Thursday, 18 April 2013

Review: Justice League #19

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reis
Publisher: DC Comics

While the heroes are distracted by the tragedies in their lives, a masked assailant breaks into the Batcave. Taking out the unsuspecting Jason Todd and Alfred Pennyworth, the thief proceeds directly to a vault, containing dangerous items Batman has gathered secretly, designed specifically to take down the Justice League!

Now, it's impossible to address this issue without first pointing out the striking similarities to the famous "Tower of Babel" (JLA #43 - 46) storyline. Back in 2000, Mark Waid wrote a story whereby Batman had secretly compiled contingency plans for taking down specific members of the Justice League, should they ever go rogue and need to be dealt with. The idea of the Dark Knight safeguarding the world against his own friends seems to be a popular trope, as it's been repeatedly re-used since then. Between 2005's "The OMAC Project" and 2012's "Justice League: Doom", Batman has defeated his teammates numerous times. So to see these very same ideas pop up yet again, in a Geoff Johns book no less, tells me Bruce really needs to stop plotting the downfall of everyone he cares about. When he sits down to write these plans, he shouldn't be anticipating having to use them himself, but figuring out which villain is going to make a beeline towards him and use that plan to their own ends!

Also, while I'm not adverse to opening up the Justice League's world and using some of the individual character's supporting casts, I was truly taken aback when I flipped to the first page to find Red Hood and Alfred the Butler. It felt so random to have them there, even though they have every right. You just don't expect them to be mourning the events of Batman Incorporated in a Justice League book. Even though they both feature the adventures of Batman, there's usually a huge degree of compartmentalisation and the two portrayals to have no real effect on one another. I was similarly surprised with last month's issue, when Nightwing turned down League membership because he was still pissed at Batman due to "Death of the Family. Geoff Johns is clearly trying to make the DC Universe one big cohesive whole, I guess I'm just not used to it yet.

Two characters who are definitely benefiting from a functional shared universe are Firestorm and the new female Atom. Neither hero has had much success since the New 52 began, so bringing them both into the fold of the core Justice League book gives them a nice boost, where previously readers could take them or leave them. Firestorm has had a particularly traumatic time of it lately with his troubled ongoing series, which could never truly find a workable status quo. The union of Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch has had more than a few growing pains, so it's a joy to see them back to their more affable pre-Flashpoint selves. All the more credit to Johns for the creation of this new Atom. Where a typical fanboy may question his not using the original Atom, Ray Palmer, I didn't have much of an attachment to the character in the first place, he just happened to be the first attempt. So who is under the cowl is neither here nor there. For what it's worth, this new girl taking on the mantle seems like a lot of fun and is sure to find fans quickly.

The Superman/Wonder Woman romance continues to simmer in the background of the series. Where in the recent "Throne of Atlantis" crossover, Clark was attempting to soften Diana's view of humanity and potentially calm her warrior's instincts, the dynamic flips here. Rather than expose Clark to a noble trait of her own lifestyle, Diana shows him the worst humanity is capable of and has a speech that borders on a mustache-twirling supervillain, looking to impose her "just" will by any means necessary. Batman appears before she really puts her foot in her mouth, but it's clear that this incarnation of Wonder Woman isn't quite as friendly as she had been in the past. The Amazon could very easily lead Superman down the wrong path with the best of intentions, so I'm hoping their fling is short-lived before they do something they can't take back. After all, as we saw in the Justice League International Annual, one kiss between the pair was enough to erase Booster Gold from history. There's no telling what could go wrong the longer these two stay together.

Unlike the beginning of this volume, which tended towards big dumb fun, Johns is slowly returning to his traditional nuanced approach, preferring genuine character drama over the sight of muscly gods hitting one another. Every character in this book is working on several different levels, whether it be acting out, holding back suspicions, cracking wise, the works. There are genuine mysteries at play in this series and only now are we beginning to feel the ominous vibe sweeping across it's pages. Johns has finally found his feet on Justice League, I just wish it hadn't taken a year to get here.

9 out of 10

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