Going in to James Robinson's Justice League: Cry for Justice, I knew the most controversial points -- I knew about "the joke" and I knew about this, that, and the other thing in the ending, too. Given the outcry over this book, and then Robinson's Eisner Award nomination for it, I've been looking forward to reading Cry for Justice -- the contrarian in me wonders if it can really be as troubled as many people say, or if there must be some greater point Robinson's trying to make somewhere here. Ultimately, I think I see both sides; Cry for Justice has its difficulties, but I'm still left with some enthusiasm for Robinson's work.
[Contains spoilers (also for Identity Crisis)]
I am hesitant to blame a book's problems on editorial fiat -- a story should rise and fall on its own merits, not on what I imagine went on behind the scenes -- but in Cry for Justice it seems to be the case. Robinson's introduction -- which itself is astounding as a pre-story apology -- suggests Cry for Justice has been in the works since early Countdown to Final Crisis and went through a number of editorially-mandated changes, not the least of which was adding the maiming of Red Arrow Roy Harper, the death of his young daughter Lian, and Green Arrow killing the villain responsible, Prometheus.
I recall that for a couple of years when when interviewers asked then-DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio about "characters to watch," he often said it would be Green Arrow's year, even though nothing overly remarkable happened to Arrow. I'm guessing Green Arrow's new direction as a fugitive has long been in the works, and Cry for Justice ended up the place that direction launched -- it could have been Final Crisis or Blackest Night, but it ended up being here. Robinson seems to confirm this in his introduction when he notes that DC editorial wanted Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy to die in this story, too -- that Editorial mandated the Green Arrow family changes -- but Robinson resisted.
This is to say that while it's still James Robinson's name on the book and he's the writer, I tend to give him a pass around chapter five of this story. The greater problem with Lian's death (than it being overly sensationalist) is that it feels tacked on -- editorially-mandated, and not natural to the story; it's the least emotional part of the book. Robinson never actually has Lian appear in the story, only mentions her, and the final chapter sees Mauro Cascioli's lush, detailed painting replaced with stiff, sketchy art from a substitute; the reader has no sense of Star City's destruction (see Speedy falling down into blank white space) that would create any suspense about Lian's fate.
Compare, for example, Lian's death with the death of Robin's father Jack Drake in Identity Crisis. Writer Brad Meltzer offers scenes both touching and harrowing in the build-up to Drake's murder; Lian's death flops on the page, perhaps because of a last-minute decision to include it. Superboy's death in Infinite Crisis, as well, came an issue before the end and gave the characters and reader a chance to "feel" it. I wouldn't say DC Comics "shouldn't" kill Lian, per se -- in the right writers hands, anything can work for a story -- but a certain hurriedness at the end of this book causes the ending to lack the weight it needed to sell it.
I think Cry for Justice tries to be a kind of spiritual sequel to Identity Crisis. The guilt Atom Ray Palmer feels over the murders his ex-wife committed in Identity Crisis drives his part of the hunt for Prometheus, and throughout the book the reader senses an implicit danger to the families of the heroes and villains, also like Identity Crisis. In a way, Cry for Justice is the modern era Identity Crisis -- whereas the latter focused on the events during the Justice League's Silver Age and ultimately, it wasn't a villain responsible for the murders, the former branches from the recent events of Final Crisis and is the case of an actual villain targeting the heroes' actual cities. Cry for Justice is the fruition of the threat that the heroes feared in Identity Crisis, a threat against their private lives, and to some extent Cry succeeds in this reflection.
Robinson obviously wants to talk about torture with this story, the issue having been in the public consciousness when Robinson wrote Cry for Justice, if less so now. The question is how far the DC Comics heroes can be pushed before they'll resort to torture, given the murders now of both Batman and the Martian Manhunter. Green Lantern's rag-tag Justice League do torture the minor villains, but when it comes down to a 24-esque ticking clock situation -- Prometheus's device is destroying cities and the only way to learn how to stop it might be to torture him -- Green Arrow and the other heroes agree to bargain with the villain, even after Lian's death.
Green Arrow, in fact, never tortures anyone in the story, but later kills Prometheus. Robinson clearly defines the boundaries of a DC Comics superhero here, but then takes it a step further -- Arrow defines what makes a hero in the book, and then chooses to set that aside. That Robinson isn't 100 percent successful goes to the general difficulties of the book -- that Prometheus's murder comes at the end and ultimately leads into a separate Green Arrow story, such that there's no real wrap-up or conclusion, actual or thematic, of the type we saw in Identity Crisis or Infinite Crisis, for instance.
And yet, I can see some reason as to why the Cry for Justice team might be nominated for an Eisner Award. It is beautifully painted for the most part by Mauro Cascioli, and the word balloons lack their usual black outlines perhaps because of the painting -- the book looks visually different than your average comic book. Robinson's dialogue has an unusual stilted timbre (see in Mon-El, too) that might take a while to get used to, but that I found rather beautiful overall, akin to an Aaron Sorkin teleplay. Subject matter aside, Cry is a deceptively tough book just to read; it says "Justice League" on it, but there are complications in the art and words that I think a first-time reader taking a Justice League book off the shelf might not expect, and that are a credit to the book despite its other issues.
I remain fascinated by James Robinson's second career at DC Comics. Whereas the first time around he mostly wrote Starman, this time he's working in the wider DC Universe, with such off-the-wall results -- his Mon-El stories have been a "stranger in a strange land"-type view of the DC Universe, while Cry for Justice has the oddball Congorilla/Starman friendship and shout-outs to everything from Identity Crisis to Hard Traveling Heroes. Robinson's new work has been rough, at times, and controversial, to be sure, but he offers such a unique take on the DC Universe -- in every story, the reader sees things with their head cocked just slightly to the side. Absolutely, Cry for Justice has its problems, but I remain eager to see what Robinson does next.
[Contains full covers, introduction by James Robinson, Faces of Evil: Prometheus special by Sterling Gates, illustrated Who's Who pages by Len Wein and Mark Waid]
I know there were strong feelings about Cry for Justice all around, and I'm curious to hear what others thought -- please chime in at the comments section below. Thanks!