It’s been a bad few weeks for the Justice League. A tactical error cost a nun her life, the government is pointing fingers, and now some whack-job is mixing cosplay and murder in Batman’s name. How can the League fix its image and regain public trust? Find out in Justice League #36.
A bit off
The previous two issues of Justice League worked so well because their problems were small and fairly contained. Priest’s conflicted, navel-gazing Batman doesn’t work for me; but, up to this point, each installment has featured a prominent central narrative that pushed the social questions to the margins. Unfortunately, in Justice League #36, Priest allows those questions to permeate the central narrative of the day, and they weigh it down.
Before you push back, let me say that I don’t have a problem with the social issues being addressed per se. I was fine when this arc was solicited—even excited—and the social angle was pretty much all we had at that point. My problem is in the way that Priest uses established characters to speak to the issues. Batman doesn’t feel like Batman here. If he was going to question the validity of his crusade or defer to governmental sovereignty, I contend he would have done so when his fight was against the smaller-scale evils of Gotham. Once you put Batman in the Justice League, you’ve expanded the scope of threat to something that the governments of the world are incapable of addressing. I know that the threats in this arc are smaller-scale, but I’m not buying Batman’s uncertainty because his eyes have already been made wide, and they cannot he narrowed by government, media, or public perception.
Wonder Woman likewise seems unbelievably indecisive. Greg Rucka’s well-known Hiketeia is the best Diana vs. her friends narrative that I’ve read (full disclosure: I haven’t read many), most of all because it is clear to both the reader and Diana why she has a conflict of allegiances. The conflict is not rooted in a lack of confidence, but rather in rock-solid certainty.
The strongest character writing in this issue comes—perhaps unsurprisingly—from the Lanterns and Cyborg—characters with shorter, less-dense publishing histories. Baz and Jess are still fairly fresh; so as long as Priest doesn’t contradict any of the few details we know about them, everything is pretty much an addition. Cyborg, thankfully, continues to have things to say and do that don’t involve him standing around with his brain plugged into a computer. It’s nice to see him on the field and using his other abilities.
Still visually strong
Woods continues to produce the strongest work of his that I’ve seen. I know there are folks who wish that Justice League would return to the highly-detailed, hyper-realistic style of Jason Fabok, but there are other people (myself among them) who like a bit more fantasy—maybe a little more Kirby—in character art. For that latter group, Woods’ work is a feast for the eyes. He takes advantage of Priest’s focus on Aquaman and produces some excellent spreads of Arthur (sorry, Orin) in this issue. He also has two flat-out glorious spreads of Batman (or is it…) that made me downright giddy (especially the second of the two, at the end of the book).
It isn’t all pinups, though. Woods establishes a strong visual narrative, even during a long opening speech. His pages are laid out very dynamically, but they’re still very readable—due in part to Willie Schu’s fine lettering work (I love his sound effects—a great pairing with Woods’s aesthetic). The colors are also quite good, with a fair amount of variety throughout. I never feel like the artwork has gotten stale, either in form or in color, and all of that is to Woods’s credit.
- You like a Batman who’s unsure of himself—or at least you don’t mind him.
- You don’t like a Batman who’s unsure of himself, but you can put that aside because Pete Woods.
The weakest issue of this arc so far, Justice League #36 suffers from several mischaracterizations. It’s still a decent read, and with Woods’s excellent artwork and Schu’s solid letters, you may find the problems don’t bother you quite as much.