I’ll give it this: the “Deadly Fable” arc has had some interesting ideas.
Ideas are nothing without execution, though, which is actually pretty ironic given the events of this issue. But we’ll get to the whys and the hows in a bit.
This issue of Justice League of America is the culmination of events that have barely played out, the conclusion to an arc that has hardly even begun. It finds Promethea swooping in at the eleventh hour to fight the villain, and then leave for the heroes to finish the fight.
And who is Promethea, you may ask? The text doesn’t tell us much, beyond a few lines that are kind of intriguing while remaining incredibly esoteric. I’m personally familiar with the name and remember she came out in the late Nineties as part of Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint, but know little else about her. While The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was far and away the most popular title on the roster, I remember Promethea being fairly prominent for awhile, along with Tom Strong (who will appear with his family in the upcoming The Terrifics, and hopefully better implemented than Promethea) and Top 10 receiving quite a bit of acclaim. Not being remarkably familiar with the character, I brushed up on Promethea’s history and subsequently fell down a rabbit hole involving John Dee, Enochian angels, and the Voynich manuscript. It was… weird.
Long story short, though, Promethea is a character that has embodied different hosts over millennia. Instead of being a “typical” magical being or source of power, Promethea is a bastion of the realm Immateria and, effectively, an embodiment of storytelling and imagination itself.
That’s actually a pretty neat concept, and a twist on what I postulated in the previous issue. Where I thought that Tsaritsa was a Fable, strengthened by storytelling and an unremitting presence in mortal consciousness, Promethea herself is a sort of scion of fiction itself. That could have made way for some interesting metatextual storytelling beats and a philosophical, contemplative climax.
What we get instead is a pretty standard battle between two all-powerful figures. It’s all competently illustrated, even stunning on occasion, but it doesn’t amount to an awful lot. There’s a neat looking scene at the beginning where Vixen is in the Red, calling on all of the wishers to turn on the Queen of Fables so Mari can have the strength to defeat her. It looks cool, particularly the way Edwards visualizes Vixen’s powers, but is there precedence for this? Can Mari call on people for strength, and not just animals? Either way, it’s certainly what happens here.
It all results in a conclusion that isn’t earned, not because it’s manipulative but because it feels almost incomplete. This is only the third part of this arc and already it’s over. It’s a story that Orlando has been building toward over the past 23 issues, yet it wraps up in a flash. There was next to no build-up or tension going into the climax, and once all is said and done, there’s very little payoff either.
Oftentimes the dialogue and character interactions can save even a lackluster story, but that’s absent here. It’s almost as if the characters are really just reciting lines at each other, not actually conversing, with no real reactions to accusations or adulation beyond blank-face stares. Even Lobo, who Orlando has proven to have a deft hand in writing, comes across as relatively soft and forgettable. He spouts a few colorful insults and gets in the faces of some of his teammates, but it’s greeted with almost complete indifference.
The one exception is the Atom, who does have a few strong moments spread throughout. He’s shown quite a bit of growth over the series, so seeing him stand up to Lobo and defend Caitlin are some nice little character beats. It’s not much, but a little bit of growth and personality is better than the indifference and complacency everyone else displays.
And once again, that’s how this whole arc feels. The big shocker of Promethea coming to save the day falls flat, largely because there was little buildup and even less payoff. The phrase “deus ex machina” is often overused as a criticism when something happens out of nowhere, but that’s exactly how her appearance is treated: Promethea shows up out of nowhere specifically to save the day, leaves just as suddenly, and then comes back at the end to help someone learn a lesson. Nothing is gained by her presence, other than maybe a few interesting lines regarding Immateria. Small consolation, though, when the rest of the issue doesn’t satisfy either.
At the very least there should have been a Weeping Gorilla Comix appearance.
Missed opportunity. Such a shame.
It’s hard to say where and why this went wrong. After over a year of anticipation, I’m sure I’m not the only one who expected more out of the Might Beyond the Mirror story. Maybe Orlando had to truncate it due to a mandate or a scheduling issue. No matter the reason, though, it disappointed. Here’s hoping the final handful of issues coming up will help end this series on a high note.
- You’re a fan of Promethea.
- You’ve been wanting Vixen to get some fresh threads.
Overall: Disappointingly average for a story that should have been epic. Orlando writes a few small character moments that land, but otherwise this was an anticlimactic, almost frustrating finale. The story was just getting started and now it’s suddenly over, resulting in a story that feels largely incomplete. Some nice visuals and character moments sprinkled throughout elevate it ever so slightly, so it isn’t a total loss, though it’s far from satisfying.