Monday, March 26, 2012

Comic Review -- Justice League #7: The Villain's Journey, prologue / Geoff Johns, Gene Ha, and Gary Frank

Okay, my first issue is with the banner across the top of the cover.  I've never liked ads like this, and this one's no exception.  I say this being completely supportive of DC's We Can Be Heroes initiative, but they could have put the ad prominently inside the comic.  This move was just needlessly disruptive, and I don't appreciate it.

Otherwise, I rather like the cover.  It's a Jim Lee, and I'll admit, it's a bit crowded, but it's still dynamic, action-packed, and iconic.  It even supports the story inside somewhat, which is always a plus in my book.  It's clearly an illustration designed for a cover or poster--clearly it makes little sense to engage in combat in this kind of close quarters--but overall, I like the look presented for what it is: a dynamic, en media res representation of the team in action together.

With the new origin story finished and done, we come to what is denoted as the present day.  The League's membership has apparently remained the same for five years, and we have a couple of interesting dynamics going on that are a sharp contrast from the all-out action of the first story arc.  First, we see that the writer from last issue, David Graves, has apparently changed his initially sterling opinion of the Justice League, and is embarking on some kind of clandestine quest to destroy them.  Second, the Justice League is still working on their teamwork even as they take down an emerging threat with little effort.  Colonel Steven Trevor is then shown dealing with the media on behalf of A.R.G.U.S. and Congress on behalf of the League, as their liaison.  Finally, we get a treatise from David Graves, who reveals himself as the person who stole an artifact called the Orb of Ra, and who has discovered the key to destroying the Justice League: Steven Trevor.

I've already seen quite a few negative reviews for this issue, and I'm actually forced to wonder why people seem to dislike it so.  I understand that there's not as much high-octane action as before, but frankly, I could use a break from it by this point.  I'm much more interested in the interpersonal dynamics between the members of the League, and as shown, those who interact with the JL on various levels.  Watching Steven Trevor, with whom I'll admit not being very familiar, deal with his role as human liaison to the modern-day gods and frustrated man whose love for Wonder Woman remains unrequited, lends a sense of anchoring to the narrative that could otherwise easily remove its scope from more human concerns.

I'm also fascinated by the premise promised by the title, "The Villain's Journey," a reversal of the mythological narrative pattern Joseph Campbell described as the hero's journey.  There's a lot of potential for some imaginative storytelling here, especially if Geoff Johns takes this seriously and explores and maybe subverts some of the stages of the hero's journey Campbell sets up in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Time will of course tell, but I for one am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt to see how this unfolds.

After all, this issue is more or less bookended by David Graves' observations and foreshadowing. I think he's the one who's intended to be the star of this arc, and I would urge readers and reviewers to keep that in mind for this one before sinking Johns on other areas of the story.  Despite how little he appears in this issue, he's made some key moves in it, and I think we've got a potential setup for a good nemesis for the Justice League.

That's not to say that I have no issues with this segment of the story, but they're fairly minor compared to what I think may be on the horizon.  My biggest issue is that the JL's membership seems not to have changed in the five years since it was formed.  Really?  No one died, left, switched sides, went on to a higher plane of existence, or retired?  They've accepted no other new members since then?  I suppose all of this could have happened, and that they just happen to have their original configuration at this point in time for the story, but that seems awfully convenient as well.

I'm not familiar with Shazam except in the vaguest sense, but I thought the opening of that story was pretty interesting.  I'll be interested to see where it goes, and will continue to read it, though I was a little miffed that it just had to be introduced (and apparently continued) in the pages of Justice League.  Still, I'm willing to give it a shot.  Hopefully Billy Batson's not as huge a jerk as he was portrayed in this first story, but maybe his own hero's journey involves him changing his attitude.  We'll see.

Artistically, I was a little jolted by Jim Lee's absence from this issue (with the exception of the cover), but I do think Gene Ha does a good job in his guest role this month.  It seemed slightly gritty for a story about a high-powered superhero team, but it did a fine job of supporting the narrative.  Batman's angry face in response to Green Lantern's patronizing remarks was pretty amusing, as were the renderings of Spore and his minions at the beginning of the story.  I did enjoy Gary Frank's artwork in the Shazam story quite a bit.  It was very clean, and the linework made for some very realistic illustrations.

Overall, I like the setup and direction for this issue.  I think the story has a lot of potential, and that its focus may not be where a lot of readers think it is.  The Shazam story also promises an epic tale, and starts off well enough.  The artwork in both stories is nice.  Definitely a worthy start for anyone interested in superhero stories, and possibly those interested in studies modern mythologies.  Highly recommended.

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