The poop and the fan are on a collision course! As Superman and Martian Manhunter investigate the mysterious Totality, Batman and Hawkgirl fight to keep them safe—from the inside! But Lex Luthor and the Joker have stowed away, and things are about to get very much more hectic for our heroes. And as if that weren’t enough, Sinestro’s bringing the full unseen might of the Invisible Emotional Spectrum right to Earth’s door. Can our heroes stop the madness before the madness stops them? Find out in Justice League #4.

A strong narrator and a cruel monkey

I know I’m repeating myself, but Snyder’s single greatest strength in Justice League is his narrator: omnipresent but more interested in drama than raw information; emotionally distant, but emotionally aware; neither taking sides nor avoiding plain language for plain realities. Snyder adds a dimension this time around—at least, I’m fairly sure it’s an addition, as I can’t recall him doing so before. This time, the narrator responds to—or, plays with, if you’ll indulge me—the dialogue. There was already a healthy measure of Silver Agey playfulness in this story to begin with, and this just pushes things further. And I love it.

Thus far, each of Justice League’s issues has had a “focal character”—someone that the narrator follows a bit more intimately, sometimes in the past as well as the present. We’ve already had our special days with J’onn, Luthor, and Sinestro, and here in issue #4, we zero in on Grodd, runt son of Gorilla City, possessor of a power about which his abusive father could only dream—that is, if Grodd hadn’t defeated him in combat, eaten his brains and taken rule of Gorilla City for himself.

The recurring theme in each of these issues is truth; specifically, that there is a brutal, ugly truth beneath the facades that we—as individuals and societies—have erected to hide it. Snyder continues that thread here, with Grodd discovering the darkness inside men’s—and apes’—hearts, and his ability to squeeze it for his own benefit. This awakening in him parallels Sinestro’s journey into Ultraviolet. Both characters seek to manipulate their enemies secrets and failures; both would see the universe come to its end on the rocky shores of human fear and failure laid bare.

Snyder does an admirable job weaving this thread throughout Justice League #4. Martian Manhunter has carried Vandal Savage’s vision by himself, not sharing it with his teammates, and has in turn left them unprepared and in danger. The always-prepared Batman meets an eventuality for which he did not account, and as he tries to adapt to the shifted terrain, he’s consumed by the dark things in Superman’s blood. Jimenez and Sanchez illustrate this moment exquisitely, Luthor’s bullets wrecking the Dark Knight’s ship, the intense light and heat of an explosion driving Batman into the waiting jaws of the darkness. “The key to power—” the narrator says when speaking of Grodd, “was to slow down, reach into a mind, find those dark things, and squeeze.” And here is Lex Luthor, nearing Superman’s brain, exploiting the dark things to eliminate his enemies’ defenses.

Unfortunately, all of that drama is undermined slightly by Superman’s initial conversation with Martian Manhunter. The dialogue in this two-page scene is perhaps the most unnatural in the entire issue, with both characters revealing far too much information through speech. Add to that a very cryptic utterance (I feel like it might be a back-reference to something in an earlier issue, but I can’t remember for certain), and the sequence lands with considerably less oomph than the rest. It is, mercifully, short and early, so it doesn’t hurt the overall thing too much.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean

There isn’t too much advancement in the Lantern plot this issue, except for one huge thing that happens that I won’t spoil. The rest of the League—Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and the Flash—face off with Grodd and his weird baby friend, and the Still Force is given a bit more meat. I don’t dislike the dialogue in these sequences under the sea, but the real appeal to them is Jimenez and Sanchez. The action is outstanding, and the artists’ use of light and shadow heightens the drama considerably. Add Arthur disdainfully calling Grodd “ape” and “monkey” and you’ve got a sure-fire winner. Grodd walking around with his little buddy in a Baby Bjorn doesn’t hurt, either.

Another thing that I absolutely love about these underwater scenes—and honestly, it’s part of Sinestro’s stuff, too—is all of the posturing. In an attempt to make villains deeper and more relatable, it seems we’ve lost some of that good, old-fashioned arrogance that we used to have in our bad guys. But Snyder’s Legion of Doom aren’t morally confused—they’re evil. Their problem is not a good heart with bad expression, but a bad heart. The Justice League would save the world, and the Legion of Doom would see the world’s head chopped off with a chainsaw. And this is just as it should be. Bravo to Snyder for villains that are both compelling and resolute in their wickedness.

Recommended if…

  • You think Jorge Jimenez is as handsome on the page as he is in real life.
  • You like villains who are villains, rather than morally confused heroes of their own stories.
  • EVIL BABY!

Overall

This run on Justice League has hit us with the sort of big, almost-impenetrable concepts that such books often do; but writer and artists have grounded the whole affair in concepts and characters with strong resonance. Justice League #4 moves the proceedings closer to the endgame, and while the universe-threatening forces set against our heroes from inside and out are still quite mysterious, the compelling, unashamed villains and tremendous visual storytelling make those intimidating mysteries worth the extra time needed to grasp them.

SCORE: 8.5/10