Steve Orlando and Ivan Reis’ first Justice League of America arc, “The Extremists,” comes to a close with issue #4. Is it good?
Justice League of America #4 (DC Comics)
Above all else, the best thing this issue has going for it is its cast. Orlando and Reis have assembled an unusual but likable line-up that continues to impress. Two Leaguers who get particularly great moments in this issue are Killer Frost and Vixen. In one battle scene, Killer Frost finds that she cannot freeze her opponent. With that said, her opponent needs air to breathe, so by freezing the air around them Frost is able to win the fight. Vixen also gets a chance to use her powers in a fun way when she faces off against Lord Havok, leader of the Extremists. Vixen repeatedly punches Havok barehanded, and eventually he finds himself feeling incredibly weakened. This occurs due to Vixen channeling the abilities of a poisonous frog and spreading poison through skin-to-skin contact. It’s an awesome moment for a character who’s most often shown channeling animals conducive to flight or super strength.
Several moments of badassery aside, the writing in this issue is not all great. Some of the dialogue falls into the common fiction pitfall of serving as exposition. Characters explain plot events or series themes in ways that don’t exactly read convincingly as believable speech. Rather, there are several instances where Orlando seems to be using dialogue to repeat story points that don’t need repeating. The issue’s other main problem is with its villains. The story arc is four issues in, but Lord Havok and his Extremists still aren’t very interesting. Questions of when and how superheroes should interfere in military or political affairs are raised, but they’re not really answered or explored. The issue flirts with such interesting ideas, but ultimately everything boils down to heroes and villains punching each other. The punching is done creatively, what with Vixen’s frog poison and all, but my point remains the same. The issue would probably feel less disappointing if it had never brought up issues of military/superhuman interference at all, because having said questions raised just to be dropped feels like a significant letdown.
I have to give major props to Reis for his artwork, though. His page layouts and choices in panel placement are fantastic. Reis has a deep understanding of how to utilize space on an artistic canvas; no panel ever feels too busy or too sparse. The art majorly enhances how enjoyable the issue as a whole is. It’s not that Orlando’s writing is bad here so much as it just feels full of missed opportunities. My impression of the issue was also dragged down a bit by certain hints at future storylines. It looks like events from the Extremists’ past will continue to affect this title moving forward and, given how boring these villains have been so far, that doesn’t bode well.
All in all, Justice League of America #4 is a good time. The art is great and, though the writing has its flaws, we get some great character moments for Vixen and Killer Frost. Here’s hoping future issues iron out the kinks a bit and build upon the solid foundation the first arc has established.
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