Review: Justice League: Omega hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Grant Morrison's JLA was what it claimed -- one couldn't read that title without thinking, "This is the Justice League of America." I felt more tentative about Joe Kelly's JLA run that followed, but somewhere in the middle of The Obsidian Age's time-traveling craziness, I again thought to myself, "This is the Justice League."

Writer James Robinson sets out to accomplish the same in Justice League of America: Omega, and it works. Omega is a superheroic romp of the best kind, a frenetic, messy story stuffed with years of obscurity and continuity and esoteric guest-stars, that sizzles in its conclusion when the heroes snatch victory from defeat. Robinson embodies the characters in a manner different from any of DC Comics's other team book writers at present, and creates a model for what team books can be in more ways than one.

[Contains spoilers]

To be sure, Robinson's Omega is a heady mash-up of a dozen other DC Comics. The alternate-Earth Crime Syndicate of America (a conflation of Grant Morrison's JLA: Earth-2 graphic novel and Kurt Busiek's Trinity miniseries) have infected their own and the Tangent universe (from DC's Tangent fifth week events) with a deadly dark matter, and need to resurrect Alexander Luthor (killed in Infinite Crisis) to reverse the damage (no one acknowledges that the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Luthor is not actually the Luthor of their world). Aiding the Syndicate is a band of Apokolips-enhanced villains lead by Dr. Impossible, who instead betrays the Syndicate and tries to resurrect Darkseid (late of Final Crisis). The story involves a number of double-crossed, flashes back to the Countdown to Final Crisis and Day of Vengeance miniseries at least, and even includes the "dark" Supergirl not seen since the early days of the Supergirl series some six years ago.

If it sounds confusing, it is -- gleefully so. Consider the conversation between the title characters at the beginning of the Starman/Congorilla one-shot included here; there's a remarkably text-heavy two-page spread where Congorilla references Green Arrow, Sirroco (briefly of Superman: Camelot Falls) the Shade, and elements of Justice League: Team History and Cry for Justice, and that's all before Animal Man and Rex the Wonder Dog show up. And yet, it's exactly the kind of conversation one might expect two superheroes to have discussing a mission, if there weren't a writer who needed to be concerned what the reader might or might not understand. We've established already that Robinson writes like an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, with enough interruptions and deviations to drive any reader to madness, but in Omega it's elevated to a kind of devil-may-care continuity free-for-all, true to the characters even if the reader gets left behind.

Robinson, however, demonstrates he's cognizant of the weight of all this continuity. I've mentioned before that Robinson's Donna seems "off" in a way, angrier than we think of her in the classic Marv Wolfman New Teen Titans stories. Robinson addresses that here, as Donna considers her own rage, borne from a sadness and tiredness from numerous tragedies, including the death and gross resurrection of her own son during Blackest Night. Donna's anger, however, seems as much directed as her circumstances as it does the architects of those tragedies, the comics writers -- she calls her past "convoluted ... to such a degree that I've long since decided to ignore it, when I'm able." Donna's rage must reflect how daunted Robinson and other writers feel to use this character given how much baggage she carries; in Donna, Robinson gives outlet to the lost reader, simultaneously giving Donna Troy an awareness of the continuity puzzles she poses and also giving her license to ignore them entirely.

Indeed, Robinson's League becomes something of a home for wayward heroes, especially those mistreated by other writers. At the forefront are Donna Troy and Jade, each who have been at times more the foils for male characters of their titles than characters in their own right; in the book's first self-contained chapter, the two agree to a partnership built on their own merits. With Congorilla and Starman on their own for most of the book, Robinson presents a League that is predominantly female, likely a first for the team. Robinson also uses three gay characters -- three is not a lot necessarily, but it's more than one finds in other titles, and it's unlikely Robinson fosters all of this inclusiveness accidentally. Robinson makes strides for diversity in a Justice League title (probably not since Gerard Jones has the League been this diverse) but also this goes again toward how "normal" Robinson's League is, in a way -- just as it's likely superheroes would have continuity-rich discussions, it's just as likely not every hero on a team would be male or straight, and Robinson's League becomes more "realistic" in its difference from the standard fare.

Justice League of America: Omega is the first solo adventure for this League (and, with the DC Relaunch, actually also the penultimate one) and Robinson makes no secret his desire to "legitimize" the team's incarnation in this book. In the previous volume, Dark Things, Starman and Congorilla wonder aloud when they'll be recognized as the Justice League; here, the "Omega" storyline is just underway when Superman himself assures other heroes that this team, the Justice League, will save the day. It's too quick, and with no basis for Superman to believe so, but the story of Washington D.C.'s residents trapped in a dome with only this team of heroes to save them from the villains is very compelling (especially Jesse Quick's underrated role constantly moving the people from spot to spot for three days). In the final pages, a seemingly defeated Batman reveals that his plan to stop the rampaging Omega Man has been in play all along, and it's a twist worthy of Morrison's JLA adventures. This may not have been the Justice League when the Omega started, but it feels that way when they announce themselves in the end.

