Justice League #16 review

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The Justice League is divided—across time! With the help of the mysterious Molly, our heroes are when and where they need to be, but will they stop the Timeless? And can Superman and Batman trust the equally-mysterious Infinity Corporation? Justice League #16 has answers.

Unexpectedly enjoyable

With a book as disappointing as the Rebirth iteration of Justice League, it becomes easy to get used to the bad and expect failure. And yet, for most of this run, I have held out hope that—given time—Bryan Hitch might find a way to right the ship and deliver. But Justice League #15 decimated my optimism. As I prepared to read this week’s issue, I resigned myself to what I now knew would be more of the same aggravating storytelling and underachieving artwork.

What the heck happened?

Let’s keep our feet on the ground: Justice League #16 is not a rise of miraculous measure. But it is a more enjoyable chapter than almost every one that has come before it. And in a sense, that makes writing about it all the more difficult. How do I get to the bottom of why I’m receiving this book differently than what we’ve seen before?

Dialogue you can read—or even say out loud

Hands-down, the worst thing about Justice League so far has been Hitch’s overly-expositional dialogue and character narration. So often, this book has felt like someone telling us about the exploits of the League, rather than an actual peek into the experiences of our heroes. For all of Hitch’s good ideas, he failed to do any of them justice, because his method of storytelling has made the book a chore.

But Justice League #16 marks the first time that Hitch has managed to write dialogue that seems natural. Aquaman’s scene in ancient Atlantis stands out as a particularly good one, but the Lanterns, Bats and Supes have decent turns, as well. If there’s a complaint, it’s about characterization of those latter two, but the fact remains that this installment reads a thousand times better than others, and mostly because of this dramatic improvement in dialogue.

Learning to juggle the cast of characters

Prior to this issue, Hitch’s Aquaman has seemed pretty worthless. He had a few things to do in the first arc, but his role has largely been irrelevant. This time, Arthur gets a decent two-and-a-half-page scene, and it makes a tremendous difference. Surely, he’ll have more to do in this story; but even moving beyond his particular role in the conflict to come, he will have a more prominent place in my memory because we finally get enough of him for a proper impression.

In fact, the focus narrows considerably this time around. While we put eyes on every member of the team at least once, it’s Batman, Superman, Aquaman, and the Lanterns who have significant experiences. Instead of giving an insufficient amount of space to everyone, Hitch lets a large chunk of the group sit this one out so that he can zoom in on the others. He’s done this from time to time earlier in his run, but combined with dialogue that I actually want to read, this shift toward a more intimate approach works wonders. Especially with a short wait between installments, my mind can handle an issue without a great Wonder Woman, Cyborg, or Flash scene. They can have their moments later, and giving them stronger showings will build a story that sits well in my memory (and reads great in a collected edition, too).

Positive side-effects

With the usual distractions out of the way, enjoying Hitch’s ideas becomes an easy sell. Yes, he’s done time travel with the League before, but the particular moments in time are far more significant here. Yes, the Timeless still look like a horde of unremarkable villains (something he’s done a few times, as well), but better writing for the League makes the demand for a compelling villain plummet. There’s enough drama in the scenario, and enough intrigue in where the team is and with whom they’re interacting. If at the end of this arc, the worst we can say is that Hitch has something akin to Marvel’s so-called “villain problem”, then I’d say he did alright.

Don’t get me wrong—there are still things I don’t like in the script. I’m still not nuts about Molly, and—as I mentioned above—Superman and Batman remain a bit inauthentic. But it’s easy to be distracted away from those things by the refreshing increase in quality in other areas. Maybe Hitch will never write these two as well as some of his colleagues; but, I can enjoy his stories in spite of those deficiencies if he maintains the level of quality here.

Visual bump, too

Fernando Pasarin is still Fernando Pasarin, and will therefore never be my favorite. There are still a number of facial oddities and…interesting anatomical renderings; however, his layouts are absent the extreme camera tilting that we saw last time, and he gets more opportunities to play to his strengths, with a lot more imaginative set pieces. And let’s not discount the value of Hitch’s improvements. Without the need to layout and draw panel support for excessive exposition, Pasarin is able to draw a much more interesting visual narrative that prevents us from lingering on his anatomical quirks. As such, I had a genuinely good time with his work, as well.

Changing my tune, perhaps?

It’s too early to say that you should hop back on Justice League, but things are looking up. This is the best issue Hitch has produced on this title as writer-only—maybe even the best period. I hope it’s a sign of lasting improvement. I don’t blame you if you can’t share my optimism, but let’s all hope it is vindicated. A great Justice League is good for all of us.

Recommended if…

  • You’re not completely scared off of Justice League and want to hop back on when things might be getting good.
  • You’ve been disappointed with Aquaman’s irrelevance and want to see him get some more use.
  • You’re a Pasarin fan and want to see his imagination let loose on some interesting environments.

Overall

Just as I had given up hope for Justice League, Bryan Hitch showed that his writing can impress independently from his artwork. He still has much to do if he would rescue his beleaguered run, but Justice League #16 is by far the most convincing argument that he has the skill and the willingness to do so. An improved showing from Pasarin is icing on the cake. Let’s all hope this is the beginning of a change for the better.

SCORE: 7.5/10

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