Friday, July 20, 2018

Review: Justice League #4

Justice League #4 came out this week and has been the mode of this book, things happen crazy fast. There are huge plot points that are unfolding here. But there are so many, I feel like I only have a sense of what is happening as supposed to deep understanding. From the Totality to mystic glyphs to the Still Force to Ultraviolet Corps to the living evil sun Umbrax, there is a lot happening here. And I just haven't connected it all. It's a puzzle that I can see all the pieces but I haven't out together.

Scott Snyder seems hellbent on leaving me reeling as a reader. There is a big sense of grandeur here. This seems like a massive, universal threat; this is the sort of thing the League should be going after. There are enough small character moments to keep us invested in who the heroes are. But I'll admit, I feel a little bit confused. It's definitely a fun ride. I feel a little punch drunk.

The art by Jorge Jimenez is insanely good. Everything is just a bit stylized, just a bit off of reality, enough to keep it feel like a warped universal threat. I cannot get enough of his work here. It is frenetic, energetic, and brutal. This book is visually delicious.

But can it all be brought together. Will I be able to put the pieces together in a way that I actually understand what has been happening? Or is it one of those 'bigger than life' arcs where I simply have to let it wash over me.

On to the book!

 We start with a flashback of Gorilla Grodd when he was a young ape in Gorilla City. Something of a runt, Grodd is dismissed by his father as being worthless. But Grodd's mind powers have already manifested. And this abuse he has been facing has made him a little bit angry.

We then see that he has found a human hunter and is keeping him captive in a cave. Even worse, he has used his Force of Mind power to keep the man dancing. This is a cruel, malicious punishment but in some ways it fits the crime. This man was going to put Grodd in a zoo.

Grodd learned a lesson here. When you see a weakness, a dark place you can exploit, you squeeze.

I know that Grodd is an insane, violent criminal, hellbent on taking over the world. But this peek into his youth, seeing a glimpse of why he is the way he is, was brilliant. I didn't mind this page even though I might be craving some exposition!

 Meanwhile, at the Totality mini-Source wall, Superman and J'onn are battling the suddenly awake giant figures. They are angry at J'onn. I don't know if I quite understand their complaint - architects, downfalls, abominations?

One thing I do like is that on close inspection, it looks like this statue has a domino mask on. All along, the heroes have said that these beings look familiar. Are they other supers? Will we learn who they are? If I squint, can I make the domino mask guy into The Comedian? Is that why they are familiar but unknown?

Remember that Hawkgirl is riding shotgun inside J'onn. Unfortunately, the Joker arrives and overpowers Kendra, taking control of her ship. Now I could debate how someone like the Joker could defeat a warrior-born like Hawkgirl. But I'll let it slide.

Meanwhile, Luthor, shrunk and inside Superman, shoots down Batman's ship. With little choice, the Dark Knight ejects from his ship, flying into Superman's blood stream, and being swallowed up by one of the mutating attack cells.

There are a couple of things I like here! First off, how great is it to see Batman actually lose, even if temporarily. Often in team books, uber-Bats has it all figured out. But actually, my favorite part about this is Batman's monologue comparing his battle like a dance he has performed before. He talks about the violin strings coming in the background, about leading the dance not following. Small touch but brilliant for me.

 Meanwhile, on the moon, Cyborg and Jon Stewart line up Sinestro in their sights. After all, Sinestro is leading the powerful Ultraviolet Corps and has brought the evil sun Umbrax to Earth.

In an interesting line, Jon says that he is a warrior and will kill Sinestro to end the threat. I don't remember Jon being this bloodthirsty. And I wonder how that will jibe with other Leaguers like Superman and Batman.

But the big moment is when Sinestro blasts Jon, shattering the GL ring and tattooing the Ultraviolet symbol onto Stewart's finger.

Now I think I can count on a couple of fingers how often I have seen a GL ring destroyed. This is a big moment and could have been the last page cliffhanger. But in this book, it is a speed bump. Amazing.

You'll also remember that Flash, Aquaman, and Diana broke into the Legion of Doom fortress.There they in the middle of a fight with primitive White Martians, Grodd wades in. I have to comment that Aquaman stabs one of the Martians in the throat with his pitchfork and says he thinks they 'belong on a slab'. Another Leaguer so willing to kill enemies? Hmmm ...

But the big image is this one, Grodd carrying an infant around in a baby bjorn. Seriously, what an insane image. This would have been a ka-pow final splash. But nope, just another image in this book.

The baby is the living embodiment of the Still Force, the first of primal forces which need to be unlocked to allow the LoD to control the Totality. And Grodd is able to tap into the Still Force, amping up his powers.

With a thought, he makes Aquaman and Wonder Woman think they are fighting their worst enemies when instead they are fighting each other. This allows the real Manta and Cheetah to seek out their own 'force treasures'.

I love that last panel. Jimenez can impart such energy to his images. You feel these punches.

 Finally, we get some exposition.

Recently, J'onn sought out The Keep, a living ancient Martian who contains all the memories of Mars. (Sounds almost like a plot from the Supergirl television show!)

The Keep tells J'onn about Hronmeer's curse, the reason Mars died out. The curse manifested as fire. But that all could be a lie. The visions J'onn has been seeing are of a Martian child imbued with something worse than the curse. Perhaps this child brought about the end? Could J'onn somehow be the key to the destruction of everything?

Okay, time to crack the back issues and reread those vision sequences.

Is it me, or does that middle panel on the bottom look like when Osterman is blown apart in Watchmen?

I mean, this can't be coincidence!

Maybe that is The Comedian? Maybe this rolls into Doomsday Clock?

 But things are getting worse.

Sinestro is able to tap into the dark hidden emotions of all of Earth, making a massive Corps of Ultraviolet soldiers.

 And it turns out that the baby is the new Turtle. This version has complete control over the Still Force. Every time the Flash uses the Speed Force, he is actually feeding the Still Force. Don't know if I can explain that but there it is.

But this Flash battle allows Grodd to completely unlock the Still Force. The 'doorknob' Luthor is carrying which has the symbol/code suddenly burns bright. The mini-wall is falling. Suddenly, Luthor's plan clicks.

Inside Superman and J'onn, Luthor and the Joker have taken control of the heroes. And now the two can approach the Totality, a disco ball of the Multiverse for them to squeeze into whatever they see fit. Love the maddened look on our heroes' faces. Again, Jimenez crushes it.

Whew ...

That is a lot of story. I am really rocked by this series and how much Snyder and Jimenez are stuffing into the pages. There are such wild images to see here. From the Lantern ring shattering, to the Keep floating in a sanctuary, to Aquaman/Diana punching each other, to Grodd looking like a dad carrying his baby around the mall, this whole thing is bananas. Bananas in the best way.

Seven primal forces, the Multiverse on Earth, Umbrax the living sun ... it all has to come together. For my sanity, I hope so.

Overall grade: A


William Ashley Vaughan said...

The story being told in Justice League is one of the most thrilling I have read in years. It's almost as if the ghost of Julius Schwartz is hanging around the DC offices and whispering in Synder's and Jimenez' ears, "be original." The subplot of the still force and the Turtle is brilliant. I love it when writers build on what has been done before instead of repeating it.

Martin Gray said...

I’m definitely in the ‘confused but going with it’ camp - there’s so much going on I can’t keep it all in my head. The level of threat the League is facing on so many fronts is staggering, I don’t get why they haven’t brought every hero allied with them onside.

My enjoyment of this is slightly tempered by news of what’s coming - regular issues devoted to the villains (starting with the Joker, because that guy really needs some publicity), the return of the Dark Multiverse, Barbatos, the Forge. How I hate Metal. Especially the Batman Who Laughs, but really, all those Dark Batman and their unreadable fonts.

Anonymous said...

Not many comments here, so I will write my thoughts.

What if a reader doesn't want to go along with all the stuff that is being flung against the wall here? I prefer intimate stories over "Big Events."

I agree Jorge Jimenez does wonderful work.

Since the broken Source Wall is affecting the entire universe (and maybe the Multiverse?), then can there be any story set in the present era in the DCU that can escape this situation?

How did Batman schedule a wedding and serve on jury duty? You'd think he'd have something else on his mind.

Shouldn't the destruction of the moon be a cataclysmic planet-destroying event?

This seems to be a problem - you can't be tearing down the universe for some people while others are just conducting business as usual.

Titans are on the job as an adjunct to the JLA, with their new role to stamp out meta-crises caused by this.

Is Supergirl's space travel going to be impacted? Given she is about to encounter the Green Lanterns, and they were last seen trying en masse to hold the Source Wall together ... uh oh.

So, are all DC eggs in the one basket, like it or leave it?

That said, I will be sampling JL Dark and Odyssey.

Martin Gray said...

Surely anyone who’s been reading comic books for any length of time is familiar with the idea that everything published at the same time isn’t happening at the same time?

Anonymous said...

Good point.

Big events do tend to crossover everywhere, so we'll have to see how all-encompassing this does get.

The very large number of reviews of JL have been truly outstanding everywhere, even among reviewers who are hard to please. So I must have a minority view. Or, reviewers tend to prefer ambitious stories. (Some critics dislike more intimate stories, feeling that nothing "happened.")