It’s hard to look at Justice League Odyssey by itself.
Dan Abnett has made himself a career out of intense, high-stress space superheroics, and it’s impossible to see Justice League Odyssey as, in some aspects, a sum of the parts of older takes by Abnett on the same topic. Abnett borrows from his work on the Legion of Super-Heroes in Legion Lost, and from his independent work, The Hypernaturals. He also borrows from his prolific novel writing for Games Workshop in its Warhammer 40,000 setting. But the biggest debt has to be to Guardians of the Galaxy.
It’s hard to blame him. The reinvention of the Guardians with Andy Lanning that Abnett did was wildly successful, directly inspiring the multi-million-dollar movie franchise. It’s Abnett and Lanning’s Groot and Rocket Raccoon that everyone and their mother can recognize. And Justice League Odyssey, in Abnett’s tenure, is clearly inspired from that relaunch. There’s the space cop, the only one of her band remaining, empowered to an extraordinary degree – Richard Rider, meet Jessica Cruz. The super-powered animal with a love for slaughter – Rocket Racoon, meet Dex-Starr. The tortured warrior woman, with an antagonistic sister – Gamora, meet Blackfire. Even the foes have parallels – it’s hard not to compare Darkseid and Thanos.
This isn’t, necessarily, a bad thing. But Abnett wears his influences on his sleeve, and it’s hard to read Justice League Odyssey #21 without the faint feeling that Abnett is just playing karaoke covers of his own greatest hits. He’s returning to his own consistent themes, and rather then telling something new, he simply reiterates what he’s already said.
That’s not to say that the book is bad — it isn’t, by any means. Epoch is a genuinely interesting foe-turned-friend, and the idea of summoning past and future selves as allies is – while not new – always enjoyable, as is the idea of trapping one’s foes in time loops. Gamma Knife is an interesting reinvention of a old character concept (Space Ranger) and Orion – while perhaps more measured then his traditional take in Kirby’s writing – is always a joy to see.
But the plot is paint-by-numbers, and just what you think will happen, does. Abnett can do better – even in recent years, his Aquaman: Underworld was a delight – and it’s a shame to see that his Justice League is just a second shot at writing Guardians of the Galaxy. I don’t want to say not to buy this book. It could be fantastic, and each of the consistent parts – the characters, the plot, etc. – are good. They just aren’t good as a whole.
The art, too, by Will Conrad, is just a step down from what you want. The character designs themselves have been good, especially Gamma Knife and Blackfire, and Cliff Chiang’s Orion redesign from the start of the New 52 is really quite elegant. (Though, as a note of personal preference, I can’t help but wish that Omega Beam powered Jessica got a new costume, but that isn’t really a strike against the book.) But the art feels wooden, and plastic, and vaguely motionless. The characters don’t express — they just strike various poses, their expressions identical but with their mouths half-open. For a book about high-stakes space combat, with warring gods and lords of time, it feels strangely subdued.