Justice League of America #20 review

Steve Orlando wraps up “Surgical Strike” this week, and he does so by delivering the best issue of the series!

Justice League of America has had its fair share of problems since its debut. I think we can all agree on that. Over the past year, the storylines and characters just haven’t come together in the way that fans expected, and considering the stakes were so high due to Rebirth, many readers felt let-down. I, for one, know that I was one of those people. I had given up on this book, and yet, somehow, Orlando has managed to bring me back around, so I have to tip my hat to him for accomplishing that.

With story after story struggling with pacing, characterization, and relevance, things finally started to change with “Panic in the Microverse,” where members of the JLA followed Ryan Choi and Batman on a mission to save Ray Palmer. Even though I still had some issues with that story, it accomplished many positive moments for Justice League of America. For one, it reintroduced the original Atom, and opened the book to a world of new characters, stories, and possibilities. The story also helped solidify the main roster, the roles each of them play, and how they accent the team. But most importantly, “Panic” revealed the purpose of the team and why Batman brought them together – which then added more relevance to the stories that preceded it.

By the time Orlando moved into “Surgical Strike,” Justice League of America established a stronger foundation that allowed the plot and characters more room to maneuver freely, and make a stronger impact… and it paid off. With Prometheus and Afterthought introduced in previous chapters, Orlando wasted no time putting their plan into motion. Taking advantage of the League’s public, open door policy, Prometheus infiltrates the JLA and systemically begins dismantling the team. Once the League realizes what is going on, it’s already too late.

Naturally, the infiltration leads to fisticuffs, but Prometheus is too prepared and too strong to be stopped. The interesting aspect in all of this is that he’s less concerned with physically stopping the team and more concerned with destroying their reputation. Society views the JLA as a symbol of hope and heroism, and Prometheus is making an example of the entire team in front of a group of citizens. And just when it looks as if the heroes might gain the upper hand, Prometheus reveals that he’s still many steps ahead of the team.

This chapter wraps up Prometheus assault on the JLA… and it results in the best issue of Justice League of America yet. Themes that Orlando has hinted at since the book’s debut finally find their footing, allowing emotional and inspirational moments to stick their landing. This was the first issue that I found myself getting excited and rooting for the team because for the first time, the JLA actually feels like a team! The resolve to the conflict does come a little faster than I expected, but it is still satisfying. The best aspect of this issue though is the emotional response that follows. For me, Orlando hit all of the right notes, and as a fan, I’m incredibly happy with the result.

The Art: Hugo Petrus delivers art for the issue, and I continue to enjoy his work. There are finer details to his pencils that could use some improvements – consistency/ facial expressions – but I feel this is an opportunity created because of the double-ship schedule more so than a lack of ability. Aside from that, he delivers clean, crisp art that matches the tone of Orlando’s script, and makes the book better overall.

His ability to tell the story through art is also solid. There’s definitely room for growth in this area, but it’s something that will come with more experience. Overall, the work is satisfying and should resonate with most readers.

Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.


The Good:

Boom. One of the things I was the most curious about going into this issue, was how the JLA was going to deal with the bomb. I knew they were going to have a resolve, I just wasn’t sure what it would be. Having Atom shrink the team and enter Lobo so he can take then entire impact was a cool – and visually entertaining – way to resolve this threat!

Anyone. Orlando has pushed the idea that the JLA is the people’s League. There’s been a strong theme throughout the run of this book that we can all be heroes, but previous attempts haven’t been executed very well or were simply written with a heavy hand. In this issue, however, Orlando gets it right. When all hope appears to be abandoned, an ordinary citizen steps in to help Vixen by using a taser on Prometheus. What sells this moment though, is what follows. The character is clearly terrified, and is well aware that she most likely signed a death wish by involving herself, but stands her ground regardless. The moment touched me, and I’m so happy it played out the way that it did. We can all be heroes. It just depends on how we choose to live our life.

