What a difference five years makes. Or in the Justice League’s case, doesn’t make. With its origin story complete, this issue of the series jumps forward to the present day, but you would be hard pressed to actually tell that much time has passed. There is some good stuff here. It’s just that, as the Justice League’s big present day debut, this is a seriously underwhelming issue.
DC’s New 52 is a strange mix in a way that doesn’t really mesh well. There are some areas like Green Lantern’s and Batman’s where it comes off like every bit of the history remains while being somehow condensed into a five year timeline. Meanwhile, there are other areas that feel like they have no history at all, much less five years worth. Justice League falls into this latter category.
Without being told otherwise, I would have assumed this story took place a few months after the origin story or at the end of the first year at the outset. The reason for this is that there is so little development apparent in this issue. When the Justice League shows up to save the day from Spore, it’s the exact same Justice League lineup from five years ago. They even look exactly the same with the exception of Aquaman, who does look more mature with neater hair and the lack of additional jewelry. The interaction of the team members does nothing to make up for this either. The bickering and immaturity from the team’s early days is still present as if no development has taken place between these people. The world loves them now, and you could almost claim that as a difference from their origin. You really can’t, though. We saw them winning over the public at the end of that origin story, so that’s hardly a development that feels like it took years to happen.
Colonel Steve Trevor is actually the focus of the issue, getting a larger role in the new DC Universe than he ever had before. He runs A.R.G.U.S., a military unit that supports the Justice League at the behest of the federal government. He is the Justice League’s government liaison, but in a refreshing change to that sort of role, he is also the team’s primary voice of support to the government. It’s a very cool role for the character, and it has the added benefit of making Wonder Woman seem more integral to the Justice League.
However, I guess there is something critical to be said about Wonder Woman being make more integral by making her pseudo-boyfriend more important to the team rather than... her.
What may be the most controversial thing about this issue though is the introduction of the new Etta Candy. Yes, this does seem to be the character’s introduction, which is another thing that adds to the impression that nothing has happened in the past five years. But the real story here is that Etta has gotten the Amanda Waller treatment. She too is now a black, skinny woman. There is plenty that can, and probably will, be said about this from the bad message on body image DC is sending to how weak DC’s commitment to diversity is that they are only willing to change the race of relatively minor characters like Etta and Morgan Edge. So... proceed.
Geoff Johns establishes a different dynamic between the Justice League and the government here. Even though there is cooperation, the Justice League keep themselves insulated to the point that no one is even allowed onto their satellite headquarters but them. This is a really smart move, because this was something about the Justice League that really needed some cleaning up. Things had gotten so comfortable and loose that it was honestly hard to believe that anyone’s secret identity was still secret. This is a much stronger concept for the Justice League. It not only makes them a bit more believable but also gives the team a more impressive mystique.
What is not so smart is the frenzy Johns whips people into in regard to the hero worship of the Justice League. It’s election season, and I do watch the news. So I know how massively stupid people, especially some of those in the political news media, can be. But seriously? Having people demand that the Justice League replace the government? That is just heavy-handed to a cartoonishly dumb extent. Establishing the public’s current love for the Justice League could have been handled in a far more intelligent way.
Gene Ha takes over the art for this issue, and I have to say that it’s really not his best work. His storytelling and layouts are as good as ever, but the art itself just seems very rushed and inconsistent. I’m definitely left disappointed here.
This issue also features the start of the new Shazam back-up feature. This is going to divide people. Johns’ portrayal of Billy Batson as a troubled teen who puts on a boy scout act is a bit of a painfully predictable way to modernize the character, but I don’t think there’s any good argument that says Billy didn’t need to be modernized in some way at least. Rather than Billy, I found myself far more interested in the pieces of mythology Johns drops in regard to the Wizard, Rock of Eternity and Black Adam. Gary Frank’s art is... Gary Frank’s art. I generally like his art, and I do here. It’s just that maybe he wants to draw Superman still instead of this. I found it hard not to see Billy as a young Clark Kent, and I’ll be damned if anyone can say the new Dr. Sivana doesn’t look exactly like Lex Luthor in glasses.
By no means can I honestly call this a bad issue of Justice League, but I also can’t say it isn’t a disappointment. Johns has really slacked off when it comes to giving the team any sense of history. I know from reading Justice League International that there was never a JLI era of the team, but was there ever... anything? Has the lineup ever changed, and is it just now coincidentally the exact same? I’m not asking for a five year timeline of the Justice League. I’m just looking for little touches that imply five years of substance have actually passed. Why is Aquaman the only one to have had an early look somewhat different from his current one? Why does the lineup in this issue have to be the exact same one as the origin story? Why is the team dynamic seemingly the exact same? Come on. Give me something.
The relaunched Justice League continues to be an entertaining read, but it also continues to be lacking in substance. Steve Trevor is the star of the issue and now stands as the most fleshed out character we have seen so far in the series. Everything else about the issue is either underwhelming or questionable. I really expected a better sense of world-building from Geoff Johns, and I’m genuinely surprised by Etta Candy’s introduction given the backlash DC received over the new Amanda Waller.
Next month features Green Arrow looking to join the team for the first time, which only makes me wonder even more if the Justice League has done anything at all in the past five years.