It's rare to find an eight-part story these days that's not part of a universe-shattering event -- heck, even the Identity and Infinite Crises only warranted seven issues each. And it's rarer even, on the trade paperback cusp of Infinite Crisis, to find an eight-part story that's completely unrelated to all the goings on in the DCU. Instead, JLA: Syndicate Rules is a classic eight-part super-hero story, a charming little tale worthy -- dare I say it -- of at least some of the JLA legacy passed on by Grant Morrison, notable if nothing else for it's disconnectedness in today's realm of continuity.
JLA: Syndicate Rules picks up shortly after JLA/Avengers left off -- in and of itself a remarkable feat, as DC/Marvel crossovers usually become non persona grata. And for fans of JLA/Avengers, Syndicate Rules nicely ties up some loose ends. The universe, as you'll recall, was taken apart and put back together, and everything fit just fine ... or did it? The Crime Syndicate of Amerika notices some changes, and deeming the JLA responsible, they dimension-hop to settle the score. But the Qwardians have noticed some changes, too, and they're right behind the CSA. Kudos to Kurt Busiek for taking what must have been a throwaway scene of the CSA in the beginning of JLA/Avengers and expanding it into this story; the universe-break altering one CSAer's appearance to fit the current JLA worked perfectly, as did the twist as to how the JLA's universe changed in return. Fun stuff all around.
For eight issues, JLA: Syndicate Rules did not feel padded. There's a bit of time the CSA takes making mayhem, including some uniform swapping with the JLA that echoes nicely in the end, and underlines the differences and similarities between the two teams. We also get a fairly short adventure with the Flash and Martian Manhunter; its importance is fairly obvious, but the good use of JLA history excuses it. There's quite a bit of detail given not only to the CSA and their "civilian" lives (Owlman and Superwoman especially), but also to the Qwardians and Qwardian society, reminiscent of old science-fiction novels. Ultimately, again, it's all meaningless -- in our Crisis age, none of the Qwardian characters are going to return -- but at the same time, sometimes it's just fun to let scientific nonsense just wash over you. It's this kind of detail, missing in many comics today, that sets Syndicate Rules apart.
It is only perhaps the art, and one bit of characterization, that detracts from JLA: Syndicate Rules's story. Ron Garney's art seemed to me to become more and more sketch-like as the story went on, losing cohesiveness in a way that was just distracting; Superman was big and bold in the beginning, and nearly unrecognizable in the end. And while most of the characters appeared in-character throughout the book (including an appearance by Faith and the Elite -- yay!), I've heard it said elsewhere that Busiek seemed to be writing the animated Justice League Unlimited's Flash, instead of our Wally West, and I agree wholeheartedly. One must take the Flash's role here with a grain of salt, and otherwise the medicine will go down fine (or something).
And now back to Gotham -- Batman: War Games Act Three, that is. From there, the hardcover of Identity Crisis, and then a long list of Identity Crisis crossovers. Come join me, won't you?