Ah, screw it. Spoilers, I suppose.
I was going to write a long-winded analogy about something fun I could compare this book to, but it’s not worth my time. This book isn’t fun – why should I pretend, even for a moment, that I’m having fun discussing it? Let’s get into one of the worst books I’ve read in a long time.
No, I’m not kidding. This isn’t hyperbole. I, with all of my heart, loathe the final issue of Justice League: the nail in the coffin for DC’s most disappointing child. This book began with a consistent story and vision, then languished in editorial apathy, had its swansong with a writer whose dialogue felt like the literary equivalent of getting a swirlie, and finally… this. How the mighty have fallen.
If you’re wondering what the actual meat of this story is, don’t bother. The book is exactly what it says on the tin: this is how the Justice League, regular and Incarnate, die. Oh, and Zatanna has to get shafted too, for some reason. The rest of the issue is not about anything, really. We’re not talking about a complex and layered storyline built on characters making decisions: we’re talking a book that only wants one thing, which is to put all the characters in the places they need to be in when they die.
Rafa Sandoval does a great job of adapting this mess and making it seem coherent, despite it all. When the characters aren’t busy dumping reduntant exposition in your face (we get it, Justice League Incarnate was important!), Sandoval’s pencils truly do make the characters seem as heroic as the situation calls for. There’s a sense of presence to the characters, from the way their chests jut out as they strike a heroic pose, to the way waves of enemies ripple into the air when one throws a punch of cosmic proportions. There are moments when it really does feel like the team of heroes are making one last stand at the end of everything, and it makes me all the more frustrated that it’s written like a bunch of action figures are fighting on the floor of a kid’s living room.
When you think of this as someone playing with all of their action figures, the way this comic is written starts to make a lot of sense. There’s a sense of obligation in everything these characters do – the Justice League are not sent on a grand quest to save the universe, but rather are transported to a planet minutes before they are attacked by “all the strongest villains of all time, controlled by the even more strongestest villain of all time. Oh, and even Darkseid thinks they’re bad!”
Then the issue turns into a fight where every character is just going through the motions for a few pages – before Pariah, who’s evil now for some reason, decides to take his toys and go home. “Oh, he shoots a beam that’s so strong that it just vaporizes and kills everyone, except Black Adam who survives because he’s so strong and cool and we’ve been trying to make him important because his movie’s coming out this year!”
What do I care about any of this? All of the dialogue is so interchangeable, and none of the characters make any decisions that any other character in the scene wouldn’t have made. Green Arrow being injured in battle could just as easily have been Batman, or Martian Manhunter, or whoever, because this book isn’t about anything. It stands for nothing, and only serves to set up an event: Dark Crisis, which itself is a rejected name for Dark Nights: Metal. Originality got lost somewhere along the way, I guess. Probably around about the time they thought of the name “The Death of the Justice League.”
Also, this isn’t really my strongest point, but I need to put it somewhere – why the hell is The Empty Hand in chains? He’s apparently this loyal follower of the Great Darkness (blech), and we spent all of Justice League Incarnate watching him stomp about serving its will. Why is he now shackled? Visual consistency? Come on. This was one of Morrison’s final truly great creations before they left DC, and now he’s being used as some sort of jumped-up lackey, one where a moment can’t even be spared to focus on him. It’s really sad, and shows why maybe shoving a bunch of big villains onto your page just for the sake of it isn’t always that effective.
I don’t want to presume anything about the writer, Joshua Williamson – whose work I’ve enjoyed at times. Perhaps this was entirely him, perhaps this was some wise guy in editorial’s idea – I don’t particularly care. Whoever’s fault it is, I want them to think about what they’ve made, and if it will truly leave the impact they want it to. I know Williamson compared this to the Death of Superman story he grew up with: to which I would ask if he’s considered why he liked that story. Was it because there was a lot of buildup? Was it because it was released in an environment where character deaths weren’t as common as litter? Was it because of Doomsday? The iconic imagery? How it shaped the entire Superman line moving forward?
Consider that, and then consider what this book has in its place. There was no buildup to speak of – not in relation to the Justice League and how this story affects them, anyway. Character deaths are so common now that it’s an overdone trope, and whenever a character dies it feels more like an inconvenience than a tragedy (Alfred). Yes, Doomsday is in this book: as are a bunch of villains, none of them original. Hell, they’re even watered down in the story itself, which the characters point out. If there was any iconic imagery in this book, I certainly didn’t see it.
Most importantly, this book will have zero impact. There’s no way that it can – it’s not even the book’s fault, really. Even if it was the greatest, most tragic sendoff for these characters you’ve ever seen (it’s not), DC Editorial can’t allow this to matter. No way you’re actually killing off Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman – and, surprise surprise, all of their comic books don’t seem to care either. Batman’s getting two brand new writers for major story arcs, Superman and Wonder Woman will continue to do their own thing. The world keeps turning without the Justice League, because DC has so thoroughly wasted the Justice League brand that you could throw the entire book into a bonfire and no one would even know it was gone.
Now here we are, sorting through the ashes of the bonfire. See you in Justice League: The Road to Dark Crisis, a Justice League book immediately releasing after this one, despite Williamson saying we wouldn’t see another Justice League book for a long time after this. God, I wish that were actually true.
“Oh, it’s not that bad!”
What? What was that? What did you just say, random strawman I just made up? So you thought this book was fine?
No. “Fine” is not an acceptable standard for a book that should have the narrative weight of the fucking apocalypse. “Fine” is not something you want from a story that should rock you harder than being in the front row of a heavy metal concert. “Fine” is not what you want when your book murders the greatest heroes of all time.
I refuse to believe that a book that aspires to be this ambitious should hold itself to anything less than the reality of that ambition. If you want to make your mark on the DC Universe by “killing” its most iconic characters, then you had best write something so epic that I am convinced their deaths are warranted, believable and emotional. The only thing I feel when I read this book is disappointment – disappointment that DC’s team of its greatest heroes now have nothing better to do than die.
- You’re a collector who wants to say they own the “Death of the Justice League” issue.
- That’s it.
- And even then, come on collectors. Have some self-respect. Don’t buy this book – show DC that they have to rely on more than just manufactured shock value to make their money. We’re better than this.
I pride myself on being a respectful reviewer, but this book is not worthy of my respect. It is a creatively bankrupt piece of garbage, and the only thing of any relative value inside it is a level of competent art that may entertain a casual reader, or perhaps even a goldfish.
If you liked this book, I am sorry. I’m sure you can make perfectly reasonable arguments as to the merits of it, and I’m perfectly willing to listen to them. But the way I see it, “The Death of the Justice League” is a redundant title for this book’s final issue.
Try as you might, you can’t kill what’s already dead.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch