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There is something weirdly counterproductive about this issue of Justice League. It is filled with details that are aimed at fleshing out the past five years of the team’s history. Yet at the same time, it manages to paint a picture that implies incredibly little has actually happened in the half decade the Justice League has existed. What this all results in is an issue that falls short of living up to what it intends.
When I reviewed last issue, my main problem was that it lacked a sense of history. It felt less like five years had passed and more like five months at best. Everything seemed so underdeveloped for five years to have passed. That is less of a problem in this issue, as it does drop in bits of information that do give a sense of history. Still, it’s no five years worth.
The focus of this issue is Green Arrow and his attempts to join the Justice League. This is a major deal because, as far as the public is aware, the Justice League has never changed its membership to include new members. That’s right. The matter of the team seeming terribly underdeveloped for being five years old is addressed by outright stating that it has remained almost static for this entire time. That’s kind of a big deal, and I’ll get into that in a minute. But what this issue does is depict that Justice League as a very elitist and exclusive group, which carries over from last issue. Comparisons are being made to the Authority, and they aren’t necessarily wrong. That arrogant attitude is definitely present in this new take on the Justice League. I have to question whether fans want it that way, though. Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I can see the appeal of it in regard to the Justice League as a group. Frankly, the Justice League had become pretty meaningless over the decade considering the perception that nearly every hero had been a member at one point or another. On the other hand, it feels like it conflicts with the characters as individuals. Oh, I can see Aquaman, Hal Jordan and Batman as being jerks. But that gets more awkward when considering Superman, Wonder Woman, Barry Allen and Cyborg.
The questionable take on the Justice League is not what holds this story back from being great, though. That falls squarely on the shoulders of Green Arrow. I can name many characters who have been changed by the New 52 and are arguably better because of it. Is Green Arrow one of them? Oh, hell no. He has lost many of the old character traits that made him interesting. He’s younger, less cranky, less liberally outraged, less flawed and less relevant. Geoff Johns seems to try to bring some of that back in this issue by claiming that Ollie wants to join the League because he feels they need a social conscience, namely him. Unfortunately, that claim rings totally false. At no point during his attempts to join the team does he actually express any social conscience. He doesn’t criticize the League and how they do things. He doesn’t make his case whether they want to hear it or not. He tries to impress them and eagerly chases after their acceptance. This isn’t Green Arrow. This is Booster Gold.
So, back to that whole thing about the Justice League almost never accepting new members. It’s hard to wrap my head around what that means. We already knew that the Justice League International era never happened, but this seems to confirm that really… no era has happened. That rips the guts out of a whole lot of DC history. Just look at Green Arrow for example. Obviously, he has never been a member of the Justice League, which means the relationships he formed as a member of the team are null and void. Hard Traveling Heroes? Gone. Hal and Ollie barely even seem to know each other now. His iconic rivalry with Hawkman? It seems unlikely that they would have ever spent any time around each other. Here’s a big one. Black Canary. Can it be assumed that Ollie and Dinah have ever even met without the Justice League to bring them together? See what I mean? This is all just looking at what it means for one character. Take that, and multiply it by all the major DC heroes who have now never been part of the Justice League. Seriously, what — if anything — has happened in the past five years of the new DC Universe?
We do get some small answers to that question in this issue. They’re small, but you have to take what you can get at this point. Note I’ve implied that the Justice League has had a new member join before, despite it not being commonly known. What Johns does with Martian Manhunter is far more interesting than the Green Arrow stuff. That’s a shame considering J’onn has a very small role in the story as opposed to Ollie’s quite large one. The new take on J’onn’s role with the Justice League may be controversial, because it’s kind of the total opposite of what his old role was. Still, I think it’s a smart move. It’s not as though his old status was doing him any favors when it came to making him a popular character in his own right. This stands a better chance, and I look forward to Johns eventually expanding on this plot point.
Johns also continues to make Cyborg an integral member of the Justice League. Cyborg is one of those characters I would name in regard to being better thanks to the New 52. I do have some concerns, though. Johns is playing very close to the line of turning Cyborg into a walking deus ex machina and will need to tread carefully with his use of Cyborg’s technological abilities.
The art matches the writing as far as its mixed bag status goes. We seem to have three artists on this issue, and that works about as well as you’d expect it to. I felt Gene Ha’s art on the previous issue was rushed. It seems to me that this issue was rushed along as well. The inconsistencies are pretty noticeable and distracting. It’s easy to tell which pages and panels Reis had a heavy hand in and which he did not, because these artists’ styles do no seamlessly mesh.
I almost forgot to discuss the Shazam back-up, which… probably says something about it. I’m not sure this back-up strategy is the greatest idea for drumming up interest in Shazam, because so far, it’s a slowly paced story that comes in small, easily forgettable bits. In this installment, we’re introduced to Billy Batson’s new supporting cast, and they will be fairly familiar to those who remember Captain Thunder in Flashpoint. I was a huge fan of the Captain Thunder concept, so I’m glad to see this development even though it’s likely not going to go in the same direction. Besides that, Billy is still a little jerk. There are a lot of jerks in this issue.
Justice League is meant to be the flagship title of the New 52, so it’s a real shame that I’ve found it to be consistently underwhelming when it comes to developing this new universe. For every new interesting element it introduces, it seems like it tears out several others. We have a compelling new dynamic between the Martian Manhunter and the Justice League, but as a result, we now have many DC characters who no longer have ANY dynamics in relation to the Justice League. There’s potential in a new animosity between Aquaman and Green Arrow, but we no longer have a friendship between Hal and Ollie and quite possibly no romance between Ollie and Dinah. That’s just from this issue. It’s not a new feeling when it comes to reading this series. Justice League can be an interesting and entertaining book. But when it comes right down to it, I never feel like I’m getting a fair trade from it.