Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Flash #7

"Into the Light"


Story by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul
Colors Brian Buccellato
Letters Wes Abbott
Assistant Editor Darren Shan
Editor Brian Cunningham

Another solid cover by Manapul and Buccellato. I like how it shows exactly what's happening in the book. The Flash is getting beat up by Captain Cold, Patty is falling off a crashing boat, and something mysterious is happening to Iris. Manapul is developing into an excellent story teller through small, detailed images.

The black-and-white version is as equally detailed and beautiful as the colored version. It's very easy to take this artwork for granted. I have to occasionally read something else to remind myself of what a treat The Flash is.

The variant cover is by Dale Keown. It's a more symbolic representation of the fight inside, which I think is a very appropriate thing for a variant cover to do. The artwork here is really well done, but I think the Flash needs to tone it down a bit with that expression. It looks like he got an icicle shoved up his butt. Maybe he did?

Anyway, the story starts now, i.e., right where issue #6 left off, with Patty Spivot hanging on for dear life as the boat she's on is crashing into the frozen river. As Flash watches this, he remembers the first time they met — how intelligent and beautiful she was, how forgiving she was of his obsessive-compulsive tendencies and how good she smells. It took her less than a year to become the senior blood analyst in the lab, but it took Barry two years to get the courage to ask her out. Now he doesn't know what he'd do without her.

Nine seconds ago ... Patty is looking for Barry on the boat. She thought he had just gone to the bathroom.

Eight seconds ago ... Captain Cold is standing on the Flash's chest, who has an icicle in his shoulder, pinning him to the ice. Flash tells Cold this isn't like him, and asks why he's doing this.

Seven seconds ago ... On the first half of the boat that fell, Iris West and three other people are picking themselves up, realizing they're safe now.

Six seconds ago ... Patty and two others continue looking for Barry while their half of the boat begins to tip.

Five seconds ago ... Cold stands on the icicle in Flash's shoulder, driving it deeper in. He simply says, "Things change."

Four seconds ago ... Iris and the others get a good view of the rest of the boat breaking free of the ice pillar and falling toward the river.

Three seconds ago ... Patty almost falls off, but a fellow passenger grabs her hand.

Two seconds ago ... Flash pushes Cold off with a mini-vortex.

One second ago ... The boat hits the river, crashing through the ice, while the Flash chases after it.

Right now. The Flash reaches Patty, but Dr. Elias' warning system tells him he's now moving fast enough to create a wormhole.

The Flash is able to save the three people on that half of the boat, but Patty asks him where Barry is. Flash lies and says Barry is safely on the other half of the boat. As soon as he says this, a wormhole opens, sucking up that part of the boat with Iris and three others. Flash runs and jumps, trying to save Iris, but his fingers just miss hers, and she disappears.

Flash hits the ground hard and angry. He finds Captain Cold, who had fallen in the water and accidentally frozen himself, and pulls him out, yelling, "You! You made me do this!" The Flash starts to punch Cold in the face repeatedly, which actually frees him from the ice. Once he can talk, Cold tells Flash about his sister, who is dying of a brain tumor because of the blackout Flash caused. Flash calms down and tells Cold he knows what it's like to lose someone you care about, but you need to know where to draw the line. He says he's working on a solution to get power back to the city, and he tells Cold that if he surrenders peacefully, he'll do everything in his power to save his sister.

Flash immediately heads to Dr. Elias' lab to use his giant treadmill, which should be able to siphon off any residual speed force energy and use it to re-power the metro area. Flash makes Elias promise to take an energy cell to help Lisa Snart, then he ignores the doctor's warning and runs too fast. The Flash opens a wormhole and goes into it, hoping he can find and save Iris and the others.

In Africa, there is a city of talking gorillas. Several old, white-haired gorillas are performing a religious ritual, and they say the second coming is upon them. Watching from a distance is the king, his son and his general. The general calls the elders fools, shackled by destiny, but the king tells him destiny is what brought them into being — it's scripture. The prince agrees with the general, though, and says, "We are meant to conquer the world! We must grab destiny by the neck ... and squeeze."

