Justice League of America #50
“JLA: Image, Part 1 – Worlds Collide”
Writer: James Robinson
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Rob Hunter & Norm Rapmund
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Ethan Van Sciver/Bagley & Hunter/Jim Lee & Scott Williams
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US
That I’m not a regular reader of Justice League of America is something of an indicator of how DC has mismanaged this property. I’m a lifelong super-hero comics reader, and some of the comics that made me that way were the JLA comics of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Gerry Conway and Dick Dillon helped to draw into a world that contained parallel universes, colorful characters and cosmic threats. I’ve always had a soft spot for DC team comics, but I haven’t bothered to reader this title regularly in a couple of years. But I find I really want to like Justice League of America, so when I noted that a new story arc was getting underway here and read some reports online that writer James Robinson’s run was improving, I decided I take another peek at DC’s top-tier team book. What I found was thrilling in some respects and disappointing in others. Things have definitely improved, as Robinson seems to embrace a more traditional approach to plotting this title, but I’m still having trouble seeing past a lackluster cast of characters.
The Justice League is alerted to an other-dimensional invasion by some familiar foes: the Crime Syndicate of Amerika. The villains — dark doppelgangers of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern and the Flash — are endeavoring to save their own parallel Earth from doom by transferring the destructive energies consuming their home to other dimensions. They also need to stem the tide of the energy enveloping their planet, and to do so, they’ve made an ally on the JLA’s world. As the heroes and villains do battle, the real plan unfolds in a dark corner of the Hall of Justice.
Mark Bagley is the ideal choice of penciller for an action-oriented super-hero free-for-all story, and this script fits that bill in many respects. He boasts a loose, energetic style and conveys movement quite well. The linework in this issue is a bit inconsistent at times, but the use of two inkers to complete this extra-long issue offers an easy explanation. The shift between inkers is only slightly distracting. I liked Bagley’s designs for Dr. Impossible’s Apokalyptian acolytes, which appear to be evil versions of Orion, Lightray and Big Barda. The colors also convey the cosmic-level energy of Jade’s powers and the planet-devouring force that serves as the catalyst for the story.
The one aspect of the art that takes the reader right out of the story is a panel in which Superwoman appears nude. Bagley’s uses shadow to cover up the bits he needs to, but the fact of the matter is that while Bagley is good at a number of things when it comes to comic art, sexuality isn’t one of them. He doesn’t do sexy well, but to be fair to the artist, there’s really no need for him to do so in this book. Naked Superwoman (juxtaposed by her fully clothed male sexual partner) wasn’t at all necessary. The visual is incredibly out of place here; whoever decided to include it made a poor decision.
If there’s one running theme throughout this issue, is the notion of duplicates. The Crime Syndicate is a duplicate of the original Justice League. Dr. Impossible and his cronies are duplicates of Mr. Miracle and his friends. And this incarnation are younger duplicates of the more iconic members of the founding team. Every characters exists as a reflection of others that don’t even appear in this comic book, and that helps to instill a sense that the archetypes and real stalwarts of DC’s shared universe have an influence on the story. I love the cosmic level of the threat, the multiple threats from different villains and the fact that the conflict shifts dramatically and surprisingly by the issue’s end. The plot definitely feels like one of the old-school “Crisis” stories from the original Justice League of America title, even without the presence of their Justice Society counterparts. I’m thoroughly pleased to see James Robinson pick up on what amounted to a throwaway character from Brad Meltzer’s inaugural run on this title a few years ago. His use of Dr. Impossible was a lot of fun.
On the other hand, his connection to DC’s Fourth World characters, created by the late Jack Kirby, isn’t at all apparent to those who might not be as familiar with DC lore as longtime readers such as myself are. Robinson’s script is accessible in some respects. One needn’t have read the most recent story arc in order to follow the plot here, for example, and the writer explains the multiverse concept fairly clearly to new readers. But there are other key references — such as to the deaths of Darkseid and Alexander Luthor — that could leave newer readers in the dark. I mean, how does explain Donna Troy to a new reader? There’s no reference in the script to her being Wonder Girl in the past, and she’s certainly not well known like Dick Grayson in order for a new reader to figure it out.
Ultimately, what I found most distracting about this issue was the makeup of the Justice League roster. I just don’t feel excited about Donna Troy as a standin for Wonder Woman or Jade for Green Lantern. And Jesse Quick looks kind of silly in a costume designed in the 1940s for a male character. I can big the notion of the Dick Grayson Batman as part of this team, but not without stronger, more experienced and more imposing presences from senior heroes. Furthermore, the opening scene with Jesse Quick and Supergirl endeavors to get the audience (and the characters themselves) to buy into the League as a family, and that’s just not how the concept works. This feels (and is presented like) the Teen Titans dressed up as the Justice League, and while that’s a natural progression, it just doesn’t feel right to me. 5/10
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