The Watchtower has fallen to the Earth and landed in Wakanda! Can the Justice League salvage their busted satellite before the crazed Black Panther tears them a new one with his vibranium claws? Find out in Just Us League #41! SPOILERS AHEAD
I don’t like this
It’s been pretty obvious these past few weeks: I don’t like where Christopher Priest has been going with Justice League. When you feel that way about something, it becomes increasingly difficult to offer commentary that doesn’t sound frustrated or personal. I offer that bit of self-awareness up front as a call to myself, that I might avoid this pitfall. I hope that my criticism is even and fair. So here goes.
Characterization has been the most consistent problem in Priest’s run. Even in the first few issues—which I enjoyed—most of the characters felt at least a bit off. #41 opens on Lanterns Baz and Cruz flying through space on their return route from the mission they picked up from Martian Manhunter a few installments ago. Now, understanding that both of these characters are fairly new, and that creators working with them presently have a bit of flexibility to mold them in one way or another—even acknowledging that, I feel as though Priest contradicts established norms for each of them.
In the case of Simon, his continued anxiety at being asked to lunch seems like something borrowed from his partner. The Baz that I know once argued with Batman about whether or not he should be allowed to carry a gun. Sure, he eventually saw things Batman’s way, but it wasn’t because he was intimidated by the Dark Knight’s status in super hero social circles or the League itself. He changed his mind because he was convinced. I can’t imagine that same Baz getting this uptight about a lunch invitation from Superman.
Jessica’s broken characterization is perhaps more subtle. She gives this little talk about faster-than-light travel and its relationship with time, and it seems pretty out-of-character. It doesn’t contradict things that she has said, but it does contradict her prior silence on these matters. Surely, if she were interested in and knowledgeable about physics, then she would have had occasion to speak with Barry or Bruce about it before. Priest has dropped a number of these sorts of “knowledge bombs” in prior issues, and they don’t come from the same character, so it looks like he just wants to pop in a concept and will use any character to do it, whether or not it makes sense for that character. And even when he does it with a character suited to that sort of thing, the timing is seldom appropriate.
Most of the rest of Justice League #41 takes place in East Africa, and before I address anything else, I have to address the unfortunate choice Priest made to attempt accent-simulation through spelling. “Villain” comes out as “wheelon”, and if you’ve already read this and didn’t realize what was being said, don’t be too hard on yourself—it took me a minute, too. I wish it stopped here, but it doesn’t. Dose uh our people, meenerol trade, eenterests—it’s relentless, and often inconsistent. It’s bad enough that he does it at all, but it seems particularly senseless when he doesn’t do it across the board. Why not just leave out the weird spelling and let us imagine the accents ourselves?
While we’re talking about the scenes in Africa, it seems like Red Lion’s inclusion could benefit from a bit more backstory in this book. He’s a character that Priest created in Deathstroke, but that book should not be required reading for context in Justice League. Next to Batman—and maybe Harley Quinn—Justice League is probably the most likely DC title to attract brand new readers to the medium, so I’m surprised at this avoidable dependence on current continuity. It’s really not Red Lion’s presence by itself that’s the problem, either, because we are given some context for him by the news broadcasts shown after his initial appearance. The problem lies in the setup scene with Slade, because Red Lion’s significance is now linked to Deathstroke, but the uninitiated reader will have no knowledge of either. And even seasoned DC readers who haven’t been keeping tabs on Deathstroke will be confused by his sudden appearance here.
We get the point, but it’s time to move on
I had no problem with the early issues in this arc setting up questions about the League’s place in the world. What I’ve been struggling with in the past few, however, is the League getting hung up on those questions. Superman might worry about the League’s charter if someone asked them to negotiate a trade agreement; but I can’t see him or any member of this team bickering about whether or not their charter permits them to prevent deaths. And yet Priest pits the Flash against Diana in a disagreement about whether or not “the charter” allows him to prevent soldiers from slaughtering unarmed people. When Flash rediscovers his spine, Superman adopts the guise of a gun-rights advocate and argues that guns don’t kill people, implying that stopping this slaughter would be—in the grand scheme—irrelevant, and the equivalent of making the decision of peace for mankind. After several issues of this kind of uncharacteristic, indecisive wussiness, I’m at my wits’ end.
So what’s good in here?
The actual conflict is written well. I’m able to set aside my disgust at the heroes and recognize that. Red Lion’s name, costume, and supermetal-laced costume are incredibly derivative of Marvel’s differently-colored, big-cat king of an African nation, but his personality is much less so, and I find him to be compelling.
Briones has some excellent storytelling in this issue, and he’s colored nicely by Cox. Briones has worked on a few books since Rebirth, and, in my opinion, his stuff looks its best when the colorist takes a flatter approach—especially with characters. Cox seems to get this, helping Briones have one of his better showings.
Schu does an admirable job with the letters. Priest gives him a lot of text, and there often isn’t much wiggle room for him to work with; but nothing critical is obstructed, and the balloons are well-situated to help with the flow of the dialogue.
- You’ve enjoyed the last few issues of Justice League.
Justice League #41 attempts to tackle a topic worth apprehending, but I contend that it misses. Gross mischaracterization of established characters, clunky “localized” dialogue, and missing context make for a difficult read, and the capable artwork can only carry my experience so far. If you’ve enjoyed this story, by all means, continue. But if you’re on the outside wondering what you’ve been missing, move along. There’s nothing for you here.