Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Review: Justice League #66

Justice League #66 came out last week continuing the United Order story arc pitting the UP version of the League against the freed Synmar Utopica. It also is a sort of side crossover with the ongoing Checkmate book as well. 

It is always hard to judge an arc by a middle chapter. The plot has to be nudged along. There has to be action. Writer Brian Michael Bendis gives us a decent chapter. We learn the motivations of the bad guy. We see how powerful he is, adding some uncertainty to the proceedings. And we end with a very solid cliffhanger.

And I think there would be a major moment in this issue, the first time we see Naomi unleashing her power. But I think a page snafu muted it to the point that I don't know if I saw what I saw. And the Checkmate side plot sort of has an odd moment within it that makes me wonder about those characters.

The art is by Phil Hester and he brings a sturdy realism to the proceedings. The flow and movement of this issue felt better than the recent Superman story Hester did. There is a tangible feel to the fights and the damage. 

Still, I am a bit reeling from the ending and that Naomi page. Help me out.

On to the book!

Last issue Synmar Utopica took on the Justice League and then attacked the Hall of Justice itself. While the members present dig themselves out of the rubble, Naomi has one thought. Her parents. They were in the basement. Are they still alive? (Turns out yes they are.)

I thought this was a great 'punch you in the mouth' moment in the book. Only the biggest of the bads could lay waste to the Hall of Justice like this. You know how tough Synmar is already.

You also might remember that last issue Daemon Rose, Lois' brother, approached Green Arrow and Black Canary to talk about Sam Lane and Leviathan. They were then attacked by a fake Deathstroke. That scene ended with everyone apparently shot.

Turns out that everyone was shooting nonlethal projectiles at each other.

The supposed stealthy assassin Daemon Rose and an ersatz Deathstroke, both of whom were wielding big guns and blowing things up, were using nonlethal rounds? 

That just seems like an odd plot point. Why?

I don't know if we'll ever get an answer.

When Ollie and Dinah recover, both the other characters are gone and all evidence burned. 

I am really struggling with this scene which just seems to end. Why bother having the weird Deathstroke show up?

Dinah immediately calls Lois to talk about her supposed brother. But Lois is too worried about the Hall to take notice. Realizing a super-emergency is happening, the heroes head back to put on their fighting clothes and teleport over.

As usual, Bendis has a nice grasp of dialogue, especially these two. They bicker like the old couple they are. I like the snarky 'Canary cave' comment. But even more, I like how Dinah isn't going to let Ollie's involvement with Checkmate just go without discussion.

I like the concept of Synmar Utopica as a sort of Superman who cracked under the pressure of that mantle. It just emphasizes how great Clark is.

But here he sounds almost tawdry in his ambitions. He will give Earth and all its resources to the Synmar collective if they absolve him of his sins and take him back into their society. Sounds like the old practice of indulgences!

The Synmar society seem more highbrow than that. I don't know if they'd go for this. 

But more importantly, it lessens him a bit for me. It makes him go from philosophically scarred failed hero to more straightforward super-villain.

One thing Bendis always gets right is Superman's voice. 

Superman says he has dedicated his life to helping everyone, including Synmar Utopica himself. Shouldn't Synmar rethink things?

I am glad I get this bit of Bendis Superman before Clark leaves Earth for a bit. I'll miss this voice.

But before this discussion can go any further, Black Adam steps in to brawl.

Now here is the page kerfuffle.

Batman yells for Naomi to engage.

The next page we see what appears to be Naomi unleashing her power, frying Synmar and hurting him in a way that other big guns like Adam and Hippolyta haven't been able to.

This should be a big big moment. We have all been waiting for some explanation and exhibition of Naomi's power. And here we seem to have it!

Meanwhile, Batman has called in the reserves and Hester gives us a meaty semi-two page spread showing the reinforcements.

Before a punch is thrown, we see Superman yell 'that's enough!'

But the following page is this splash of Naomi gearing herself up to enter the battle. She talks about Batman telling her to join the fight. She talks about her pride and her wonderment.

This page reads like it should go after the Batman line and before that show of her power. Everything - from her not unleashing her power to the text ballons - suggest this should precede the panels above. 

I wonder if the two page spreadiness of the reserves sort of mucked up the page order in a way that was too late for DC to figure out.

But this felt very disjointed. And, I was so puzzled, it sort of dimmed the Naomi power display which should have been a massive moment in the book given how long we all have been waiting.

And it seems even more out of place when we see why Superman yelled 'that's enough'. 

He has arrived with the United Order.

The oddly placed Naomi paged also detracted a bit from the cliffhanger.

If you go from 'that's enough!' and turn the page to this moment ... pow!

So, does this end of issue page weirdness and the strange use of nonlethal weapons in a battle between assassins significantly detract from this issue? I have to say yes. Both things pulled me out of a story that I was otherwise immersed in.

It doesn't take away from the snappy dialogue, the artistic display of Synmar's strength, the reveal of Naomi's powers, or the tremendous Superman.

Overall grade: B-

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The reviewer at batman-news was also pretty sure a page was out of order.

Even rearranging the pages, it still doesn't really work well.

When Batman calls out to Naomi - the expression on his face and his hand gesture suggest he is telling her to back off, not engage. He looks worried.

That splash page with Naomi and all the 3rd person narration is really a Black Adam page - the energy is all coming off him, and Naomi is just kind of awkwardly floating sideways

This big build-up is followed by an ambiguous panel, where Naomi actually appears to be shielding her eyes from the golden light, not attacking with it. Because the energy is emanating in all directions OUT OF Synmar , and Naomi and Black Adam both look like they are being blown back by it.

The storytelling is confusing. Maybe the script was changed after the book was drawn.

There's going to be a new book called "Deathstroke Inc." co-starring Black Canary, so perhaps Bendis was asked to tease something about it here. On the "Arrow" TV show, wasn't there a gang of Deathstrokes?