Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: Justice League #2

It has taken me longer than usual to formulate the review of Justice League #2 and frankly that is because there is so much happening in the book it was difficult to hone down. And as you know, I already am a wordy reviewer.

What amazes me about this book, if its first two issues are a template, is that writer Scott Snyder is keeping the pedal floored, keeping things moving at a near breakneck speed. I have complained about stories where it feels like an arc has been stretched to fill a trade. Here Snyder is putting major events ... like let's say the League destroying the moon ... into a few pages, the actual destruction happening in the background of a panel.

That happened in issue #1, an issue where we also saw Vandal Savage has brought about a neanderthal revolution, the Totality from the Source Wall crashes on Earth, magic glyphs invading heroes and villains minds, and the League have a conversation about action vs. reaction. That's a lot of stuff, reminiscent of the most stuffed Morrison books of the JLA. We also saw Snyder lean into DC history showing us Monitors, Kamandi, and the DC 1,000,000 League. Incredible.

But I'm here to review Justice League #2. And we get a lot of story here as well. This includes what I call 'throwaway ideas', things mentioned that could be fleshed out into full stories or issues but are just blips on the bigger arc. So cars fueled with Speed Force, Killer Croc mutating into a Godzilla, and Totality runes that mean 'justice', 'rise', 'truth', and probably 'doom' are all there on the periphery. That glyph is everywhere.

I honestly feel like so much has been presented in the first two issues that it feels like 18 issues in the current market. You could have done a whole 6 issue arc on the Savage plot alone. Instead it is tidied up in 15 pages. So grab hold and enjoy the ride.

Last issue we were dazzled by Jim Cheung's art. This issue I was floored by Jorge Jimenez's stuff. I have been a fan of Jimenez since I first saw him drawing the Smallville arc with Diana. His stuff here is wildly kinetic, stylized just enough to bring some energy but no enough to pull me out of the store. It is perfect.

Onto the actual issue!

The issue starts with a flashback.
In a scene which takes place before Justice League #1, we see Lex razing the Legionnaires hall his father used to frequent, another stab at his parents who abused or abandoned him. It is a nice reminder of what a bastard Lex is but also how he was made that.

But while there, he sees a magic doorknob to a hidden room. The knob has the same symbol that adorns the secret doors in the Hall of Justice. It is the same symbol on the Justice League meeting table, the one J'onn says was Martian for justice. Squint a bit and it looks like the exterior of the Hall, and even of the Legion of Doom headquarters.

How did it get here? Who sent it to Lex? What does it want?

A reminder that Lex used that doorknob to bludgeon Vandal Savage to death last issue. Whatever was behind this door, it has mad Lex even more volatile than usual.

Hmmm ... someone or something is playing both sides of this equation, influencing both heroes and villains.

The Totality, a chunk from behind the destroyed Source Wall, has landed on Earth. It has taken the shape of a head and is emitting a signal of some sort. The League knows they need someone to not only contain but to understand. And that person is John Stewart. Batman wants him to join the League and help.

But Stewart has been off on Lantern business, shutting himself off from all communication. The only bypass is to have Swamp Thing grow from a flower Stewart keeps on his ship, a flower from Xanshi. Then Batman uses Swamp Thing's body as a conduit to convey the message.

Using Swamp Thing as a transmitter? Fantastic.

But I also have to commend Snyder and Jimenex for going way back to the Alan Moore Swamp Thing #56 for the alien flower design, last scene in the psychological issue 'My Blue Heaven.

That is leaning into DC's rich history.

But Stewart doesn't want to join in. Even if the Totality is a harbinger for the end of the multiverse, he wants out. After all, he hasn't forgiven himself for the destruction of Xanshi. Even if others have forgiven him, it still haunts him.

Okay, for the GL fans out there, a question. As someone who floats in and out of reading GL, is this true to form. Is John still nursing this wound this much?

It is, again, a nice call back to Cosmic Odyssey by Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola and all that happened there. Once more, Snyder building on the history of the DCU.

