“Escape from Hawkworld” reaches its shocking conclusion! Martian secrets! Hawk secrets! Other secrets! All this, and maybe more secrets in Justice League #16SPOILERS WILL SURELY FOLLOW

This is not good

With apologies to James Tynion, toward whom I bear no ill will, this is just not very good. This has been the story of Tynion’s contributions to Justice League: his poor dialogue benefits from strong story (to which Scott Snyder is no doubt a large contributor), so I’ve been comfortable with awarding him above-average scores. His Joker-centric Legion of Doom chapter was even quite good. But here, as we say farewell to the current weakest link in Snyder’s sprawling “New Justice,” things are mostly quite bad. I’ll get into detail in just a moment, but before that, let me tell you…

What you should read first

This is the final installment in a three-issue story arc. As such, you should read Justice League #14-15 before tackling this one. It won’t make everything clear, as the first few pages feel impenetrable even to those of us who’ve been following along, but it will give you context. Also, if you’d like to see how Starman made his way into the story, I believe that happened back in Justice League #7-8, so have a peek back at those if you feel so inclined—it’s hardly essential for this, though.

How are we supposed to get into this?

With the prerequisites out of the way, let me elaborate on that stinger of an opening headline. The short version: this is Tynion’s worst writing on Justice League, and with one exception, his stuff has already been average-at-best. This issue also contains some of Stephen Segovia’s least-interesting visual storytelling. The story itself—in particular the development of Snyder’s larger tale—make this worth reading; but Justice League #16 is not something to savor, and besides looking up some detail for reference in the future, I cannot imagine revisiting it.

Let’s begin with Tynion. As I mentioned in the previous section, the first few pages are impenetrable. See for yourself on page one:

They found it echoed and distorted over a thousand worlds in a thousand languages with a thousand faces — On a first read, that may seem nice and dramatic. It has poetic repetition—a sound that takes root in the ear. But it also sounds overwrought, and not the way one person (the Martian Keep) would talk to another person (the Martian Manhunter).

Shaped into a predatory state — What does this mean? It has the word “predatory,” so it’s bad. But what are we to take from this? How is a universe shaped into a “predatory state?”

The seven energies of creation — Snyder has been playing with this notion since the beginning, with things like the Ultraviolet and the Still Force, but the concept is still a bit mushy. It’s just plopped on us here, like we should already have a robust understanding of it, but we don’t.

From one end of the galaxy to the other — So this complaint is less about Tynion than about editorial, who probably should have caught it, but surely this is supposed to say “from one end of the universe to the other,” right? Otherwise, which galaxy?

Trapped or sleeping?

And here’s the second page. The biggest problem here is the Martian Keep’s explanation of the symbol. Are “the dark energies of creation” the same “seven energies of creation” from the first page? Yes is the obvious answer, but Tynion fails to make it completely clear. Also, the Keep says that the “old energies…were sealed” in one panel, but in the next describes them as “reawakening.” But once again, in the next panel, she refers to their being “freed.”

So which is it? Are the energies trapped? That would seem consistent with how Sinestro “uncovered” the Unseen Light back in the first arc. But that seems less consistent with the Still Force, which, if memory serves, Grodd brings into play by harnessing the infant Turtle—suggesting dormancy and reawakening. Tynion’s linguistic inconsistency—and, to be fair, potential inconsistency in Snyder’s thoughts on the matter—create ambiguity here.

Power in a secret

I have one more nit to pick with this page: the Keep’s statement that “there is power in a secret.” Like the “thousands” from page one, this is a line that sounds poetic—I’m surprised Tynion didn’t remove the word “a” and really ratchet it up. But what does the Keep mean? She’s speaking generically of “a secret,” as though the “power” is in the secrecy itself. But is that true, either in general or in this specific case? If I throw someone a surprise party, is there power in the secret I’m keeping? I suppose on some level there is, as the power to delight with a surprise (or in my wife’s case, horrify her introverted sensibilities) springs directly from the secrecy.

