Review: Justice League Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 30, 2013

The flagship New 52 title hits its stride with Justice League Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis. Writer Geoff Johns pares down the cast such to focus on a few very specific characters and relationships, and it brings some welcome depth to the book (not to mention the story's aquatic antagonists). With the most recent Aquaman collection, that title has been on an upswing, and it buoys Justice League along with it in this crossover.

[Review contains spoilers]

Throne of Atlantis's first two issues explore the relationship between Wonder Woman and Superman, and the over-protectiveness Diana feels toward the League and her friends, including Steve Trevor. Johns's kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman in Justice League Vol. 2: The Villains Journey was wholly unconvincing, as it was meant to be; in Throne, Johns has the characters back up and get to know one another better, and what emerges is a believable basis for their attraction. Superman finds someone who understands his responsibilities; Wonder Woman learns how to have a private life amidst her superheroics. Johns's Wonder Woman is a wholly different character from Brian Azzarello's portrayal in the main series; while I like Azzarello's portrayal, I'm curious here for the first time what a Johns-written Wonder Woman series might be like.

Toward the end of Villain's Journey (and even in part since Justice League Vol. 1: Origin), Johns has built up to a confrontation between Batman and Aquaman over leadership of the League. We've seen League leadership fights before (most notably in Justice League International) and I worried this would devolve into a fistfight or a schism within the League, a story told already too many times. While Batman and Aquaman do come to blows, surprisingly they later each admit their own errors and reconcile.

It's perhaps a shame that Batman and Aquaman each accepting fault should be so surprising -- in our fiction and in the real world, we more commonly see factions schism than compromise -- and Johns's less angsty, more reasonable solution is welcome. Also, Batman and Aquaman is not a team-up we often saw in the entirety of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe, and Johns succeeds in giving them a conflict where both have a natural role and would logically work side-by-side.

Finally, Johns gives Cyborg a wrenching decision in these pages that, as much as I'm curious about a Johns-penned Wonder Woman series, makes me wonder what Johns could do with Vic Stone, too. Coming out of Villain's Journey, Vic is increasingly concerned about losing his humanity -- he wonders even if his consciousness might simply be a computer program that believes itself to have been human. Vic's scientist father offers him an "upgrade" that would allow Vic to survive harsh climates, but at the cost of his one remaining lung. Vic opposes the change initially, but as soon as he needs the upgrades to rescue the League, Vic agrees -- even as the audience stands shocked at his sacrifice. Vic has been a cypher in the first two League volumes, but here we understand his capacity for heroism. If the Justice League title lacked heart before, it has it now.

Following from the excellent Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others, in which Johns resurrected and defined Aquaman nemesis Black Manta for the ages, he gives the same treatment to Ocean Master here. As is Johns's wont, Ocean Master is no cookie-cutter foe, but actually a passionate ruler of Atlantis who legitimately believes his city has been attacked. Even better, Ocean Master turns out not to be the story's true villain; rather, Johns plays on our pre-Flashpoint sympathies, reintroducing a beloved character and then having him turn out to be the mastermind behind the Atlantis war. This was clever on Johns's part and caught me by surprise, and it's a stark reminder that while some names remain the same, the New 52 characters are not the same as their predecessors.

Jim Lee departs art duties on Justice League before this volume, replaced by Ivan Reis (coming over from Aquaman); Paul Pelletier replaces Reis on the other title. I've come to associate Reis's work with Aquaman now, and his presence here on Justice League helped make the story feel less like a crossover and more like the next issue of a Aquaman/Justice League title. I have enjoyed Pelletier's work on such titles as Superboy and the Ravers, though I'll need a bit longer before I agree he's right for Aquaman; Pelletier's sunnier, smoother style doesn't convey the seriousness of the Justice LEague or Aquaman the way Reis and Lee did, and I'm not convinced the Aquaman title is the better for it.

Justice League Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis is a more traditional tale of the League in action than the Vol. 1 origin story (even despite Green Lantern's absence and Flash bowing out early on); its twists, turns, and inter-team politics are stronger than the same in Justice League Vol. 2: Villain's Journey. This marked improvement in Justice League gives me hope for the future; Trinity War can't get here for me soon enough.
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14 comments:

  1. And it buoys Justice Leaguealong with it in this crossover.

    I sea what you did there.

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    1. Also Johns's pared down cast in this storyline brings "depth" to the book ... I don't know how people who write about Aquaman books primarily don't go pun crazy ...

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  2. One of the better things here is that it naturally flows from this book to Death of a King (Aquaman vol 4, 17-23), which I will pick up!

    But really, JL 13 and 14 don't belong here. Why unnecessarily pad the book up? Really, they should have kept Aquaman 14 though, which was the real prologue!

    Aquaman is fast becoming one of my favourite books and Johns leaving is sad. Butt Jeff is a good writer so will be optimistic about it.

    But curiously, JL has really not felt like a good book and those are the weakest parts in this hardcover. Either Johns doesn't get Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman (which I don't believe) or he has problems with team books (which again is hardly believable due to Johns great run on GL). I think it is more of the latter though.

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    1. >>But really, JL 13 and 14 don't belong here.

      Well, I'd disagree with you. This is Justice League Vol. 3, after all, not a sole Throne of Atlantis trade, so it stands to reason that the issues following Justice League Vol. 2 but preceding Throne of Atlantis would appear here. I do think Aquaman #14 should have been included, and perhaps this book *could* have been an Aquaman/Justice League combination trade (and then Vol. 3 could be each book's next volume, or something), but for how it stands, I'm glad they included Justice League #13-14. Just my opinion, but I don't consider this trade "padded" in that way.

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  3. CE, can you confirm, that Aquaman #14 and #17 are not included?

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    1. Confirmed; this trade is Justice League #13-17, and Aquaman #15-16. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others ended with issue #13, so the "gap" if you read this Justice League trade straightaway is Aquaman #14 (and Aquaman #0).

      As the DC solicitations stand right now (subject to change), Aquaman Vol. 3 contains #0, #14-16, and Justice League #15-17. So, the difference between the two books is Aquaman #0 and #14 vs. Justice League #13-14.

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    2. Thanks, CE.

      The information for Aquaman, Vol. 3 changed sometime in the last few days on Amazon. Previously it was the way you state. Now it just says Aquaman #14-18. I guess this has to do with Johns leaving the title and now Vol. 4 has to go as far as #25 to have a clean cut between the writers' runs.

      But I hope this new solit is wrong, too. Ideally it will contain #0, #14-17 and JL #15-17 (=8 issues). Volume 4 could then collect the remaining issues of Johns: #18-#19, #21-25 and #23.1-23.2 (=9 issues).

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  4. I find it quite shocking that two $25 dollar books (Aquaman v3 and Justice League v3) each have five of their seven issues in common. A reader who wants the whole story of 9 issues in hardback is required to pay $50, with a duplication rate of over 50%. To treat the customer fairly, it would have been better to publish a joint book (Aquaman/Justice League v3 - Throne of Atlantis) for say $30.

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    1. This is troublesome, I agree, and your solution is a good one -- Justice League/Aquaman Vol. 3. From DC's standpoint, however -- aside from the benefit of indeed some customers paying $50 for five issues repeated in two trades -- I wonder if a "joint" trade was feasible.

      Imagine the casual comics reader, far, far less in-the-know than you and I, who goes by their local bookstore every once in a while and picks up whatever appeals to them off the graphic novel shelf. Let's say they read Aquaman Vol. 1 and 2 and liked them, but doesn't want to start following the larger DC Universe. How long would it take that person to figure out that the next Aquaman book they're supposed to read is one called Justice League/Aquaman Vol. 3? And then that they should go to Aquaman Vol. 4 after that? I wonder if clarity made that joint trade not an option.

      What I might have liked was *three* trades -- Justice League Vol. 3, Aquaman Vol. 3, and then Throne of Atlantis (in the way DC has collected the New 52 Green Lantern crossovers, The Culling, etc.). I'd rather get half the story in Justice League, half in Aquaman, no duplication of contents, and have to flip back and forth, than buy two trades with so much duplication. Maybe DC didn't think sales would warrant three trades, but that's how I'd have liked to see it.

      Note that next time, DC is releasing Justice League Vol. 4, which collects Justice League #18-23 (reportedly), and then also a Trinity War collection with a whole slew of titles (Free Comic Book Day 2012, Pandora, Phantom Stranger, Constantine, Justice League America, Justice League Dark, and Justice League #22-23). So for the next crossover, possibly DC is course-correcting from the Throne of Atlantis collection snafu, and things'll be better next time.

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    2. Yeah, this post-Flashpoint pursuit of forcing the readers to double-dip on the collected editions smacks of pure greed.

      I'm not happy about it at all either.

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    3. Aside from the Justice League/Aquaman situation, when else do you feel the books have been constructed in such a way as to make readers double-dip?

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    4. I hated how NIGHT OF THE OWLS was collected. You got the tie-ins in the hardcover, but only half of Synder's issues. To see the climax of the battle, you had to buy CITY OF OWLS.

      I'm also annoyed with the way JUSTICE LEAGUE is collecting TRINITY WAR. Issues #17-19 are in Vol. 4 and are critical to setting up TRINITY WAR. But they're not in the complete hardcover and in essence, I'd be paying an extra $20 just to get three issues.

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  5. To me, the right way to handle this situation would be including Aquaman #0 in the second volume, Aquaman #14-16 in Justice League vol. 3 and then issues #17-25 in Aquaman vol. 3. Yes, that would mean the Aquaman collections would skip the crossover.

    Sure, people who buy Aquaman in collected form but aren't interested in Justice League would be miffed, but I still think they'd end up buying JL vol. 3 to get the full story, especially with Johns writing the whole thing and Ivan Reis drawing the JL chapters.

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    1. I wonder how ardently DC follows the volume numbering -- whether it'd be out of the question to let Aquaman's collection numbering fall out of step with Justice League's, for instance.

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