In Central City, Captain Cold, wearing high-tech handcuffs, is escorted by the police to visit his sister, who is recovering from brain surgery. The doctor tells them she has full cognitive functions, but there was some damage to her nervous system and it's unlikely she'll ever walk again. Leonard (Cold) is overjoyed to see she's alive, but Lisa tells him he should've let her die.

We then cut to Patty visiting Director Singh's apartment. Patty was just at Forrest's, but she couldn't handle all the grieving. Singh lets her in and pours her a drink, and Patty immediately starts blaming the Flash for creating the wormhole that killed Barry. Patty then compliments a collection of flutes in Singh's house, but he says they aren't his. He agrees with Patty that the Flash is reckless and dangerous and Patty rags on him some more, saying he's gotta be held accountable. Eventually, Singh tells her this won't bring Barry back, and she breaks down in tears. She never told Barry that she loved him. Just then, the city lights turn back on.

We then jump to the Flash, who has ran through the wormhole only to find himself in a very strange place. The ground is made up of a bunch of floating rocks and the sky is a series of swirling images from the Flash's life. He sees his mom putting on his bow tie before his spelling bee, the crime scene of her murder, him graduating from Central University with his friend Manuel, him becoming the Flash and meeting Patty. Flash asks aloud if he's dead, but a person behind him says, "Not yet ... but if you don't get me outta here, you will be!" The person is a black guy, who has put the Flash in a headlock and surrounded himself with a little yellow tornado.

The Good:

The art. There were some really nice, vibrant colors here with the boat crashing, Captain Cold fight, wormholes and the Speed Force. I also loved how the words "DC Comics Proudly Presents The Flash" were hidden on the title page. I really didn't notice them the first time around.

The story. We got it all here: action, romance, compassion, mystery, plus tons of little details that will play a bigger role later on. I really like how Manapul didn't try to cram the Captain Cold fight into one issue. It ended on a good cliff hanger last issue, then wrapped up decently in this issue, still leaving enough room to adequately set things up for future adventures.

Subtle introductions. This book hinted at lots of exciting developments to come at a later date. There's Captain Cold and his sister, a city of talking gorillas, a mysterious flute collection in Singh's apartment, a strange Speed Force world that already has at least one person in it, plus Iris and a few others. Each one of these developments has the potential to become an amazing story in its own right (and having read a few issues in advance, I know that they do). I love the strong continuity of The Flash title.

The Patty problem. I guess I could call this a love triangle, but I won't go that far, yet. But it still is quite a fascinating situation. Patty loves Barry, but now she thinks the Flash killed him, so now she hates her boyfriend's alter ego. Also, I find it interesting that the Flash immediately went to save Iris before letting Patty know that he's alright. In the pre-52 universe, Barry Allen was married to Iris West. I have been enjoying this new romance with Patty, but it looks like the seeds have been planted for Barry to break up with Patty and start dating Iris.

From where I am now in the comics (just read issue #16), it is clear that issue #7 is a pivotal issue in the series. From #1 through #5, almost everything was strictly contained to the Mob Rule story. But now that that's over, Manapul and Buccellato have stretched out a bit and have started setting things up for story lines far in advance. And several of these things still haven't been resolved ten issues later. They're no longer going from story arc to story arc, but building one long, glorious continuous narrative. This issue really is an important turning point for the title, and for that, I will add a "bonus point" and give this issue a perfect score.

Final score: 10 out of 10

Next: Introducing Turbine! And the secret of the Speed Force!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Flash #6

"Best Served Cold"


Story by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul
Colors Brian Buccellato
Letters Wes Abbott
Assistant Editor Darren Shan
Editor Brian Cunningham

This is a good cover, and here's why: Some time ago, I took my roommate, who's never read a comic book, to the nearby comic store. Out of all the comics we looked at that day, this was the only one that made him go, "Hmm!" It wasn't a sarcastic "Hmm!", it was an impressed "Hmm!" And that is the goal of all comic book covers. When they're in a store, surrounded by thousands of other books, they want to stand out from the rest and make a brand-new reader say, "Hmm! Look at that!" And this cover did just that, even for long-time Flash fans. Our hero is in legitimate peril at the hands of a familiar foe, but with a new twist. Excellent job by Manapul.

