Justice League of America #23 review

I’m going to be real here: Steve Orlando has been teasing that this arc will do things no other DC Comic has ever done before, so that got me thinking about what he could possibly mean.  So far it’s been a pretty standard story with twists and turns to be sure, though nothing that stands out as a game-changer.  So I started thinking of Tsaritsa, the Queen of Fables, who I wasn’t familiar with before this story.  I’ve since learned that she is a preexisting character, first introduced by Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch in JLA #47, so that’s my lack of knowledge more than anything.

But really, looking at her title (“Queen of Fables”), I started thinking: what if she’s a Fable?  You know, fairy tale characters who fled their Homelands to seek refuge in the real world?  Bill Willingham’s landmark series was published under the Vertigo imprint, so it’s certainly under the same umbrella as other DC publications, and with Watchmen characters popping up it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine those characters making their way to the DCU proper.  It would have been an interesting twist and, sure enough, something that had never happened in a DC comic before.

Needless to say that isn’t what happens, but it’s pretty close.  We finally get to see what Orlando has been hinting at, and it’s interesting for sure.  While I didn’t flip my lid like I would have had Bigby Wolf come to throw down with Lobo, I’m definitely intrigued to see what this new wrinkle will lead to.

But enough being vague; let’s talk about the issue itself.  Continuing in the tradition of the last few issues at least, this is a whole lot of set up for the approaching climax.  As an issue unto itself, it doesn’t hold together very well, as it’s more a collection of scenes rather than a cohesive story.  Those scenes are generally good, though, so I found myself enjoying it more often than not.

I’m finding myself surprised at how involving I find Caitlin Snow’s story, yet each work I become more and more engrossed in her struggles.  Her redemption arc is strong on its own, and factored in with the gambit she played with the Queen of Fables it’s just that much more powerful.  There’s quite a bit of her conflict here as she tries to stay in Tsaritsa’s good graces without either succumbing to the Queen’s plan or falling out of her favor.  There’s a fine line she has to walk that’s really fascinating, and Frost’s character arc here is some of Orlando’s strongest plotting in the entire series.

Ray’s hero journey moves along a bit more too, as he tries to reconcile his commitment to Vanity with his calling to the Justice League.  He and Aztek have a great chemistry together too, both as characters and as superheroes.  Their costumes look similar yet have enough of a contrast that they’re still appealing to the eye when they’re together, so even just visually they two are a great match.  The fact that they fight Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man is just the unexpected icing on an already appealing cake.

Side note: if you don’t know who Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man is, he’s pretty much bad Metamorpho with a dinosaur glued to his head.  Now I feel that I’ve peaked with that comparison, but man was it worth it.

The other plot of interest is the fate of Vixen, who was crushed under a mountain in the previous issue.  Surprising no-one, she survives.  In another example of Orlando using her powers in creative ways, she evokes the power of the planaria flatworm to regenerate from the smallest bit of tissue.  Of course I’m glad Mari survived, and I’m not shocked that she did, so seeing it come about in such a clever way was pretty fun.  Neil Edwards illustrates her body regenerating itself by using a multi-panel grid layout, bouncing back and forth between her internal organs forming and an unrelated scene with Ray having a phone conversation.  It’s a bit of visual dichotomy that works really well with both scenes.

It does get a little stale after that, for when she regenerates she’s… well, she’s nude (worms don’t wear clothes).  She’s always illustrated in silhouette, so it isn’t remarkably racy or anything like that, it’s just that the scene doesn’t have much of a resolution or even a punchline.  At first it’s a little funny in its awkwardness, but the joke goes on just a bit too long with a resolution that will pay off later.  I found myself questioning if it was supposed to be a joke or played completely straight, which isn’t ever a good thing.

While these scenes are related in that they deal with the book’s cast and build on earlier events, they still feel like loosely connected vignettes rather than parts of a complete issue.  That’s one of the flaws I’ve found this book to have from the beginning, in that there’s a pretty clear story path but the pieces just don’t quite fit.  The fact that Orlando makes them mostly complelling helps, though, even if the villain’s plan is effectively another riff on the “build a big device to open a portal to another dimension” trope.

It’s not great comics per se, but it’s entertaining enough.  I’m intrigued and even moved by a lot of the character work on display, and Orlando is developing a sense of adventure that could really help set this title apart.  This book isn’t quite where it needs to be, but it has serious potential.

Plus Lobo gets some lines this week, and isn’t that all we want?

Recommended if:

  • You’re a huge Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man fan.
  • You’re invested in Caitlin’s story.

Overall: Entertaining without being remarkably deep, there’s enough here I enjoyed to keep me invested.  Orlando’s character work is pretty strong, though the story is getting a little lost along the way.  It’s the details that make it succeed though, like Caitlin being torn between her nature and doing what she felt was right, and seeing cool uses of powers and appearances by goofy characters are a plus.  This book is slowly starting to come around, so here’s hoping Orlando can continue on an upward trend.

SCORE: 6.5/10