Monday, November 22, 2021

Review: Justice League #69


What might have been?

The question I often ask myself about runs on comics that never happened or were somehow derailed. Take for example, Sterling Gates proposed Supergirl arc after BizarroGirl where a Supergirl Revenge Squad mobilized. Sigh.

For someone like me, highly invested in Event Leviathan and champing at the bit for the Checkmate sequel, the derailing of this story has been tough. In interviews, Brian Michael Bendis has said the  'thing' Checkmate was heading for disappeared out of DC's long term plans meaning everything needed to be rewritten. As a result, Checkmate has seemed to be weirdly paced and told at times. 

Justice League has been a sort of adjunct book to the Checkmate book. But it is hard to keep the timelines straight between the two. And the covers have rarely matched the inside.

Justice League #69 came out and feels like a side issue of Checkmate. We have been seeing an army of Deathstrokes attacking the league. We have have been feeling some of the fallout from what is presumed to be the dissolution of Leviathan. Now the forces behind the recent coordinated attacks seems to be revealed. I'm not buying it. The problem is this issue felt a bit like treading water. There are some fun moments. And the reveal is bananas. But I was left wanting more.

The art is by Phil Hester and he brings a certain grittiness to the proceedings which are mostly street level. There is even some horror elements which work well with the style. 

On to the book.

We start with the three Deathstrokes who were captured last issue. Remember these crews are made up of a hodgepodge of prior spy agents including Leviathan.

 As the JLA and Checkmate teams glower at these three, the one in the middle just starts blabbing. 

None of them are talking.

So the League takes the two silent ones to jail and let the fainter 'escape' in hopes he will be foolish enough to lead them somewhere.

Bendis is always good with humor and banter. I did think this moment was funny.

Louis Lane, the Daemon Rose, is in the JLA ship as they trail this guy who steals a planted car. 

We know based on his birth certificate that Lane is 40. Can Batman really call him kid? It seems unnecessarily prickly. 

It feels like this Deathstroke army thing is the tip of some villainous iceberg. As with the emergence of Leviathan, people are wondering who could mobilize such a force. With Ollie now known as the benefactor of the JL and Checkmate, Hawkgirl wonders if he might be the bad guy.

I sort of sighed. 

I get that one of the weapons villains have is feeding distrust among the heroes. But this seemed out of the blue. I don't know if this is fair.

Before that conversation can continue, the car being driven by the 'escaping' criminal blows up. And then Superman who flies down and investigate is blasted away, aflame no less.

Now a flaming Superman flying out of control is concerning since who knows where he'll land. But is the only way to stop him to smack him with the Nth metal mace? And does that one blow really extinguish all the fire? And are you able to pinpoint where this out of control falling Superman will land?

This also seemed a little off. 

But it works. Superman comes to. And he says it felt like he was struck by something. But who?

With that Deathstroke a true dead end, the League and Checkmate go to interrogate the two Deathstrokes thrown in Belle Reve. This one admits he is former DEO with all sorts of psychic barriers. 

Given how concerning this unknown force is, the League decides to use Hippolyta's lasso of truth to pry to information out of him.

I do like that the League at least discussed if it was 'fair' (and I might say 'legal') to force this guy to incriminate himself. But with the threat level potentially high, the League voted yes. I did like that being put into the conversation. 

I always thought that the lasso just forced out the truth. 

But here Bendis makes it seem like the person in the lasso sees the questioner as a monster and the answer comes out of fear. Batman and Black Adam look like creatures out of nightmares. I don't know if I want that from Diana. That isn't loving submission.

I don't know if the lasso has ever been shown in this way.

And then the big twist. After hunting down innumerable leads through lawyers, companies laundering money, and more Deathstrokes, the League seems to come to the head of the beast. (I will say these pages reminded me of old school League stories where they would split up. Each mini-team has one panel to tell a microstory here about meeting these leads.)

The power behind this new villainous spy army is ... The Royal Flush Gang???

Even the League is confused. 

Then a crazy cliffhanger. As the League debates if the Royal Flush Gang has moved on from robbery to try and become world dominators, they get word the Fortress of Solitude has been stolen.

Now this sounds like a Leviathan move given his penchant for teleporting buildings away. But Leviathan is defeated. So has someone grabbed on to that tech?

That came out of the blue.

I suppose I was entertained here if not floored. I did like the art. And seeing the League doing police work was fun in its own way. But it felt like sort of half an issue. I want so much from this title. Perhaps my expectations are too high. 

Overall grade: B-


Anonymous said...

Bendis said something on the Word Balloon podcast like there was no longer a place for Checkmate with the post-DiDio changes in direction, until he pitched that he could connect it to Justice League.

It's felt like Justice League was hijacked, but since editorial gave this the green light knowing where the story was going,I can't exactly blame it entirely on Bendis.

This issue of Justice League was delayed from 10/19 to 11/9 to 11/16. Since Checkmate #5 came out on 10/26 and the finale is coming out tomorrow, the original release schedule for JL would have been even more confusing.

Checkmate #1 was in June, and if it had started in March right after Future State, Justice League probably would have made sense. That delay seems to be the root cause. I believe Bendis's run on Superman and Action was also cut short. Lots of things didn't go smoothly at the end of last year. Maybe someday someone will write a behind-the-scenes tale.


Martin Gray said...

I’m sure the behind-the-scenes story would be more satisfying than this. When things changed editorially, surely Bendis could have nipped the story in the bud, given it a minimum number of issues; instead it’s dragging on and on… if he couldn’t have come up with a new story to fill the scheduled issues, I’m sure fill-in master Dan Abnett would have stepped up.

Does anyone at this stage believe we’ll get the story behind Lois Lane’s supposed brother? Why was he the snowman’s ticket? Who’s his mother? Why was he a secret from Lois?

Nah, he’ll go the way of Diana’s long-lost brother of a few years back - mind, James Robinson did enough with him that I actually liked him as a character.