Believe it or not, I think this is the best issue of Justice League of America since its debut! I’m hoping (seriously… “hoping” should be bold and in caps) that this is just the beginning of JLA catching its stride.
Leading up to Justice League of America, I felt the title had a ton of potential, and DC practically promised that. The book spun out of a major event (Justice League vs Suicide Squad) and contained a number of Rebirth one-shots to set up the team (Killer Frost, Atom, Vixen, and Ray). Unfortunately, when the title debuted, it did anything but win my favor.
The opening arc threw us into a story, but never really went anywhere. What felt like it should have been an eight to twelve issue arc, was crammed into a mere four issues, and it left readers unable to connect – both to the stories and the characters. Since then, we’ve received multiple stories that all suffered the same fate – issue counts that didn’t support the narrative, the characters, or allow the plot a chance to breathe and fully develop. The reading experience has been rough, and lacked any weight to ground Justice League of America. Because of that, of come to expect nothing special from the title.
Beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, we’ve yet to discover the purpose of this team. Batman essentially decided he wanted to try something different, something new (it seems to be a trend these days), and created this Justice League… And nobody seems to know why! The readers don’t know why. The JLA team doesn’t seem to know why. The main Justice League appear to be pretending this team doesn’t even exist. And then there’s Batman, the man who pulled the JLA together… He also has shown no sign, or made any reference of, why this team even exists… Until, perhaps, this issue!
In part one of “The Curse of the King Butcher,” citizens of Vanity were having dreams where they were granted a wish, and then when they awoke, they discovered that dream had come true. Strictly on a surface level, I feel this is a brilliant concept. Most of the wishes resulted in a positive outcome, but at the end of the day, they weren’t natural outcomes and could disturb the balance of reality. So as a result, the Lords of Order (think Dr. Fate) sent the King Butcher to undo these wishes.
Naturally, the JLA assume the King Butcher is a bad guy because he’s destroying people’s dreams – those of the metaphorical variety. Upon confronting the King Butcher, the team quickly learn that this isn’t necessarily the case, and Ray is forced to witness this first hand when King Butcher reveals his own mother wished for a new family.
Now, I’d like to say I enjoyed all of this more than I actually did, but because of the short nature of the story, most of those moments were glossed over through exposition rather than letting readers fully experience it. That idea continues here, but there is hope for improvement.
While Ray and the JLA are left to battle the morality of what King Butcher is doing, most of the issue is actually spent exploring Ray as a character. For the first time (disregarding a few exceptions involving Killer Frost), we actually dig in to a character!
Ray is dealing with so much at the moment: he’s continuing to learn the extent of his powers, what his role is as a member of the JLA, his opposing ideology to Batman, his past, and now the realization that his mother wished to create an entirely new life. It’s deep, and it’s handled really well on Orlando’s part. We get two sides (Ray’s and his mother’s) to what is taking place, and what took place. I’m a little shocked that I read an issue of JLA and actually felt something – granted, I could be biased because I personally relate to the themes presented in this issue due to my past as a gay man.
Beyond the character development though, we also learn in this issue that there actually is some purpose to this story – and perhaps the team. Ties linking back to the very first arc featuring Havok are revealed. Suddenly multiple plot points feel as though they’re falling into place, and more importantly going somewhere. The narrative since issue one begins to come full circle, and I have to ask myself why – eleven issue in – we’re just now getting to this point.
Had the first arc been set-up and explored properly, we would have at least felt some momentum for JLA as a title, rather than it appearing to just be a collection of stories that weren’t fully realized. Does this mean JLA is saved and that it’s suddenly a good book? No. There are still problems within the structure and characterization, but I consider a step in the right direction to be a good thing.
Despite the positive momentum, Orlando is really going to need to work on crafting longer stories, or at least edit the stories he’s trying to tell within such a small issue span. He also needs to continue to work on his approach to team books, as he hasn’t quite found his balance in juggling the characters. The minor improvements – despite their grand nature – could quickly turn JLA from a book that people question why they read it, to a book that people look forward to and enjoy reading!
The Art: Hallelujah! Not only do we see an improvement in the script and storytelling, but we also see a huge improvement in the art! Neil Edwards takes over the art for this issue, and I desperately wish he were staying! This is the best Justice League of America has looked since Reis. Honestly, if Reis and Edwards could work out a system to alternate issue (kind of like Green Lantern) or arcs (similar to Finch and Janin in Batman), I’d be one happy guy! Edwards technical craft is superb, and his storytelling supports the script in many ways!
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
An Expanding Roster. The introduction of Freedom Beast into the story helps aid the potential of future story arcs. Since he now has a connection with the team, there’s a good chance we could see more of him down the road – same with Makson as well. Anything that will help make JLA feel cohesive and relevant, I’m down for!
Mommy Dearest. Although it was a little heavy handed and the timing was somewhat poor, Ray’s confrontation with his mother created a nice moment. After Ray’s Rebirth one-shot, his mother appeared to be a terrible person, and one can easily understand why Ray would want to remove her from his life. But Orlando made a smart move by sharing Ray’s mother’s side of the events – which essentially stems from fear. Not fear of Ray himself, but fear that he may accidentally hurt someone. Actions that could result in her losing her son permanently. On top of all of this, the fact that not only did she isolate her son, but subsequently isolated herself as well, was quite moving.
Full Circle. Apparently the might beyond the mirror (the entity granting people their wishes) visited Havok before he invaded Earth. It would seem that Havok’s armor was his wish – though he claims it’s more than that. I don’t recall this reference during the first arc, nor do I think I would have caught it even if I were more familiar with this entity… I wish Orlando had set this up a little better, but I’ll forgive the shortcomings of earlier issues, and happily accept that there is a connection behind these stories. Not only that, but Batman was also visited and offered a wish, but he turned down the offer. These two reveals streamline so much of JLA and also creates reason for Batman to build the team. He hasn’t stated that this is the reason for assembling the JLA, but the idea that it could be helps give the title purpose.
Perspective. One of my favorite scene in JLA is the exchange between Ray and Xenos at the end of the issue. For me, this really hits home. Not to get too personal, but when I came out to my parents, my mom and I had a huge falling out. We didn’t speak for nearly a year! A very dear friend and mentor basically told me the same thing Xenos tells Ray… There’s truth here, and because I relate to it so personally, I feel this is the best character exchange in JLA to date.
The future. I’m super excited to explore the Microverse, and I’m even more excited that the story will receive six issues! Hopefully this will allow Orlando room to develop the story, while also providing some solid character moments.
The Battle. The final battle with King Butcher fell flat, which is a shame because he’s an interesting character. I would’ve loved to see him pop in and out over time, but it looks as though that won’t happen… Unless he turns full villain and goes on a mission of vengeance against the JLA… But that would feel a little cheap when it’s all said and done.
Light and Dark. On one hand, I enjoy the juxtaposition between Batman and Ray. One represents the “dark,” and the other represents “light.” A great commentary could be created between both characters’ point of view, but I don’t feel Orlando has executed very well yet.
- You’ve enjoyed JLA so far.
- You’ve been waiting for some solid character work in JLA.
- You’ve felt like there’s been no connection or direction in JLA.
Overall: Justice League of America is far from perfect, but “Curse of the King Butcher” makes a great leap in the right direction! The improvements in plot, characterization, and purpose actually make me excited for the next arc! Now I’m going to cross my fingers and hope for the best!