against Darkseid. This is Darkseid's Daughter's mom, shown giving birth to her in DC's FCBD offering. I remember the tattoo!
"RAAARK," says Griff.
I've been a little hard on Fabok here, but only because he deserves it. But to be fair, that is one hell of a drawing of a griffin on the last panel...or at least the parts we can see of it (I guess this scene is kind of poorly staged, at least in terms of introducing the griffin, as we only see its head and a bit of a wing; I'm just assuming it has a lion's body. On the other hand, it's Black who is the focus of the reveal, not the griffin, even though the griffin looks cooler, and has cooler dialogue. I want to read a Fabok comic about that griffin, more than the Justice League, really).
I think this points to a major problem with DC Comics right now, something that worries me about the future of the medium in it's mainstream (i.e. direct market) iteration. It's clear that Fabok can draw a static image of something really, really well. That's true of a lot of artists working for DC right now that I kind of hate to read comics by–Tony S. Daniel, Brett Booth, maybe David Finch when he's not on deadline. They're great pin-up or cover artists, but as finished as their individual images are, they're not very good storytellers.
Despite that, they're the artists getting the best gigs at DC right now. The publisher didn't hire John McCrea or Nicola Scott or Evan Shaner or Tim Truman or Phil Winslade or Tom Grummet or Dan Jurgens or Ron Wagner or Denys Cowan or Tom Mandrake or Rags Morales or Cory Hamner (just to grab some names of artists who recently did exceptional work for the publisher during Convergence, and leaving out creative teams like Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr or John Romita Jr. and so on who are presumably quite happy with their regular, ongoing assignments), they hired Fabok.
Now that is likely because Fabok is more popular, that he's an artist who will sell more books when put on Geoff John's Justice Leage than Ron Wagner or Cory Hamner might, and ultimately that's what's most important.
And it worries me that DC and its more ardent fans are creating this sort of negative feedback loop, where the publisher promotes the work of talented artists who haven't yet got a great grasp on comics storytelling fundamentals because they're popular, and those artists have their popularity rise because of the promotion that the publisher invests in them, and so on, until there's a certain segment of a certain generation of a comics audience that can no longer tell good comics from bad.
But, again, it does make sense, form a business point-of-view, I suppose.
I guess the best we can hope for is that a) Fabok and other artists on top-tier DC Comics projects really bust their asses to improve and continue to learn and refine their abilities rather than resting on their laurels and b) that readers who like what they've see in books like this also read a hell of a lot more comics, from different artists and publishers and genres.
That, or DC could just do whatever I tell them all the time, but, oddly enough, they never ask for my opinion. I just give it. After the fact.
What was I talking about...?
Oh, Justice League #41. On the last page we get the title of the comic, "Darkseid War Chapter One: God Vs. Man," and the credits. Fabok pencilled and inked his work...or else Anderson colored directly over Fabok's pencils. I don't know. Maybe Fabok should work with an inker, to free up his time to better construct lay-outs? Or hire an assistant to help with those lay-outs?
It also tells us that there is a David Finch-penciled Joker 75th Anniversary variant cover (which is terrible, by the way), and has the now-standard credits regarding Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's creation of Superman and the special arrangement bit, and, it's nice to see, a credit to Jack Kirby for creating the New Gods.
I'm certainly interested to see what happens next. But not as interested as I am in The Adventures of Griff.