Last month, the fractious team of Okkult, Hax, and Dex-Starr used a device that tracked Omega energy (such as Darkseid uses) to try to locate New Gods and beam them to their base as allies. Unfortunately, they retrieved only Blackfire, who seriously did not appreciate being yanked away from Tamaran, a big, mysterious box, and Jessica Cruz’s withered corpse. The final sequence in the book pitted Okkult’s team and Blackfire against a horde of Darkseid’s parademons. The fight wasn’t going well for the heroes when Jessica, looking remarkably healthy for a former corpse, entered the fray.

This issue picks up from there. Although it contains a couple of important revelations, it doesn’t move the overall story forward much and tells us nothing specific about Darkseid, Kori, Vic, and Jean-Paul. I was disappointed about not seeing the three Leaguers, but the way this issue spotlights Jessica makes up for the lack.

Before I launch into discussing the story, I want to share a little of my fannish background so you’ll understand why this book appealed to me so much. I became a comics fan before geekdom went mainstream. It especially was not cool for girls to be into comics, and on-page role models were not ideal. Wonder Woman frequently needed Steve Trevor to rescue her, she and Black Canary were shunted off to deal with JLA wounded in one issue (no lie!), and just thinking about Lois Lane, Lana Lang, and their frequent plots to unmask/marry Superman gives me a headache. Fast-forward to now, with geeks a pop culture force, and we have many strong female characters who delight me every time I read one of their adventures. Every time. I always liked Jessica Cruz, but this story catapults her onto my favorites list.

This Jessica is light years from the woman who feared leaving her apartment and needed Batman’s help to find her courage. This woman will kick butt, take names, and claim all the authority of the Justice League even if she’s the only Leaguer present. The image on the cover illustrates this perfectly, as do her interactions with the other characters. Take the sequence below. Okkult has been Mr. I Am In Charge, and Jessica isn’t having it. I love the authority and resolve she demonstrates because they show us how far she has come in recognizing her inner strength and developing her confidence.

If you’re wondering why Jessica is no longer the withered corpse we saw last issue, it’s because  some interaction between Darkseid’s Omega energy and her power ring apparently brought her back to life (or maybe kept her from completely dying, though she appeared to be dead) and is healing her. I like this development because it twists Darkseid’s weapon around on him in ways no one expected and he won’t be ready for. Nasty surprises for characters, if handled well, pump up a story’s stakes and heighten the conflict.

The story also included a touching sequence of Jessica hearing the message Vic embedded in her ring. You may remember the flashback of him doing that on page one of issue #13. It showed us good things about Vic but had no punch. This sequence, depicting what his expressions of concern about the situation and faith in her ability to handle it mean to her, has greater emotional power. It also shows us more about her supposedly destroyed ring, adding another reason to read the next issue.

As for actual plot progression, the main development is Sepulkore moving away with the heroes tracking it. While they do, we learn why they have no reinforcements. We also get two important revelations—Okkult’s identity and the importance of the mystery box teleported aboard in the last issue. These developments make the heroes’ situation much worse and set up a cliffhanger leading to the next issue. While I generally like cliffhangers, this one was handled oddly. The last panel shows two characters looking up at something they clearly dread. Panels like that at the end of a book usually precede a splash page that shows us what they’re seeing so we worry about what happens next (and buy the next book). I still want to see what happens, but I feel as though this issue bypassed the chance for a dramatic hook.

Spoiler

Unfortunately, the various artists on this book don’t illustrate Jessica’s injuries and ongoing recovery consistently, which distracts from the story rather than enhancing it. This may be a result of too many cooks in the kitchen. This book has two pencillers and four inkers, and I sometimes felt as though they not only ignored what each other had done but ignored what they had done themselves in prior panels. As you can see in the examples below, the damage to her face and uniform are almost absent in one panel, more visible in the next, and yet more visible and not an exact match in the one after that. At the bottom of the next page (the solo panel), she looks even worse.

 

If the damage isn’t consistent because Jessica’s recovery is uneven, with relapses, somebody in the story should notice and comment on that. Such a problem would raise the stakes and make us even more eager to see what comes next. But since no one mentions it, I can only conclude these inconsistences are merely annoying inattention to in-issue continuity.

Recommended if…

• Jessica’s transition from shrinking violet to interstellar warrior grabs you
• You enjoy the buildup to a showdown
• The unmasking of mystery characters is your thing

Overall

Because of Jessica’s development and the revelations in the story, it moved along without being boring. The visuals, however, were not consistent and so didn’t support the developments with her character as they should have. I appreciated the revelations that make the coming confrontation with Darkseid even bigger, but I’m ready to get to it.

Score: 7.5/10


Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.