So going into this I had a pretty good feeling that it would be better than Volume 1. I liked Volume 1, those stories didn’t quite resonate with me as monthly issues but it worked really well in trade format. Looking back at The Villain’s Journey, I felt as though I enjoyed those episodes more from month to month so naturally it would make an even better trade than ORIGIN. But after re-reading The Villain’s Journey here and now in this hardcover collection I realize that my affection for this arc was due in large part to how well it ended with issue #12 and how much I loved the Shazam backup tales, which aren’t included! I still found it to be an enjoyable read, but without those Shazam stories for support I think that ORIGIN is a step above and the recent Throne of Atlantis storyline is easily the best of the Justice League stories the New 52 has seen yet.
The cover for Justice League #11 was used for this hardback novel and I don’t think it was the right choice. This isn’t really a big deal at all, but the image puts a lot of the focus on The Flash and he really doesn’t do much at all. In fact, he’s been the weakest contributor of the entire team in all of the 18 issues that have been published so far. ORIGIN was more of an ensemble and the cover for that release gave each hero equal billing, but when it comes to the Villain’s Journey the two characters who stand out above everyone else are easily Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman. This is their book more than anyone’s. It’s a shame Flash hasn’t been used better in this series yet. It makes me curious about his own ongoing series. I’d like to see him do something useful for a change and I understand that the artwork in The Flash has been top notch.
The real problem with the book’s presentation isn’t the cover though. I just wanted to address The Flash. The problem is the binding. This is something I’ve complained about with far, far too many graphic novels in the past, but usually when there’s a binding issue it never crops up until midway through the book. Sadly, that’s not the case here. Imagery starts to vanish into the spine right from the get-go. One of the worst moments of this happening was this awesome two page spread of the League battling Martian Manhunter. Here’s what it should look like:
And here’s what it looked like in the hardcover edition:
As you can see from the photo I’m even trying to pull the book open as much as I can and we still can’t see Wonder Woman’s head. I had to do this quite a bit throughout reading the book and if felt like I was trying to break-in a baseball glove.
The Villain’s Journey collects issues #7-12 of The Justice League. These issues were the very first to actually take place in the current New 52 timeline because ORIGIN, the arc that came before it, took place 5 years in the past. While all 6 issues of the Graves arc are included the Shazam backups are not. Those shorts were a HUGE part of what I enjoyed so much about reading theses stories as monthly floppy comics so not finding them here is a bit of a bummer. However, it is reassuring to know that this must surely mean that all of the Shazam backups will eventually be collected in their very own graphic novel and I cannot wait for that to happen!
Now, as for The Villain’s Journey, the real story doesn’t begin until chapter 3. Chapters 1 and 2 seemed to be there only to establish a foundation for the newly released Justice League of America series. The first issue introduced us to Steve Trevor for the first time, a character who quickly became a favorite of mine. I found him to easily be the most well written characters in the book and I really empathized with him. Graves, our villain is hardly touched upon though. Instead we focus on Trevor and learn more about the level of celebrity the Justice League has today. The same group from ORIGIN has never expanded their ranks and they’ve also never faced a real challenge since the invasion of Darkseid 5 years ago. They’re quite unstoppable. Even after an apparent brawl with Amazo that leveled a couple of buildings in chapter 2 not a single member of the team has a scratch or scuff mark to show for it. They are perceived as godlike and living in serving in perfect harmony alongside one another by the public that loves them so well. This of course is not true.
If you’ve read ORIGIN you know that in the beginning all the team did was squabble and bicker and they sounded like snotty high school kids more so than heroes. Well, surprisingly their relationship hasn’t exactly changed over the past 5 years. At all. They still squabble and bicker and they’re all very sarcastic toward one another. And while they’ve been up against countless obstacles over the years they are still totally disorganized. Batman tries to bark orders but nobody listens, and why should they? They’re the Justice League. They’ve got Superman plus a guy who can create anything with a thought! Five years and they haven’t matured. Cyborg actually seems to be the most mature and most developed member of the gang and he’s the youngest. I mean, Cyborg really seems like he has his stuff together and I can’t help but wonder why on earth he hasn’t been given his own solo series yet.
The second chapter is entirely about the League’s unwillingness to include more members and it’s a comedic episode for the most part. It’s all quite amusing as we watch Green Arrow get shunned time and time again by the cool kids, but as I said before, the real heart of The Villain’s Journey never starts to beat until we reach chapter 3 and Jim Lee comes back on board. Before now these chapters were illustrated by Gene Ha and Carlos D’Anda who both did a fine job but had vastly different styles from one another and from Jim Lee who carries the rest of the story from chapter 3 onward. Since those opening chapters didn’t have the same level of importance as everything else that followed, it’s likely that that’s why Jim Lee took those issues as an opportunity for a break.
Overall the artwork in the book is quite good from the fill-ins to Jim Lee’s work. There are some absolutely stunning splash pages here like the Martian Manhunter one I posted, but there’s definitely nowhere near as many as there were in Volume 1: ORIGIN. The first graphic novel to come out of this series far exceeds The Villain’s Journey in the visuals department. Also, there was an awkward mistake that really should’ve been fixed before this went to print: issue #3 has a panel that shows Flash colored as the Green Lantern and Green Lantern colored red like the Flash.
So as for the actual Villain’s Journey… yeah, the villain this time around is more developed this time around but being more developed than Darkseid was in the last volume isn’t that great of an achievement. I think Darkseid’s only line was “I am Darkseid.” and then he just stomped around like Godzilla for a few pages. It looked cool, but that was about it. Graves, our villain in this book, has an origin story, a pretty good motivation for hating the Justice League, and a unique super power. And to be fair the actual journey he takes to become a villain is interesting but it doesn’t have quite as much time devoted to it as it probably could have. His plan for bringing down the Justice League isn’t that exciting either. But in the end the repercussions of his attack makes for some interesting changes in the group and throughout the DC universe in general. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the final chapter is a must-read. Even when it was published as a single over-sized issue (Shazam was left out that month) I declared it to be a good jumping on point. How’s that when it’s the conclusion of a 6 part arc (really more like 4 parts because we spent time with Steven and Ollie to kick things off)? Because there’s three pages worth of exposition at the beginning of that chapter.
Three pages worth of TMZ (Yeah, that TMZ) talking about all the gossip surrounding the Justice League and their fight with Graves, which is exposition to catch all the new readers up on what’s been going in the story so far. The new readers I’m talking about are all the people who rushed to buy Justice League #12 due to its cover and if you don’t know what I’m talking about then I won’t spoil it for you here. It was a pretty smart idea because like I said it made it easy for the uninitiated to jump on board but when you’re reading the graphic novel? It doesn’t work well at all. In fact it was downright annoying to reach the final chapter of this book only to have a surprisingly accurate depiction of the cast of what I consider the most obnoxious show on television summarize everything I’ve been reading so far. After those pages though it’s all smooth sailing toward an enjoyable and surprising finale that ends The Villain’s Journey on a high note.
- Great artwork
- Quick read
- Hero vs. Hero fights (I don’t care about ’em but I know many like to see good guys duke it out)
- Sucks for Flash fans
- Great for Wonder Woman & Steve Trevor fans
- Batman doesn’t have much to do
- Villain with an interesting origin but a lame plan
- Pathetic attempt to make the bad guy seem cool by having him whoop the entire League in like a page or two. The good guys just stood there and took the beating.
- Defeat of the villain is rather cheap and forgettable
- Huge changes for the future of the series
- It’s called the Villain’s Journey but it’s the heroes who truly grow as characters over the course of this book. It’s ridiculous that they never developed over the past 5 years as a group or as individuals but it happens here and now so it’s better late than never.
Variant cover gallery. It is what it is. They’re great covers, don’t get me wrong, but I want something more substantial when you’re depriving people of Shazam.
Is it worth the full price of $24.99? Nah. At $4 bucks a pop for the single issues that actually included more content with Shazam backups you’re actually getting less comic for around the same money at that price. Is it worth the The Amazon price of $14.75? Yeah. That’s fair. That’s an all around good deal for the amount of fun you’ll have reading this book. And it’s got a pretty decent re-read value to it too.
It’s slow getting started and then rushes to a finale, but Justice League: The Villain’s Journey even with all its faults and lack of Shazam goodness is a fun read with great artwork and some pretty important developments for the DC Universe that fans will need to see.