Mysterious energy fields, weird Atlantean mages, and classy Casio timewatches are but a few of the delights that await you in Justice League #15. As “Timeless” begins, the League mixes it up with some new foes, meets a new friend, and reconnects with some old acquaintances. Can Earth’s bravest and strongest save the planet when the enemy threatens time itself?
As expected, it’s a bit of a mess
As sad as I am to give the same sort of report every two weeks, I have no choice but honesty; and honestly, Justice League #15 delivers the low quality I’ve come to expect, wrapped up in a fresh, disastrous package. The excessive inner-monologue and crappy characterization take a break this time, but in their place Hitch delivers a massively confusing narrative that leans far too heavily on an annoying new character and some very weak old ones. And with a poor performance from Fernando Pasarin, the book’s strongest hook is a surprisingly decent plot that is nevertheless obscured by poor implementation.
Molly the Keeper—keeper of what Hitch does not say—comes to several League members at the U.N., seeking their help in repelling “The Timeless”, a swarm of bland futuristic soldiers who belong to some “faith” that seeks the eradication of super-people. Setting aside the ease with which Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, and the Lanterns accept the young woman’s claims (and follow her instructions), Molly represents one of the worst sorts of people you can encounter in life or literature: the “cool know-it-all.” No doubt her informed, self-assured manner is meant to impress the League and the reader. I, on the other hand, find her incredibly annoying. Instead of the League learning about the Timeless through the outworking of the plot, they receive special revelation from Molly—this mysterious “Keeper” who, for whatever reason, has a benevolent disposition toward the heroes, even while acknowledging the validity of the Timeless’ chief concern.
Justice League #15 also reintroduces the Infinity Corporation, a three-person team of time travelers first seen in Hitch’s JLA. These characters seemed central to Hitch’s original plans for that book (before the universe was Rebirth‘d), so it’s unsurprising that he would want to take them out of the box and use them again; however, Infinity hardly rings many bells, and a lack of significant background information in this particular installment of Justice League will leave them shrouded in mystery for many readers. Even for those of us who remember these characters, their ultimate usage in JLA fails to generate much enthusiasm. The Infinity Corporation is here an underwhelming resurrection at best, and a piling on of confusion at worst.
Poor visual storytelling all-around
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover—especially not a comic book. How many times have you held a dazzling cover in your hands, only to flip open a disappointing mess? Justice League #15 has no such dazzling cover; in fact, the cover might well outdo all of its predecessors in blandness. Even setting aside the low-quality anatomy of the characters, the general approach fails to offer any compelling reason for taking the book off of the rack. It may well be relevant to the story itself, but even knowing that, I still hate it. And for a prospective buyer—a person who has no idea that the cover ties into the story—it looks like an unexciting, generic hero collage with no effort put forth by the artist to draw a proper background.
Why the perspective shift?
Would that this prospective buyer could abide that timeless maxim and pick up Justice League anyway. After all, a lousy cover seems largely irrelevant in the face of outstanding internal content. But alas (and alack!), today is the day that conventional wisdom dies on the altar of DC’s most disappointing book of the Rebirth era. Whether or not you like Pasarin’s aesthetic choices, this installment of Justice League features a bevy of poor design and directorial decisions. The camera frequently tilts for no good reason at all—which is to say, there is a reason, but it’s a bad one. My guess is that Pasarin has too much to cram on one page (you can blame Hitch for that), and for the sake of including what the panel demands, he rotates the perspective to fit everything. The overuse of this technique renders it meaningless, and the end result is a book that appears to overreach—somewhat comically—for a sense of “epicness”.
Who drew this, Kenneth Branagh?
I wish I could tell you that Pasarin does better with the simple conveyance of information, but sadly, this too is a trouble spot. In the last panel of the third page, Superman references an energy field enveloping Lois and Jon, but it takes several panels to understand exactly what he’s talking about. Said energy field is rendered as a smoky sort of white cloud, easily mistaken for a stylish transition from the white space above to a more detailed, colored background. And since the next few zoom in on Clark and Bruce, we can only conclude in the interim that Superman is off his nut.
In several other instances, Pasarin’s perspective is so far away from his subjects that the lettering becomes confusing. On one occasion (see below), Starkings bears partial blame; but even if he had given the balloon a longer tail, it would still take a moment to realize that the tiny, poorly-draw figure speaking is Cyborg.
While I’m on the lettering, I noticed something this time that I failed to see in previous issues of Justice League: compared to Green Lanterns, this book uses an inferior narration box design for Lanterns Baz and Cruz. Whereas in their own book, these two receive distinct boxes that are easily distinguished from one another (courtesy of Dave Sharpe), Starkings instead goes with identical boxes with inverted greens. When a character begins speaking before we see them, it helps to know who it is that’s speaking (if that’s what the author intends—there are some acceptable exceptions). So while in this issue Jessica gives us a cue by saying “Simon”, Simon himself offers no such help. If you look back through this series, you’ll see the same too-subtle approach to differentiating between the Lanterns. It’s a perfect example of what can go wrong when you value cleverness above simplicity.
I’d be done if I could
If I weren’t reviewing Justice League, I wouldn’t be reading it. Hitch has had plenty of time to make a go at turning things around, but he hasn’t. He tries some new techniques this issue, but instead of improvement, they breed confusion. There’s no redeeming character work to make up for the choppy narrative, and the art is rife with problems. I keep hoping I’ll look at solicits and see that someone else is working on this book—may that day come sooner rather than later.
- You buy things with “Justice League” written on the cover, regardless of what’s on the rest of the cover or inside the book.
Justice League #15 attempts some new things, but it all backfires in this first installment of “Timeless”. A confusing plot, terrible visual storytelling, and an over-reliance on obscure characters sink this ship with the dock still in view. If you’re going to buy this regardless, I can’t stop you. But if you haven’t yet made up your mind, heed my warning: sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover—leave this one on the rack.