Comics Alliance's Chris Sims rated the third issue of J. T. Krul's Rise of Arsenal as one of their "Worst of the Worst" issues; Savage Critic Brian Hibbs labeled it "the worst comic I have ever read." Though I might not say "absolute worst," I don't disagree with their assessment that some aspects, including the infamous "dead cat incident," are over the top, not to mention some laughably poor drug "lingo."
And yet, if I might be charitable, I didn't feel let down at the end of Justice League: Rise and Fall -- which collects not only the Arsenal miniseries, but also the closing issues of the previous Green Arrow series and a Justice League special -- as much as I did when reading Magog: Lethal Force, for instance, or Superman/Batman: Big Noise. There were parts of this book as a whole, even after two readings, that I found I rather liked
As there are any number of reviews out there that will tell you why you should avoid this book, I'll provide a little contrast by illuminating what I liked -- not, by any stretch, ignoring what's still rough around the edges here -- and then you can make the decision for yourself.
Mark Waid's JLA: Year One and Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis are two books that most would agree are far away from one another in tone, yet similar in this way: they emphasize the Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Flash Barry Allen, Green Arrow Oliver Queen, and Black Canary Dinah Lance relationship. Both books are about, as Meltzer presented it, the second level of the Justice League, those who do the clean-up after DC Comics's Big Three walk off the stage. Both Year One and Identity Crisis are set in the past (or Hal appears as the Spectre, etc.), however, and the recent Blackest Night crossover focused on Hal and Barry, but not Ollie.
The "Fall of Green Arrow" aspects of this book are a modern-day "second League" story, possibly the first since Green Lantern, Flash, and Green Arrow's respective resurrections. It is far from perfect -- Krul makes Flash Barry Allen terribly unlikeable, a caricature of Geoff Johns's nuanced police scientist -- but the broad strokes are there. I have complained in the past that it was unnecessary for DC to resurrect these old heroes, supplanting their newer counterparts, but the bottom line is you can't tell the same stories with Flash Wally West, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, and Green Arrow Connor Hawke that you can with Barry, Hal, and Ollie. Among them, they created the Justice League together; among them, they were the "hard traveling heroes." The emotions are just plain deeper, and they added a sizzle to Hal and Barry's discovery that Ollie had killed the villain Prometheus, and their attempt to bring him in, that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Further, if Krul's Barry was off, and his Connor Hawke completely mischaracterized (which made ardent Connor fans crazy, no doubt), I thought Krul absolutely nailed Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen's friendship. It's obvious throughout the story that Hal's of two minds about Ollie's guilt; this is the same Green Lantern who himself not only killed his enemy Sinestro in a crazed rage, but was later ready to flip the switch when a (resurrected) Sinestro was sent to death row. When a judge clears Ollie of all charges but exiles him from his home of Star City, Hal is waiting outside to lend his support and wish Ollie well. It's a beautiful couple of pages, and it's why I say if you're a fan of Arsenal Roy Harper, maybe you'll have trouble with this book, but if you're a fan of Green Arrow, this is actually a somewhat promising Green Arrow story.
Second, I thought some of the moral issues in this book were handled well. One thing I liked about the Sacrifice storyline where Wonder Woman killed Max Lord is that Wonder Woman remains unapologetic about the act; maybe she was wrong, but she (and the writers) are sticking to their actions. I don't mind that Superman executed villains in Exile and later renounced the action, but carrying on, I think the "murdering and feeling remorse" storyline is less complicated, asks less from the reader, and has more danger of straying into cliche than a storyline where heroes kill, feel justified, but then have to balance that justification with censure from their colleagues (see, for instance, Bartlet and assassinating a terrorist in West Wing's third season).
Krul's Green Arrow deals with a little bit of both. In the beginning, Ollie does feel he's done the right thing, even as he knows neither Hal nor Barry, nor his wife Dinah, will approve; it's only after he sees how his actions feed his sidekick Speedy Mia Dearden's bloodlust that he rethinks his actions. Later, a jury clears Ollie due to that same bloodlust, and Ollie fails to stop Arsenal from killing a villain on his own. It's not just that Ollie feels bad; there are real consequences to Prometheus's murder in terms of the actions of those who look up to Ollie, and it's ironic since Ollie gets flak for not being a stalwart mentor (even as we see the pervasiveness of his influence). Krul doesn't treat these matters lightly, and moreover I think he gives them some nuance (especially when Ollie can't stop Roy from killing in front of him).
Not any of this, I'll grant, excuses the excesses of this book, especially in the Arsenal miniseries chapters. Krul shows good attention to detail at times, like remembering Deathstroke's daughter Ravager's relationship with Roy's daughter Lian, killed by Prometheus; but then in comparison, the drug-addled Arsenal manifests a new costume without the writer spending any time on how or why, or on Arsenal's new moniker. As well, a good number of splash pages bear artist Geraldo Borges signature, quite overtly; I'm not used to seeing this, and moreover these pages, with obscenely misshapen facial expressions, aren't near as impressive as the signatures seem to suggest. Often these splash pages are considerably violent, and it suggests a disconnect between artist and reader -- the book is a tragedy, not a Lobo-esque violent comedy, and this blithe glorification-by-signing took me squarely out of the story.
Possibly, Krul is trying to do something here that either doesn't work in serial comics, or doesn't work with today's serial comics audience. Obviously, somewhere down the road, Arsenal will be redeemed, either by Krul in Green Arrow or by new Titans writer Eric Wallace in that book. The "Arsenal" section, though called "Rise of Arsenal," is really about Roy Harper's downfall (just as Green Arrow's "fall" is in many ways his "rise"). But, whereas a two-hour movie might demonstrate Roy's fall and rise all before you leave the theater, Arsenal is about Roy's fall only; it's all about how low can Roy Harper go. Krul, as Chris Sims notes, fails to make Roy sympathetic even when it seems Krul is trying to -- the scene where Roy attacks Mia especially embitters Roy to the reader -- but also, I think, making Roy sympathetic is not what this book is about. That comes later.
And that's where I'm just not sure this approach works; I'm not sure a reader wants to spend money for four months on a book where you pity the protagonist to begin with, hate him in the end, and only read his redemption later on in a different title; with all the other problems these chapters have, I think that's asking too much.
Justice League: Rise and Fall is far from perfect, but it has some nice touches (I continue to like that DC is including previews of new titles at the end of their collections; here, a preview of Krul's new Green Arrow series). I enjoy interplay of the characters this book features, and so far I've liked more stories I've read by J. T. Krul than I have disliked. This will not be a book for everyone, but I had not as much difficulty with it as I'd expected.
[Contains full and variant covers. Printed on glossy paper]
We continue the week with a look at another contentious DC Comics title, Titans: Villains for Hire. See you then!