The black-and-white version is equally captivating. I especially love the decision to put the Flash logo in light blue. It works perfectly.

The variant cover is by Mike Choi, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists. I really enjoy his more realistic style. While this cover is not as dynamic as the main cover, it is very bleak and scary. The Flash looks like he's been completely defeated here, and it's pretty awesome.

The story starts now (which is a good place to start). The Flash is fighting Captain Cold — his most persistent adversary of the past five years. Flash reflects on their many battles together and how Cold even organized a group called the Rogues. One thing that made Cold stand out, was how he respected the rules of the cat and mouse game with the Flash. Cold never made it personal, and he never used his freeze pistols for murder. But that's not what the Flash sees today.

Standing on the frozen river, Cold has caught the Flash's punch in his icy hand. As he holds on to the Flash's fist, the yellow electric seams in his suit start to freeze and turn blue. Flash asks him where his guns are; he just says he doesn't need them and punches Flash into a big ice pillar that's supporting a boat.

Yesterday. Barry and Patty are on the bus, coming home after a weekend getaway. Barry was happy to take a break from the Mob Rule/EMP chaos of the past two months and to spend some time with his girlfriend. But Patty's main reason for the getaway was to follow up on a cold case. Barry wants to join in on the crime-solving fun, so Patty tells him the case reads like a simple abduction because there was a ransom note and no body, but a lot of gruesome physical evidence suggested otherwise. Patty interviewed a witness, who claimed it was murder. Barry remembers that Iris West did a whole expose on the case, so Patty asks if he can arrange a meeting with her. Barry reluctantly agrees.

Last night. Dr. Elias is working on the Flash's earpieces, and he is impressed to learn the magnetized sound receptors allow Flash to hear while traveling faster than the speed of sound. He then installs a warning system to tell the Flash when he's moving fast enough to create a wormhole that tears at the fabric of space and time. Elias also shows Flash a new, giant treadmill he's built, which is designed to siphon off Flash's excess speed force energy and store it in battery cell chambers.

Now. Flash has figured out that Captain Cold is surrounded by a field of extreme cold that slows down his molecules. But he is still faster than Cold, and gives him a big kick in the chin. But then the ice pillar begins to crumble and the boat, which has Patty and Iris onboard, starts to tip and break in half. Before Flash can save them, Cold knocks him down with a big chunk of ice. Iris is on one half of the boat, holding on for dear life and trying to save other people around her, while Patty is on the other side, looking for Barry.

This morning. Captain Cold is at a hospital, yelling at a doctor for refusing to operate on his sister, Lisa Snart, who is dying of a brain tumor. Cold has stolen the sophisticated laser necessary for the procedure, but the hospital's generators are too primitive to power it. Cold then blames the Flash for causing the blackout, and vows his revenge.

Back to the fight, Flash is able to get away from Cold and catch Iris' half of the boat with some mini-vortexs. But while doing so, Elias' warning system tells him his energy level is at 81 percent, which is critical mass. Elias had previously told him not to go above 80 percent.

Fifteen minutes ago. Barry, Patty and Iris are having lunch on the boat. Iris believes Patty's cold case could be a murder, but she doesn't have much evidence, especially since the key witness, the landlord, has gone back to Guatemala. Patty then shifts the conversation to the Flash and asks Patty why she's stopped writing negative articles about the Flash, even though the rest of the newspapers are doing so. Iris says her investigation didn't turn up any proof of criminal brutality or recklessness, so she's decided he needs some more positive light shed on him. Patty, though, feels the Flash attracts more freaks than he puts away and should just let the police do their job. As if that wasn't awkward enough for Barry, Iris then asks if he and Patty are dating. Barry stammers out a yes, then hurriedly excuses himself to the bathroom.

Five minutes ago. From the top of a bridge, Captain Cold is freezing the river and lifting up boats on ice pillars to draw out the Flash to kill him.

Now. The Flash is having a hard time figuring out how to fight Cold without getting too close to be slowed down. Cold shoots a bunch of razor-sharp icicles at the Flash, and one of them pierces through his shoulder and pins him down on the ice. While this is happening, the ice pillar crumbles and Flash watches Patty's half of the boat fall and crash into the frozen river. Flash screams Patty's name and the warning system tells him his energy level is at 98 percent.

The Good:

The art. After reading a couple of so-so Justice League books, it's great to get back to the amazing artwork of Manapul and Buccellato. One fun little thing I liked was on the title page, where the word Captain on the boat was placed right next to the word Cold in "Best Served Cold," so it kind of said Best Served Captain Cold.

A major Flash villain. Gone are the days of fighting Mob Rule. Here is one of the Flash's most-recognizable villains, and it is great. We like to see our heroes take down new threats from time to time, but at the end of the day, we need to see them fight their arch enemies on a regular basis. I used to think Captain Cold was just a Mr. Freeze knock-off, but as I've read more Flash stories, I've realized there are a lot of differences between the characters. I've always liked how "honorable" Cold is, even though he's a villain. I also enjoy his updated powers (especially since I know they'll be explained later) and I like seeing him losing control like this. They gave him a good reason to be pushed to the edge, and now he's become incredibly dangerous.

The story. I like to believe that comic book writers have the next year's worth of stories planned out so they can slowly start alluding to and building plot points months in advance. All too often, I sadly find out this is not the case, and fun little details that I was holding onto are forgotten. Luckily, Manapul is much better at this than many other comic book writers today. Having read through the next ten issues here, I can see that a lot of little details in issue #6 are actually rather important for future stories. This enhances my reading experience by making me read more carefully and speculate more about what's going to happen, which is quite enjoyable.

More explanation of the Flash's suit. The Flash's earpieces are actually kind of ridiculous, when you think about it. Yes, they help frame his face a bit, and they've been a part of his suit for so long that he looks really weird without them, but when you stop and ask yourself why anybody would want little wings on his ears, it really becomes a ridiculous idea. So I like it when we find they actually have a purpose. Early in the Justice League, Flash said he listened to radio broadcasts through his earpiece. That was good. But using them to hear while moving faster than the speed of sound is better. I also consider this one of the things DC has done right with the New 52. Remember when everyone was upset with the new costumes (myself included)? Well, for the most part, I think the reasons behind the new suits have been explained well. And Manapul's good technical sci-fi writing really helps.

The Bad:

Hmm ... well ... I guess I was a little disappointed the Flash-Captain Cold fight was interrupted so much. Manapul was trying a new story-telling technique here, with lots of quick flashbacks, and I can't say that I loved it, but I didn't hate it, either. I think one side effect of it, though, was it made the dialogue during the fight rather redundant. It seemed whenever they went back to the fight, they felt they needed to remind us that Cold was slowing Flash down and he was taking things personal, when he normally doesn't. I think they could've cut out half the fight's dialogue and the Flash's thought boxes and the story would've been fine. But, this is not a complaint, just an observation.

The Flash is back, he's fighting someone we know, and it is awesome!

Final score: 9 out of 10

Next: A chilling sacrifice!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Justice League #8

"Team-Up: Green Arrow"


Geoff Johns Writer
Carlos D'Anda with Ivan Reis and Joe Prado Guest Artists
Gabe Eltaeb with Alex Sinclair Colorists
Patrick Brosseau Letterer
Darren Shan Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Editor

For the second-straight month, Jim Lee has handed off the book to some guest artists. Luckily, though, Lee, Sinclair and Scott Williams still did the cover, which was pretty cool. The hero caught in a spotlight thing is a classic cover design for DC (and Marvel, too, I guess) and I kind of like the nostalgic feel of this, especially when it's done well. Green Arrow looks like an angry fugitive, which is good, and I especially like the Justice League poster. It's heroic, yet also slightly cheesy, which I think was intentional. There are also nice details here like giving Green Arrow a spray paint can and seamlessly working the cover text into the Justice League banner title.

