You know the phrase, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I often think of that phrase when I read Justice League of America. I see what Orlando is trying to do. The heart is there… but the execution is far from good.
Since its launch, JLA has been plagued with muddled stories featuring unfocused plots and anemic characters. To make matters worse, a revolving door of below-average artists have rotated in and out of issues. Every other week, we get a book that seems to slip further and further into a black hole of poor quality… until “The Man From Monster Valley.”
Compared to other books, JLA’s “The Man From Monster Valley” is bad. When you compare this story to JLA’s previous “arcs” though, it’s actually a huge improvement! That may not sound like a ringing endorsement – and it isn’t – but you can’t neglect the fact that Orlando is improving the title ever so slightly. I mean, honestly, the book is a mess, but I don’t feel like screaming and ripping my hair out after reading this issue, so I consider that a win.
One of the notable improvements for this story, is the plot. Though it remains far from great – or even worthy reading – it does feel as though some attempt at creating a complete narrative was made. The biggest problem plaguing each story in JLA is its short structure. Nine issues in, and we’ve now “successfully” told four separate stories. I don’t want to imply that a short story can’t be good, but they need to be structured properly for that to be the case – keep the story simple, and don’t try to do too much with too many characters. Orlando and team haven’t been doing that. They’ve been trying to squeeze an arc meant for six or more issues into four issues or less. All that does is cut corners, create holes, and leave much to be desired.
For “The Man From Monster Valley,” while the story is simplified a bit, it’s still too much for just two issues. Within roughly ten days, the JLA find Makson, save him, bring him to the city, he adapts to a normal lifestyle, he apparently creates bonding friendships with various JLA members, and he acquires the fortune of his family… It’s not even remotely believable. I get that Orlando is trying to create a new character that appears to be set-up to pop in and out of the story from time to time, but it’s impossible for readers to connect with someone this quickly. DC is making a bad habit of moving way too fast. Let’s slow things down and savor them for a bit.
Strictly speaking to set-up, I would have preferred if this two issues story would’ve been the second arc, but only covered the JLA rescuing and adapting Makson. You could have teased the reveal that his family was behind his attempted assassination, then spent the next two stories touching in on him before returning to focus on this actual story. It would have allowed us to at least see some relationship building, as well as make Makson’s transformation a little more believable.
On top of the issues listed above, this story also suffers from predictability. This approach has been done so many times, that it’s obvious what’s going to happen the moment you open the book. JLA #8 revealed that Makson planned on murdering his human family because they were behind S.K.U.L.L. and the death of his “real” family. This issue is where those actions come to fruition. Does he accomplish his goal?… What do you think? This is the JLA. Everything is going to wrap up nicely like an episode of Full House.
Orlando manages to infuses some emotion into the narrative, but there’s little action, little payoff, and more team drama as various members whine about trust and being mean. Ultimately, I don’t care. When I turn to the last page, I literally just set the book aside, then looked at all the comics I couldn’t wait to read once I finished my reviews. I won’t go so far to say that I dislike Makson. I haven’t warmed to him, but I won’t be angry if I see him in future issues. Instead of focusing on fun or random ways to bring him back, I’d much rather the creative team working on building a foundation for this book. That is the one thing missing here: a purpose. I still don’t understand why this team exists. Without that, there’s not much of a story worth reading… But I’ll be sure to let you know when it is.
The Art: Watanabe returns to cover the art. He’s not my favorite artists, but his work is good enough. I know my excitement is muted, but seriously, I’m so happy to see this guy over any of the other fill-in artists that came before him. Unfortunately, it looks as though the revolving art door is about to start up again, so we have that to look forward to… Or not.
- You’re a fan of odd team books from the late 80’s and early 90’s.
- You don’t want long, drawn out stories.
- You like murderous monster men… that might (just maybe) be misguided good guys.
Overall: Orlando and team improve upon their previous work, but JLA is still a diamond in the rough. With some foundation building, purpose, character development, and longer, more personal (yet still action packed) arcs, they might get somewhere worthwhile with this book… Then again, this could just be a lump of coal until DC gives up, tosses it out back, and relaunches the title within six months following the cancellation. Who knows?