Justice League of America #50 came out last week, a double-sized issue by current creative team James Robinson and Mark Bagley and sporting a nice wraparound Ethan Van Sciver cover. I have been more and more impressed with Robinson and Bagley's efforts on this book. It feels like they are on the precipice of some very good stories despite this quirky 'sort of the big & but not really' team composition.
With the 'Dark Things' crossover finished and the roster stabilized, the time was right for Robinson to spin a huge JLA story for this team, something to solidify their stature as a team, something to make this feel like this is a book for these characters ... not simply them holding the spot warm for when the original members return. And what could a better way, a bigger way to show that this IS the Justice League than to put them into a classic 'Crisis on Earth ___' style story, a proven and somewhat nostalgic theme for the JLA.
And if this League is trying to prove themselves worthy of the name then defeating the Crime Syndicate of America is a nice bench mark. This issue read like a modern Gardner Fox story and that is high praise.
Even if they are calling themselves the JLA, the heroes are still becoming a team. They may be comrades, but they aren't family yet. They need to still learn about each other, become comfortable with each other, to truly become a team. So the opening scene of Jesse Quick and Supergirl racing around the satellite was a nice way of showing that growing familiarity.
That lighthearted sprint takes a more serious turn as the two realize that they are more alike than they might know. Both might be legacy heroes, but they also are both dealing with loss, and had to face off against Black Lantern abominations of their fathers. I like how Jesse talks about it without realizing that Kara had to deal with the exact same thing.
This whole scene felt very natural, as if it is obvious that these two would be fast friends (no pun intended).
In fact, everyone in the League is dealing with some sort of loss. But together they are a team and can help one another.
Dick might be Kara's big brother on this team but I think Jesse is going to be her best friend here.
Their conversation is cut short when the Tangent Universe Green Lantern suddenly appears, injured and claiming her world is dying.
In another scene showcasing the growing team spirit, we see Donna and Dick sparring. Of all the relationships on the team, this one is the most established. These two have been fighting together as teammates since the earliest days of their adolescence. Despite the presence of Supergirl and Congorilla, it is clear that Donna considers herself the muscle of this team. And I love the faith she has in Dick's ability to lead them.
The one thing I hope to see is some change in their interactions, even if subtle. They aren't Teen Titans any more. They are adults and have gone through a lot of changes since they were Nightwing and Wonder Girl. They have basically inherited the legacy of their mentors. Their friendship should also evolve a bit too.
The arrival of the Tangent Green Lantern is a crisis so an emergency meeting is called. In a simple way to keep the symmetry of the battle simple, Starman and Congorilla are unavailable. So we get the 'big 5' - Batman, Donna Troy, Supergirl, Jade, and Jesse Quick.
The Lantern talks about the threat to her world. It is a bit of exposition but necessary. Alexander Luthor had planted a doomsday device on Earth Two which is causing a wave of death energy to sweep over that planet. In an effort to stop the death of their planet, the Crime Syndicate figures out a way to siphon off most of that energy and send it to the Tangent world. Earth Two is still dying, albeit more slowly. But the Tangent world is nearly dead. And the CSA needs another world to send this energy to. And they are on this Earth to scout it out.
As soon as the CSA's presence is revealed, the villains crash into the Hall of Justice to battle.
Well, I have to say it seems a little dark for Alexander Luthor to have planted a cataclysmic bomb like that ... assuming we are talking about the Luthor from the Morrison Earth Two graphic novel. He was trying to be a hero. I doubt he would want to kill off so many innocents. So that seemed a bit off.
The Syndicate was expecting the usual League but quickly square off with their opposites. Superwoman and Donna brawl inside the hall while Supergirl and Ultraman take the fight to the sky.
I am so used to seeing the Superman/Ultraman fight and the Wonder Woman/Superwoman fight that I thought this really felt new and is a nice way to showcase the abilities of this League. One thing that did fall a bit flat was Supergirl calling the Syndicate 'bullies with big mouths'. She isn't ten.