I actually like the black-and-white version this time because I'm able to see the characters more clearly without the spray paint covering them. There also isn't an inordinate amount of rubble covering them up.

The variant cover is by Mike Choi with Marcelo Maiolo. Even though the Flash isn't here, I absolutely love this cover. I like the more realistic take, I love the coloring, and I appreciate how it shows an actual scene from inside the book. All the characters look great, but Superman's expression is my favorite.

Our story begins with Steve Trevor having another hearing with Congress. This time, they want him to convince the Justice League to add a new member to the team, but he doesn't think they'll be able to find anybody who can keep up with them.

We then cut to Green Arrow, who is caught in the middle of a Justice League-Amazo fight.

Amazo is defeated, but Batman warns them that nanites are already rebuilding its nervous system. Superman is surprised he knows this without x-ray vision, but Flash reminds him, "He's Batman." Cyborg prepares to boom them and Amazo back to the Red Room so they can dismantle it, but Flash warns him that with Amazo being so large, the boom would put a strain on Cyborg's system and they might accidentally end up on Apokolips, like they already have done twice.

While the League discusses this dilemma, Green Arrow shows up, boasting about he helped them defeat Amazo. He flips over the giant robot to show them an arrow stuck in its butt. Wonder Woman kindly calls it a valiant effort, and Arrow offers his services to the team. Green Lantern says they already have one guy who can't do anything (Batman), but Superman says they shouldn't underestimate him so quickly. Aquaman, however, strongly disagrees. Cyborg then opens a boom tube and the Justice League takes off, leaving an angry Green Arrow behind.

One week later, Cyborg is hitching a ride on an ARGUS plane, where Talons from the Court of Owls are attacking the agents within. An editor's note tells us the Night of Owls storyline starts in Batman #8, where Bruce Wayne is attacked by Talons in Wayne Manor. Wayne's attack was part of a massive, coordinated plan to take out all of Gotham's richest and most powerful people, including the government agents trying to leave the city.

Cyborg breaks into the plane and teleports the Justice League in there to fight the Talons. Batman tells them not to worry because they're the Justice League. Aquaman and Green Lantern joke about how Batman is starting to sound like Lantern, and Flash admonishes them to act professional around the agents while he puts out a fire and beats up some bad guys at the same time. Suddenly, Green Arrow shows up, much to the surprise of the Flash and to the disdain of Aquaman. A Talon then sets off a grenade and Green Lantern protects everybody in bubbles while Wonder Woman catches the plane. Again, Green Arrow asks to join the team, but they just leave him on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

One week later, the Justice League are fighting a bunch of cultists in purple robes. An editor's note tells us these cultists are from Justice League Dark #9, where we learn they work for the evil wizard Felix Faust, who is collecting enchanted artifacts to create an invincible army. The Justice League defeats these cultists when Green Arrow sets off some smoke arrows. By now, even Flash seems weary of him following them. Green Lantern tells reporters that Arrow is not a member of their team, and Aquaman warns him to stop following them or he'll pick up where they left off.

The League booms away again, and an upset Arrow returns to his base, where he meets Steve Trevor, who offers him a spot on a new team he's creating. Green Arrow eagerly accepts.

On the Watchtower, the League debates letting Arrow join the team. Superman and Wonder Woman want to give him a chance, but Aquaman, Green Lantern and Batman are strongly opposed. Batman explains that as a team, they have an image to protect. Flash reminds him that their priority is to protect the world. But Batman insists they can't take any risks, referring to the last time they let someone else onto the satellite. We then see a quick flashback of Martian Manhunter fighting the entire League, and winning.

