James Robinson's first foray on the regular Justice League title is an adequate attempt that shows promise for the future. The difficulty with Justice League of America: Team History, however, that it's so buffeted by the constraints of other stories -- Blackest Night, Cry for Justice, and "New Krypton," among others -- that it never quite stands on its own, at least character-wise. To quote The Wizard of Oz, "People come and go so strangely here"; barely a fraction of the characters in the beginning will make up Robinson's League at the end, making Team History feel more like a prologue than a beginning.[Contains spoilers]
I would note that of all of James Robinson's Blackest Night crossovers (Starman, Superman, JSA), his Justice League issues are the most effective. Robinson sets up a great horror movie atmosphere with six heroes exploring the darkened Hall of Justice, including the eerily melting Plastic Man. The Black Lantern Dr. Light (Arthur Light), Vibe, and Commander Steel are perfect emotional foils for the already self-doubting Dr. Light (Kimiyo Hoshi), Vixen, and Gypsy, and the extent to which the Black Lanterns taunt the heroes while they fight is especially brutal. As a matter of fact, the Black Lantern Dr. Light's ethnic and sexual slurs toward Kimiyo are so extreme that I was rather surprised they got past editorial censors; it's effective storytelling, but again, brutal.
Robinson also held my interest in the second half of the book, as his newly-gathered League including Kimiyo, Batman Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Starman Mikaal Tomas, and Congorilla fight evil doppelgangers of the recently-deceased New Gods; after the Gods departure in Final Crisis, just about anything that suggests their return gets at least an initial vote from me. And of course, at the end Robinson teases a plot that includes DC's Multiverse -- the Tangent Earth and the one where Quality Comics characters like the original Question and Blue Beetle Ted Kord still live -- so that puts the next volume squarely on my to-buy list already.
Unfortunately, almost none of the heroes involved in the Blackest Night aspect of Team History remain with the League through the end of the book, and those that join in the second half like Cyborg, Starfire, and the Guardian don't receive much characterization, functioning basically as background window dressing. Even Mon-El, whom Robison wrote so well in the pages of Superman, only speaks a few lines in three issues. Of about a dozen characters that Team History's cover teases will join the League in this book, only four remain in the end, making this book disappointing for anyone expecting the beginnings of the new League; rather, this book is just a placeholder, deceivingly advertised, before Robinson's real stories start next time.
Those four remaining heroes are Starman, Congorilla, Batman, and Donna Troy. The first two, essentially Robinson's property of late, translate well, and he also does a nice job with Dick's efforts to equal Bruce Wayne in the League. It's his Donna Troy about which I'm uncertain -- as in J. T. Krul's recent Blackest Night: Titans, Robinson's Donna here is weirdly angst-y, talking about giving up her superhero life as if any reader will actually believe the possibility. Donna evinces this "it's all too much" attitude with which I find writers unfortunately afflict female characters -- Black Canary, Oracle, and Wonder Girl, among others -- that doesn't hold my interest; I'd rather see Donna rise above adversity than succumb to it. I will be interested to see how Robinson continues to portray Donna (and if he might even give her a solid origin) going forward.
There's an indication of Robinson freeing himself from the crossover trappings and "coming alive" at the end of the book where, with just the four key Leaguers remaining, he begins seriously interspersing the characters' narratives (Superman/Batman-style, as they say). This is unusual and hard to read and, in essence, very, very James Robinson, and the story is better for it; this kind of thing gives Robinson's Justice League a distinctive voice that separates it from League stories previous -- just as his rampant flashbacks made his second Mon-El volume stand out -- and that's what I want in reading a book by Robinson.
Team History is not always perfect (and the book's multiple inkers often make artist Mark Bagley's usually-clear art annoyingly blurry), but it's an indication of something different, and I'm holding out hope that in the next volume this book will really take off.
[Contains full and variant covers]
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