As we left the Justice League of America a few weeks ago, Caitlin Snow, alias Killer Frost, was seemingly cured.  No longer driven by her hunger for heat, Caitlin’s skin lost its icy blue pallor and, with it gone, she appeared to be “normal” once more.

But, not unexpectedly, the means by which she was cured is not received well by her teammates.  Caitlin, like so many others on Earth, was visited by “the Might Beyond the Mirror” and granted a wish.  The idea that she accepted the aid of such an unknowable force doesn’t sit well with most of the group, least of all Ryan.  The Atom accepted Caitlin as she was, willing to work with her to curb her hunger and find a way to beat it alongside her.  On top of that, Lobo of all people points out that Batman assembled this group because they wouldn’t give into temptation, so Caitlin’s decision quickly dashed any pretensions the group had of being above reproach.

That’s one of this issue’s strengths: in addition to the appearance of a long-alluded to villain, we’re finally able to piece together Batman’s intent with this group.  Up to this point, I’ve not felt that the team has a purpose beyond evoking feelings of “hey, I like that character” and “wait, Lobo?”  Not to say that I’m against multiple incarnations of the Justice League at one time, just this particularly team has been touted as having a purpose without it ever being clear what that was.  Sure, “being above reproach and inspiring the masses” is the M.O. for pretty much every hero and super team, but the “why” behind the “what” is starting to come together: Batman needed a diverse group that could relate to normal, every day people while at the same time giving them something to aspire toward.  That mix of relatability and attainability serves this story at least, and seeing a wrench getting thrown in the works makes it that much more compelling.

It also shows that even Batman can be wrong and is capable of making mistakes, but that’s a whole other issue for another day.

See, with Caitlin succumbing to her fears and making a wish, she has allowed the Queen of Fables entry into our world.  Now that she has corporeal form, the Queen Tsaritsa can have her way and reign.  Her first step: break the Justice League of America.

By way of giant energy snakes.

Amazing.

Neil Edwards is solid on pencils, if not outright remarkable, but when he’s allowed to let loose and be crazy he really shines.  There are a few other fantastical images that, aided by Daniel Henriques’ inks and Hi-Fi’s colors, have a nice ethereal quality to them.  The opening pages, taking place inside Caitlin’s “dream,” are suitably unnerving and a bit creepy, compared to the more straightforward real world locales throughout the rest of the book.

But man, those crazy energy snakes though.

I also dug how Orlando and Edwards used Vixen’s power set at a few points, which are kind of spoilery but still pretty awesome.

Spoiler

I mean, Vixen just used the power of an axolotl salamander to rip her own hand off so it can grow back.  That’s hardcore, and one of the more creative uses of her powers I’ve ever seen.  Sure, it’s easier to think of common animals like bears or birds rather than weird amphibians when you’re under pressure, but it’s also much cooler to see some stranger abilities be used as part of a power set.  It’s like in Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, when Buddy was trapped in a cell too far away from any animals for his power to be of use, so instead he tapped into the replicating abilities of protozoa to escape.  As a reader, that clever application is much more satisfying than getting the same old “strength of a gorilla” or “speed of a cheetah” that’s so common.

She also channels the striking force of a pistol shrimp, which is also awesome.  Again, just a nice, interesting touch in letting her use her powers in such a unique way.

Too bad her punches don’t cause enough heat to rival that of the surface of the sun, though.  Shame, that.

This might sound like unintentional faint praise, which isn’t my intent: while this issue isn’t exactly the sum of its parts, there are a lot of great ideas in here.  The Queen of Fables is still a bit of a cipher, though the unknown limits to her power are pretty interesting.  While her motives initially paint her as another world-conquering despot, there’s an underlying pain to her actions that make her somewhat sympathetic.  She lost her sister, so she’s trying to avenge her while also proving that mortals are the selfish, small-minded creatures she thinks we are.

Through her manipulation, Caitlin is playing into her hands, yet even still she allies herself because she thinks it’s the right thing to do.  Rather than being a simple puppet in the Queen’s hands, Caitlin aligns herself with Tsaritsa because she thinks it’s the only way to keep people from getting hurt.  She’s so driven by her own guilt that she’s almost self-destructive, which is incredibly tragic and in many ways relatable.  Not to say I’d ally myself with a wish-granting queen from another dimension, but I’ve certainly felt that some of my own foolhardy decisions were made for the greater good.  Add that extra layer of Ryan feeling betrayed and it’s very affecting.

My personal favorite scene, and a great bit of world-building besides, is a small scene with Ray in Vanity.  He’s still stationed there, working as the city’s protector (though Aztek is sadly nowhere to be seen), chasing down the group the Three Devils.  Now transformed into actual devils thanks to the Queen of Fables, the group still think small-time and knock over banks.  There’s a pretty great gag where the leader of the Devils boasts about how, thanks to their “deserved upgrade,” the group can do what they’re meant to.  Ray points out that they’re still doing the exact same thing they did before, to which the leader pretty much just bloviates and revels in his delusions of grandeur.

It’s scenes like that and the genuine pathos Orlando evokes with Frost that show this book is getting on much more even footing.  This story has been a long time coming, and if it continues on this track it may be the best JLA arc yet.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve been waiting to find out what the “Might Beyond the Mirror” actually is.
  • You like seeing Vixen use her powers in interesting ways.
  • You feel for Caitlin and want to see her break from her past.

Overall: A year on and it finally feels like Orlando is getting to tell the story he wants to tell.  The parts are greater than the sum, and this definitely feels like a bunch of scenes strung together rather than a cohesive whole, but what’s here is compelling and enjoyable just the same.  I’m interested in how the wishes granted by the Queen will impact the universe, I’m intrigued by the idea that the League is meant to inspire anyone and everyone to action, and I’m invested in Caitlin Snow’s arc.  A solid start to what will hopefully turn out to be a great arc.

SCORE: 7.5/10