After mixing it up in Badhnisia, the League and the Squad found themselves frozen in place by a super-charged Killer Frost. That battle may be done, but as the good guys thaw and the bad guys rest, the really, really bad guys continue to pursue their designs against Waller and the world—leaving a trail of dead in their wake.
A little easier to read, a little harder to look at
I had some harsh words for Williamson’s dialogue in issue #2, and I stand by them. It was just plain awful. He hasn’t made a complete turnaround, but things are markedly better this week, and I found the story easier to process as a result. There were even a few moments I liked quite a bit. About halfway through, Deadshot interrupts Superman’s encouraging word to tell the League like it is: that nobody cares what happens to the Suicide Squad—not even Waller. I’m no expert, but I think the panel that follows does a pretty great job of laying out the hopeless prospects of Task Force X:
We also get some genuine humor, courtesy of Flash, Cyborg, and Boomerang; and, while I wish their link went a bit deeper (and didn’t depend on obvious continuity ignorance), I appreciate the connection Williamson tries to establish between Superman and Killer Frost.
Unfortunately, the visuals take a significant dip this time around. While the first two issues featured pencils by two of the most skilled artists in DC’s stable (one of whom is arguably the best), this time the job passes to Jesus Merino. Merino—who has done a bit of fill-in work on Justice League in the past year—does a serviceable job laying things out, but his finishes leave a lot do be desired, and following Fabok and Daniel, Merino’s shortcomings stick out more than they would in a different context. The biggest problem is that his style aims at a sort of realism, but the result misses the mark by too much. It’s sort of like the McDonald’s apple pie vs. the Burger King apple pie: McD’s gives you something that is clearly not Granny’s homemade apple pie, but is its own different and delicious (even if horrifyingly unhealthy) thing; but Burger King presents you with (or at least, they used to—been a long time since I was in a BK) something that looks like a slice of real apple pie, and is composed similarly enough to real apple pie that you know what they’re going for, but is nonetheless not nearly as good as the real deal. Basically, if we can tell what you’re aiming for, we can tell very clearly when you don’t hit the target. Maybe I’m wrong—maybe Merino’s goal is quasi-realism with deliberate exaggerations and odd facial structures. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Whether it’s a poorly-executed realism or a poorly-conceived distortion, I find a lot of it strange and distracting.
Beyond the character work, there are still lots of problems. Merino’s backgrounds leave a lot to be desired. There isn’t a setting in this book that isn’t generic and boring. Even when we join Lord’s crew on a mystical, tropical island, the “interesting features” seem very cliché. And then there’s the Aquaman problem. After the League gets out of Waller’s custody (I won’t tell you how), Arthur is literally nowhere to be found. I don’t mean “he goes missing and folks start asking, but we don’t get an explanation.” I mean “he disappears from the visual narrative for seemingly no reason other than that Merino forgot to include him in any of the remaining panels, even those panels in which every single (other) member of the League and every member of the Squad are present.” If this was somehow deliberately scripted, I can’t imagine why we should be left in the dark about it until some later time.
I did say “a little” easier to read
Merino’s work is hardly the only problem, though. Williamson’s Batman still sounds like nobody’s hero, and there’s a (probably intentional) divide set up between Bats and Supes because of it. Superman believes that Frost and the rest of the Squad are redeemable, but Batman is convinced that they’re all beyond redemption. As I said last time, this doesn’t jive with my understanding of Batman over the years, but it also doesn’t reconcile with his treatment of Clayface in Detective Comics over the past six months. Let’s take Croc, for example—a survey of his history shows Waylon to be a tragic figure who becomes increasingly disconnected from his humanity, pretty much just like Clayface. What makes Clayface’s reform worth pursuing, but Croc’s a lost cause? This is never explained.
Waller also wanders from the path—not so much in her dialogue (I don’t have a lot of references in my reading history), but in a strange decision. She elects to show Batman the explosive injector that she uses to motivate the Squad, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. She says that it’s an attempt to build trust between the two teams, but the end of the issue reveals that her plan to get them working together had nothing to do with gestures of good faith. So if she didn’t need to show him the device, why reveal one of the most critical aspects of her operation? Again, there’s no (good) explanation provided.
Lastly—because I could go on, but there’s no point flogging this expired horse—that Superman/Killer Frost connection:
No fight, no fun
A dialogue-driven issue was the last thing JLVSS needed right now, but that’s exactly what we get. While there are some improvements in actual character speech, I feel like there are larger and more numerous holes in character and plot. The transition from standout artists to one most often used for fill-in hurts a lot, too, and I can’t imagine I would be reading this if I wasn’t reviewing it.
- You’re determined to read this entire event.
- You like a hyper-cynical Batman who’s already made up his mind about his enemies
and wants to drive a home-made poison spear through their hearts
What is the point of this crossover? I know it will have implications for future series, and perhaps for the larger DC Universe going forward, but I can’t help but feel like those goals would have been better served in the normal flow of other books (look at how they’re going to handle Batwoman’s Rebirth, for example). Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #3 can’t hide behind high-end artwork like its predecessors, and with the mask off, there isn’t anything left to get me excited about this event. I hope we see a massive uptick in quality for the second half, but I’m not holding my breath.