The Villain’s Journey continues with another chapter as Justice League rolls reliably on under Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. It follows Johns’ well-worn formula of storytelling with minimal plot progression and advancing only up to the next cliffhanger moment, but both creators do supply enough material to make it a solid and entertaining read. In fact, this is probably one of the stronger issues of the series so far despite its adherence to Johns’ standard approach.
Recovering from Graves’ opening attack, the Justice League goes on the offensive and set out after their new villain. In the process, they learn Graves’ identity and quite possibly the fate of the abducted Steve Trevor. For a Johns’ book, this is a pretty good pace as far as plot progression goes. More meat certainly could have been given to this issue, but it succeeds at giving readers enough to feel like things have been accomplished in the story. Unfortunately, what the Justice League learns about Graves is largely what readers already know about the villain.
The new meat for us to chew on comes from development with Wonder Woman. Is it just me, or is there some kind of quiet war going on between Geoff Johns and Brian Azzarello over Wonder Woman? I don’t mean there’s any animosity between the writers. What I mean is that it’s rather hard to tell who Wonder Woman’s chief writer actually is. Oh, Azzarello technically writes Wonder Woman. But here in Justice League, Johns gets personal with the character in a way you would normally see reserved for a solo book. It’s here that we were introduced to the New 52 version of Etta Candy, and it’s here, especially in this issue, where we have the relationship between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor explored. Meanwhile in Wonder Woman, Azzarello goes off in his own direction that pretty much excludes the rest of the DC Universe and even those two major members of Diana’s supporting cast. Now, I happen to think the Wonder Woman stuff is the most interesting thing currently going on in Justice League. But as a reader of both it and Wonder Woman, I find it to also be kind of an awkward arrangement between two writers.
Anyway, Wonder Woman is the driving force of this particular issue. Graves’ abduction of Steve Trevor pushes Diana’s interestingly strained relationship with Steve to the forefront. She is not only confronted by some of her own teammates about it but Steve’s sister as well. The downside here is that we don’t really learn anything new about what has happened between them, but it is at least interesting seeing this become more open rather than just something implied by a line here and a line there. It also builds to what is one of Johns’ better cliffhanger endings, and he’s a writer known for his cliffhangers.
Cyborg finally gets some material of his own to play with when the Justice League are confronted by ghosts at the site of Graves’ transformation. You know, Cyborg’s role was one of the things that had me most excited about the New 52’s Justice League. But now nearly a year into it, I have to say that I’m disappointed. It hasn’t turned out to be much of a role so far. It feels like he is usually regulated to the background until the team needs some technical support. What happens in this issue is hopefully a sign that things are changing for the better.
My usual criticism of this series still applies with this latest issue. This is not a team that has been operating for five years. It’s just not. Try five months, and I might believe it. Is this issue really asking me to believe that, five years in, the Justice League is still trying to grasp the concept of teamwork and certain personality conflicts are only now reaching a boiling point? Come on. You can’t tell me it took five years for Green Lantern’s male chauvinistic attitude to clash with Wonder Woman. This is something that would have reached a boiling point on week five. Not year five.
Graves is the kind of villain that leaves me feeling a little conflicted. In most cases, I really hate villains with ambiguous abilities. You know what I mean. They’re just vaguely powerful and able to take on the heroes in ways that the writer is obviously making up for the purposes of the plot. Graves is stradling that line, and he’s leaning in the direction of becoming a villain with the power to do just whatever. This issue has him somehow broadcasting a spat between members of the League across the world. How? How does that relate to ghosts and traumatic memories? I’m fine with Cyborg not knowing how he did it. But as the reader, I need to know. I need the Johns to sell me on it. I like Graves thus far, but that will change if he goes any further in this direction.
Lee lives up to his artistic reputation in this issue. The characters look good. The action is dynamic. He even manages pretty well conveying characters’ emotions through their expressions and stances. Even the ridiculous seams he added to everyone’s costumes seemed like pronounced that usual, though many of them still need to just be erased entirely. The only thing is that something about this issue really made me aware of Wonder Woman’s lack of pants. DC really should’ve stuck to their guns on that one. There’s just something about seeing Superman, with his red underwear finally gone, with Wonder Woman, still without pants, that almost provokes an eye roll. You can add all the seams and metal you want to it, but it still looks like Wonder Woman is wearing a one-piece swimsuit.
The Shazam back-up feature continues on, and I struggle to figure out what to say about it. I really think DC made the wrong choice here when it comes to the format. These short installments drag the story out to a painful extent. With this latest one, we are only just starting to get to Billy Batson’s actual origin, and it feels like it has taken forever to get here. We even get Black Adam, but it’s all so brief that he really doesn’t make much of an impact on me. He’s powerful and scary. Yeah, he’s Black Adam. I figured that much before this. The story would read so much better if it could play out in full issues. The pacing of these short back-up features is killing it.
This is just another issue of Justice League. If you’ve been reading it thus far, you know exactly what to expect, and it doesn’t disappoint in that regard at least. It’s good issue of the series, which has been fairly consistent in its quality. What perhaps makes it a bit better than usual is the Wonder Woman/Steve Trevor relationship becoming such a major factor. But what may balance that out negatively is the lack fo new material for readers to really enjoy. It’s good, but Johns is capable of better. Sadly, it doesn’t read like he’s really bringing his A-game to Justice League. Good thing his B-game isn’t bad.