Justice League #21 review

Justice League 21

Jessica Cruz is dead! Or, she will be if Barry and Batsy can’t figure out a way to save everything. Will the Flash and the Batman succeed? Will it matter?

Hard to read

Before I—of necessity—tear down Justice League #21, let me say that I applaud Hitch for trying to do things a bit differently. Whereas this series has suffered from its lack of character development, this particular issue starts with an attempt at slowing down and letting us observe two key actors. Jake—the raving madman who killed Jessica over and over again last time—and his wife Rose have a conversation that does a much better job of fleshing out their backstory than Hitch’s usual method of having someone tell us all about it in dialogue. There is strain evident in their relationship, even before we learn the source of that strain in a later scene.

Unfortunately, this transition from “tell” to “show” yields too much. Dialogue that Hitch means to add personality in fact adds distraction, as characters yammer on without the sort of conversational filtration that a better script would have. As Jake speaks with Rose before leaving for his big presentation, he—on several occasions—utters an aside that does not enhance him or the scene. The awkwardness of these unnecessary asides are accentuated by some poor word balloon placement from Starkings, who would have done well to move them away from their neighboring balloons and connect them with a tail, rather than butting them right up against each other. Even using an alternate font face or size would have helped to set these apart, but alas, we get no such treatment.

The net effect of these missteps is text that either confuses (albeit momentarily), bores, or worst of all, makes characters look ridiculous. After Flash enlists Batman’s help, he takes exception to Bruce’s choice of words, descending into a child-like hissy-fit. But Bruce’s words are not—as Barry accuses—clinical and without compassion. Barry’s response is so silly that I wouldn’t even say it mischaracterizes him—it’s such an overreaction that I can’t take it seriously.

I won’t go on. There are plenty of other annoying lines and elements in this book, with nearly every person that speaks getting a chance to contribute to the mess. The biggest plus is surely Batman going undercover, but it’s not worth reading the rest of it for that one element.

Weak visuals

Hitch’s strongest skills as an artist seem to emerge when he draws huge “widescreen” spreads. His cityscapes, be they pristine or wrecked by a supervillain, look as good as or better than anybody else’s in the business. He does not, however, excel at character work, and Justice League #21 pulls the shots in tight pretty much the whole way through, so we spend twenty pages looking at his weakest stuff instead of his best. To be clear, I’m not saying he’s awful at drawing characters, and sometimes his economical use of detail produces a stunning pose or emotional expression. But the bulk of the work draws too much attention to those aspects of his style that I find difficult to enjoy.

When are things going to change?

August solicitations should be with us soon, and I have the same question this month that I have every month: when will DC clean house on Justice League? I don’t care how many books are selling, because it isn’t quality that’s selling them. Just imagine how much better this title would perform with a fresh creative team and a different direction? Here’s hoping August will at last put an end to what has been the biggest Rebirth disappointment.

Recommended if…

  • You’re a big Hitch fan.

Overall

Too obsessed with its own short history, Justice League slumps through another issue with lackluster artwork and poor dialogue. Instead of substantial improvements in execution, we get more heavy-handed references to earlier events, and a two-part story with a promising concept falls flat, leaving me with the same bad impressions of this title that I’ve had since the first arc. Continue to pass on this one.

SCORE: 5.5/10

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