We’ve done it! It’s over!
Well, sort of. Justice League has been something of a mess since… well, in all honesty, since I started reviewing the comic. While having several ups and downs since the end of Scott Snyder’s run, issues #40 through #74 have been, above all else, directionless. Bendis’ arrival hinted at the iconic team having a purpose and a larger role in the DCU once more… only for the team to find themselves yet again stuck in the same rut of purposeless story after purposeless story. That’s thirty-five issues spent giving the Justice League nothing to do! Think of what some of your favourite runs have accomplished in thirty-five issues – or even one! If we average my reviews to 1000 words each, that’ll give you approximately 35,000 words written about this series: and that’s 35,000 words about a whole lot of nothing.
It makes a gal glad to see the series end with #75, let me tell you. But we’ve got one more hurdle to go: the last of Bendis’ issues. Several circumstances prevented me from reviewing these earlier, so I’m combining them all into one final article: a last hurrah of the life and times of the Justice League under Brian Michael Bendis. Before, you know, they all die. If you’ve read my reviews before now, you probably know what I’m going to think about these books… so, hopefully, this won’t take long.
Justice League Annual 2021 #1
(For the record, this did come out in 2022. I’m not that late, that’s DC’s fault.)
What’s fascinating about the latest (and final!) annual of this Justice League volume is, in a strange way, what infuriates me about the main series itself. Brian Michael Bendis’ writing stint on Justice League has been a lot of things, but calm is not one of them: even in issues where the team is primarily in the Hall of Justice, characters are talking so fast and for so long that it barely feels like the characters (or the readers) have a moment to themselves. In “The Return”, we see yet again an issue filled to the brim with dialogue… but this time, the League is faced with an enemy that talks even faster than these characters do. It’s going to sound strange to say this, but the way it’s presented – similar to Bendis’ usual style, but different enough to stand out – is oddly refreshing. Okay, Annual, you’ve got my attention.
This issue presents itself as a prequel to Bendis and Scott Godlewski’s Justice League vs the Legion of Super-Heroes book, which would make me pawn this off onto Cam if he weren’t busy trying to unpack Robins. I certainly hope it’s a prequel – it doesn’t stand very well on its own, though does present a genuinely enthralling premise for what’s to come! It’s refreshing to see elements of a Bendis book I actually like once again, honestly. Let’s be clear, though: I certainly don’t like everything in this issue. The back-and-forth between characters has only grown worse over time, and that trend continues here.
But, unlike many other issues, there’s a lot to like here too! This is the issue that tackles what it’s like for the League to accept Wonder Woman back into their ranks, and all the nuances that come with it: Diana and Hippolyta convening about their time on the team, meeting Naomi and having an adventure together, and Wonder Woman learning of Black Adam’s position in their group. It’s handled quite well, and while dialogue continues to be a problem, it does feel fun to watch the characters all interact. That’s partially helped by the art, of course – Sanford Greene is probably the best artist this book has had in a while, and the issue has an aura of genuine warmth to it that has been missing from the book.
I wish Bendis leaned into this more, really. The art can’t always be helped – when you have an artist like Greene (assisted in colours by Matt Herms), you can’t always expect them to fit a regular release schedule for comic books (as much as I wish that were the case here). I think I’d like some of these more mundane Justice League stories if they were portrayed with this kind of heart and charm – if you’re going to make a book feel like a Saturday morning cartoon, make the vibe feel as welcoming as those cartoons did all those years ago.
But more than that, I wish Bendis focused on things like the above page more. There’s a serious lack of community felt in the Justice League nowadays: it’s something the characters are discussing at the very beginning of the run, and while Bendis loves to sprinkle cameo after cameo across these books, it never feels like it’s enough. In this issue, Bendis comes closer than he’s ever been to fulfilling that mission statement. I guess I just wish it was more common.
With all of this in mind, I think I can say this is easily the best issue Bendis has done in a while. Then again, that’s not a high standard to reach, and it’s one majorly assisted by an amazing artist who carries the story’s presentation.
Justice League #73
Honestly, what Constantine says here should have been said about ten issues ago.
Look, there’s a temptation to copy and paste my review for Justice League #72 – because everything, and I do mean everything, that I said in that review applies here. In fact, I’d say it’s dialled up even further! Kudranski’s art is beyond phenomenal here, with a level of gravitas one should be reserving for a book like Multiversity. Better yet, I’d love to see this on an indie series of his own (check out A Town Called Terror in April, hint hint). So it’s all the more frustrating when we jump from this:
I’m under no illusions that the latter panel is quite difficult to draw. When you’re illustrating twelve characters sitting on a desk in the same shot, you have to make that look interesting without it feeling overly crowded – not an easy feat by any means. What bothers me is the inconsistency, here. I don’t always mind books that rotate between artists, but here the gap between style and content is so large that I feel like I get whiplash whenever I turn the page of this book.
