The Justice League is going to the Source—Wall, that is. Starman thinks the team can fix it, so the team gets to getting—and we all know nothing can go wrong when a total stranger leads you on a vague mission of universal salvation. Watch the uneventful success unfold, in Justice League Annual #1!

Good thing there’s only one a year

Here’s the thing: if you agree with my prior reviews and what they have to say about James Tynion’s writing, then you’re going to have a hard time with this. If you agree with my prior reviews and what they have to say about artwork not measuring up to the prestige of this title, then you’re going to have a hard time with this. Basically, imagine “Escape from Hawkworld,” but stretch it into a longer format and fork over an extra dollar.

What’s worse, if you were thinking you’d skip this one because it’s “only an annual,” you’ll be disappointed. In reality, it covers the next essential link in the Justice League story. It’s not a side-story, or a close-up on an as-yet-unexplored character. It’s the next chapter in New Justice, so if you don’t want to have a gap in the story, you have to pay a premium to suffer through the long version of what we’ve been getting for over a month now.

Credit where it’s due

Before I go any farther, let me do the usual qualifications. Artist Daniele Sampere is a very competent visual storyteller. Most of his work is highly-functional, a lot of it is downright exciting (owing to the layouts more than the finishes), and the fact that this issue is not a complete mess is owing mostly to him.

But Sampere is not Francis Manapul. He isn’t Jim Cheung. He’s not Jorge Jimenez. I know I’m repeating myself from just a week ago, but the relaunch of this book promised (at least by implication) top-tier talent. Scott Snyder returning to an ongoing title. Jim Cheung coming to DC from Marvel. But Cheung was spotty after one issue, and Snyder has been all but replaced by James Tynion, who has now written eight of this run’s 17 issues (nine if you include his JL/Aquaman Drowned Earth book). He’s got almost half of the output in a book that was advertised with Scott Snyder’s face and Scott Snyder’s plans.

It’s not just a face

But this isn’t a matter of wanting the specific people that were there at the start. Rather, it’s about wanting the sort of quality that they brought to the table. Cheung and Jimenez, and their inkers and colorists, gave the first arc of Justice League visual distinction—not just in their visual storytelling, but in their aesthetics. You couldn’t go buy another book on the stand with their brand of artwork. It was exclusive to Justice League. There are other artists like that, too—artists who have both memorable aesthetics and sequential credibility. They even tapped three of them—Doug Mahnke, Mikel Janin and Guillem March—briefly. But they gave Stephen Segovia an entire arc, and Sampere this annual. And as talented as both men are as visual storytellers, they just don’t have a strong enough identity to leave a memorable impression, and some of their output just looks odd.

And Tynion isn’t my favorite writer, but that’s not why I don’t like his work here. It isn’t because I’d already made up my mind about him. He had a clean slate when he started working on this series, and I’ve praised him when he deserved it; but his work just hasn’t been great most of the time, and some of the time it’s just been bad.

So much to say

Tynion’s biggest problem, bar-none, is that he talks too much. The dialogue in this annual, like the dialogue in the previous arc, is bloated. It’s not that there’s simply too much of it—though that’s probably true, too. Rather, it’s that he overloads an idea with words, to the point that the idea, good as it may have been, gets distorted and unpleasant. His characters don’t sound like actual people, because they speak so much metadata and exposition. His narration aspires to be poetic and weighty, but poorly-constructed metaphor and flashy-but-empty symbolism are just more frustratingly-useless words that we have to sift through to find the threads of story that we actually care about. But lest you think I’m being mean, let’s look at a few examples.

When is a galaxy not a galaxy?

Here on the first page, Tynion gives us this:

Who is “they,” why do they call this place a galaxy, and why is “a place of gods and giants” postured as the opposite of “galaxy?” You guys might think I’m nitpicking, and maybe I am, but if Tynion insists on getting flowery with his words, then he should try to ensure that they make sense. As best I can tell, these ones don’t.

What does the Source Wall hold together?

On the next page, Tynion’s narrator has perhaps his best performance. I genuinely like just about everything printed here, and the spread is maybe Sampere’s most visually arresting work in the book. It’s very good stuff, and I have no problem with any of it. But if we zoom in on that last narration box, we can see a problem for Tynion later in the book:

What does the Source Wall hold together? What does it bind? Of what is it a border? I always figured it was the universe, right? That, in theory at least, each universe in the multiverse could or could not have its own Source Wall, or some other construct, that keeps everything together. Or in the absence of such a construct, does not. Tynion agrees with me here: as the wall falls, so falls the universe. And this is reinforced by other characters: Kyle Rayner refers to their location as “the end of the universe,” for example.

But look at the title on the same page: “Multiversal Meltdown.” Then we have Starman asking Hawkgirl if she’s ready to save the multiverse. Everything is confused. Later, he refers to Perpetua as a being that helped create the multiverse, but in JL #16, the Martian Keep referred to her as the creator of the universe before ours. So which is it? Does Tynion even know? There’s more confusion throughout the rest of the book, and I can honestly say I have no idea which one he actually means. Maybe he means both, but it’s all very muddy. Is the Source Wall one thing that exists in many universes in the multiverse? Illuminate me, if you know, because I’m a bit confused. And if the Source Wall is specific to a particular universe, then why do the characters in this book tell us in the end that it is not the multiverse that will die with the wall down.

Open your eyes, people

There’s more verbal and conceptual density throughout, but let’s have a look at the artwork. As I said, the storytelling is mostly solid, but look at some of these characters:

I’m sorry if my bluntness offends, but Superman just looks plain stupid. Where are his eyes? Where are the Flash’s eyes? John Stewart’s? What’s up with Wonder Woman’s empty gaze? This is not good, and certainly not fitting for a book that’s supposed to be a flagship title.

Then we have this a few pages later:

Superman looks a bit better, but why are Mera’s eyes closed? And is it just me, or is Batman missing quite a bit of the top of his head?

And when there aren’t obvious visual problems, there’s just so-so, generic-looking work:

None of that looks especially bad, but if I asked you whose work it was, you could guess any one of a dozen artists. Is this the approach to artwork that we should expect from one of DC’s tentpole properties? Is this the way they treated Justice League in The New 52?

Pull the plug

I’m already 1300 words in, and while there’s more I could say, I have no desire to go on. The bottom line is that Justice League should be better than this. If you’re going to make people buy an annual to get your core story, then you should knock their socks off with that annual. Instead, we get more generic artwork, more overbaked dialogue, and more distance away from what made this book great at the beginning. I endured the convoluted craziness of Snyder’s grand design when it was dressed in high-quality craft. At times I felt lost, but there was something beautiful and exciting that kept me tethered. But the beauty and excitement have been stripped away, and with only a confusing heap of story left, I feel myself drifting further and further with each installment. Do better, DC.

Recommended if…

  • You want to know what happens. If that’s you, then this is a must-read.

Overall

Justice League Annual #1 is more of the past month’s status quo. Gone are the memorable artwork and well-crafted narration and dialogue that at first caught our interest. In their place: blandness and confusion. If you have to know what happens in the main storyline, then you have to buy this annual; otherwise, skip it.

SCORE: 5/10


DISCLAIMERBatman News received an advance copy of this book for the purpose of review.