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Earthquake-makers. The Kindred. The Purge. Zodiac Crystals. Stolen power. Bryan Hitch’s first Justice League story has had no shortage of ideas, yet has often come up wanting in the details. Can the final installment of “The Extinction Machines” give us a satisfying conclusion and vindicate Hitch’s inaugural arc? Mild spoilers ahead.

It’s too easy

With Clark at the center of the Earth, and Arthur off playing with his bag of magic rockstrying to use the Zodiac Crystals as an anti-earthquake balm, the rest of the League gives it all they’ve got against the Kindred. Only that isn’t quite right. They say that they’re maxed out, leaving nothing on the table, but it never actually feels that way. Given their eventual path to victory, I struggle to accept that our heroes reach their limit at any point during this issue.

And yet they still win! But we’re not talking about an uneven matchup; rather, it appears as though Hitch is flying by the seat of his pants, and the League’s solution to the problem of the Kindred seems far too convenient, born of a need to close the arc rather than any sound storytelling principles.

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That Arthur found the Zodiac Crystals issues ago does not make it any more plausible that he would just happen to possess them—mysterious items capable of stopping the earthquakes and defeating one of the Kindred, and of telepathic communication so that Aquaman would know what they were for.

Then there is the problem of willpower. Faced with the prospect of losing his speed a second time, the Flash decides that he simply won’t allow the Kindred to have it. He wills his speed back to himself. When Lantern Cruz feels her light going out a bit later, a pep talk from Barry spurs her on to muster her own will and retain her power. It makes a little more sense in Jessica’s case, since her power is willpower, but if denying the Kindred was as simple as shouting uh-uh, why have our heroes not tried before this point? While it is in one sense too easy for Barry to be able to thwart them in this way, it has also been made artificially difficult by Hitch, who has deliberately withheld this skeleton key of victory until now.

It’s too dangerous, too

Implausible convenience is not the only negative product of this hasty conclusion. On several occasions, we see the League make decisions with either a high probability of collateral damage or the certainty of human casualties, yet the consequences—potential or actual—are never addressed.

As part of the take-down plan, the Lanterns bring the Purge (which we now know refers to the legion of Cyborg-like entities in that broken planet that was conveniently accessible through a wormhole that was conveniently close to Earth that the Lanterns conveniently found without looking for it) to Earth to sling at the Kindred. They bring something called “the Purge”—something that was shooting thousands of nasty flying things at them hours earlier—to Earth, seemingly without a thought for the potential impact of letting these things loose at home. Even if Vic never loses his control over them, the League has so little data on what the Purge is, and to bring them all over to Earth (especially when what they do know from Cyborg isn’t good) seems awfully foolish.

Side note on the Purge: seeing a planet teeming with beings resembling Cyborg was a really good twist at the end of the last issue. Seeing them only at a distance, shot like water from a firehouse, is a really poor payoff for that twist. 

There’s another problem with the Purge-as-pressure-washer: there isn’t any consideration given to the people making up each Kindred titan. Diana reminds the team of the lives at stake earlier, but here (and later when Superman gets involved), everyone seems to have forgotten. And when the titans are eventually disassembled, people falling (and some from great heights) everywhere, the League does not move to catch them or prevent any injury or death. I won’t bother trying to do the math and project a death toll, but between the people making up the higher portions of each titan’s body and those at the bottom who would be broken beneath those falling from above, there would most certainly be some casualties. And yet other than a cursory remark from Barry, the League stands around chatting and making plans for the weekend.

Artistic quirks and inconsistencies

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Tony Daniel returns for this issue, and while I appreciate his layouts and general aesthetic, I feel like DC’s flagship team book ought to be better. There are too many instances of odd anatomy and kooky-looking faces, and I have yet to see him do justice to Superman in any of his interiors. On the plus side, the cover is probably his best yet, so there’s that. Morey’s colors are excellent, as usual, and with Daniel back, are more varied and less flat than they were two weeks ago.

Overall, I think I would like the artwork a lot better—quirks and all—if it didn’t have to shoulder so much of the burden. When I have trouble connecting with the writing, I usually try to find my place in the art, but the flaws in Daniel’s work make it difficult to do so here. It isn’t his fault that this book is in trouble, but a stronger performance from him would still be welcome.

Where do we go from here?

I have some theories about why this first arc was such a chore, and I’ve been sharing them along the way. Now that it’s wrapped up, I’ll be interested to see what we get from Hitch moving forward. I assume that he started writing his next arc after critical response for “The Extinction Machines” began rolling in, so hopefully he’s had a chance to do some thoughtful analysis of what went wrong. I’m a broken record here, but I know that Hitch can do better than this, because we saw it in JLA. I want the skills he showed on that book to bloom once again in Rebirth’s Justice League. And I’m still holding out hope that they will.

Recommended if…

  • You want to see how “The Extinction Machines” wraps up.
  • You really dig what Geoff Johns did for Aquaman, but you like it better when he’s by himself with a bag of magic, quasi-sentient crystals.
  • You’ve been waiting to see Barry Allen as a Red Lantern. I mean Green Lantern. I mean…this is hard.

Overall

At the risk of sounding overly-negative, the only lasting satisfaction I found in Justice League #5 was in knowing that “The Extinction Machines” is over. I like Hitch’s big ideas well enough, and wouldn’t mind seeing some of them resurface in future stories, but this arc was a slog, and I suspect this book will be better off with its maiden voyage in the past. While it’s nice to have Daniel back, his own flaws and inconsistencies make him inadequate consolation for the serious trouble in the script. Amidst a remarkable slate of Rebirth titles, Justice League has been my greatest disappointment, and I’ll be glad to put Hitch’s first try behind me.

SCORE: 4.5/10