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Justice League of America, or rather JLA to save time and for convenience, is something of a quandary. An enigma in comic form. On one hand it is the best “Justice League” branded title that is being put out right now, but on the other hand – well, that is where we run into a wide variety of problems. In any case JLA is certainly the one team book out of the two that he is currently writing where Geoff Johns is putting the majority of the effort – and it shows.
A common description of JLA as it stands so far is that it is structurally similar to a big, bombastic, yet silly, action blockbuster. This is an opinion that I myself voiced in the review for the first issue, and in so far that view of the comic has not changed one bit. Not to say that the description is supposed to be insulting or to tack it onto the series is in any way bad, quite the opposite. When done even half-competently it actually helps to bring forth dynamic characters, fun situations, bold character relationships, and entertaining (if simplistic) set-pieces.
Aspects that are displayed right here in JLA #3, especially in terms of character dynamism – due to brash focus being given to Catwoman and Green Arrow, which play off very enigmatically. It really is worth noting the small, but impactful, depths that those two are receiving. As Steve Trevor was for the main Justice League title, ie. the breakout characters, the ones who come off looking good and get the more appealing set-pieces. Green Arrow, for example, is being portrayed in an exceedingly bright light as the plucky, endearing, “heart” of the team – but also being able to pull his own weight. Catwoman, for her part, is now the ex-con on the redemption streak who is willing to prove herself. Neither of these characterizations is original or groundbreaking in any regard, but the series is an action flick as heart and so it plays into the hand it is setting up.
This issue in itself leans heavily toward the side of action as the majority is simply chock full of it – in both the straight “brawl” variety and the more “black ops” style, both of which lead to somewhat engaging and humorous sequences. Remember, these are “green” or amateur characters so that they are a proud and proven team – so we have desperation in the heat of battle and the breakdown in stealthy missions. It’s a great break from the normal regard with lots of snark and bond formation amongst characters.
If I had to give this issue recognition for anything else before delving into the “negative pile” it would have to be the improvement in pacing overall. The first two issues were negatively notable in their in the quality of pacing that they had – which was nothing less than stilted and had the propensity to stall the story to a disengaging degree. JLA #3, however, finally seems to have reached a good momentum that will hopefully continue on throughout the series. Sequence after sequence flows fluidly into the next with little toughness. The touching upon the various other potential subplots, such as the justification/characterization of Stargirl, gives the series a better-rounded feel and it is appreciated.
Now the negative aspects of this issue can be summarized into to parts, with the first taking more of the brunt – since it is almost hilarious in its negativity. The first, to put it bluntly, is the art. Just to get it out of the way, it is not David Finch that I am talking about – although his usual amount of bland, uneventful, and uninspired drafting/composition didn’t help. It is, for now, the coloring provided by Sonia Oback with causes much of the problems. You have characters looking like other characters, unexpected mixes, and general messy continuity – it’s a mess. It detaches the reader from what they are reader and is just plainly a detriment. The second is the management of Steve Trevor’s character – as if Green Arrow and Catwoman, are the new Steve Trevor, then Steve Trevor is the new regular JL. A bit unreasonable, bullish with little reason, and it reeks of mischaracterization.
Now, before we wrap up, I’d like to mention the wonderful Martian Manhunter back-up that has been featured since JLA #2. It adds a lot more depth to what was a very shallow character and makes him unique and interesting. Matt Kindt (writer) and Manuel Garcia (penciller) do pretty swell and one hopes that it continues to do so. Overall this was the best issue so far, and shows definite incremental improvement, but it’s still only just the best issue of JLA and it could be better. Geoff Johns hasn’t lost me yet though, and if he hits a stride – then this could turn into something special.