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Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: Justice League of America #5


If you have not been reading Justice League of America, you may or may not have heard that a major death appeared to occur in the most recent issue.  Yes, on the final page of issue 4, we saw the body of Catwoman lying on the floor and bleeding out, with no apparent hope for survival.  By fans, this was a death that was met with a bit of a surprise as, for the past few years, the death of a major character has usually been spoiled by some major news outlet weeks in advance (USA Today spoiled that Ultimate Peter Parker would be killed off, then becoming the source to reveal Miles Morales as his replacement).  Nevertheless, this death caused rampant speculation of just how the next issue would unfold.  As Catwoman not only has her own solo series but has been featured in all of the artwork for the upcoming Trinity War, most of this speculation was on just how Geoff Johns would bring Selina Kyle back.  Well we finally have our answer in the last issue of JLA before Trinity War.  Although the method of Catwoman's resurrection is one that some fans predicted, that does not mean it was one which was necessarily pleasing.  Keep reading to find out how this and other matters unfolded in the latest issue!


Justice League of America #5 continues the story of the JLA's infiltration of the Secret Society of Super Villains with the seemingly dead Catwoman revealed to be nothing more than Martian Manhunter!  As the JLA continues to fight the Shaggy Man and various other robots created by Professor Ivo, it becomes clear that the JLA may not make it out of the Secret Society's hideout alive.  Meanwhile, recently inducted Green Lantern Simon Baz joins the JLA, and Martian Manhunter discovers something about the leader of the Secret Society that could change everything.

Often in reviews for this series here on Geek Rex, JLA has been praised as a series that took itself just a little bit more seriously than its sister book Justice League.  Instead of simply focusing on mindless superhero action with very little character development, JLA very much so came off in its first three issues as a comic which would focus much more on its characters as well as an angle of government leadership to add some intrigue.  In the previous issue of the series, there was a bit of a nose dive in terms of qualities which make this title unique from its brethren in that much of the issue focused on action.  Sadly this is what we once again have here as the JLA continues in their fight against the Secret Society.  Although it may not normally be an apt adjective to use when describing a comic book, this is an issue which is very loud.  There is a lot of fighting evil robots of varying size in this issue and, while some of it is quite entertaining and fun to see, it mostly just feels like your typical superhero battle.  JLA having certain features to it which make it a unique title does not mean that it can never have action.  In fact, when you have a team with the likes of Hawkman, Katana, and Green Arrow, action is more or less expected from time to time.  Where action can become a problem is when it is terribly engrossing of the issue's story, meaning that there isn't very much development going on of the plot and even less of the characters.  The only character who really receives any development through all of this mindless punching is Stargirl, and it is a moment that has frankly been a long time coming.  While the sheer amount of action present in this issue is a bit of an annoyance, writer Geoff Johns does a decent enough job of explaining this action's importance in a later scene.  At the end of the day, the action of this issue and the one before it are meant to demonstrate a solidification of the JLA as a team, showing that, although they have not been able to stop the Secret Society yet, they are beginning to learn to work together.

When it comes to story, there is not a whole lot here in this issue.  There are some things learned about the Secret Society of Super Villains, but they are ultimately still a mystery in terms of their power and scope, something which we will undoubtedly see expanded upon in the coming months with both Trinity War and Forever Evil.  The plot which serves as the spine of this issue is quite flimsy, weighed down by too much of the aforementioned superhero action.  What moments of plot we do get in this issue, however, are actually quite nice.  Easily the development in this issue which will stick out the most to readers is Martian Manhunter's discovery of the identity of the leader of the Secret Society.  Of course, Geoff Johns does not really tell us what Martian Manhunter saw, but we do know that it was enough for him to feel the two characters were comparable.  As the Secret Society includes an ever-growing roster of some of DC's most and least known villains, it is a bit surprising that their leader is not someone more established to readers in the DCU.  Sure, someone on the level of a Lex Luthor or Joker would be a bit too obvious, but Brainiac or someone similar would be interesting.  That being said, it is perhaps because we know so little about this leader that makes him so much of a threat.  If we knew who he was, we would know what is potential weaknesses might be, causing any potential fear of the Secret Society to go away.  Out of all of the Justice League books published this month, JLA is really the only one to make any effort to set up Trinity War, which begins next month.  Even then, however, this set up is quite small.  We know that the Secret Society will somehow play a role, but we do not know how big.  There has now been a hint that Pandora has some sort of connection to the Secret Society, causing the always mysterious Amanda Waller to raise an eyebrow.  The only other true plot development in this issue is what happens to Dr. Light, and it is honestly something that has taken place much sooner than expected.  Hopefully, as we approach and depart from Trinity War, JLA will regain a much more sturdy on-going plot.

