It's an Infinite Frontier of possibility... and the Justice League must adapt with the times, and include new voices, if it wants to truly represent justice for ALL. But is anybody ready for Naomi and Black Adam to join the team's ranks?!
PLUS: The Justice League Dark's next challenge rises, but after their defeat of the Upside-Down Man, do they have the firepower left to take on the mystical might of Merlin himself...?
The Brian Michael Bendis era of Justice League begins, bringing the writer’s down-to-earth, decompressed sensibilities to comics’ mightiest, perhaps even most godlike team. As with all latter-day Bendis books (particularly team books), there’s a certain amount of give and take to be had: the writer’s own tics will be omnipresent regardless; the real value comes in what he brings to the plot itself. It isn’t news- or noteworthy that Bendis likes to have his characters talk… a lot. Every face on the page has to have something to say, even if it’s just meaningless chatter. And twenty years ago, it was new and cool and different. But now, it’s a technique that’s so old hat for the writer point that what used to be unique is now just predictable; voices all just blend together and have no individuality or distinction from one another. Knowing that this foible will be present is simply something experienced readers have to take into account on the frontside of reading anything new from Bendis at this point in his career.
Fortunately, Justice League #59 is a really, really solid comic.
The opposite side of that coin is that he still has plenty to say as a writer. Last year’s Superman identity reveal sent shockwaves not only through the comics industry but made national headlines; what could have been an easy (i.e. lazy) attempt at shock value wound up being rooted in humility, humanity, and the core truths of Superman as a character instead and was an extraordinarily powerful and singular moment in the character’s eighty-plus year history. Despite his fondness for turning characters into chatterboxes, Bendis is still a writer who can find something to say in a way that speaks to the human, grounded side of everyone’s favorite superheroes.
Using Green Arrow for his mouthpiece, Bendis applies this storytelling technique right off the bat for his debut outing of Justice League. Ollie makes a strong, valid point: The team has worked together for so long, that it may have developed blind spots due to its lack of differing, even dissenting opinions. How can they live up to the motto “justice for ALL” if their representation is always the same core group of characters? Different viewpoints, opinions, and perspectives matter, Ollie/Bendis tells us. And we can’t represent everyone if we don’t start including those different voices. It’s a clear call for diversity and inclusivity, and if that’s not a message for our real-world moment, I don’t know what is – though Bendis is a canny enough writer not to hit us over the head with it.
To that end, Bendis is bringing Black Adam and Naomi into the fold. The latter represents the next generation of heroes; the former a different approach to heroism. Both together bring a clash of Gen Z optimism and old guard cynicism to the League, upending the team’s dynamic in such a way that stands to send shockwaves throughout Bendis’ run, until the end result is a whole new team with a new, modern way of doing things. The effect is not unlike the disassembling the Avengers underwent during the writer’s tenure on that book, but in a more philosophical way. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Naomi was co-created by Mr. Bendis to much critical plaudits.)
The downside to Bendis’ decompressed storytelling approach is that the plot itself feels relatively threadbare. From that perspective, that’s Justice League #59’s biggest shortcoming – that it feels, very much, like we don’t know what the actual story is about yet other than the League reshuffling its deck. Sure, there’s a demon of some sort that invades Kahndaq – complete with stereotypical man-on-the-street Bendis patois that makes very little sense in or out of context for a demon from another dimension to know – but in truth, that’s about it. I’m sure it will read better in trade, or at least once the story is complete.
Bendis brings frequent artistic collaborator David Marquez along for the ride, and the book simply looks sumptuous. Marquez is a master of body language and expression – witness the quiet glance between Black Adam and Superman that speaks volumes – and brings an elegant, understated line to his drawings. His figures are powerful, sure, but don’t look like they were chiseled from stone. They look like they could be real people, lending credence to the echoes of humanity that Bendis is instilling in the story. Add Tamra Bonvillain’s immaculate hues to the mix, as well as Josh Reed’s peerless letters, and you have a simply beautiful book. Here’s hoping that Marquez and Bonvillain don’t depart after two or three issues and stick around for awhile.
The backup Justice League Dark story is equally compelling, but in a very different way. Writer Ram V is without a doubt one of comics’ most craft-oriented newer voices, and it shows just as much in ten pages as it did in the monthly JLD book. Diametrically opposed to Bendis in that he favors a very plot-heavy approach to storytelling, V deliberately picks up the story threads from his Future State story with this team, and the results – especially if the events in Future State prove true – are both jarring and worrisome. It’s a quiet introduction to the next phase of the team’s life, grounded with a genuinely tender moment between Zatanna and John Constantine before the next apocalypse hits. And if there’s a shortcoming to V’s story, it’s that – we just spent almost thirty issues dealing with a mystical apocalypse, do we really need to jump into the next one so soon? Couldn’t we just punch Felix Faust in the head for a couple of issues first? Fortunately, Xermanico’s painstakingly-crafted, reality-defying pencils make up for any shortcomings the story may have. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still rather have a monthly JLD book – but at least we’re still getting it in this form. Cheers all around to everyone involved in keeping the creepy dream alive.
Though somewhat light on plot, Justice League #59 is the beginnings of a thoughtful, philosophical reworking of the classic team. This is a great jumping-on point for new readers!
Justice League #59: …And Justice For All
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 9/109/10
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