The deranged Fan has divided and scattered the Justice League. Public opinion is sinking, systems are compromised, and our heroes appear to be under siege. How can they stop an adversary who knows them so well? And how do they repair the broken trust of the people they serve? Things are not looking so good in Justice League #39.

A more compelling read

I did not like Justice League #38. I thought it was the first true bomb in Priest’s short run, and I feared that the short wait for Scott Snyder’s transition to this title would suddenly be stretched by dissatisfaction in the present. Thankfully, #39 quickly rebounds, serving up perhaps the most compelling installment of Priest’s run yet.

Churchill and Sollazzo steal the show right out of the gate. Churchill is a seasoned pro who’s done great work in the past; but, my most recent experience with him was in the twilight of Teen Titans during The New 52, and I wasn’t impressed. Here, though, his characters look great throughout, his environments are excellent, and it’s all colored expertly by Sollazzo. There’s so much texture in every panel, and it’s a treat for the eyes.

Where Churchill really nails it, though, is where it matters most. There’s such a great story being told visually, and I keep coming back to it again and again. The opening scene (in which Aquaman takes on some bandits in the desert) is choreographed expertly, and the panels are all very interesting without getting too dense. When the action recedes and we follow Victor into a courtroom, the visual storytelling continues to impress. Seriously, once you’ve read this (or before), try flipping through without reading the balloons—it’s still incredibly interesting.

Priest deserves a lot of credit, too. The shark analogy that opens the issue is very strong writing, and it applies to the League’s situation quite aptly. The Fan’s position—that the League has isolated itself from, and therefore deafened itself to the people they serve—is not a particularly fresh idea, but the execution feels new and original. This isn’t Lex Luthor decrying human dependence on a god-like alien; nor is it simply the governments of the world calling for accountability; rather, Priest goes closer to the ground, focusing on the marginalized—the “small people” that fall through the cracks during a big crisis. The Fan points to the incongruity between a mandate to serve the people of Earth and a headquarters floating high above them, and he’s not completely wrong—at least not as far as the optics of the thing.

Still a few problems

Jessica Cruz is still a bit of a problem here, though most of that owes to the amorous encounter Priest forced upon she and Batman last issue. Her presence this issue pretty much consists of an anxiety hangover and a brief encounter with J’onn J’onzz (who was wonderful to see again so soon after his return in Metal). She’s then sent off to deep space with Simon and that’s that.

The conflict with the public feels relevant to current American affairs, but it seems like a bit of a forced situation with the Justice League. A woman tweets that acid fumes are burning her baby while the League is in Northside. Other folks imply that the League is prioritizing rich, white people over poor, non-white people. While I could see certain members of the team having potential blind spots and missing the folks in the Westies because the action was hotter in Northside, I would never expect this from Superman and Wonder Woman. Supes, more than any character in any genre and in any media, refuses to have a category for “acceptable losses.” There is no believable scenario where he would be flying up, up, and away while there are still people in the area that need his help. This would have been a better fit had the JLA (the other one, with Frost, Canary, etc.) been the only team on the scene. It’s still a strain to think that Mari or Dinah would allow those people to suffer, but the team’s inexperience (and smaller size) could at least make negligence more believable. At least Batman is saving a child by the end.

Overall, though, the issue still reads really well, and when I set aside the discordance, I was able to enjoy it—if not as a great Justice League story, then at least as a compellingly-written and gorgeously-illustrated commentary on the limits of power—even seemingly limitless power—and the way that so-called greater goods can cause us to overlook the details. And how some of those details could sure use our help.

Recommended if…

  • You love solid, detailed artwork
  • You enjoy comics that skillfully comment on current affairs—even if liberties are taken with established characters

Overall

Priest’s run on Justice League will perhaps most be remembered for its tendency to remake established characters into the archetypes it needs them to be. That may not be your cup of tea, but Justice League #39 is at least worth a few reads for its well-written dialogue and outstanding artwork.

SCORE: 7/10