You know, I spent a good half-hour trying to think of a clever way to open this review. Sometimes the opening of these articles can be the most difficult, because you’re trying to put your best foot forward for readers looking to your opinion on this issue – a privilege which I greatly appreciate, by the way. Yet despite having done over fifty articles on the website now, I still often find myself up at 3am, reminiscing about that one Spongebob episode. You know the one.

Sometimes, signs of writer’s block can be a bad thing: you’re starting the review of a comic and you already don’t have things to say? What are you doing? Is this comic that dull? Fortunately for the team behind The Garden of Mercy, that couldn’t be further from the truth: I’m struggling to talk about the issue because its quality speaks for itself.

Written by Jeff Loveness (who just got nominated for an Emmy for The Vat of Acid Episode on Rick and Morty!) and penciled by Robson Rocha (alum of Aquaman, Green Lanterns and Supergirl among others), the following issue has been, in my opinion, the first truly fantastic issue of Justice League that I have had the pleasure of reading – and as such, I honestly don’t want to expose too much of what I think makes the issue great. The book had my attention from the get-go, on account of it being essentially a follow-up to Alan Moore’s iconic Superman story, For the Man Who Has Everything. Yeah, I know, the comic book reviewer enjoys a book that’s directly derivative of Alan Moore – shocker, right?

I can see why people might not be sold on the story at first; especially when the premise initially seems to be “the first story, but bigger.” The hook of Moore’s book was a parasitic plant that traps you by placing your mind in its own personal heaven? Well, now it’s an entire planet full of that plant! Superman was the victim in the former comic? Well, now it’s the whole Justice League! Seeing as a lot of recent comics have felt as if “bigger” is being substituted for “better”, I’m sure this would be reason enough for some to dismiss the story. However, I would recommend those feeling a little burned out over Justice League to give this a shot regardless. It does a lot of things that I think a follow-up story should… but more than that, it seems to directly address the serious concerns I’ve been having over this book as of late, as well as the direction of DC as a whole.

The premise of this issue is simple enough, really: if you’ve read the solicit, you know what you’re in for here. I don’t think you should go into this book expecting a mind-blowing plot: Part 1 is about how the League find themselves trapped in the grip of this parasitic planet, and Part 2 is going to be about how they escape it. What this means, however, is that Loveness can spend the entire issue focusing his efforts on character work. My favourite of the numerous creative decisions that were made here was in making the Black Mercy a character in and of itself: acting in equal parts narrator and the devil on the protagonist’s shoulder, the narrative voice born from this becomes one of the best parts of the issue. Maybe it’s this website’s bias starting to show here, but I also think Loveness made an excellent call in deciding to spend most of his time on Batman! Not only was it the logical next character to tackle after Moore’s extensive dive into Superman, but Batman more than any other character represents the issues that this comic tries to tackle: creative stagnation.

The plight of Batman in this issue is, in many ways, the plight of comic book readers. We see Loveness addressing the nature of the status quo in this issue, where the Black Mercy attempts to dig under Bruce’s skin as the League investigates the mysterious planet that they’ve found themselves drawn towards. Sure, you’re not breaking new territory by being a writer who says “wow, status quo kind of sucks, huh?” in a comic – but to find an interesting new method of approaching it is always a net positive. Through allowing the Black Mercy to read Bruce’s mind and history, we’re able to get an excellent villain monologue with some effective metacommentary, as well as an intriguing introspection on Batman; one that doesn’t require him to speak any more than he needs to. I’m almost sad that Loveness has to be tied down to the few status quo changes that HAVE been made, seeing as they may be temporary: I have to wonder if relating it to such stories will make this one feel more dated if I wanted to come back and read it in several years. That said, even that can work in the story’s favour: one of my favourite parts of the issue is the parasite digging into Batman’s inferiority complex towards Superman, and how Bruce will never have the confidence to stand out of the shadows. It’s this kind of care towards the characters in this book that makes me respect its genuine attempt at analysis in a universe that often feels like it never moves forward.

I honestly could talk about this stuff for hours – and will, if people in the comments want to. But it’s so late in the night that it’s early in the morning right now, and I’d feel like a total hack if I didn’t spend the rest of my time on this review singing the praises of the art. Robson Rocha has done a spectacular job on this book, and if an artist of his calibre wasn’t handling the story with the gravitas that it deserves, then I’d be hesitant to rate it so highly.  This book plays out, in many ways, like a cosmic horror: a story of personal reflection being the accessible pathway for audiences to perceive threats and dangers beyond what can usually be comprehensible. The arrival of the League on the planet is all one needs to show about this issue to get the point across: reminiscent of movies such as Alien, the dead giant orbiting around the planet’s atmosphere creates a layer of visual storytelling simply not accessible with narration or extensive dialogue.

If I had any criticisms, it would probably be regarding the coloring. Make no mistake, inker Daniel Henriques and colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr help this book shine, with excellent attention to detail that makes the entire issue pop, each panel being very vibrant and memorable. I also like the slightly faded tint during each scene that takes place within a flashback or a vision; it creates a visual distinction that makes the story easier to follow. Honestly, the one critique I would have is that it’s too vibrant. This comic has an incredibly sinister vibe, and while I adore how the Black Mercy look in this colouring, I wonder if there was a chance to give the story a more significantly ominous aura, through darker colors and shades to make the reader more in fear of the plant’s sinister shadows. That said, they managed to make some scenes incredibly chilling regardless… I won’t share my favourite panel here, but I’ll share the one that’s slightly to the right of it.

What this does is create a comic that is, yes, derivative of an Alan Moore story – but in the best possible way, in my opinion. What it does is take a concept that has been brought forward by one writer, then expands upon it with a fresh new take from a voice who may have not yet been heard. This speaks to the nature of comics at their best: building on other work like collaborators should, creating a mythos greater than the sum of its parts. A mythos that, importantly, is capable of tackling its own redundancy, thanks to stories like this.

Recommended If:

  • You’ve been waiting for a Justice League comic that REALLY keeps your attention!
  • The Black Mercy is a concept you’d like to see further developed and fleshed-out.
  • You’re a fan of stories such as Alien: character pieces with hints at a larger, darker world, hiding deep within the void of space.
  • You don’t want to spend much money; this story is only going to be two issues long before Doom Metal begins.

Overall

This review was difficult to write, but that’s only because I’m once again tackling something that reignites my appreciation for the medium of comic books. Only in a comic can you make something like this and have it not only be genuinely good, but actually substantive in what it wants to say – even if that’s just about the nature of comics in general. I’d love to see more from this team; I’d say I would watch their future work with great interest, but that would be implying they don’t have fantastic work already. Check it out if you can, as it is exactly what I’ve been asking for from this book: an arc that doesn’t overstay its welcome, and knows the most important story it wants to tell with the time it has. That’s the kind of story I can recommend spending money on, and I REALLY hope Part 2 sticks the landing.

Score: 9/10

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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