Is that what the Keep means, though? Something made powerful by its being shrouded? It certainly doesn’t seem that way. She goes on to say that “Krona…knew how dangerous that symbol could be.” So in this case, the power is not in the shrouding, but in the thing shrouded, in which case the Maltusians were foolish to keep the secret. This is certainly keeping in character with the arrogance of the Guardians of the Universe, but the Keep tries to spin this as a good thing, and Tynion presents her in such a way—revered by the Martian Manhunter, one of the most likable characters in fiction—that we feel we ought to accept her wisdom.

Et tu, Manhunter?

And while we’re on J’onn: this scene picks up again several pages later, and he asks perhaps the stupidest question possible:

Was he not paying attention on those first few pages? The “machinations of beings at the dawn of time” are precisely what’s behind this massive threat to the multiverse. As impenetrable as the opening scene was, I could glean that much, at least—and I wasn’t even in the room!

Also, “absorbascon” has to be the crappiest name for a comic book dingus I’ve read in a really long time. Flush that thing down the toilet and move on.

Who are these characters?

Unfortunately, Tynion’s struggles do not end with poorly-constructed ideas. The dialogue itself—its ability to pass the “read out loud” test that my regular readers have no doubt tired of hearing about—is not good. Kilowog’s voice is all wrong, Batman’s telling a joke that is not simply out-of-character with the Bat we know in general, but also with the Batman established in Snyder’s run with this team. Sheyera’s distraught scene plays more comedically than it should (which is to say “not at all”), and at this point, if Snyder doesn’t come back soon, I’m probably dropping the title. I mean, I would be if I wasn’t reviewing it.

Where did you [Se]go[via]?

Stephen Segovia handled the lion’s share of artwork in “Escape from Hawkworld.” In the previous two installments, I spoke of my dislike for the general aesthetic of his work (at least with whoever’s been coloring him), but also of my respect for his visual storytelling. He generally produces dynamic action, and all-around good layouts. While #16 gets better toward the end, Segovia starts off pretty rough. His panel composition is uninteresting at best, and at times confusing. There are two “thundering blow” shots—one where Hawkgirl is giving, and one where she’s getting—and they’re both odd: the sort of panel where you can think about it for a long time and maybe come to reconcile the trajectory of the blow with the impact on its recipient. But if we have to think long and hard to make it make sense, then I’d argue that the artwork isn’t doing its job properly.

As for the colors, the order of credits suggest that Wil Quintana takes care of Segovia’s work. I like Quintana a lot, but I think his approach here is all wrong. Segovia’s stuff always looks better without excessive lighting effects—see his first issue in James Robinson’s short arc on Detective Comics a few months ago. Unfortunately, most of Quintana’s work here leaves characters looking over-rendered, and I’m not a fan.

Solid letters, with some exceptions

I love Tom Napolitano’s work on this series, and you can check out my previous reviews for proof. He’s super-solid here once again, but there’s one page where I think he missed the mark with his SFX. If you look at Cheung, Morales, and Morey’s first page, there’s a FWASH and a TSSSSSSH, and neither is a perfect fit. The FWASH just looks completely out of place texturally, and the TSSSSSSH would have fit in far better had its color and shape matched the swirl of light more closely.

This has gone on long enough

There’s more that I could say about the dialogue and the artwork, but I’ve already said more than enough. Cheung’s pages look good, but as always, there are far too few of them. I really hope Snyder comes back to principal writing duties, as the book has suffered in his absence. DC had a great thing going with this new run, and they’re squandering a lot of good will. We need a good Justice League a lot more than we need The Batman Who Laughs.

Recommended if…

  • You’re collecting everything in this run of Justice League.

Overall

Justice League #16 is the worst installment of “New Justice” to date. Tynion’s writing fails to capture the essence of what Snyder began, and the artwork fails to live up to the promise this book had at the start. DC can fix this, but they need to put their top talent back on the book instead of hoping it can tread water until Snyder and others free up, because it can’t.

SCORE: 5/10


DISCLAIMER: Batman News received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.