There's a general consensus that once writer Dwayne McDuffie had Final Crisis out of the way, the quality of his Justice League of America picked up considerably. Never in McDuffie's run were his stories bad or embarrassing to the characters; in fact, his characterization was always strong even if the story plots -- due to McDuffie himself or the aforementioned pre-Final Crisis editorial fiat -- sometimes lacked real verve.
Whether with Final Crisis behind him or the new inclusion of his former Milestone characters, McDuffie's previous Justice League volume Second Coming showed marked improvement over the two before, and Worlds Collide is his best Justice League yet. We mourn, then, that it also collects McDuffie's final issues of the title.
Indeed, the great strength of McDuffie's Justice League run all along has been the characters. Throughout, I for one have enjoyed the "doomed from the beginning" romance between Hawkgirl and Red Arrow; McDuffie also well spotlighted Vixen and Red Tornado in the last volume. Here, at the end, McDuffie finds character gold in the unlikely pairing of the female Dr. Light and the young Firestorm; Light is over-angry and Firestorm overly-flippant, but they quickly bond as Justice League outsiders. As well, time hasn't lessened McDuffie's touch with the Milestone characters; his Icon remains as noble as his Hardware does enjoyably overconfident.
Left with a handful of Justice League second-stringers in the wake of Final Crisis, McDuffie creates a plucky sub-League that's surprisingly fun to watch. McDuffie pits the team against Starbreaker, a classic and powerful Justice League foe, and convincingly demonstrates how this team -- Zatanna, Green Lantern John Stewart, Firestorm, and Dr. Light -- could reasonably take down Starbreaker on their own. McDuffie gets points for characterization again -- his League comes together solely for the purpose of upholding League values, and the way the four quickly learn to care for one another makes them all the more endearing; there's a "soul" in this story that wasn't there before, and the reader suddenly cares because, it seems, the writer does, too.
Unfortunately, by choice or again by editorial fiat, how McDuffie gets to this clear space isn't entirely pretty. The real victim in this volume is Black Canary, the chairwoman to whom little of the League has shown respect throughout McDuffie's run (part of a storyline, he says, to ultimately build Canary back up). In Worlds Collide, much of Canary's team either resigns or joins a rival League (including Canary's own husband, Green Arrow) such that Canary herself quits.
For those who thrilled to see Canary take charge, branching off of Gail Simone's take on Black Canary in Birds of Prey, to see Canary's League end in flames is a disappointment. After years of writers casting Canary as the victim, chairing the League represented not only a victory for Canary, but for the portrayal of women in comics. But one difficulty with a character gaining their strength is that sometimes writers don't know where else to go, and therefore must break the character down again -- we see this not only with Canary, but even with Oracle in Birds of Prey after Simone's departure. Again, I'm not sure any of this is actually McDuffie's choice -- in one chapter, Canary and Oracle actually discuss whether it's "sexism" that's been the problem with Canary's leadership in the Justice League, and one wonders if this isn't another instance of McDuffie making his own statement on his troubled Justice League run through his characters.
Indeed, it's hard not to hear McDuffie in a a rather startling exchange between Canary and Green Lantern Hal Jordan halfway through the book. As Hal announces his intent to form his own League (in James Robinson's Cry for Justice), he ticks off on his fingers what very little Black Canary's Justice League has accomplished. Indeed it is very little, mostly helping fellow Leaguers rather than saving the world -- as compared to Grant Morrison's JLA, this League's accomplishments are paltry. McDuffie could very well be speaking about how his own writerly hands have been tied; most of what this League has done has been in service to either crossovers or forthcoming miniseries, and the reader imagines they feel McDuffie's frustration in Canary's own.
What came next, of course, was McDuffie's firing from Justice League reportedly for airing his frustrations about the direction of the series. Those frustrations, it seems, mainly involved the interruption of crossovers in the series -- yes, McDuffie dealt with a bunch of Final Crisis, but I recall Grant Morrison has as many crossovers with JLA and seemed to take them more in stride -- Superman showing up in his blue costume, and Wonder Woman's mother joining the League, as two examples. No comic, I'm sure, is easy to write, but I wonder if Justice League is as hard as it seems, or if it just takes a certain kind of writer to write it. James Robinson takes the League next, with a membership that seems geared more toward working with the current changes in the DC Universe rather than being derailed by it -- I'll be curious if Robinson's run, finally, becomes a "lasting" League run, rather than the fits and starts we've seen so far.
[Contains full covers]
One good thing to come out of all of this is the announcement of Milestone Forever, a new miniseries by McDuffie. The return of the Milestone characters in Worlds Collide (and how McDuffie ties it to past Milestone history and to Final Crisis) is one of the best parts of this volume, and I'm eager for more Milestone on the way.
Thanks for reading!