One of the ideas in Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis was that of the League within the League; Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman might be the big three, but it was Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and others who kept the heroes' secret identities safe back in the day. As such, it shouldn't be a great surprise that Meltzer's first Justice League trade, The Tornado's Path, turns on much the same idea; whereas the Big Three gather in the Batcave to precisely decide the best choices for the new Justice League, that membership is ultimately chosen by Green Lantern, Black Canary, and others.
In the manner of choosing the League's new roster, Meltzer creates parallels between modern sensibilities and comics history, much as he did in Identity Crisis. It makes the most perfect of sense to us that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman should hand-pick the Justice League membership; after all, these three are the de facto leaders of the team, and the League should be a body of purpose, not a grouping of chance. But the plain fact, as pointed out in this volume, is that League membership has often been fortuitous happenstance, really from their very first case. That the new membership should simply be made of the varied heroes participating in the "Tornado's Path" case follows that same tradition.
Indeed, Meltzer's League is one without the Big Three as its necessary cornerstone. Despite that the Big Three take center stage in nearly every League group shot, it is Black Canary whom Meltzer gives the much-deserved chairman's role. He even goes so far as to have new member Black Lighting invite Batman onto the team, instead of vice versa; the implication, as Batman points out, is that while the Big Three are valued members of the team, they are not the team themselves. This is a hard philosophy really to see through--I doubt many would want to read a Justice League that didn't include the Big Three--but in the wake of the world-spanning Infinite Crisis that hinged on the Big Three, seeing them lose a bit of the spotlight is actually somewhat refreshing.
The Tornado's Path itself is a fun story, in a cotton-candy summer blockbuster vein. Scads of villains abound here, each one masterminding a larger scheme than the last. In contrast to the finely-honed Identity Crisis, the actual plot of Tornado's Path is nearly inscrutable, with various elements from Solomon Grundy, T. O. Morrow, Vixen, Red Tornado, and Amazo combining in a comic book soup that makes very little sense. But watching Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Black Canary take on Amazo is just plain fun, as is the heavy dose of Justice League history with which Meltzer imbues this comic. Never, I'd say, have I seen a Justice League comic so in touch with all the team's previous adventures (Meltzer has old Justice League panels reprinted here, for gosh sake!), and it very much seems an element that previous Justice Leagues have been missing.
Ed Benes offers exceptional art here, bright and loud and bombastic and, at times, gruesome. Pieces of Meltzer's script are reprinted at the end, and much of the gore that Meltzer kept off-screen during Identity Crisis he's brought on-screen here. To wit, Red Tornado gets terribly mangled here, with his robotic face maimed and his human body eviscerated, all shown in graphic detail. It's a mite more blood than one might expect from a Justice League comic book, and I don't necessarily think it was the right decision, but Benes sure gets a chance to show his drawing chops. There's also a three-page fold-out spread in the end, not to be missed.
I like the minor members of the new Justice League--Black Lightning, Hawkgirl, Red Arrow, Red Tornado, and Vixen--and I'm eager to read about them while at the same time fearing for their longevity. Looking into the future, Justice League writer Dwayne McDuffie has for the most part kept this line-up, but I can't imagine them going down in history like Grant Morrison's Big Seven line-up. Truly, Meltzer's new team feels less like a Justice League than a collection of super-friends, though in the end I'll grant that's perhaps not a bad thing, once in a while.
[Contains full covers, second printing cover thumbnails, Introduction, commentary section by Meltzer and Benes.]
We're going to keep going with the big guns, with Justice Society of America: The Next Age coming next. Stick around!