Justice League: Trinity War ended up being had been the story that readers had been expecting, I might consider it a passable, amusing first meeting between the three Justice League teams.
Unfortunately, the build-up and denouement of Trinity War so significantly differ from one another that it's hard to see what might otherwise have been a satisfactory story as anything other than a disappointment. And it's too bad, that.
[Review contains spoilers]
Every reader -- and I make that broad statement unequivocally -- went into Trinity War expecting that it would reveal the truth about Pandora, the mysterious figure who "caused" the New 52 relaunch in-story in Flashpoint and who appeared in every New 52 #1 issue, and about her fellow Trinity of Sin. While Trinity War does broaden Pandora's background somewhat, her role in Flashpoint and the reason she's been dogging DC's heroes is touched on not at all.
Moreover, Trinity War's big reveal is that Pandora's box is not the mythical artifact we believed it to be (despite, inexplicably, that anyone who touches it "goes rogue" for a brief amount of time) but rather an Earth 3 Mother Box that brings to our world the Crime Syndicate. As such, nearly none of the build-up of Pandora matters to the end of Trinity War; this includes the three issues of the Pandora series that see her fighting evil wraiths supposedly released from the box but whose origins are ultimately left completely unexplained. Said wraiths appear nowhere in the Justice League, America, and Dark issues also collected here, such to underscore just how tertiary Pandora, the series and the character, is to this book.
Were Pandora a character who had simply cameoed in the Justice League titles for a bit ahead of this inter-title crossover, none of this would be an issue. Two examples of relatively "big" Justice League stories come to mind -- the 1990s Justice League "Judgment Day" crossover and the 2000s conclusion of Grant Morrison's JLA with World War III -- each of which upended the Justice League status quo and each of which had villains who had been teased for a bit in just the affected books leading up to that point. But, in neither case was the audience lead to believe that the bad guys were anything more than a catalyst for the character development and other changes in the stories.
The Pandora situation could be likened to all the cameo appearances the Monitor made in 1980s DC titles prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths series and reboot, only the Monitor factored specifically into Crisis's resolution and Pandora, with the same kinds of appearances, not at all. Moreover the entire Trinity of Sin makes a fairly poor showing in Trinity War, despite that the book opens with their origin in the Free Comic Book Day issue from a couple years back; the Phantom Stranger "dies" halfway through and never appears again, and the reader learns nearly nothing about the third leg of the stool, the new Question.
All of this is a shame because for what it actually delivers, Trinity War is a fun, if not especially ground-breaking, inter-title crossover. Between some early teases and how the story starts, it seems that Trinity War will pit the three Justice Leagues against each other in the angst-y style some might expect from the New 52. Instead, the Leaguers rally around each other, and around an injured Superman, relatively soon into the book. For those who miss some of the camaraderie between heroes found in the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe, aspects of Trinity War may feel like a heroic breath of fresh air. There's also a significant amount of the story that deals with DC's Big Three trinity, contrasting Superman's and Wonder Woman's moral codes, for instance, or Wonder Woman's belief in magic versus Batman's belief in science, all of which is enjoyable.
These good character interactions help to mask what's ultimately a thin plot, which again wouldn't be such an issue except for the extent to which Trinity War had been hyped as a big deal. A lot of the story simply involves the various Leagues running around between a variety of locations -- Kahndaq, the ARGUS base, the House of Mystery, Belle Reve prison -- arguing with one another for a while, and then moving on to the next place. This is true for many crossovers of this type, but there's a significant amount of dead ends that the League traces down here "just because," until story's main villain, the Earth 3 Outsider, finally tips his hand with a plan that seems more complicated than necessary except for what the authors needed to fill six parts of the story.
Given said hype surrounding Trinity War, I was surprised by some of the editorial difficulties revealed in the full collection. A couple of times it seems like one title doesn't know what another is doing, as when Deadman seems to go off with one faction of heroes but then shows up with another, with dialogue explaining away that he'd changed his mind. Trinity of Sin: Pandora #3 is placed, both in the collection and in DC's official checklist, before part five, Justice League Dark #23, but it actually takes place between parts five and six, creating a bit of confusion when the characters aren't where they're supposed to be (and Shazam looks considerably different, prematurely).
As well, though I like the Phantom Stranger and Constantine series individually, in all their tie-in issues are less than necessary, with neither adding anything substantial to the story and both being easily skip-able (though again, not so unusual for events and their tie-ins of this type).
One of my difficulties with Trinity War exterior to this collection has been the splitting of the various parts into the various individual trades; the parts of Trinity War feed into one another so closely that it seemed hard to make sense of the parts on their own. Ironically, in reading the full Trinity War collection, it became slightly easier to sense the individual titles' identities among the parts. Trinity War is structured better than a number of other crossovers in that it's a continuous story instead of each part being told from the different teams' perspectives (a fault, very often, of the Green Lantern events), but the various titles' identities do show through -- that the Justice League of America issues include a bit more of Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller, that the Dark issue focuses more on the captive Madame Xanadu, and so on. Reading Trinity War in parts split between three trades may not make sense the first time, but it might be easier after one full read of the whole thing.
As I mentioned, Justice League: Trinity War reminds me of the Justice League crossover "Judgment Day" -- a bunch of battles with smaller enemies leading up to the main villain, and three Justice Leagues sparring and working together. "Judgment Day" isn't well known, but I remember it fondly, and the same is true for Trinity War; except for the story's final surprise, there's not much here to go down in history, but it was still an entertaining Justice League story. It's just a shame that whatever was intended by having Pandora appear in all those New 52 issues didn't come to fruition in this book; perhaps DC and the creative teams' hope was that if the story came close enough, the disparities wouldn't show, but they do. The strength or not of the Forever Evil story that follows will probably say much about how Trinity War is remembered.
[Includes original and variant covers]