In some desert far away, the Martian is listening to the League discuss how he knows all their secrets. He then concludes that they are not prepared.

The backup is the next part of the Shazam story, where Billy Batson meets his new foster family.

The Good:

The humor. Once again, Geoff Johns lightens up an otherwise dull story with some funny moments. We had the usual Green Lantern-Batman joking plus some funny awkward pauses whenever Green Arrow asked to join the team. The best part was when he proudly pointed to the arrow in Amazo's butt. Childish humor? Sure. But it made me chuckle, so there.

Greater continuity. I have always believed that Justice League should be the flagship title for DC. It should be the one book that is so good that everyone is compelled to pick it up. And from this one book, it should inspire readers to pick up other titles. This issue did a good job of sending us into other books with the editor's notes. Even though the two referenced books didn't have the Flash in them, I was curious enough to pick them both up.

I really didn't learn anything new from Batman #8. Although it was the official kicking off point for the large Batman crossover, Night of Owls, the Court of Owls was introduced in an earlier issue. Also, I could not find any logical reason for the Justice League to become involved with this threat, or to only help that ARGUS plane, but not save anybody else threatened by the Talons. Batman #8 was a pretty good issue, watching Bruce defend himself in his pajamas, but the whole Batman universe is too complex and convoluted for me to want to consistently read Batman. Which is a shame because I love Batman.

Justice League Dark #9, however, was an unexpected surprise for me. I tend to avoid stories that dwell too much in magic and include the word "dark" in the title; but this issue was a really fun read. It was the perfect jumping on point — it explained everything I needed to know and even told me the cultists were working for Faust (although it didn't necessarily tell me why they were in America fighting the JL). The writing was good, the art was fantastic, and if I had the time and money, I'd totally read this title.

The Bad:

A filler issue. This is what I think happened. Jim Lee needed a month off to get things ready for the next big arc, The Villain's Journey, so they threw together a filler prologue for issue #7. But then Lee realized he needed even more time, so they had to very quickly throw this story together. Since DC was rolling out it's new Arrow show, they felt compelled to give him as much love as possible, especially since he has been struggling so much in the comics. However, Green Arrow couldn't join the League because the next few issues had already been written without him. Instead, it felt like they really couldn't decide what to do with him, so they threw together some quick little fights that tied in to other comics and then slowly start pointing things toward Justice League of America, which still hasn't come out yet. I could be completely wrong, but this is how it felt to me what happened. Regardless, when an issue has basically nothing to do with the issue that preceded it or the one that follows it, then I call it filler and I am disappointed.

Inconsistent art. Another reason I believe this story was hastily put together is that it required three guest artists, which I think contributed to some inconsistencies. One particularly troubling scene was the fight with the Talons on the plane. I assumed that Cyborg opened up a boom tube inside the plane, but they didn't show that happening or explain why he couldn't do that in the first place, instead of clinging to the outside of the plane. Once they're inside, we don't see Batman with them, but we hear his voice through the radio. I figured Batman was busy fighting the Talons in Gotham and needed the League to stop these guys he couldn't get to. But once the plane blows up, we see Batman there with the rest of the League like he was there the whole time. Also, nobody seemed able to decide what Green Arrow was supposed to look like. Is he wearing a mask or high-tech goggles? How long is his hair? How much scruff does he have? How big are the gauntlet things on his arms supposed to be? Really picky details, I know, but it would be nice to have some consistency from the cover through the book.

Missed fights. I was pretty upset when Spore was defeated off-page last issue, but here, they completely skipped over an entire fight with Amazo! He's not some random monster-of-the-month, he's an established villain with the ability to mimic the powers of the Justice League. We deserve to have an entire issue focusing on him, but all we got was the scenes of destruction caused by the fight and a shot of an arrow sticking out of his butt. To make matters worse, we never really got in a single proper fight in the whole issue. Why couldn't the Justice League have spent a whole issue devoted to a Night of Owls tie-in? Or why couldn't they flesh out the Justice League Dark crossover? And why'd we only get one page of this Martian Manhunter fight? There were a lot of good ideas going on here, but they just didn't have time to fully develop any of them. Including references to some big backstory with Aquaman and Green Arrow. I haven't read either of their books, but I haven't heard anything about this. They mentioned an island — is that the island he was stranded on in the Arrow TV show? I don't know. I feel like these are questions that should have been answered by now.