Back in the Legion of Doom headquarters, Lex gives us some information to help build a scaffolding around this crazy story.

Lex has been given a message that he can control the Totality, and therefore everything. if he unlocks seven hidden forces. Each hidden force is linked somehow to one of the Doom villains.

There is that sigil again, stamped on a doorknob.

But one thing that gets me is the insane look on Lex. This isn't the calm, collected, seething Luthor I am used to. This is more Joker.

Grodd's force is presented to him as a baby.

My guess? The hidden force here is some manifestation of Evolution.

I talked about how great the art is. In an earlier panel, Lex is looking out a window of the underwater LoD HQ and described how the Source Wall was erected to keep mortals from tampering with it. We were the threat. He describes us a fireflies to them as he sees two small yellow dots in the distance.

Then we see in this panel those dots are eyes of a monstrous serpent. What seemed harmless was, in fact, a giant deadly threat. I loved those panels. And Jimenez making the serpent warped in the rounded window was even more spectacular.

Remember, things are moving fast.

The Totality has surrounded itself with a mutating field. That's why Croc got all Kaiju. The Flash can't move fast enough to get in there because this has also made the Speed Force unreliable. His powers turn off every so often.

So the best way to get there is to pick the most invulnerable members (Superman and J'onn), put them in field dampening armor, and have them be the vessel for shrunken League members, in ships injected into Superman and J'onn, bring them there.

It's like Fantastic Voyage!

You could have spent a whole issue just having the League figure this method out. Instead, it is told to us in a couple of panels.

Again, art and words mean so much. In the first panel, Barry pleads to join in. In the next, Superman shuts him down. Look at how huge Superman is in that panel, barely fitting his head and shield. Compare it to Flash right next door. Superman looms large. He is the authority. All conveyed in image. Perfect.

The League has been deciphering the Totality code. Those lines are snippets.

Again, it looks like pieces of that symbol that we have seen everywhere. Hmmm ....

Batman has been shrunk and is riding inside Superman. Hawkgirl has been shrunk and is riding inside J'onn. The trek to the Godhead of the Totality is underway.

The rest of the League is watching when suddenly they are attacked by ... John Stewart. Earlier we saw Stewart face off against a classically clad Sinestro. Sinestro no longer is the head of the Yellow Corps. He is now running the Ultraviolet Corps, part of the invisible emotional spectrum. This is Sinestro's universal force.

My guess is these are all the emotions people usually keep hidden (thus invisible). And my guess is they are all the ones that keep people civil, like hate and prejudice. After all Ultraviolet and Ultra-violent are only one letter off from each other.

And John is a candidate. He self-loathes.

The two heroes are barely at the edge of the mutating field and are already feeling the effects.

But there is a surprise. Lex has somehow been injected into Superman as well. Now he will see all the Totality has to offer. There is something deliciously ironic about Superman being Lex's vessel.

When you read the words and see the cackling Luthor, you know he has gone mad.

So ... whew ... that's a lot of story in 20 pages.
I love it!!!
After complaining for so long about decompressed story-telling, it is refreshing and invigorating to read compressed issues!

My guess is the Seven Forces are things that cause upheaval. So evolution is one. Incivility is another. What else can people think of? Natural destructive phenomena? Dementia?

Whatever! I am along for the ride! A giant godhead with a mutating field is sending out messages and manipulating everyone around it as it tries to destroy the multiverse? Talk about a crisis!

Overall grade: A+


Martin Gray said...

I found this a stunning issue, and really wish Jorge were drawing the whole thing. As regards your query about John and Xanthi, when I've dipped into the GL books, I've not seen him haunted by it. So far as I know, Cosmic Odyssey had been wiped from continuity, but Snyder is picking and choosing from DC history - I suspect it disappeared with the New 52 and has been Rebirthed back in; good on Snyder for bringing back John's architect background, that marine stuff that came in a few years back was just daft.

Anonymous said...

Certainly an issue packed with content.

Anj said...

It is hard these days to understand what is in and what is out.

I am rolling with continuity these days!