Review: Justice League of America Vol. 2: Survivors of Evil hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 15, 2014

I like Matt Kindt's Mind MGMT a lot, and so I was disappointed not to enjoy his Justice League of America Vol. 2: Survivors of Evil more. On the face of it, Kindt writing ARGUS's semi-covert League team would seem an easy fit, and it's hard to believe I would have bad things to say about what this book turns out to be, namely a Stargirl origin story and a Stargirl/Martian Manhunter team-up. But Survivors of Evil is at times confusing, at times predictable, and ultimately mostly irrelevant; I also didn't much like what it established about some of the characters within. I liked Forever Evil and the Justice League tie-in, Forever Heroes, but Survivors I just didn't think held up.

[Review contains spoilers]

Survivors of Evil collects seven issues, sufficient for six issues to span the length of Forever Evil and then the seventh epilogue issue to follow Forever Evil's finale. Unfortunately, the need to fill an issue quota doesn't automatically make a story fit to it, and Survivors comes off too padded. First, the general premise is flawed. Stargirl Courtney Whitmore and the Martian Manhunter are trapped in a mental prison that preys on the heroes' weaknesses; most of the first two issues involve a tour of the Justice League heroes trapped in their various self-defeating scenarios, much of which long-time DC Comics readers will have seen before (Wonder Woman trapped in a never-ending war, etc.).

That's two issues the reader really doesn't need, and then when Stargirl and Manhunter finally get "free," it's equally obvious they haven't actually escaped the prison at all, but are still hallucinating. Getting a New 52 Stargirl origin is notable, but it's not a story that takes four more issues to tell, and the various fight scenes and such that fill the issues lack some drama since we know they're fake (not to mention that Stargirl and Manhunter have the same conversation a number of times about where they're going and what they're doing). The reader is essentially trapped in a hallucinatory prison with the heroes for six issues and it frankly feels that tedious, for a story that only barely ties in to Forever Evil at the end.

I also thought Kindt's story lacked in the details. A major part of Survivor's end has to do with the threat of the Firestorm matrix blowing up because, we find out, Firestorms Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond are at each others' throats. Why exactly the boys believe killing each other is the right answer is never clear, and Kindt's characterization of the rational, scientific Jason is especially off (the book's considerable low point is when Jason points a gun at Ronnie's head). The alien villain Despero also appears here, but Kindt's story doesn't acknowledge at all that Manhunter defeated Despero just weeks earlier, nor that the Manhunter and Despero have some shared history, as per Geoff Johns's Justice League.

As I mentioned, Kindt displays the Justice Leaguers in their various personal hallucinations -- Wonder Woman who can't stop fighting, Flash trying to do everything at once, Superman trying to turn back time by flying backward around the Earth (an acknowledged clever bit here). With Green Lantern Simon Baz's hallucination, however, Kindt depicts Simon being overwhelmed by the public's distrust because of his Middle Eastern heritage, and has Simon set off an explosion because people expect him to be a terrorist anyway. There's precedent for Green Lanterns losing control -- Hal Jordan and Parallax, etc. -- and I'd have preferred Kindt had gone that route than having Simon in essence live up to people's stereotypes about him.

I have no doubt Simon's actions here will be promptly ignored by writers to come, which is good; I don't think it does the Simon Baz character any good to establish that he committed an act of terrorism, even in unreal circumstances (else he need to atone forever, a la John Stewart and Xanshi). It comes off as shock for shock value's sake, especially again since it probably won't have any lasting effects, and I thought it was a poor choice on the writer's part.

Also, inasmuch as I'm glad to see Stargirl getting a clearer origin in the New 52 -- and that we meet the New 52 Pat Dugan and learn more about Stargirl's predecessor -- this too didn't land for me. Kindt gets the relationship between step-daughter and step-father relatively right (if not quite as smoothly as Johns in Stars and STRIPE), but I was appalled that the upshot was that Stargirl's super-heroics caused the death of her younger brother. Courtney's brother actually played a role in Stars and STRIPE, and in this story he's even younger; that her origin should involve a murdered toddler comes off too grotesque for this particular character, introduced specifically as being the light-hearted member of the JLA.

Additionally, where Kindt ends Stargirl's origin seems somewhat incongruous with the media darling persona established in Justice League of America Vol. 1: World's Most Dangerous, and similarly the discussions of Starman Sylvester Pemberton here don't quite match what was hinted about Pemberton there.

Art in this volume is mainly by Tom Derenick and Eddy Barrows, two artists whose work shares some tonal similarities, and so the book is fairly consistent throughout. Unfortunately, these are two artists whose work I don't often favor, to an extent because I think it's often too thick and darkly shaded for the characters being depicted. The same was true here, and this took me further out of the book; I rather wish, for a Stargirl-focused book, DC Comics could have swung Stars and STRIPE's Lee Moder or Starman's Peter Snejbjerg, someone with an extra amount of relevance to the book's subject than what we ultimately got.

I am most assuredly sticking around for the title Justice League of America becomes, Justice League United, written as it will be by Jeff Lemire; I know Lemire can write a good Animal Man and a good Green Arrow, and I'm eager to read his take on Stargirl and Martian Manhunter, as well. So far I have been impressed with the Forever Evil event, but Justice League of America Vol. 2: Survivors of Evil felt to me like a tie-in because it was possible, not because it was necessary, and I think we'd have been better off with this title ending after Trinity War rather than here.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketchbook section]

Later this week, Charles Soule's Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Power Couple. Don't miss it!
Collected Editions 2016 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

5 comments:

  1. I was very disappointed by this arc as well. It served no purpose other than to keep this series going for the duration of Forever Evil while they waited for Lemire to come along and relaunch it as Justice League United. Kindt's take on both Martian Manhunter and Stargirl is so uncompelling that I think the arc would have been more interesting if it showed all Justice Leaguers banding together and trying to escape the Firestorm matrix, thus making up for their six-month absence from the main JL series.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you read Mind MGMT? I can't quite reconcile Kindt's good work there with, as you said, the "uncompelling" work here.

      Delete
    2. I have to admit I've never read Mind MGMT, but I enjoyed Kindt's Frankenstein run and some of his Villains Month issues. Given how unimpressed I was with his work on Justice League of America, Suicide Squad and Inhumanity: Awakening, I guess writing on the fringes of major company-wide events isn't really his forte.

      Delete
  2. Kindt's "Unity" title at Valiant (their big team-up book) is fantastic, so he knows how to write for superhero teams. This sounds like a lot of editorial interference came into play about which characters he could use and what he could do with them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Matt Kindt is one of my favorite writers, but I'll be the first to admit that there is no middle ground with his work--it's either excellent (Mind MGMT, Unity) or awful as it is here.

    My guess is that he's someone who excels when he's more or less left to his own devices (he did good work on Frankenstein after taking over for Jeff Lemire, but I'm guessing that since that title was being canceled anyway, he was able to fly under the radar and do whatever he wanted), but he seems to struggle more than most with editorial-mandated directions and storylines.

    Regardless, go read his current work for Valiant. As Doug mentioned, it's excellent.

    ReplyDelete