My final verdict: This is not a recommended Flash title. There are some good things going on in this book, but very little of it has to do with the Flash.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next time: This story took place over a couple of weeks, so it's time now for the Flash to turn his attention back on Central City, where the power is still out, many rouges from Iron Heights are still loose, and Barry is looking to take his relationship with Patty to the next level. See it happen in The Flash #6!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Justice League #7

"The Villain's Journey: Prologue"


Geoff Johns Writer
Gene Ha Guest Artist
Art Lyon Guest Colorist
Patrick Brosseau Letterer
Darren Shan Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Editor

It's perfectly understandable for Jim Lee to take a break after cranking out six issue of Justice League plus tons of promotional material and variant covers for other titles. Luckily, though, Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair did do this month's cover.

I think it's a really awesome cover. It shows the entire Justice League fighting a large, bizarre monster. What more could you want? I also love the fun, wild colors here. The green background works nicely with the blue monster. I also like how they put Wonder Woman in front of the Justice League title. I do, as always, wish Scott Williams would have inked the black-and-white version. It just becomes real easy to lose our heroes in the gooey monster. As much as I like this cover, I do feel that it cheats just a little bit. I think most readers have a natural assumption that whoever draws the cover also draws the inside pages, so they (and I) became a bit disappointed to open it up and see non-Jim Lee art. Not that Gene Ha is terrible — he's just no Jim Lee.

The variant cover is by Gary Frank with Brad Anderson. I am a big fan of Frank's work — he draws the Shazam backup, and is incredible with it. For this cover, I think he drew everybody very well, but Superman's face feels a bit off. I'm also not a fan of having the Justice League stand around menacingly like that. Why does everybody like to draw them angry looking? They're the good guys!

Our story begins five years after Darkseid was defeated. The Justice League is fully-formed and organized, teaming up on occasion to stop powerful, strange threats like the one presently in Baltimore, Maryland, where a bunch of little gray, purple monsters are attacking everybody.

First on the scene is Colonel Steven Trevor and several other members of A.R.G.U.S. (Advanced Research Group Uniting Superhumans). They're having some trouble with the monsters and reporters on the scene ask Trevor where the real heroes are. Right on cue, a boom tube opens above them and out comes Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg. The Justice League quickly fights back the monsters, but before they pursue them, Batman makes them all pause so Cyborg can brief them on the details.

Cyborg says their target is an Army biological warfare specialist named Dr. Samuel Street, who was delivering the "spore" virus to ARGUS for safekeeping when he crossed paths with an unknown intruder. The intruder attacked, broke into the Black Room, and stole an artifact called the Orb of Ra. The attack left Street exposed to the virus, and he became Spore, gaining super strength and the ability to create mindless flesh-eating creature every ten seconds. Cyborg tracked Spore to his ex-wife's house. Apparently they got divorced because he was abusive.

Batman tries to form a battle plan, but Green Lantern takes off, saying, "We're the Justice League. We got this." Flash says sorry, and takes off after Lantern, and arrives at the address before him. Flash asks Green Lantern why he likes to poke the bear (Batman) so much, to which Lantern says, "Because he's so cuddly." The two are then attacked by Spore, who has his ex-wife in his hand. The rest of the league shows up and Spore shouts, "I won't go down easy!!" Superman says, "Maybe not. But you will go down."

One hour later, Steve Trevor is at a press conference, explaining the Justice League's battle with Spore. However, all the reporters want to talk about is how the Justice League should take over the government. Trevor leaves angrily and goes right into his debriefing with Congress, but there the senators only want to talk about the Watchtower satellite and why nobody's been able to visit it. Trevor kind of threatens them and leaves angrily again.

