Friday, March 29, 2013

Justice League #9

"The Villain's Journey Chapter One: The Call for Adventure"


Geoff Johns Writer
Jim Lee Penciller
Scott Williams Inker
Alex Sinclair with Pete Pantazis and Gabe Eltaeb Colorists
Pat Brosseau Letterer
Darren Shan Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Editor

This is a pretty good cover by Jim Lee and Scott Williams with Alex Sinclair. Although it only has three members of the Justice League, they are taking on all of Batman's villains in Arkham Asylum, which is a pretty exciting concept. I don't recognize all the villains, but it looks like we have Two-Face (with a Jim Lee tattoo on his arm), Scarecrow, Clayface and Killer Croc. The colored version has probably a bit too much orange, but at least the black-and-white doesn't have excessive amounts of rubble to muddy Lee's pencils. My biggest complaint about this cover, though, is it promises a really epic fight that ends up being very brief inside. But maybe that's more of a complaint about the actual story itself.

The variant cover is by Carlos D'Anda with Gabe Eltaeb. This is one of those more symbolic covers that I really enjoy because it is so reminiscent of Queen's News of the World album. (I'm not sure if that was intentional or not.)  I do think this cover is a bit of a spoiler, though — we never see this villain's face inside the issue, just the back of his head. But that doesn't bug me near as much as leaving the Flash off it does. Why doesn't anybody like drawing the Flash? But maybe that's one reason why I like the Flash so much — he's always the forgotten hero, and I feel bad for him.

The story starts four years ago in Augusta, Maine, where David Graves, author of Justice League: Gods Among Men, is withered and dying in his beautiful home. His doctor tells him there's nothing more he can do and asks Graves if he's contacted the Justice League. Graves says the League can't help him and his journey must begin. He then pulls out a gun, shoots his doctor and leaves.

Today, in Washington, D.C., Colonel Steve Trevor is harassed by paparazzi, who want to know more about his breakup with Wonder Woman. Trevor, however, is able to find solace at his sister's house.

In the Batcave, Batman is reading the letter from his dad that the Flash gave him at the end of Flashpoint. The letter reads, in part: "Dear Son, There's only one thing I know about life. I know some things happen by chance. And some things happen because we make them happen. Barry Allen ..." Batman then has a flashback of repainting his room as a boy. Aflred reminded him that his mom painted it his favorite color, but the young Bruce said he doesn't have a favorite color anymore. Batman is brought back to reality when a report comes in of chaos at Arkham Asylum caused by the telepathic villain known as The Key.

At the Daily Planet, Lois Lane invites everyone out to lunch, but doesn't see Clark Kent, who remembers being picked last for a basketball game in school. He starts to eat lunch alone, but then gets a text from Bruce saying, "Got lunch plans?"

Superman arrives at Arkham Asylum and helps Batman subdue the rioting inmates. He uses his heat vision to take down Clayface, then tells Batman all the lead pipes are obstructing his x-ray vision. Right on cue, Cyborg shows up and produces a map showing where The Key is. Cyborg has a flashback of his dad. Even though he periodically updates Cyborg's equipment and systems, the two of them remain on non-speaking terms.

We then cut to a mysterious cloaked individual breaking into Steve Trevor's house. He tells Trevor that the world only sees him as the Justice League's errand boy, but he knows better.

In Central City, the Flash and Green Lantern have just finished a battle, but they've made quite a mess. Green Lantern suggests the Flash should clean it up since it'll only take him five seconds. But Flash says that's only relative to the outside world — for him, it'll take hours. Flash then changes the subject and wonders who would attack Iron Heights to release the villain known as the Weapons Master. They get ready to interrogate the bad guy, but Flash asks to be the bad cop this time. We get a flashback of Hal Jordan being arrested outside a bar. As the cop slammed him into the wall, Hal cried out, "Hey, I've got rights!" In another flashback, we see Barry Allen working as a police scientist and witnessing two cops slam an arrested man into a counter. Barry yelled at them, "Hey, he's got rights!"

Green Lantern reminds Flash that being bad cop goes against everything he is, but Flash starts to beg, even offering to clean up and run to China for Chinese food. Lantern reluctantly agrees and goes to Weapons Master to set it up. Lantern tells him he'd like to turn him over the authorities and be done with it, but he can't because this is the Flash's city and he's pissed. He says, "If it wasn't for me, he'd already be in here, vibrating his hand through your brain to get answers and turning it to mush." Lantern even says that Flash has already done this to a villain named The Mongoose and put him in adult diapers for life. He pleads with Weapons Master: "Do us both a favor. Tell the Flash what he wants to know. I've got enough to clean up." The Flash then shows up, looking pissed.

Flash says, "All right, Weapons Master. You better, uh, talk or ... or I'm going to ... I'm going to get really ... upset." It doesn't work. Luckily, Wonder Woman shows up with her lasso of truth to save the day. We then get a flashback of Wonder Woman's relationship with Steve Trevor. He taught her about couples holding hands, but later, he walked away from her, saying, "If you're not going to say it, don't say anything."

At the same time, Superman, Batman and Cyborg begin questioning The Key. He had broken into Arkham and wants to be locked away. He and Weapons Master both basically say the same thing. They were approached/attacked by David Graves, who only wanted to know everything the villains knew about the Justice League.

We then cut to Steve Trevor, who is tied to a chair and being tortured by Graves. Trevor refuses to reveal any League secrets, but once Graves threatens Trevor's sister, he gives in.

The Shazam backup story show Billy Batson's first day at school with his new foster family.

The Good:

The art. It's so good to have Jim Lee back. He just operates at a higher standard than most other artists. That high standard does make it difficult for him to stay on a monthly for very long, but I'll enjoy everything I can get from him.

Really funny Flash moment. I laughed out loud watching the Flash try desperately to be the bad cop and utterly fail at it. Green Lantern's right: being the bad cop is against his very nature. Flash is just too darn nice, which is why I love him so much. Of course, this does fall into the theme of Geoff Johns writing the Flash a lot goofier than how Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato write him in The Flash. You could argue that Johns really wanted to write Wally West, but had to stick with giving Barry Allen Wally-like qualities. That could easily be the case, but I think Johns is writing everyone lighter and slightly goofier in Justice League because it is a more mainstream, kid-friendly book. Also, I can easily Barry's need and ability to lighten up around the Justice League after all the serious events in The Flash. There's not so much pressure on him when he's with the League, so he can afford to relax a little and get in a few necessary laughs. I'm pretending this story happened right after he rescued Patty from Weather Wizard, so after what must have been a breeze of a fight with Green Lantern and Wonder Woman on his side, I can easily see him craving some good-natured silliness. I mean, he just basically broke up with his girlfriend. So let's let him be funny in Justice League for a little bit. But if he's involved in too many punchlines, then maybe we should ask Geoff Johns to bring back Wally West.

Reference to Flashpoint. As far as I can tell, this is the only instance of the New 52 acknowledging Flashpoint. I hope that changes. I don't want things to revert back to the way they were before, but I would like to know more about the implications of Flashpoint. Obviously Batman knows about it, but does the Flash even remember it happened? Also, when are we going to see this big war Pandora referred to at the end of Flashpoint? I have hope these questions will be answered. In the meantime, I'm just glad to see that it hasn't been entirely forgotten ... yet.

The Bad:

Lackluster story. The Villain's Journey was the heavily-promoted second arc of Justice League, that technically started in issue #7. I know this was the set-things-up issue, but I really feel like nothing important happened here. A man who wrote a novel about the Justice League is interviewing unknown villains to get more information on the League. Maybe it would've had a bigger impact had these villains actually been recognizable. The only one I knew here was Clayface, and he was taken down in half a second. I understand Geoff Johns has a difficult task of trying to work with other characters' villains without interfering too much with their continuities, but I think he should have been able to use some big names. I place this responsibility on the editing board. They should have things planned out two years in advance and have regular, big meetings with the authors and editors to see what they're doing and get everyone on the same page. And since Justice League is the flagship title, it should have first dibs, and everybody should work in part of what Justice League is doing into their own stories. I would have loved to have had a quick panel in The Flash saying Captain Cold was assaulted by David Graves with an editor's note referring me to this issue of Justice League. In my mind, that is a very easy thing to do, yet DC does it very rarely.

The Ugly:

Nasty filler text. To try to make things more natural, they had Graves' doctor flip through the Justice League book while talking to him. But nobody took the time to type up half a page of actual text for the book. Instead, we got gibberish. Maybe this is the curse of Jim Lee's artwork: it's so good and so detailed, that whenever he makes a mistake, it sticks out like a sore thumb. But I don't think it's unreasonable to ask Johns or one of the editor's to write a paragraph on the Justice League for this scene.

Final score: 6 out of 10

Next: The Belly of the Beast

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