It is a bit disappointing that this is yet another issue of Justice League of America without a ton of character development.  Geoff Johns certainly has a good knack of writing intriguing plots and entertaining action, but, when he is taking the time to expand upon his characters, that is when his writing really shines.  Though this issue does not feature a ton of character development, there are actually several nice character moments, some of which have been missing in this series for quite some time.  For starters, we have Simon Baz finally showing up in this series.  Baz, the latest Green Lantern from the planet Earth, had previously been tied up in two large crossovers with the Green Lantern Corps.  This was a time where it was good that Johns was writing both Green Lantern and JLA as there were no questions of continuity as to why Simon, who we knew was recruited to the JLA, had not shown up yet.  In this issue we see Simon and fellow Green Lantern B'Dg being shown around A.R.G.U.S.  Amanda Waller has given Simon an offer that seems too good to refuse, but the Lantern still seems a bit reluctant to spend time away from his family.  It would seem we will have to wait until Trinity War for Simon to really do anything notable with the team, but he will most assuredly be an integral member in the months to come.  Stargirl is another character who gets to finally shine a bit with this issue.  Johns has been developing Stargirl in a particularly fascinating way, but she has also not received a ton of focus in this series.  Here we finally get to see Stargirl fighting some villains, and it only helps to add to the desire to see this character pull more focus in this comic.  The issue also features a very well written scene between Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor that may be the best of the entire issue.  Steve ordering around such powerful beings that inhabit the JLA has seemed a little odd thus far, but his passion for making this team great really sells his importance in this series.  All of these character moments are very nice on Johns' part, but these are also quite fleeting.  Can we have some more character development, please?

Once again in this issue we have another back-up focusing on Martian Manhunter written by Matt Kindt and drawn by Manuel Garcia.  This particular chapter of the on-going back-up details Martian Manhunter's first encounter with the being responsible for the destruction of his people on Mars.  Although there is a slight connection to the story of this issue in that we get a rather dull explanation of how Martian Manhunter posed as Catwoman, this back-up feels very disconnected from everything else going on in JLA.  Thoth is the name of the being which is responsible for Martian Manhunter losing his people, and he is not exactly the most threatening of villains.  In fact, he is someone who does not see himself as a villain, but more a very lonely person looking for companionship.  It is a mediocre back-up that is written in a decent enough fashion, but this series of stories has just not risen to the level of greatness that is possible with a character like Martian Manhunter.  There is still very little we know about this character, and Kindt has been focusing on perhaps the least interesting part of his mystique: his origin.  While Thoth may prove to be a threat later on, there does not seem to really be a ton of stakes involved with these stories.  Manuel Garcia's art works well enough with Kindt's writing, but pales in comparison to even the work Brett Booth does in the rest of the issue.

Using that as a seque into our art discussion, lets talk for just a second about Brett Booth.  Booth is an artist who was brought in on the previous issue of JLA seemingly as a guest spot while all of the other main Justice League artists prepare for Trinity War.  You may recall this reviewer panning the art of the last issue and how it stood quite disparate to the quality of writing coming from Johns.  While the art is not nearly as bad in this issue as it was in the previous one, there is just something of value lost when David Finch is not drawing this book.  Finch is still, fortunately, providing the covers for JLA, so the book at least looks pretty on the outside.  Brett Booth is not a bad artist by any means.  There are, in fact, several titles where his art would fit in quite nicely.  What makes the art so obtuse in this issue is that it as an art style that does not mesh very well with the way Johns writes the book.  Even though this is a more action heavy issue of JLA, it is still a book that Brett Booth's art is very ill-suited for.  Hopefully we will not be seeing him back for quite some time (if ever).

Justice League of America is a comic that this reviewer still has a lot of faith in.  That faith would not be present at all, though, if it were not for the strength of its writer, the characters involved, and the ways this book has separated itself from its fellow Justice League titles.  All of this is brought up to point out that, for the past two issues, we have been getting a very sub-par JLA.  Sure, there is a very large crossover coming up, one that may have been vying for the attention of its creators more than what was currently going on in the story, but that is not an excuse to let these two issues slide by.  There are some moments and some threads of story which are quite nice, but it is all easily forgotten by an over-bearing set of action sequences that just feel like a bit too much on one plate.  Hopefully JLA will be able to find its even footing once it's back on it's own as it is a comic of extreme potential.  In the meantime, Trinity War is finally going to begin next month.  Be sure to check out the much-hyped story beginning in Justice League #22, out July 10.


Rating: B-

Summary: Justice League of America #5 has quite a few things going for it, but an over-saturation of action scenes, dull art, and a sub-par back-up story keep this from being as great as previous issues.
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