With the lines drawn and the battle unfolding, we get a flashback to fill in the gaps about the Crime Syndicate's time on Earth. They came to this Earth to try to figure out a way to save their own. But while they try to achieve that goal, they may as well have fun. In fact, it seems they are having a lot of fun as we see the end of a ... ahem ... romantic interlude between Owlman and Superwoman. She wonders why they should bother trying to save their world when they could simply conquer this one. Ultraman (who also arrives) agrees with her.
Owlman reminds them both that the energies of the universe are such that they simply cannot win here. They need to save their Earth. And they have a plan ... resurrect Alexander Luthor and convince him to save their world. I have to admit I was a bit confused here ... the Alexander Luthor from Morrison's Earth Two? Or the crazy Alexander Luthor from Infinite Crisis?
I do like Owlman's obsession with saving their Earth if only to continue to torment his father. It is that conviction that makes Bruce (either Batman or Owlman) who he is.
The whole Syndicate is on the Earth including the original Power Ring and the original Johnny Quick. Both of those characters died recently and yet here they are again. Ultraman sums it up nicely. How are those guys back? He even remembers that he died (and he did, getting staked when he was Mandrakk's herald in Final Crisis). I have a theory here ... but later.
The Crime Syndicate has been working with Dr. Impossible (remember him ... the anti-Miracle Man from Metzler's first run on the book) to create a resurrection machine. They just need to fetch the corpse of Alex Luthor from the villain morgue in the Hall of Justice. I still think that morgue is a bit creepy. I also think that since the corpse is there, it has to be the Luthor from Infinite Crisis.
I have loved the bubbling subplot about Jade and the hidden darkness inside her since absorbing some of the Starheart. It shows in her battle with Power Ring. She drains his ring ... and him ... of energy, bringing Power Ring to the edge of death.
I like how haikus accompany her draining him. I assume this is his ring, powered by Eastern enchantments and Volthoom, talking to him about his impending death. Nice touch.
But Jade looks downright giddy as Power Ring writhes in pain. Creepy.
Dr. Impossible is seen scheming in the background with some teammates of his own. But it is clear that the fight in the Hall is a distraction so the Syndicate's real plan can unfold. Dick realizes that all isn't as it seems when he notices that Owlman has left the fight. It can only mean he is up to something even bigger.
As with the rest of the fights, it was great to see Dick square off against Bruce! Now there is some serious depth to this fight.
But before we can learn who would win, Dick is blasted by Dr. Impossible's cronies.
I will admit though ... I loved seeing Supergirl going toe-to-toe with Ultraman. I think some writers would have had her being overwhelmed almost immediately. So kudos to Robinson for letting Supergirl show her prowess here.
But, as said before, the fight is simply a ruse to keep the JLA away from the Resurrection machine to bring back Alex Luthor. Set up sort of like one of the multiverse tuning forks from Infinite Crisis, people from different universes are set up in areas around the machine to power it.
Before it is activated to bring back Luthor, Dr. Impossible double crosses Owlman, removing Alex's corpse and instead bathing Impossible's crony Hunter in energy. I admit I don't recognize the characters that Impossible is working with. But Hunter looks like an Orion analogue.
But instead of bring back Darkseid, as Impossible's teammates think the machine was going to do, it brings back someone else ... a new threat ... the Omega Man. Did Impossible know that? Who is this guy? Since Hunter was a version of Orion, is this a version of Darkseid?
Overall this was a very good issue. I have really enjoyed watching this group grow together as a team and as friends. I love that their first big adventure as a team is something huge like fighting the Crime Syndicate, needing to save multiple worlds, and facing a new villain. That is what the JLA should be about ... massive threats.
Now my theory. How did those CSA members come back to life? Well, the Tangent Green Lantern's power is to raise the dead to finish a task. Maybe she is in on this plot. Maybe she brought them back. Maybe she has turned towards evil.
My growing fascination and appreciation of Mark Bagley continued here. There is a nice kinetic feel to his fight scenes here.
And James Robinson, outside of a slip here and there in dialogue, really has a nice grasp of these characters as they each have a unique voice and personality. This was one of those issues where I wished the next part was coming out now as opposed to a month from now. That is always the sign of a good issue.