With Justice League vs. Suicide Squad in the rearview, Bryan Hitch once again takes the reins of Justice League. Trapped by a planet-threatening enemy, the League takes advantage of the downtime and has a heart-to-heart. Tempers run hot, issues get worked out, and in the end, both the world and the League are changed. But will it be for the better? You’ll have to read Justice League #14 to find out.

Hitch’s best writing since the Rebirth one-shot

I won’t belabor the point, because my feelings are well-documented, but Justice League has been a struggle for these long six months or so. Once my most-anticipated series of DC’s hopeful rejiggering of its universe, the book quickly disappointed, as Hitch struggled to write well after ceding artistic responsibilities to another. Today’s #14 marks his brief reclamation of the title’s visual identity, and the immediate difference in his writing is striking. Whereas writer-only Hitch far-too-frequently provided in dialogue and narration what he should have left to his artistic collaborators, the “all-in-one” Hitch reads like a completely different animal. Instead of characters revealing their feelings overtly, they react to one another—naturally, most of the time—and build a narrative that develops across pages, rather than coming to us fully-formed.

While Aquaman still suffers from underutilization, and Batman at times feels misused, these characters finally have some personality. The Flash brings legitimate humor, Cyborg is a distinct character with more to say than tech-talk, and the Lanterns—especially Simon Baz—deliver their best dialogue yet since this series began in July.

Spoiler
People will ask, so I’ll address what will likely be the most controversial Batman moment in the entire run so far: Bruce making a Star Wars reference. I don’t love it, but I don’t dislike it, either. It provided a nice setup for Barry, so I think I’ll let it stand.

Artwork too familiar, but nevertheless functional

Hitch’s artwork brings the same strengths and weaknesses that one would expect based on prior experience. Character posture tends toward bizarre at times, and his facial work can look strange (though to his credit, the funky bat-nose and ugly-Diana issues that plagued Justice League of America are mercifully absent), and foreground characters don’t quite “pop” off of the page as I’d like them to.

The colorist would have been better off not trying to imply Superman’s cuffs. It was Hitch’s mistake to draw them incorrectly, but the attempt to correct it makes it look worse.

Establishing shots feature the sort of cinematic scale and majesty that Hitch is known for, but after a while, it all starts to look very familiar and generic. The anonymous, nondescript villains exacerbate things, as Hitch deprives himself of anything truly interesting to draw. The villain isn’t the point of this installment, to be sure, but I would have preferred somebody more visually interesting—there are so many rogues to choose from.

All of that said, the artwork works. Hitch will never be my favorite aesthete, but he’s still a good storyteller, warts and all.

Much satisfaction, but little hope

Justice League #14 offers much that should satisfy fans of Hitch’s work on JLA, or anyone that enjoys a decent character-driven narrative. Without context, this is a very good book—one that I would rank near the top of my stack this week.

But unfortunately, there is a context, isn’t there? Justice League has been a mess, even if it’s been a profitable one for DC. Comparisons—some unfair—to Geoff Johns’s run in The New 52 were inevitable, but the level of quality experienced a sharp drop the moment Hitch let go of the visuals, and the book has wallowed in mediocrity since. Even without comparing it to anything else, it has been a disappointment. My expectation is that, in two weeks, we will return to business as usual, and Justice League will continue to prove a difficult chore. My hope—my tiny sliver of unquenchable optimism—is that Hitch will have taken advantage of this opportunity to regroup, and will find a way to be the writer he is today, even when he gives up control of the artwork.

Recommended if…

  • You liked Hitch’s JLA and the Justice League: Rebirth one-shot.
  • You want to read some of Simon Baz’s best dialogue to date.
  • You don’t mind an issue that is light on action but heavy on conversation.

Overall

A bright spot in a disappointing series, Justice League #14 once again shows us what a capable writer Bryan Hitch can be. While short of perfect, his characters and their interactions with one another feel far more natural and readable than they have in a long time. The cynic in me expects him to fall down again in two weeks, but I’m still holding out hope that this marks a genuine turnaround for the book. I want to love Justice League, and it’s in Hitch’s hands.

SCORE: 7.5/10