On a separate note, I feel like there’s also a strong yet subtle commentary that can be made considering it was a woman of color that stepped in. I know it’s a minor moment, but I hope we get to see this character show up again. I don’t want her to become a costumed hero, I just think there are incredible story and character opportunities for her and Mari that can be developed over time.

Team. For the first time since Justice League of America, this is the first time the JLA actually felt like a team! When Canary, Frost, Lobo, and Atom came to assist Vixen, I found myself getting excited. I want more of this!

Don’t Run Your Mouth. Interestingly enough, about a week ago, the review team were emailing back and forth to get to know Travis and Casper better. During the chain, we started discussing the overabundance of exposition and monologues in comics lately. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been an influx of villains going on and on while in the climax of their threat… and it’s really annoying! Prometheus started an evil, monologue/ rant in this issue, and when it started developing, I rolled my eyes. I literally thought, “Come on, Steve! You can do better than –“ Then Lobo crushes Promtheus’ hand and basically tells him that he talks too much. It was satisfying!

Guilt. Frost has a nice moment in this issue as her struggle to “keep her cool” (look at that, I’m punny) comes front and center, and the times she’s lost control is called into question. It’s one of the better emotional moments in Justice League of America’s run, and sets up an interesting arc for her going forward. Frost admits to doing these things and plans to turn herself over to Waller. I fully expected one of the League members to chime in with a, “We can work through this,” but they didn’t… Frost is simply left there with her guilt, and is even shamed by Canary. There is one final plea from Frost to Vixen at the end of the issue where she asks her not to give up on her just yet, but I’m curious to see how this reveal ultimately ends for Frost.

The Ray. With tensions reaching a peak in the first issue of this arc, Ray fled the JLA and has been missing ever since. We finally catch up with him at the end of this issue, and discover he’s returned to Vanity where he’s operating as a hero according to his own terms. It’s the most natural he’s been since his debut, and his relationship with Xenos is equally as intriguing.

Aztek. We finally get the reveal of Aztek after tons of hints and foreshadowing! I’m excited! Orlando and I discussed this in our interview, so I can’t wait to see what develops from Aztek’s presence and inclusion into the book. And is it just me, or does Aztek look like a female here?

The future. I’ve mentioned this before, but Justice League of America is having a positive trend at the moment as far as storytelling is concerned. What’s even more exciting, is that Orlando appears to have a number of great storylines set-up for the future. First off, we have the Might Beyond the Mirror to deal with, but there are a lot of interesting character threads developing. Lobo’s role on the team looks as though it will be coming to a close, while Frost has an emotional journey ahead of her, and Ray is finally starting to discover himself. Then there’s Ray Palmer, Blue Bird, and the others that are dealing with the Microverse/ Multiverse, Aztek… We’ve got some good stuff ahead of us!


The Bad:

Monologues. I already mentioned monologues, so you might be curious why I’m bringing it up again. Most of this issue is narrated by Vixen by means of an internal dialogue/ monologue. A large percentage of the dialogue is handled well, but I couldn’t help but fill it was still a little too much. I feel like Orlando could have cut out about ten to twenty percent of her internal dialogue, and the issue would have been a little better.

Heavy Hand. Justice League of America has endured heavy-handed emotional scenes since issue one, and while this issue has some as well, it’s not nearly as bad as it has been in the past. In fact, this is the first issue that I’ve connected with on an emotional level. Frost’s confession with the team, however, still felt a little heavy-handed… But just barely.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve been waiting for a team dynamic from the JLA.
  • You want to see how the team stops Prometheus.
  • You believe we’re all heroes in our own respects.

Overall: Justice League of America hits a high note with the conclusion of “Surgical Strike,” and Orlando should feel proud. He delivers his strongest story yet, and promises more solid storytelling in the future! If you dropped this title, give it another chance. Justice League of America might become the most inspiring and heroic book at DC if it continues on this trajectory!

SCORE: 7/10