I love movies and books, including comics, where lots of stuff blows up. That’s not because a well-rendered explosion, whether in CGI, graphics, or verbal description, is just really cool. It is, but the more important aspect of explosions is that they change things. What happens in the aftermath usually sends the characters in a new direction. Justice League Odyssey#12 is a turning point, bringing the events of the past few issues to a head and spinning the story onto a different track. My problem with it is that the story structure isn’t explosive. It’s more like a grind.

For those who aren’t up to date on this book, Cyborg, Starfire, Azrael, and Green Lantern Jessica Cruz went on a quest to undo the damage caused by the Justice League in the final pages of Dark Nights: Metal. In the aftermath of Scott Snyder’s DC event, planets hidden away by Brainiac were unleashed on our universe. These Ghost Sector planets held relics that, when combined, form a sort of pocket universe called “Sepulkore,” which Darkseid convinced our heroes would save the endangered Ghost Sector. However, the JL Odyssey crew figured what could save the Ghost Sector might save other parts of space as well, so they decided to seize control of the relics for themselves at a crucial moment. That moment came in the previous issue, but Darkseid had the same idea and when he used mother box technology to take control of Cyborg… Well, the team’s plan fell apart completely.

Issue #12 is mostly a long series of fights, but Starfire’s energy bursts, Azrael’s forethought, and Green Lantern’s resolve make every confrontation unique while the progress of Sepulkore’s activation adds urgency to the action. All of that is well done and interesting, but the story structure shortchanges all the characters except Darkseid and Jessica.

The confrontation between the two of them showcases Jessica’s courage and resolve, especially with her ring nearly depleted and her battery inaccessible outside the maelstrom surrounding the Ghost Sector. Darkseid’s power outstrips hers completely, and yet she stands against The Lord of Apokolips. The story devotes six pages to this battle, whereas Kori’s ran two pages and Azrael’s was a page and a half. In those short sequences, neither of them does anything particularly remarkable. They seemed almost perfunctory and I wouldn’t say that either character shines in these moments. But in the grand scheme of things, these two do contribute something important to the story: Kori’s and Jean-Paul’s efforts to help actually make things worse and making things worse is good. Seeing our heroes really struggle is GOOD. It gives the heroes something to push against, and matters are much worse by the end of this book! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The story is narrated entirely by Darkseid, who tends to be a bit verbose and full of himself. That’s okay because it’s in character for him, but some of the narration could’ve been cut down. For example, in the scene below, there are seven narrative captions. Every second I spend reading captions is a second I don’t spend admiring the art.

Granted, the part about the Azraelites lying in wait to attack lets readers who may not remember their prior conference with Azrael know that they don’t come out of nowhere. That matters, but the self-congratulatory bombast slows down the pace. All we really need to be told here is that the Azraelites were waiting for Azrael’s signal, which they received, and that Darkseid will repay their faith in a way they don’t expect.

I like scenes of people with capes and swords charging into action. I would rather focus on them than on extensive narration.

We also don’t need Darkseid to tell us he doesn’t respect Jessica and that the situation is dire. Having read the book to this point, we know the situation, and his subsequent actions make his disregard clear. She’s not an idiot, so she knows the status of the battle, too. Her facial expression conveys it. The captions steal attention away from the image (which is not included here because the captions are spoilers) and undercut its emotional impact.

I keep harping on how things could’ve been condensed because I read for character first and then for action, even my beloved explosions. The space taken up with bombast could’ve been devoted to giving Kory and Jean-Paul a little more depth, maybe letting them display some strategy or exploring Vic’s internal reaction to his situation. Or to getting to the real uh-oh moment faster and then showing the aftermath beyond this little area.

So instead of a quick BAM! that changes things, we have step one, step two, step three, bang, and then dismayed reaction and a kind of disaster. Don’t get me wrong, the ending is a terrific hook to pull readers ahead to the next issue, but we kind of grind our way through the various confrontations to the big bad moment. I sometimes feel individual comics are paced with an eye toward their place in the structure of the trade edition, should there be one, and not with an eye toward what works for this individual story. This was one of those times.

The art in this issue is nicely done, with intricate detail in the backgrounds and in the characters’ faces. I liked the color highlighting the armor of the Azraelites and Cyborg so it looks like gleaming metal.  The faces are expressive, especially Jessica’s when she realizes how desperate her situation is. The outer space panels are detailed and use red and yellow as an effective contrast with the blackness of space.

What I noticed most about the visuals, though, was colorist Rain Beredo’s use of effects that wouldn’t have been possible when I first started reading comics, back in the days of newsprint paper and limited color ranges. Early in the story, Jessica forms a dome to shield herself and Jean-Paul from Vic’s assault. The dome, of course, is green. But what caught my attention was the way the figures inside still had subtle color highlights and were slightly blurred, as they would be if we looked at them through an energy dome. That wouldn’t have been possible without the color saturation and detailing, better paper, and more sophisticated printing that are the current standard.

The two panels that launch Kori’s fight with Darkseid also benefit from these improvements in the production process. The graduated intensity of the colors in their power bolts and around Darkseid, shading from white to deeper red or yellow, conveys where the highest levels of power are. These gradations of color show the positions of their hands without introducing black lines that would distract from the dramatic effects of all that bright color. The darker blips in their power bursts and the flying debris add to the impression of crackling energy.

Like most folks, I tend not to notice lettering unless it’s hard to read or does something really fun that adds to the story. The caption boxes for Darkseid’s narration are white on black, which can be difficult to read but stood out here and read smoothly. His dialogue was done the same way, but in the usual rounded word balloons. The difference in shape made it easy to distinguish narration from dialogue. It also contrasted with the standard black on white of the other characters’ dialogue. I especially liked Jean Paul’s wavery word balloons with red trim.

As a whole, the story includes some major developments but doesn’t move at a great pace and misses opportunities to build character. It’s very much the culmination of events in earlier issues and would be a confusing jumping-on point.

Recommended if…

  • You’re a fan of Jessica Cruz or Darkseid
  • You like stories that are all action
  • You enjoy seeing heroes in serious trouble
  • You’re already invested in this arc

Overall…

This issue is mostly a series of fights leading to a major development and the next stage of this arc. The individual battles are believable, if sometimes perfunctory, with Jessica’s really standing out. She is the only Leaguer who really gets a chance to show her mettle. The story would’ve been better with less verbose narration from Darkseid and more internal reactions from the heroes.

Score: 6.5/10