I am really pleased to say that Justice League #8 is a big improvement over the previous issue. Of course, the book overall is handled a little too haphazardly for it to reach the highs of some of the earlier issues. So, let’s take a look at where the book improves and where it stumbles.
There is one major difference that propels this book head and shoulders above the last issue: stuff happens. In the previous issue, the JLD showed up in Gotham and started punching vampires. That was basically all that happened. The ending set up Madame Xanadu going to one mystical realm and Constantine and Deadman going to another, but nothing came of it. This time, something actually happens and the plot inches along. Constantine and Deadman find who they were looking for. Their conversation is brief and seemingly a little pointless, but at least they didn’t just punch the guy. Xanadu sets up something with Buddha the Blue and then returns in time to watch Shade blow himself up. Zatanna is the one doing all the fighting this time, which does not really play to her strengths in my opinion, but she does get the only funny line in this issue, which is definitely one of her strengths. Apparently, the Gotham public school system is as bad as you would expect.
Art this time is handled solely by Daniel Sampere, while Admira Wijaya concentrates on the colors. While I am far from the loss of Mikel Janin’s gorgeous pencils, I think the consistent art in this issue is an improvement over the previous book. A lot of that may be that this issue simply has more interesting things to show readers. One mild disappointment is that we do get a brief glimpse of the madness realm Shade the Changing Man is constantly struggling with. Although this is a brief moment and has nothing to do with the current plot, it was an opportunity for some really impressive visuals that I can’t help but feel Janin would have delivered on. Instead we get wavy rainbows.
Unfortunately, despite the improvements here, I think the real problem with the series right now is a fundamental flaw in the current story arc. There is no tension in these two issues. We have our heroes fighting an army of vampires in Gotham City and somehow that is boring. At the end of the day, there just aren’t any real stakes here, if you’ll forgive the vampire parlance. To illustrate my point, let me see if I can make a comparison to another comic story arc. Hmm. Which to choose. Oh, I know. How about Justice League Dark #1-5?
The first few issues of this series saw the team of magic users come together, or do something approximating coming together, to stop the threat an insane Enchantress posed. We knew this was a threat, because it was properly built up. She put the Justice League in a whirlwind of teeth. There were reports of terrifying reality shifts all over the country. Even a few issues in, readers were given reminders that crazy things were happening to innocent people, reinforcing that these characters were working toward stopping something important. What’s more, we had June Moone. Amid all the chaos, there was one girl specifically who came to our heroes to ask for help. She was personally tied to what was going on and she was lost and scared and alone. Not only were we given a clear sense of a widespread threat, but we had a human face put on the crisis. The JLD had to save the world and the princess.
Now, let’s go over to the current proceedings. In issue six, everyone was told there were some vampires in Gotham. They went to Gotham. There were vampires there. The vampires started attacking them so they punched vampires. Unfortunately, this is the plot for a side-scrolling beat-em-up video game; not a comic narrative. What is the real problem here? For all intents and purposes, it just seems like a city riot. The vampires are committing random violence and messing up the town, which was already kind of a crappy place to begin with. In this story, vampires are treated as simple thugs and henchmen. Even if it is just thugs trashing a city, how hard would it be to throw a civilian in actual danger somewhere? There is simply nothing to invest me in this problem, so I do not really care that much how it gets solved.
Presumably, one could say that the threat of vampires is built up in the I, Vampire series itself. Great. I’m not buying a volume set here. If the writers want readers invested in the story, then it needs to be there. Hell, one of the main characters did not even believe in vampires in the last issue. That is how much of a non-presence this threat is. Normally, when you have a character who does not know about something, he is supposed to be the proxy for the audience. Another character, say, someone from I, Vampire, could come over and explain why vampires in general are such a big deal and why so many more of them is more of a big deal. The character says, “Oh, now I understand why this is important,” and so does the reader. This did not happen in the last issue and it does not happen in this one. Instead, Shade, our alien with the magic vest who did not believe in vampires, has a nervous breakdown and disappears into his back issues from the nineties. I don’t know if this is a subplot or distraction. However, I do know that neither one is necessary.
I really want this book to be better, but it is just not there. This crossover has not made me interested in reading I, Vampire. It has just made me annoyed with a series I greatly appreciated. Even so, if you like the characters and have an interest in their ongoing struggles to form a team, then this book is at least trying to do that. Also, Batman is still here to stand around by himself and not say or do anything. Batgirl is missing this time, though. I guess there wasn’t room for absolutely every pointless cameo this time.