When’s the last time you really cared about the Justice League?
For me, it was probably 2018, with the conclusion of No Justice shortly following Dark Nights: Metal. There was a level of momentum to that story that I adored, and it bought me enough good will to enjoy a lot of Snyder and Tynion’s writing throughout their stint on the title. That concluded in 2020 with a somewhat imperfect issue #39; but by that point, the effort these two writers had put into the book throughout the years at least had my interest.
Coincidentally, issue #39 was the last issue of Justice League before I took over. With some exceptions, I have reviewed the title consistently since then… and aside from Garden of Mercy, I have not enjoyed this comic. With today’s issue being the final entry of the Justice League Dark backup, you are now out of any possible reason to buy this book – so this review will be a celebration of an amazing backup, followed by an analysis of what exactly is going wrong with the main title.
Justice League Dark: Wolves at the Door
I feel a little bad, admittedly – I did not take the time to review the Justice League Dark annual that came out recently. For those wondering, I did think it was good! It gave much needed depth to Merlin’s character, and acted as something of a breather for our cast after an intense story arc that pushed them to their very limits. But that’s what it was – merely a breath between two stories. This issue is much the sam, but by the final page, V and Kumar seek to make their audience inhale with anticipation once again.
In Wolves at the Door, Doctor Fate is the centre of attention! Through his narration, we’re able to see where every character in the League Dark stands with each other by the end of V’s run. Fate has appeared sporadically throughout the story, so I was very glad to see him get a spotlight. I absolutely love how Khalid Nassour is written: a young man starting to forget how young he is with the weight of the world on his shoulders. His interaction with each member of the JLD says something different about them, and it’s especially nice for characters who I felt could have used a little extra time in the sun. Detective Chimp, most of all, was a welcome part of this chapter.
Once again, I want to bring attention to Elnara Roshtu. Of all the characters that have been at play in Justice League Dark, Elnara has easily been my favourite! I think not only is her design and backstory phenomenal, but she brings the book an air of unique authenticity: similar to how audiences must have felt about Captain America when he stepped out of the ice. It would be a serious waste if Elnara never appears again – not only do I hope Ram V returns to write her, but I hope her character propels in importance as the years go by.
Finally, this is my last chance to say this, so let’s reiterate one more time: artist Sumit Kumar and colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr. are beyond perfect here. It’s incredibly hard to top Xermanico’s art – his work left an incredibly strong impression on me with the previous arc – but these two manage to go above and beyond with every chapter, especially this one. The way Kumar inks his illustrations is masterful. I think he has a brilliant understanding of when shadows are appropriate, and what exactly they serve to hide in any given scene. Whether it’s to make a character seem sinister by hiding part of their face, or making them seem despondent when hiding it all, it doesn’t matter; Kumar knows just how to use his artistic prowess to the benefit of this book.
Fajardo Jr.’s colouring is the perfect compliment to that. The light, fuzzy filter he puts over this chapter’s collages, the warm tones in the skin of his characters, the glow of the magic that permeates throughout the story – it’s all a wonderful tapestry of work, and it’s the kind that makes me excited to read comics. In equal measure, I’m very sad to see this one end.
I have problems with how abrupt this ending is… but I get the feeling I’ll be talking plenty about that come next review, when Bendis begins his crossover with the JLD in his final three issues. For now, I want to celebrate this story for all the good it did: the creativity of the scriptwriting, the brilliant visuals, and the ability to make me care so much about these characters every time, with only ten pages every issue. This is a fantastic story despite the circumstances, and it has earned all the more praise for it. Don’t expect this to be my last word on this book.
Justice League: The Biggest Score Ever
Alright, I’m just gonna say it: do you give a shit about what’s happening here? Because I certainly don’t.
In this issue, Bendis tries to pull a Resevoir Dogs – more interested in the specifics of the “before” and “after” of a heist gone wrong. The action in this issue is mostly contained within three splash double-page spreads, with the rest of the book more concerned with the aftermath, and the character dynamics behind the Royal Flush Gang and the League. Personally, I think the decision is lazy. Yes, we’re seeing action, but none of it means anything: it’s the equivalent of a quick montage, the danger resolved just as quickly as it emerged. If you want to do that for comedic effect, that’s fine… but in the process, you’re putting a lot of weight on penciller Phil Hester to sell it.
Because of that, I don’t think I can blame Hester for not giving us something all that impressive. There are elements to this splash page that are very pleasant, and at a distance I think it’s enjoyable enough – but then you focus on the details, and it becomes clear that this art doesn’t feel well-suited to action. These characters seem stiff, and not all that emotive. I’ve mentioned this before, of course, but I think the problem is made worse when the action is the only thing we see for six pages straight. If your story only has three panels across six pages, and they only tell us one thing, then maybe that story needs a rewrite.
There is a little to like in this issue, though. Once you get past the middling story with the Royal Flush Gang – and some completely uninteresting matters with Checkmate – Bendis starts playing to his strengths for a moment, and shows the League having a genuine and open conversation with Green Arrow. It was genuinely nice to see Batman thanking Oliver for funding the League and Checkmate (even if his wide smile seemed out of character), and I loved how Green Arrow and Black Adam found themselves at odds when discussing the nature of power. There was a level of nuance to it that makes me hopeful that in the final chapters, we might finally see why Black Adam is even on the team in the first place. This book wants me to care about what’s going on… and while I really like to think I’ve tried, it has far too few of those scenes and far too many of these.
I mean. Seriously.
- You want to buy Justice League Dark in floppies? Sadly, it does look like the story is leading into a crossover arc with Bendis as writer.
- You’re at least somewhat interested in Checkmate, Green Arrow and Black Adam.
- Look, it’s a genuine effort to think of things to write here.
It’s going to be a genuine shame to see the Justice League Dark team leave, but they could be writing the next To Kill a Mockingbird and it still wouldn’t make me recommend this book. Justice League has been a directionless mess since before Bendis began, and while I don’t think killing the team off is the way to make this book interesting again… well, anything’s better than the state it’s in right now. Let’s hope it picks up in its final issues, because right now, I’m excited to be done with these reviews.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch