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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: Justice League of America #3

Does it feel like it has been a while since we have seen an issue of Justice League of America?  That's because there was no issue in April.  For whatever reason, the comic was delayed, but there is a bonus to this: we get two new issues of JLA this month!  Last month, DC celebrated what was initially dubbed "WTF Month," but the name was eventually scrapped due to the fear that parents may complain that their child asked what the acronym meant.  The entire premise of "WTF Month" was that each of the comics in the New 52 would feature a fold out cover featuring some sort of surprising twist that would happen in the issue.  While it made for some pretty interesting covers, the entire move was a bit odd as none of the "twists" promised on the cover had any huge effect on the overall story of the issue.  So, after being delayed, we are finally getting to see JLA's WTF issue, which teases that Catwoman may betray the team.  Does this happen or is it just like all of the other WTF covers in that it has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the issue?  More importantly, does the comic continue to reach the high bar established by the previous two issues?  Keep reading to find out!

Justice League of America #3 briefly continues the fight between the JLA and the machines which appeared to be Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman.  After the fighting is over, however, there is a worry that the JLA was sold out to the Secret Society of Super Villains by one of their own...Catwoman.  Once it is decided that she poses no threat to the rest of the team, as indicated by Martian Manhunter, Colonel Steve Trevor persuades Catwoman to take part in an elaborate scheme to track down this Secret Society once and for all.

What really sets JLA apart from New 52 flagship title Justice League is the angle of having the team be entirely run by the government.  Sure, this is not a concept which is entirely new.  Mark Millar re-imagined the Avengers as a government-run superhero organization in The Ultimates.  With JLA, however, the organization running the team (ARGUS) brings a twinge of sinister feelings to the mix.  Despite being an integral member of the team, Catwoman is not known to be affiliated with the group in public due to her past as a villain.  Perhaps the scene in this issue that best displays the level of government manipulation is an early scene with Stargirl.  Stargirl is an interesting character in this series as she has perhaps gotten the least amount of focus out of anyone in the group.  Though she still does not receive much focus this issue, the scene between her and Amanda Waller is a bit chilling.  As one of the most famous member of the team, Stargirl is purposefully used in an ad campaign to promote the JLA to the rest of the country.  This promotion comes at a cost, however, as Stargirl is not allowed to actually participate in any of the missions with the rest of the team.  ARGUS leader Amanda Waller worries that, were Stargirl injured or killed, it would be a disaster for the team's PR staff.  In writing, this does not seem like a very odd thing, but the way writer Geoff Johns scripts this scene shows just how limiting the freedom is for the members of this team.  Every single one of their moves is so coordinated that it almost makes one wonder if the Secret Societ of Super Villains was created by ARGUS to be their first successful fight.  Even if that is not the case, this government angle to the comic makes it a nice foil to Justice League, which is fitting when one considers the entire purpose of the JLA's existence in the New 52 is to eventually take down the League.

This issue jumps around quite a bit in terms of story, moving at a very brisk pace with tons of exposition happening along the way.  Before the reader can get used to the team in one location, they are off to another on some other mission.  In most comics this would be a move that would make the book very disorienting, leaving things very open for bad writing to seep through.  Fortunately, Geoff Johns handles the fast pace of this issue quite well, with each of the major plot beats feeling very smooth and natural.  It is great to see that a team book that moves at such a pace does a great job of not making any of the characters feel under-served.  Despite Johns ability to handle the pace very well, we can hope that the comic will eventually slow down so that even more work can be done to develop these fascinating characters.  As the comic seems to be steam-rolling right into this summer's big crossover called "Trinity War," however, it seems unlikely that things will be slowing down for JLA anytime soon.

Though every character in this comic has gotten pretty equal focus in previous months, the main focus in this issue is on Catwoman.  This decision actually works out very well on Johns' part.  Before hand, Catwoman had been a good addition to the team, but not much had really been done with her aside from a very nice, but brief moment where Steve Trevor's recent break up with Wonder Woman reminds Selina of Batman.  Despite Catwoman being a very strong character on her own, this comic has done a lot thus far to make it very clear that Batman is a huge figure in her life who seems to overshadow everything that she does.  Batman's presence in her life should make for interesting storytelling in the upcoming crossover.  With this issue, though, we also get a great glimpse into what makes Selina tick (a little bit more on this later).  Once it is decided that Catwoman will be used as bait to gain entry into the Secret Society, we get a great scene of the JLA chasing Catwoman across a series of rooftops.  Something that really demonstrates the abilities Catwoman possesses is how upset she becomes that she has to act so juvenile in her routine as a criminal just to be noticed by the Secret Society.  Tripping alarms, slowing down her pace, and then having to break out of Arkham Asylum all come off as being very beneath Selina, and it all comes off very well with her attitude.  Attitude is perhaps what Catwoman brings most to this team, and Johns writes her in such a way that her sass makes her entertaining, but her true moments of openness make her more intriguing.

Justice League, since its reboot with the New 52, has never hidden the fact that it is a comic for big superhero action with only the slightest bit of story.  The formula works very well for the book, and Geoff Johns has improved his approach to the comic over the course of the past two years.  With Justice League of America, however, we get a story which is not nearly as reliant on action.  This issue features two rather large action scenes, but neither pull a ton of focus.  The latter of the two scenes, the rooftop chase after Catwoman, does not even feel like a true action scene as the reader is already well aware that it has all been orchestrated by Steve Trevor.  Green Arrow's sudden appearance in this scene is a very short, but nice moment where we finally get to see Oliver Queen in action.  Oliver's discovery of the hoax being pulled on the rooftops, however, serves as more of a character moment in that we see Queen take full advantage of the situation to immediately blackmail the JLA into making him a member.  In this moment, we get a clear picture of how this comic really does differ from its sister.  Not only is JLA more focused on the government aspects, but, in some ways, the comic feels much more focused on story and character than Justice League.  Not to say that we are not getting enough character development in Justice League, but JLA is making this a priority right out of the gate, and it is very much appreciated.

Although fellow Geek Rex contributor Kyle may disagree, one of the things which really makes Justice League of America  a great comic is David Finch's art.  The criticism that Finch makes all of his characters look the same may be a bit fair, but it is by no means a huge distraction while reading.  Finch's art is a perfect match to the more gritty tone of this comic.  There are moments in this series where Finch's work is absolutely stunning.  How Finch draws characters such as Hawkman and Martian Manhunter only helps to highlight how intimidating these characters are in the writing of the book.  While it perhaps can be agreed that Finch is not the most amazing artist in comics today, that does not mean JLA is an ugly book by any stretch of the imagination.  

As with its sister title, JLA has been featuring back-up stories with each issue.  Thus far, the back-ups have been chronicling stories about the JLA's most mysterious member: Martian Manhunter.  Writer Matt Kindt and artist Manuel Garcia give us a bit of a double whammy in this issue by taking a look at both Catwoman and Martian Manhunter.  One of the things that is great about Kindt's back-ups is that they quite literally back-up material seen in the issue itself, just with more of a focus on J'onzz.  For this particular back-up, we go back to the brief moment in the issue where Manhunter scans Catwoman's mind to make sure she has not betrayed the team.  In this moment, we see that both characters got a glimpse into the other's past.  We get to see the tragic roots of Catwoman, something which may not be unfamiliar to those reading her solo book, but it is still a nice moment for those of us not reading the series.  Where the back-up really becomes interesting is when Catwoman gets a peek into Martian Manhunter's past.  We get to see J'onn as a savage hunter, using his great abilities to take down a creature no other being could.  This scene is incredibly visceral and only serves to make Martian Manhunter that much scarier.  The fact that Catwoman now knows a little bit more about the guy should make for some interesting tension down the road.  Garcia's art in this back-up, while very nice, is not quite as great as the work David Finch does in the rest of the issue.

Overall, this is another win for Geoff Johns and David Finch.  Although this issue of JLA moves at a very quick pace, it is still easy to follow and does not lose focus in the rush.  By choosing to focus on one of the team's more interesting members, the story becomes all the more strong.  If Catwoman's story can be pulled off in such a way, it will be interesting to see if the less intriguing characters of the team like Vibe and Katana can receive such focus without the book becoming a bore.  It may be a bit early to say so as the book is only three issues in, but Justice League of America is doing an excellent job so far of not only separating itself from its sister title, but also making it one of the best comics in all of the New 52.

Rating: A+

Summary: Justice League of America #3 continues the excellence established in the first two issues and does a great job of keeping the focus on Catwoman while also telling a story that moves at a rapid pace.
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