If you think I’m going to say more about the story here, I wish I could give you anything of substance. However, I’m not sure Bendis has all that much substance to show us. As usual, there’s a lot of talking around the subject until they inevitably reach the point: the League must confront Nabu, the being who lives inside the helmet of Doctor Fate. That doesn’t go particularly well, and we’re left on a cliffhanger for #74… a cliffhanger that, in case you didn’t notice, is spoiled on the cover of #73.
At this point, I’m emotionally checked out. Whenever this book has moments that actually deliver, they feel like a tease: a tickling of the senses, a voice whispering in my ear and asking me if I want more, only to disappear into the wind. I don’t really see how I can recommend this.
Justice League #74
This is it. Bendis’ final issue of Justice League. To think, all seventeen issues of his run have taken us across the entire universe, from different planets to brand new dimensions. It’s a wonder that this all took place in a week, in-universe.
…Hang on, what?
I’ve spent the last year of my life – to this day, might I add – reviewing a story that takes place over a week?!
Bullshit. BULL shit. You can make me believe that Black Adam is possessed by a god of Chaos, and Naomi is a magical amplifier that can break the curse with a giant beam of yellow energy. Fine. Whatever. You can NOT make me believe that everything from issue 59 onwards has taken place in a goddamn week. I don’t know why this is making me so mad.
Actually, I know exactly why! To me, this just confirms that the book really means next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. The framing of the plot is that the entire thing is a week in Naomi’s life… and when that fact is suddenly revealed, it’s difficult to see this as anything other than an interim chapter between Naomi seasons One and Two. This book is, quite literally, filler – and it flat-out tells you it’s filler by the end. I’m sure it’s somewhat rewarding for Naomi fans, and that’s great for them, but this is a book about the biggest team in the DC Universe! Do you think that it might deserve a little more than the role of second-fiddle to one character’s solo arc?
Apparently, it doesn’t. How did we get to a place where the only meaningful thing the Justice League can do is die?
No, I’m not going into more detail about the plot. Screw the plot. If any of the plot were important, then you would have heard it from me long ago.
One thing I will say is that, despite it all, a couple of characters do manage to get a few good scenes in. Constantine is a character who, like Green Arrow, fits rather well with Bendis’ overly talkative style. There’s a moment in this book where he gets to shine, and in those few panels, he absolutely steals the show. It was perhaps the only moment where, for a second, I didn’t know where the plot was going to go.
Sadly, there’s not much else to write home about. No one is playing to their strengths with the art here, with Kudranski handling the majority of the nigh-impossible to parse action. The colours and poses are as beautiful as ever, but the monsters the League is fighting are so nonspecific that I can’t get a sense of them at all. It’s so hard to tell what’s going on for so many pages, that I’d be more frustrated if I still had hope that this would be a satisfying ending.
No two ways about saying this: I don’t like a thing about this issue. The only reason it’s not scoring a 1 is because, through it all, Naomi remains a consistent character… and seeing as Naomi is practically the only character that matters here, I suppose that’s the book accomplishing its goal as intended. God.
Anyway, look forward to none of this being relevant next issue, when the entire League gets killed off. DC’s really bringing their best, here.
- You enjoy the works of Brian Michael Bendis. All of them.
- You’re willing to sit through the writing for an amazingly illustrated Annual, or several issues where some of the art is nigh-perfect… but only some.
I’d like to ask a genuine question. Who here – and I do mean this sincerely – has stuck by Bendis’ writing for all this time? I doubt Bendis will ever read these reviews (and for good reason, they have not been generous!), but I want to be clear that I express no ill will for the writer. The man has written some positively seminal stuff, and his Ultimate Spider-Man is probably one of the main reasons I’m sitting here reviewing this today. I don’t think it can be understated how much Bendis has done for the comic book world in terms of accesibility and representation, and I still know he has the skill to make masterpieces. Action Comics, for a time, managed to get me fully invested in Superman comics again – and Batman Universe is one of the best Batman books in recent history. I believe both of these things with my entire being, and that’s one reason why making these reviews has been particularly painful.
(That, and the books just aren’t fun to read.)
So, I want to end this with a question: what, if anything, keeps you coming back to Bendis? Because I think there’s a world where this book could have been good… maybe even great. I can honestly say I’d like to live in that world.
Bendis’ Run on Justice League: 4/10
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with copies of these comics for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch