Review: Justice League: Team History hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 25, 2010

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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4 comments:

  1. Does this read more like the older Robinson work as in STARMAN, GOLDEN AGE etc or the more recent stuff like MON EL, CRY FOR JUSTICE?

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  2. Reads like Robinson's recent stuff. I still think Robinson's work overall has a consciousness to it that distinguishes it from other writers' work, but I don't think anything he's done so far has quite reached the level of Starman or Golden Age. And that could be our differing perspective, not his.

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  3. Hm. Even I haven't read the complete STARMAN....just maybe the 1st arc that I was fortunate enough to collect in singles and 4 trades....the TIMES PAST one and the ones where he meets Batman & Solomon Grundy & where he goes off to space to look for Will Payton. At that time, the rest were out of print. I mean, I've been reading since THE COMING OF ATLAS through MON EL & CRY FOR JUSTICE....and yeah I do notice the consciousness you mention....it's a fresh feeling....but it was definitely way better in his older stuff....the recent stuff seems....uneventful. GOLDEN AGE was a damn exceptional piece of work....halfway thru the trade I couldn't understand where it was going....mind you, I was hooked from page 1 but I couldn't fathom what was happening. Then the bomb hits....

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  4. I almost didn't finish this book. I've really enjoyed the four New Krypton books and even more, the Mon-El books, but Team History was kind of awful. I haven't kept up with this current volume of JLofA, but I didn't really care about our heroes who starred in the Blackest Night issues. Considering what you wrote about the villains, they were nasty on many levels and that worked for the story, but I couldn't find myself caring.

    The following issues only somewhat intrigued me with the anti-New Gods or whatever they are. I too love the Kirby stuff, but I wish this book had revealed more about their motivation as a group. I also wondered if a few of them were supposed to be Liefeldesque in their behaviors and designs, since Liefeld is a Kirby fan.

    The league in the second half of the book did not gel at all. What surprised me a lot was Grayson standing around with his cowl up his @$$. He doesn't seem to be so inadequate in the Batman books of this time, but now he's completely lost it?

    And Bagley's art does not work. I loved him on Amazing Spider-Man and still enjoy that work from the early and mid-nineties. I think he was often inked by Randy Emberlin. But his style seems to have become, as you write, more blurred, which may have been the inkers, but everyone looks kind of the same. I'm glad Bagley has gotten recognition this past decade but is he past his prime?

    I do not recommend this book at all. It might be the start of some future awesomeness, but in itself I find it to be filler and waste.

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