I genuinely don’t know what to think of the conclusion to Robert Venditti’s “Cold War” arc.
I’ve sat with it a while, and I’m still not really sure about it. It’s not that the ending is particularly mind-boggling, or even particularly bad; really, this issue is about the same level of quality as the rest of the arc, if a little less impactful now that the novelty of the Justice League involved in mythological machinations has worn off a little bit. Hell, I’d go so far as to say that this is one of the best ways the comic could have ended – because instead of another arbitrary macguffin that solves the plot, the story comes to a realistic, built-up conclusion, and manages to actually say something in the process.
I’m just not entirely sure I agree with what it has to say.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Venditti does a few things in this story that I think give its finale a great sense of weight, but I think some of the writing takes a dip in the process. For starters, the introduction of Tartarus, living embodiment of Hell, feels a little late in the game. Logically, it makes sense that there would be an evil force hiding within the underworld, but the final chapter spends most of its time devoted to the fight against Tartarus – a little out-of-the-blue when he was only brought into play on the final page of the previous issue. Despite his inclusion being clunky, I do understand why he’s a necessary presence. If you’re writing a story like this, there’s an obligation to conclude your epic with a final battle, the stakes bigger than ever. In that respect, Venditti does well – it’s very satisfying to watch the League be overwhelmed, only for reinforcements to swoop in at the last moment, like Gandalf riding in with the Rohirrim at Helm’s Deep. There’s a nice weight to the fight, and Venditti is quite good at balancing the role each member of the League has to play in it – not so much Batman, but that’s kind of inevitable when you put him in a room with an evil god as old as time. The guy can only grapple to so many rocks.
I also feel that the dialogue feels a bit stilted. It’s in service of the climax, which does have a few poignant phrases, but the build-up to it doesn’t feel natural. I think this is because a lot of the dialogue is building on the conflicts established in earlier issues, some of which works and some doesn’t. While Batman and Superman have good cause to disagree, the conflict between Wonder Woman and Aquaman never made much sense, and Flash has been consistently interjecting himself with nothing to actively say throughout this entire story. I know you kind of have to have a final battle here, but spending more time on the League’s festering resentments would have made the climax of the story a little more important. As it is, a lot of these complaints feel petty, and not something the characters would want to atone for in their final moments. Except Barry, who just comes off as kind of an ass in this panel.
One thing I’ve managed to happily throw praise at throughout the entirety of this arc is the artwork, which I feel consistently gave this story the attention it needed to sell its premise. Every character feels like they’re either ants on the chess table of giants, or behemoths that could break the world with a single footstep. This is the kind of scale and impact that the story needed to reel the audience in. Do I love Tartarus showing up at the last second? No. Do I love how he looks towering over the League, ready to crush them as their tiny silhouettes fight back as best they can? Yes. It reminds me of some of the best set pieces from 2018’s God of War, with Kratos and Atreus walking among the corpses of giants.
Everything Barrows and colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr do with the Spectre is fantastic, as well, with Corrigan and his heavenly counterpart surrounded by depraved creatures leering at him, soaked in a green hue. It’s one of the biggest selling points of the issue, so I won’t show too much if you are looking to pick this up.
What this all builds to, though, is the ending. Since the beginning of the arc (which is called “Cold War” because… why?), we’ve seen Corrigan lost in the pits of Tartarus (the place, not the buff guy), damning himself to solitude just to be rid of his bond with the Spectre. Finally, at the end of the story, we see how the dreaded status quo reasserts itself. With the League moments away from death at the hands of Tartarus, they forgive one another for their squabbles – and in this moment, Corrigan finds it within himself to forgive as well.
Specifically, he forgives God.
Once he forgives God for cursing him with his role as the Spectre’s host – and allows the Spectre to return to his body – the balance of the world is restored. Fighting children hug it out, brawling barmates buy their new bros some beers (fuck, that was fun to type), and UN representatives stop punching each other and shake hands, declaring peace to win the day. All because a simple, humble man allowed himself to forgive his creator. It comes from a place of good intentions, and it’s nice to read a comic that actively works to tell its readers something valuable.
…But also, what the hell?
I’m sorry, but I don’t think the message really works here beyond a superficial level. I don’t want to get into actual religious theology (we can do that on my Twitter, which I am shamelessly plugging at the bottom of the review!), but in the world of DC, God is unequivocally real – and kind of an asshole! Why the hell does this dick deserve forgiveness? It’s not like any other deities in the DC multiverse are unimpeachable, and this guy is dooming Corrigan to the horrors of every human’s worst impulses on a day to day basis. Forgiveness is important, sure, but it’s also gotta be earned! What the hell has this God done for Corrigan lately? Flash mentions at the end of the issue that he hopes the League doesn’t have to fight God; screw that! Punch the guy! He could use a good smack, up there all high and mighty, playing foosball in heaven with Tom Jones.
You might think this is petty (because it is), but I actually do have a larger point here. Forgiveness is incredibly important, and I appreciate Venditti for actually making a story that drives home how it’s always going to be more productive than needless anger. But to have forgiveness, you also need to have accountability. We see that in this issue with the Justice League, admitting their faults and moving past it – but this message is supposed to apply on a societal scale too, with entire nations smiling and shaking hands, pledging to peace. In that sense, the message feels somewhat performative, reminiscent of Gal Gadot’s infamous “Imagine” video. It’s very easy to ask everyone to move past their faults on paper, but it glosses over the harm people have done – the people, organizations, nations, who screw over lives upon lives and refuse to acknowledge, accept and atone for those deeds. This feels particularly important to bring up now, with socio-political tensions higher than ever; and with good cause, too. Comics are written well in advance, so it obviously wasn’t Venditti’s intention to comment on any particularly recent events – but reading this story made me wonder if it’s really productive to present forgiveness as such a simple concept, ignoring the work that needs to be done for forgiveness to be feasible.
Then again, maybe it’s nice to live in a world where it is that simple, even for a moment. It would be nice to have a clean slate, to move past biases and take new steps forward. So while I might disagree with the ending in some respects, I’m glad that this book had something positive to say about humanity and the future. No matter what you think of the ending to this ultimately decent story, I do feel that Spectre’s final line makes a valuable point.
- You’d like a more optimistic take on humanity and where we’re going – that’s not a bad desire.
- You’ve got some spare money to invest on a fairly good Justice League comic with some very visually appealing artwork.
- Spectre stories are up your alley; this was ultimately a fairly strong one, at least within the realms of a Justice League book.
Ultimately, my nitpicking at a message that’s, at the end of the day, well-intentioned, doesn’t actually impact the story that much. I think the book is fine – better than fine in some respects, and definitely a step up from the last arc. It’s a good read through and through, and an intermission that actually feels like it adds something to the history and team dynamics of the Justice League. You’re not missing out on much if you skip this, but if you can check it out, I think you’ll enjoy a story that manages to keep the League grounded while presenting a conflict of impressive, yet proportional, scale.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch