Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez’s Justice League #59 kicks off the Infinite Frontier-era of DC’s foremost superhero team. With a modern roster influenced by recent event Endless Winter and Bendis’s own Naomi, the Justice League seeks to connect with civilians and readers as characters with depth, rather than vague symbols. Is this a step in the right direction, or is DC’s flagship book stumbling out the gate?
This issue is rather simple and to the point throughout. It can be divided into three sections: the introduction with Black Adam, the big fight and the meeting at the watchtower. This is also to say that it feels like very little happens in this issue. Bendis is often criticized for his pacing and reliance on elongating stories past their necessary length, and that is absolutely true here.
It’s a shame too because the ideas briefly introduced here might actually be worthwhile to explore with this pantheon of heroes. Green Arrow’s brief dialogue with Black Canary about how well people relate to the Justice League is a great point about proximity to power, anonymity and whether people feel safe with those with unchecked authority. One might wonder though if Bendis doesn’t go far enough in this direction. As Oliver Queen is an outspoken, political character, one wonders if it’s in character for him to dance around the political aspects of the argument he’s trying to make here.
This is a problem throughout the book where Bendis struggles to capture the voices of many of the Justice Leaguers. More often than not they feel more like cardboard cutouts, espousing generic action dialogue rather than complex characters with years of personal relationships to draw from. It’s really only Superman that Bendis really seems to have a knack for writing. His dialogue often shines through as the most overtly hopeful, and most well developed of any other character. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best in the book.
Conversely, the worst offender is Bendis’s new villain Brutus, who speaks like an eight year-old would write a comic book villain. There isn’t a line he speaks that feels like it’s drawing from a deeper character, complex world, interesting relationship or compelling motivation. Lines like saying to Black Adam, “I see you have one of those shirts.” in reference to his costume and symbol, sound downright stupid and completely ruin a reader’s immersion.
This isn’t the only line in the book that’s downright idiotic either. At one point Aquaman, who just wrapped up a story where he lived with various sea gods for dozens of issues, had to ask what a “magical being” was. The lack of effort this shows to know what the characters in the book have been doing even in the last few months should be considered offensive to the reader.
It’s also notable that Black Adam never quite justifies his presence here. One might assume it stems from his role in Endless Winter, but going back and reading that will show that it really doesn’t. Black Adam ends that with a sinister disposition to the Justice League and then all of a sudden he is here helping them. It isn’t egregious, but it is odd. Plus, Bendis just doesn’t write him with the traditional bite his character has, and readers might find it odd to read a Black Adam who’s a little soft.
It’s lucky, then, for Bendis and for readers of this book that Marquez puts in the work. Under his pen, characters are fun, detailed and expressive. Action is consistently explosive and feels as if it exists on the scale at which the Justice League would handle business. Readers will automatically register this as a work which, whether it reads like it or not, looks and feels like a definitive take on the team. This isn’t meant to say that this will be a run that defines the Justice League, but that this seems like them drawn by definition.
Marquez does make one faux pas though, in that later in the issue he draws Barry Allen as Wally West. It’s not a terrible mistake on his part, but it does contribute to a book that is already annoying in its lack of consistent and correct interpretation of characters.
Outside of comments on the action and character designs, there simply isn’t much to say about Marquez’s work in this issue. It’s so dominated by the single fight that if readers like his work in that section, and it’s excellent, then readers should be happy with what he puts out.
The conception of the team is important to talk about, though. A Justice League with Superman, Batman, Hippolyta, Black Adam, Hawkgirl, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Black Canary and Naomi for a roster is odd. The book also does little to justify it. There’s no apparent connection to Endless Winter, which is the presumed reason for Black Adam and Hippolyta’s presence. Naomi is here both because this issue’s generic villain is from her world, and because Green Arrow and Superman think, “We need to get some new voices in here.” This is great logic, and it should come from liberal Green Arrow, but one wonders why this logic isn’t being used to elevate more minority characters.
Instead it’ll presumably be used to bring in two replacement heroes in Black Adam and Hippolyta who’ve got no chance of becoming actual prominent Justice League members, while characters like Vixen, Dr. Light, Hardware, Mr. Terrific, The Atom, Cyborg, Sideways, Static, Icon, Rocket, Katana, Black Lightning, Blue Beetle, Jessica Cruz, John Stewart, Simon Baz, Alan Scott, Midnighter, Apollo, Raven, Starfire, Stargirl, Mister Miracle and more are left out in the cold. It seems a poor choice.
Justice League Dark is the Bright Spot?
Ram V and Xermanico, first of all, sound like a team of wizards so it’s kind of awesome that they’re the creative team on Justice League Dark. Secondly, they elevate this issue so much as a whole one would be shocked. In their first entry in this back-up, V and Xermanico establish a dark, moody tone that haunts their opening chapter. It sits like fog on our protagonist, mysterious villain and cults of the week.
The issue is paced phenomenally as reveal after reveal are rolled back to give readers a clear direction of where they are now and how this is pointing towards the story of Future State. These are excellent, including a compelling villain, a surprise return, and a great use of the sword in the stone. One will find themselves with a burning desire to turn more pages at the end, which can’t be met by the page count.
Xermanico gives so much to this book. He establishes a grandeur that lends to the credibility so that our villain and our story might encapsulate a scale which is only appropriate for the Justice League Dark.
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