The Justice League has been defeated! With Batman and Superman lost in the dark, and Cyborg subdued by the Murder Machine, the Batman Who Laughs and his Band of Bad Bat Boys (and girl) made quick enough work of the rest of the team. Can our heroes get out of this pickle? Find out if they do in Justice League #33. SPOILERS AHEAD
Everybody must get Stone
If you’ve been reading DC comics for at least a few years, then you have no doubt already compared Metal to Forever Evil, at least in your mind. This is understandable: both events feature a group of Justice League analogues invading Earth-0 and more or less mopping the floor with the actual Justice League. Both stories have a larger, more sinister figure looming over the story, even if the role of that larger figure is different. But I want to talk about another aspect that the two share in common, but on which I believe Metal improves: the necessity of Victor Stone.
The meatiest part of Justice League #33 focuses on Cyborg and his internal struggle against the Dark Knights, who are trying to get at his Mother Box for the Element X at its core. It’s all a bit technical. But anyway, the idea of Cyborg’s battle being in the ether instead of on the physical battlefield (or even the information superhighway) is kind of what we saw play out in Forever Evil, as well. Cyborg was taken off the playing field by Grid, and he had to beat him another way. I can’t remember all of the details, as most of them occurred in issues of Justice League instead of the main event, and I have neither those floppies nor the Forever Heroes trade to crack open and examine. Cyborg ended up in a similar spot in Darkseid War, and played a crucial role in saving Jessica Cruz from Volthoom (the first time) by putting his consciousness into her ring (where she was trapped) and guiding her out.
Big spoiler here, because it’s central to my enjoyment of this issue: I’ve been waiting to see which member of the League would finally gain some serious ground against the Dark Knights, and I’m delighted to find out that it’s Cyborg. It seemed like it would be Green Lantern in the last issue of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, but that fizzled, and I started to feel like maybe the tie-ins were just treading water. If you’ll forgive a Vic Stone fan his own football metaphor: it’s refreshing to get a tie-in that actually moves the chains.
So how does he do it? In his mind, Cyborg converses with Mother Box, who tells him that to save the multiverse, he has to fully bond with the Box. He has to let Mother Box delete his “original programming”—to remove Vic Stone from the equation. And he gives it serious thought! But there’s another voice in his head—a voice I won’t spoil—that challenges this notion. This voice tells him that it isn’t his technology that makes him special. It isn’t the Mother Box.
It’s his heart.
And the Warshaw almost starts weeping. I’m not covering any new ground here, but I’ll repeat myself just the same: most people who try to write Cyborg play up the tech angle. He fights techno-villains, he hacks his way into systems, probably handles Bruce’s OpenTable reservations maybe—he’s basically the Justice League’s adaptable, multi-purpose algorithm for handling any computational problem that comes up. To these writers, it is Victor’s technology that makes him special. And that’s a major misconception. It’s like saying that the suit and gadgets are what make Batman special. But suits and gadgets, Mother Boxes and white noise cannons—these things make characters neat and cool, but they don’t make them compelling. What makes them compelling is the intersection of their humanity and their superhumanity: Batman’s grief and determination enabled by limitless funding and peak physical and mental capabilities; Cyborg’s own grief—along with his warmth and loyalty—inhabiting such a fantastically-advanced piece of hardware.
Okay, and he looks flippin’ sweet, too:
(you knew there had to be a but)
Once Victor is freed from his mind-prison and breaks himself (and his team) loose from the grip of the enemy, things get a whole lot less interesting, and a whole lot more (unpleasantly) wordy. Let’s take this panel for example:
I know Murder Machine is a machine, but he’s murdering me with this clunky speech. It’s one of those classic “let me make sure you know what all the things are called” lines, and it calls way too much attention to itself. The bold-italic ELEMENT X isn’t helping. Not. One. Bit. [that’s two Nolan-verse references, now—I miss Nolan]
The ensuing battle is pretty bland. I love Kirkham’s work in the first bit of the issue (and the awesome Cyborg spread above), but for all of the busyness in these fight scenes, they look pretty stiff and void of energy. And then post-battle, the book just doubles down once more on all of the Metal stuff. It makes sense that it would, of course, but at this point, I feel like there’s been way too much Metal and I’m ready for the dang thing to be over already. We get it, all roads lead to Barbatos, the big scary Bat-god who gets his nails done by Kelley Jones. Can we just hurry our way along those roads and get to the end?
One thing I’ll say for the final page though, is that it gives us my favorite aw yeah, son panels in a long time:
Deathstroke astride a giant sea horse—sometimes you don’t know how much you need something until it plops down in your lap.
- You like Cyborg. This is his book.
- You like Metal. This is its tie-in.
- You like metal. This is its avatar:
Its ties to Metal cut it down a bit in my estimation, but Justice League #33’s elevation of Cyborg may well be worth the price of admission. The shared artwork is logically divided, and both teams do an excellent job—though the final battle does leave a bit to be desired. This is a decent full-length comic book that happens to hide an excellent “mini” inside the larger Metal madness. If you’ve grown weary of Metal’s enormous and convoluted scope, this issue is a refreshing reminder that there are compelling characters in the midst of it all.