Justice League of America #54 was the opening chapter of the Rise of Eclipso story arc and as such, doesn't read much like a JLA comic at all. That's not to say it isn't a good book. But outside of a couple of splash pages and one panel late in the story, the League isn't seen at all.
This book is part primer on Eclipso, reviewing his origins and incarnations, and part whirlwind tour of the DCU as Eclipso forms his Shadow Warriors. As someone who knows mostly the 'older' Eclipso stuff, has no knowledge of 'The Darkness Within' event, and barely knows about Jean Loring's manifestation, I thought this issue sort of brought me up to speed. I usually think of Eclipso as a sort of 'yard stick' character, a powerful being who always gets beaten up so another character can then be measured as being 'tough enough to beat up Eclipso'. He has never really been written in a way that makes me think he is worth all the fuss.
As a side conversation, I hate when good characters devolve into yard-stick characters. Poor Prometheus went from almost beating the JLA single handedly to having Huntress beat him in combat (okay we later learned it wasn't *the* Prometheus). Poor Lady Shiva who is touted as the deadliest martial artist in the DCU ... but I can't remember the last time I saw her win a bout. The worst 'yard stick' character is the Spectre, the 'most powerful being in the DCU' who has been defeated recently by Atrocitus. I can't remember the last time the Spectre showed up and just destroyed someone. And sadly it looks like the Spectre is going to get defeated in this arc as well. Okay ... enough of a rant.
The thing is, I would rather that this had been a one-shot Eclipso book rather than fall under the JLA title. I mean, the Starman/Congorilla one-shot is more deserving of the JLA moniker than this book. Maybe I am splitting hairs. I mean, the purpose of comics is to entertain and this issue, for the most part, did.
So here is the splash page showing the current roster of the JLA. But it comes after a page showing the big seven and other incarnations of the League. I just think we have come far enough with this team that we don't need to be hit over the head anymore. They are the League. I wholeheartedly accept it. Heck, I like this lineup. So I don't need to hear anyone else in this book say 'This is the Justice League'.
But once we have that introduction out of the way, we are immersed in the Eclipso story. Bruce Gordon once again houses the demon inside him and is back on Diablo Island to try to investigate Eclipso's origins, again in hopes of controlling the evil within.
What is strange is that Eclipso manifests himself in the bright noonday sun. Usually he needs an eclipse of some sort to break into this plane. While this transformation isn't explained, it does provide a bit of a mystery and therefore a hook, or potential way to defeat the villain. I hope that this is explained at some point.
Once back on this plane, Eclipso begins an internal dialogue with Gordon, allowing Robinson to review the variety of ways Eclipso has appeared on Earth.
I love the one panel explaining Jean Loring's stint as Eclipso. She was simply 'too Jean' to be Eclipso. I thought that was perfect. Poor Jean Loring. I never thought she was a good fit to be Eclipso so I was glad to see that go away.
And then we get a little bit more Eclipso history, showing him playing chess with Darkseid, and this shot right from the 'Darkness Within' event where a possessed Superman fought Captain Marvel.
One thing I did like was Eclipso's grudging respect for Gordon, how this simple solar scientist has done more to deny Eclipso his desires than any of the more powerful figures in the DCU.
But reviewing these failed attempts at conquest makes Eclipso see the error in his tactics. No longer will he try to possess metans to do his dirty work. He has a bigger idea.
So with the past reviewed and my knowledge of him at an all-time high, Eclipso begins traveling through the DCU and possessing select people to form his army. The first of his agents is the Shade.
Next is Nightshade. He possesses the Shadow Thief. In fact he gathers everyone with shadow-based powers. That includes some characters I have never heard from.
One of these is Acrata, a young hero from Mexico.
The Bete Noire from France.
And Crow-Brings-Darkness from Canada.
All meta-humans with shadow powers. I don't recall reading about any of these characters before so I don't know if Robinson is being extremely creative in making these characters, or extremely thorough in his dredging of the DCU. Either is possible. Maybe it's both?
My favorite 'new' character that joins Eclipso's army is Syththunu, a very Lovecraftian elder one, feared even by Arion.
Now I am going to have to dig out my old Arion comics to see if he uses the name Syththunu in any incantations. That would be slick.
So why all these shadow based characters? My guess is to plunge the Earth into some sort of shadow realm which will augment Eclipso's powers. But who knows.
But Eclipso has one more person he needs to gather to his flock. Someone 'tainted by darkness' ... Jade!
Throughout Robinson's run we have seen Jade wielding black tinged energy, losing control at times, nearly killing villains. I am not surprised that she might be someone who could be corrupted by Eclipso. In fact, I think it is a great twist to the story ... and that makes me happy.
So Eclipso is almost ready to launch whatever plot he is going to launch. And yet next issue we know will include Doomsday. Should be a wild issue.
Perhaps the best thing about this issue was the addition of Brett Booth to the book as artist. His stuff leaps of the page, detailed, stylish, lush. I cannot wait to see his work on this book ... especially given the 'bigger than life' stories that Robinson has been bringing us here.
So, while it's not really a JLA issue, this did set up the next big arc nicely and filled in some knowledge gaps about Eclipso. Add to that these newer characters and Booth's spectacular art and I would say this was a success.