[Contains original and variant covers. Printed on glossy paper.]

James Robinson has one more volume of Justice League, The Rise of Eclipso, before the title gives way to the DC Relaunch, after which he turns to a new Shade miniseries. I can't really feel disappointed by James Robinson working with the Starman characters again, but Robinson on Shade feels like playing it safe, the writer working with characters he knows and can do with as he pleases. I'd be happy to see Robinson again on a team book, and a mainstream one at that -- his Justice League is out of the ordinary just in the way the comics expanse probably needs.

Coming up this week, new reviews and another entry in our new series, Cancelled Trade Cavalcade. See you then!
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7 comments:

  1. I thought this was Robinson's most entertaining JLA arc, with the alternate "big five" proving their mettle against formidable opponents while Starman and Congorilla go through a fun side-adventure.

    However, I was quite annoyed that Robinson got Alexander Luthor's home Earth wrong and none of the editors caught the mistake. I usually ignore this sort of thing, but it's hard to do when the villains' entire plan hinges on it.

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  2. As a long time reader of the Justice League, I really enjoyed this line-up. Unfortunately, as the League just prior to the nu52 reboot/revamp/mulligan I am afraid ultimately this line-up will get less respect than the JL-Detroit team.

    What could have been an interesting look at legacy characters finally achieving the dream of making the JLA (see Dick and Donna especially), became entangled with various crossovers, team-ups and ultimately the slate wiped clean.

    Greg A.

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  3. Can't decide whether I like that Congorilla and Starman were essentially sidelined this book so that it could be five against five trapped inside the bubble, or not. It makes Congorilla and Starman seem useless and special at the same time, though I'm undecided which it suggests greater.

    To take these analogues a little farther, it's interesting that this is a League made up of, essentially, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern ... and then Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. That's not ever a combination we've seen before, and it's nice to have Blue and Gold among the "Big Five." ... Unless Congorilla is Aquaman and Starman is Martian Manhunter, or something.

    Less respect than the Detroit League, you think, Greg? At least most of this League didn't die (though some were retconned), though your comparison of pre-Crisis to pre-Flashpoint Leagues is interesting (that'd be a cool time-spanning crossover for these two teams to meet). Crossovers have gotten in the way here, though I hear the way Robinson handled Doomsday was rather astute -- the interruption is indeed an interruption in the story, too.

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  4. It took time; however, I'd argue the Detroit League has developed a certain notoriety and cult status this version of the League probably won't get to enjoy.

    In ten years, will there be a JLA 2000s special highlighting this League, much like the 70s, 80s and 90s recent specials?

    It just dawned on me, the Detroit League was also entangled with various crossovers (Original Crisis and Legends), but the Detroit League had an opportunity to breathe, where I don't know if this League did.

    Greg A

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  5. I was actually fairly interested in this lineup originally. But it was partly because of how heavy it was on former Titans originally. The first strike was when several of those characters went out the window. The second strike was it taking two volumes worth of issues to actually get to a real adventure for this team; I really had no desire to start on this run with crossovers, so I was going to start with this volume. The third strike was the relaunch; by that point I hadn't even cared anymore and the new lineup excited me enough that I kind of forgot about the Robinson era.

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  6. I really enjoyed this run of the Justice League, and it felt like there was enough special about it to make it "my" era.

    Robinson dealt with tons of editorial interference (I have trouble believing that the end of Cry for Justice and the entire Arrow family saga rising from it were in any way his own idea), to the point where he lost around half of his League two or three issues after they were first announced. Somehow he always bounced back, and early on in Dark Things you could tell that he found a way around it by using very obscure characters and obtuse ideas for plots.

    For what it's worth, I thought the Eclipso arc was the absolute strongest of his run, and although it was an abbreviated run, I think it's all the better for it being a trio of really great stories that heavily fed into and influenced what crisis came next. It also had a really strong closing issue, which made me very happy, as most short runs aren't so lucky. I can't wait to read his new JSA a few months down the line.

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  7. As we get down to the final trades of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe (though more and more seem to be cancelled each day), I'm most interested to read these final issues that put a cap on the series. Superman has one and so does Batman, and I understand Justice League has a good one as well, as Matthew suggests.

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