Later, Trevor starts a video chat with Wonder Woman on the Watchtower. They're interrupted by Batman and Green Lantern arguing about how they could have stopped Spore better. Flash tries to help, but only makes things worse. Once Green Lantern sees Trevor on the screen, he asks him for more food for the Watchtower. Batman tells him to have the U.N. shut down the Justice League International, and Cyborg wants him to tell his dad to stop trying to tap into their computer systems. Finally, Trevor gets to talk to Wonder Woman, who asks him why he's still acting as the league's liaison. He says, "Someone needs to cover your asses." He hangs up and admits to his assistant that he is still in love with Wonder Woman, and he told her so, but she didn't return his love.

We then cut to the library of David Graves, author of Justice League: Gods Among Men. Graves is writing a note, where he says he's found the key to destroying the Justice League. It's Colonel Steve Trevor.

The backup story begins the Shazam storyline. It introduces us to a 15-year-old orphan named Billy Batson, who, like many 15-year-olds, is kind of a punk. However, there's no Flash here, so I won't go into it.

The Good:

The humor. Geoff Johns can really be a funny writer, and while there were a few funny moments in the first six issues of Justice League, most of that story was a very serious fight against Darkseid with few moments to laugh. But here, the league is a bit more laid-back with a very standard monster-of-the-month, which opened up plenty of opportunities for us to chuckle at the antics of Green Lantern. He forms a pretty fun comedy team with the Flash, and his arguing with Batman was fun, as was having him give Aquaman an umbrella when he didn't need it, and Green Lantern being saved by Wonder Woman and saying, under the lasso's magic, "I hate being saved by Wonder Woman." The humor in this issue made an otherwise dull story fun and at least semi-interesting.

The Bad:

General letdown. This was supposed to be a big moment for the Justice League — their first mission in the current day. You'd think DC would have made a big deal out of this and would have had the JL jump into an epic adventure here. But instead, Jim Lee needed the month off so they gave us what was basically a filler episode. It's not as bad as some anime filler episodes are that often threaten to be out of continuity, but this monster-of-the-month thing was pretty lame. They spent more time explaining the monster's origin and powers than they spent fighting him, and then they defeated him OFF PAGE! Instead of getting a satisfying conclusion to that fight, we got page after page of Steve Trevor acting all emo. We get it! He's in love with Wonder Woman and is growing weary of the league! As nice as it was to see more of the general public's perception of the Justice League, I think they could have easily taken away one of those Trevor pages and put in a page where they actually defeat Spore. I also felt like they completely dropped the ball on the mysterious intruder stealing the Orb of Ra. That sounds like a pretty big deal, but nobody seems to care. I've now read through Justice League #16, and I have yet to see anything about the Orb of Ra.

The Ugly:

Disappearing Batman. The ongoing joke with Batman is he'll be talking to Commissioner Gordon, then once Gordon turns his head, Batman is gone. But usually, Batman stays around while he's talking to you. But here, he actually turned invisible to talk to Steve Trevor (or Gene Ha just forgot to draw him). Here's what happened. On Trevor's computer screen, we see Batman and Green Lantern yelling at Flash in the background.

Green Lantern then turns to talk to Trevor, but Batman isn't there anymore.

We then see GL start to leave, but now speech bubbles are coming from nowhere and Trevor addresses them as Batman.

Then the next panel shows the tail end of Batman's cape, as if he were walking away.

This issue had a penciller, a colorer, a letterer, and two editors working on it, and not one of them noticed that Batman was completely absent in a panel that had him talking. You'd think one of them would have said, "Hey, wait! Where'd Batman go? Gene, you forgot to draw Batman!"

So overall, this was a rather disappointing issue. It did slowly start to set things up for the next big Justice League event, "Villain's Journey," but it really was mostly filler. We can't do anything big while Jim Lee is on vacation. Also, there was hardly any Flash in this story, so as a Flash fan, I cannot recommend this issue.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next: Green Arrow vs. The Justice League