The Justice League of America are stranded at the dawn of time, and the god of superheroes lies slain at their feet. Can they defeat Chronos and ensure the continued existence of heroism on Earth?
Considering there will still be comics coming out of DC’s publishing house as soon as next week, I think it’s safe to say that the answer is “yes.” Yes, they save the day. Yes, they set things right. Yes, the good guys win.
But it’s not always about the destination, is it? It’s the journey that can make a story worth telling. So was Justice League of America worth the journey? Did Batman’s ragtag group, brought together to inspire the people, truly inspire the people?
If the final pages are to be believed, then yes, it succeeded. As a piece of storytelling, however, it remains to be seen if the payoff will be realized.
Effectively telling two stories in one, the final issue of JLA here moves at a pretty fast pace. It’s almost too fast, in fact, as the story with Chronos is wrapped up in a few pages before making way for an extended epilogue. Even with the supposed fate of all superheroes at stake, the threat of Chronos hasn’t really carried an awful lot of weight. The conflict has been more about Ryan Choi gaining confidence as the Atom than it has been about whether Chronos would succeed or not, and admittedly, Ryan does get a few nice moments here. It’s those little moments of growth that Orlando has excelled at over the course of the series. Combined with his own unabashed earnestness, it almost makes the whole ordeal work. Almost.
The main problem I personally had with this arc was a lack of interest. Ahl, the god of superheroes, was introduced so abruptly and dispatched almost as quickly that I never really cared what happened. To be entirely fair, that’s not entirely Orlando’s fault. I would recommend reading this week’s Doom Patrol #11 to shed some more light on Ahl and his weakness, because it’s laid out pretty clearly there. That issue of Doom Patrol, it should be noted, was originally scheduled to be released months ago, before “Milk Wars” even started. Could he have been contextualized better in this book? For sure. But at least Doom Patrol comes out today too, and you should be reading that anyway because it’s so crazybonkers great.
Like the resolution to Chronos’ story, Ahl’s involvement is glossed over pretty quickly. Aztek announces that she might be able to work up a solution to bring him back, but it might take weeks.
So they wait.
For several weeks.
And various time jumps.
It’s kind of funny in context, because instead of giving some grim speech or heroic platitude, Batman’s just like “sure, whatevs,” and the next thing we know half the team has grown a righteous beard.
And stayed remarkably clean after several weeks. Nicely done.
It can’t be said of Orlando that he left any plot threads hanging, as everything from the past few arcs is touched upon. What makes it less than satisfying is that, after Chronos and Ahl’s stories are wrapped up, there is an epilogue that effectively serves as a backdoor pilot for not one but two different books. First, there’s a brief scene between a few members of the Unexpected, which is due this June. Like Viking Judge’s appearance in Orlando’s own Supergirl series finale, this scene helps to set up a few more characters for that book.
In Supergirl, the new character Viking Judge fights Supergirl for the better part of the issue. We get an idea of her powers and even a bit of her motivation, so even though it’s clear she was included to tease this new book, she at least had an effect on the story. Here, we see a brief conversation with the character Firebrand. Brief as in, she has a few lines in one panel. Unlike Viking Judge, this inclusion seems a bit out of place.
The other could be deemed a spoiler, so I’ll treat it as such.
So. The Justice Foundation. It looks to be a hybrid team of established heroes and other citizens who have super powers. This is a pretty cool idea, and it’s in line with Orlando’s stated mission for the book. If the JLA was put together to inspire heroism in the world, what better way to illustrate that than have “normal people” rub elbows with superheroes?
I like it and can get behind it, but the main problem is… what’s the future of this group? There isn’t a Justice Foundation title slated to release anytime soon, nor are there any hints of this team featuring in other titles. It would stink if this was a tease for something that never came to be, particularly since two years worth of stories hinged on this idea and culminated in this movement. Like the Unexpected cameo, it feels like this is a backdoor pilot or pitch for something else instead of a concrete conclusion to the series itself.
EDIT: turns out they’re all established characters, I just didn’t recognize some of them.
Strange Visitor, Extrano, Black Canary, Vixen, Aztek, Insight, The Ray, The Atom, Xenos, Mndawe, Frost, and Lorraine Bedy. https://t.co/xVDCZ1CzaA
— The Steve Orlando (@thesteveorlando) April 25, 2018
When I first read this issue, I didn’t think I liked it that much. As I’ve mulled it over, though, there are aspects that have grown on me. The sum isn’t spectacular, but a few of the parts are pretty good. Ryan and Caitlin share a nice moment, and the culmination of the idea of inspiration is strong. It helps that Lobo pops back in too, as Orlando has proven to have a knack for writing the Main Man.
The artwork grew on me as well. Hugo Petrus doesn’t inject as many inspired layouts or cool visuals as he did in the previous few issues, which is a shame. It’s serviceable work, but nothing stood out as particularly amazing. What initially didn’t sit well with me, though, was the coloring. HiFi has a great style, but something about their choices just didn’t work upon my first read-through. Some pages looked like the contrast was turned way up, making bright greens and pinks pop off the page in an almost overwhelming matter. The early portions of the book were hard to look at, yet that’s not the case now. Once I read back through everything worked fine, so I don’t know if my eyes adjusted to the style or if I imagined more contrast than was actually there.
And that may be a weird criticism: “I thought it looked weird at first but it turns out it doesn’t.” It’s totally on me, and I will admit that the coloring works. There are times when it’s kind of flat, especially when the backgrounds are spare, but it complements Petrus’ pencils just fine.
So, now that it’s over, what can we make of Justice League of America? For me, it took a while to coalesce, perhaps too long, but the idea of a team that exists to inspire heroism in others is a great theme. The series had a few highs and several lows, and Orlando’s passion for the weird and obscure was both a hindrance and a boon. While it may have taken too long to find its purpose, its end goal is admirable. Now we wait to see if it makes a difference.
- You want to see how this series ends.
- You’re excited for The Unexpected.
- You want to see Lobo again.
Overall: Less a conclusion to this series and more the pathway to others, Justice League of America ends on a curious note. Between fleeting moments of greatness and strong character work, the setup for stories and teams to come makes this issue feel oddly incomplete. Because of that, the series feels unfinished as well, since it effectively serves as a pitch for two other books. Regardless, the stuff I like is really strong and I genuinely like it, and even with its shortcomings the book is neither offensive nor a disaster. I wish, in the end, that it could have maybe aimed higher or had a clearer path cut out from the beginning, but we got to spend some time with some likable characters. And Lobo. Who is awesome.