It’s the Justice League vs. Black Mercy this week, and writer Jeff Loveness is ramping up the danger of the strange plant. First introduced in the iconic Superman Annual #11, once attached to a person it makes them live out their dream life while also sucking their life from them. This is a story that takes the danger of the Black Mercy and turns it into a space sci-fi danger, far more threatening than we’ve ever seen before. It’s the kind of scale to stakes that make Justice League stand apart from the solo superhero books.
This is a good story that spins right off Si Spurrier and Aaron Lopresti’s three-issue story arc opening on the Justice League flying back to Earth from that adventure. They soon discover something very distressing, and artist Robson Rocha delivers a truly awesome double-page splash of complete destruction. The superheroes soon must navigate a strange world and find any survivors, but soon they may become the victims. It’s a good space adventure story that could work as a Star Trek episode.
It’s certainly not just any science fiction story, though, as Loveness weaves in the hopes, desires, and thoughts of these characters with well-placed montages of their ideal selves. There’s also a double page layout of their past adventures that’s jam-packed with history to remind us how many foes they’ve thwarted and how many times they’ve saved the universe. After seeing their great accomplishments, Rocha and Loveness weave in doubts for each of the main characters on the team, making a solid argument for each serving to the best of their abilities. This sets up a sour look at the characters and setting the stage for their exploration of a strange alien planet.
The introduction of Black Mercy is also spectacularly done in an almost Tim Burton style that’s creepy and unnerving. We’ve typically seen Black Mercy in a bouquet sized package, but how it’s revealed here is strange and expertly redesigned for the plot. Rocha, along with color artist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. bring this horror plant to a new level of disturbing. There’s a page turn utilizing a hero engulfed in the stuff that’ll make your skin crawl. There is also a slashing layout design that helps convey the cutting nature of the planet and what it’s doing to our heroes.
One weakness of this issue is one we see a lot in this format: the under-baked nature of episodic storytelling, where you get a taste of the story but not the full meal. Or, in this case, not even a full act. This reads like a good 10-minute opener to start a TV show, but isn’t quite enough to set up everything or even hang around each hero’s dream world. I suspect since the next issue wraps up the story arc, much of the conflict, transformation, and return from the abyss that is Black Mercy will be undertaken. As it stands this issue gets us to the threshold of the conflict, about 25% into the hero’s journey, before ending.
I liked Justice League #51 because it ties well into Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s original story using Black Mercy, but also how it cuts into each hero’s psyche, testing them. This is a much more nightmare-fueled use of Black Mercy, making for a macabre sci-fi space adventure. There are some clever ideas for each hero to deal with internally as they doubt themselves. This book also opens up what could be a fruitful use of an interesting villain in future stories.