I think one of the most interesting parts about my job so far has been discovering the nuances of pacing in a comic book. 

Twenty pages is, realistically, not a lot of space for a story to flourish. How many novels have you read that are twenty pages long? While we’ve seen some DC creators given more space to let their stories grow under the Black Label, most need to work within issues that can be read in a good twenty minutes, give or take. One-offs are hard to nail because of that – short stories with an even lesser page count, even harder. It’s no wonder that people like writer Robert Venditti feel the need to let their tales breathe over several issues, so that we don’t feel like we’re being thrown around on a rollercoaster we didn’t even get a ticket for. 

That said, in my reviews of his previous Justice League arc, I questioned if it was worth being a four-issue story. Pacing is a difficult thing, and while I couldn’t see that story working in one or two issues, I couldn’t help but wonder if we needed to dedicate so much time to what was ultimately a fairly standard, episodic adventure. If you want to take your time with a comic, but your story is a simple one without much to chew on, you need to provide something else to satisfy the audience with, as they wait from week to week.

Fortunately, thanks to a cool premise and some stellar artwork from Xermanico, I’d say that this issue delivers.

Part one of Cold War (we really gotta stop using the title “Cold War” for ice-related stories) is not a complicated plot to get behind: much like the first issue of his previous arc, Venditti spends these pages setting up what we pretty much already know in solicitations. The Justice League are investigating Antarctica, and help Aquaman fend off creatures from the pits of Tartarus. For some reason, the Spectre is involved. You can play out a concept like this in a lot of different ways, but Venditti wisely elects to highlight the action over anything too complicated. What has been written isn’t bad, of course! The team all feel in character, and it’s nice to see them work together so effectively as a cohesive unit, each allowing the others to have their moment. John Stewart is stepping further into a leadership position within the group – which doesn’t feel like it tracks with other JL stories, but I like it – and I enjoy Aquaman and Diana’s worlds continuing to intersect, like they did in Drowned Earth

One minor issue I had was that, at the end, the League is hit with the effects of the Spectre’s magic, and they begin to turn on each other… but, if I’m honest, it felt a little forced to me. On the one hand, Batman and Green Lantern begin to bicker, which has definitely been established in previous issues – I hope their story has some sense of conclusion before Venditti leaves the book. On the other hand, Superman’s hidden resentment doesn’t feel right to me, and I really don’t see the reason behind Wonder Woman and Aquaman starting to fight. This isn’t a big point, but when the written content in the book isn’t all that meaty, this is all I got. Overall, it’s alright!

So, let’s get to what I think the real standout is here: this good, good, dear god it’s good, art. 

I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve seen from Xermanico: I’ve had no complaints from what I’ve seen in his issues of Injustice and Green Lantern: Blackstars. It’s great to see him drawing a high-profile book like this, and it’s well-deserved: especially because the book is undoubtedly of a scale that fits his talents. Honestly, I could simply post this image as proof of how well-done the illustrations in this issue are, and not say another word:

…But I’m gonna keep talking anyway, because I have more to say. Before I continue, I want to give special props to colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr for his excellent work in this issue. The frigid, pale blue of the arctic is wonderfully juxtaposed by the bright, but not garish, outfits of the Justice League. More than that, though, it can NOT be easy to distinguish between at least four serpentine creatures, two of which have multiple heads; the clear distinctions Romulo makes between each creature really helps with coherency.

Xermanico’s work, meanwhile, goes beyond just how pretty everything looks. I don’t know how closely he and Venditti worked on this issue – one of my goals this year is to interview several artists to get a better sense of their work days in the industry – but the action is incredibly clear. Despite Wonder Woman fighting and leaping amidst a sea of monsters that could so easily look identical, she manages to stand out: her movements, along with the rest of the League’s, are clear and easy to follow, despite how small these humans are among the monstrous giants.

There’s some excellent border work, too! Some of the panels involving Batman and Flash literally shake through the pages, as they barely avoid a crash landing.

But – and this is what really tipped the scales for me regarding this issue – I can’t go without mentioning Xermanico’s borders during the League’s fight with the Greek monsters. I’ve seen some fun borders in comics before – the hand of the Batman Who Laughs creeping over the panels in Dark Nights: Metal – Gotham Resistance was really cool, for example! This feels like it’s on a completely different level, though. The symbols and etchings around the page make it feel like the story is its own tapestry, perhaps told over stained glass – more than anything, it’s a great method of highlighting the mythic nature of the battle. I’m not just referring to the creatures of Greek myth, either: it’s not an uncommon phenomenon to compare the Superhero of today to the Greek Legend of yesterday, and these pages almost feel like a testament to that effect. It’s a great moment in a book that elevates it above its fun but relatively standard story, and it’s what made rereading the book for this review so rewarding.

Recommended If…

  • The concept of the Superhero as Myth is something that you like! I’ve been meaning to read Grant Morrison’s Supergods to learn more about the subject, so if anyone in the comments has read it, please let me know. This issue has great visual evidence to this effect.
  • You’d rather have simple stories told effectively in the pages of Justice League, as opposed to tales of cosmic importance.
  • I mean, come on, giant monsters are always pretty fun. You like giant monsters? God, this book is pretty.

Overall

I don’t particularly mind if the rest of the arc doesn’t hold up as well as this issue in the coming weeks: I can’t see myself finding this story bad, and in a worst-case scenario, it’ll still probably be a decent read like Venditti’s Eradicator arc. What I’m happy about is, in this issue at least, I had a great time with the visuals that the writer, illustrator and colourist have worked together to bring to the table. They’ve managed to make me invested in a story that I know isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, and that’s always a good job!

Score: 8/10

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

Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch