Review: Justice League Vol. 6: Injustice League hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Geoff Johns's Justice League Vol. 6: Injustice League is a contender for the strongest volume of the post-Flashpoint Justice League yet (maybe a hair behind Throne of Atlantis) and has surely whet my appetite for the Darkseid War on the horizon. Johns's talents are on display in this ten-issue meditation on Lex Luthor, an anti-villain that Johns writes as well as he did Sinestro before him; Johns's characterizations and depictions of the personal relationships overall are strong; and in the last half Johns breathes terrifying new life into an old Justice League villain. Between main artists Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke, and new series artist Jason Fabok, there's nary a false note in the book; Justice League, purportedly DC Comics's flagship title, has not always felt like such, but it surely feels like such here.

[Review contains spoilers]

I had it in my head that Lex Luthor and Captain Cold's presence in the post-Forever Evil Justice League would mean Superman and the Flash's absence, and I was pleased to find that wasn't the case. Too often a Justice League title hums along for only so long, often with the Big Seven heroes, before the needs of individual titles pull them away and we're left with a "substitute League." That's what I feared here, but happily Injustice League offers all the Leaguers, in more or less prominent roles, plus Luthor, Cold, Shazam, and others, and then it looks like with Darkseid War that Johns is continuing to bring the band back together, not break them apart. I hope the same is true post-Darkseid War, too.

Equally I had my concerns about the realism, comic book-wise, of the Justice League allowing Lex Luthor to join, and Johns's apparent portrayal of Luthor as a "good guy" in Forever Evil and here. But Johns -- again, he who turned the mustache-twirling Sinestro into a scene-stealing character -- made it all clear with disarming simplicity in the very first chapter, when under the influence of Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth, Luthor answers that he wants to join the Justice League "because I'm an egomaniac." Such is incontrovertibly true of the character, and taken to its logical conclusion, Luthor can glean more public admiration as a superhero than as a supervillain -- not to mention that he honestly believes some cosmic threat is on its way toward Earth. Further it makes sense that Batman would advise the Justice League it's better to have Luthor where they can watch over him than where they can't.

But neither, thankfully, has Johns taken the bite out of Luthor. In a surface read of Injustice League it's easy to see Luthor's egotism driving him, maybe incongruously, toward doing actual good. There's loose threads around the edges, though -- Luthor's deal with the Earth-3 Owlman, whatever Luthor actually needs Captain Cold's blood for -- that suggest all isn't what it seems, even when Johns appears to portray Luthor at his most sincere. The result is a Luthor the audience can't ever quite take their eyes off of, and whose every sentence has to be parsed for double meanings. I myself wondered at the inclusion of Luthor's sister (Luthor even having relatives is something that still surprises me, having read for so long the Triangle Titles orphan Luthor); her sudden inclusion, even as she herself questions Luthor's motives, left me wondering if she was a plant or spy or robot, or in some other way part of the broad fiction that I can't help but think Luthor is spinning.

Even for a collection of ten issues, Injustice League is, to its credit, packed with material. The first five-issue storyline, "Injustice League," involves not only Lex Luthor wanting to join the Justice League and Luthor knowing Batman's identity, but also the introduction of the all-new Power Ring and the introduction of the all-new(ish) Doom Patrol. By comparison, the second, more focused five-issue "Amazo Virus" would seem calmer by comparison, were it not such a fantastically horrific outbreak/zombie apocalypse tale.

In Power Ring and the Doom Patrol, Johns is in familiar and notably comfortable territory. Power Ring goes to Johns's work with the Green Lantern mythos, and seemingly even more so in Darkseid War (indeed I'm hoping for a better explanation for how the Earth-3 Power Ring's pervading spirit Volthoom coincides with the Volthoom of Johns's Green Lantern Vol. 3: The End). Johns has tried to revamp (and return to classic form) the Doom Patrol back in his Teen Titans run, but that seemed to peter out after Johns left the title; his New 52 Doom Patrol shares in common the manipulative Niles Caulder, though the new iterations of the Patrol members are by yards creepier than before (as drawn by Mahnke). I'm only sorry Johns and company don't match this Niles Caulder to the one who already appeared, albeit without much fanfare, in the New 52 Ravagers series.

In the grand tradition of Justice League friendships, a la Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, I expected to but didn't like as much the relationship between Cyborg and Shazam. Billy Batson, as Shazam, is a sarcastic little kid here, which I appreciate as a turn from his goody-two-shoes origin, but I didn't feel that meshed with what we knew of the more mature, and somewhat buttoned-up, Cyborg. At the same time, I frankly love Johns portraying Flash Barry Allen as the "Green Lantern expert" in Hal Jordan's absence, playing mentor to the new Power Ring. Johns also offers a couple scenes between Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman, in which Diana seems to handle Luthor less emotionally and more straightforward than Superman or Batman; I wondered if Johns was playing with some aspect of Diana as a warrior that respected or at least understood Luthor's "victory at all costs" outlook.

Artist Jason Fabok (Detective Comics) continues his meteoric rise at DC Comics with his highest-profile book so far. Fabok's work reminds of the best aspects of David Finch's, and much of the inherent paranoia of "Amazo Virus" is due to Fabok's images of wide, deserted streets, drizzling rain, and scientists in hazmat suits. If anything, though "Amazo Virus" is a necessarily dour story, at times Fabok's art seemed maybe too controlled to me, or too traditionally "realistic"; I'd be curious to see what Fabok "letting loose" or going "zany" might look like, especially as Johns's Darkseid War story gets more cosmic. I did wonder about Fabok's choice to put Wonder Woman in a "battle skirt"; I'm not sure if that's better/worse or more/less unlikely than her traditional costume, but it was odd to have the general depiction of Wonder Woman change mid-story with no explanation.

Johns's "Amazo Virus" story stood well enough on its own, but it certainly makes me eager for his next use of Amazo, especially to see how the viral aspects of the Amazo disease translate to Amazo proper (pretty sure the last best use of Amazo was Mark Millar's JLA #27, some fifteen years ago). But again, all eyes on Darkseid War now. Geoff Johns's Justice League Vol. 6: Injustice League is some great Justice League; some great teaming of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman; and a can't-miss volume on any Lex Luthor reading list. May Justice League always be as good as this.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover and character sketches]
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3 comments:

  1. Oh this makes me very excited. Can't wait to catch up with my Justice league line.

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    1. Yeah. Vol. 5: Forever Heroes wasn't bad per se, but all tied up in crossover-ness (dittio Vol. 4: Grid and its Trinity War stuff). So if you discount those two and look straight from Throne of Atlantis to Injustice League, Justice League is doing pretty good.

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    2. we have opposite opinions on this one. i loved forever heroes \ forever evil, and since i am a huge johns and fabok fan i was really looking forward to this volume. i found it disappointing though. but i am glad you liked it =). thanks for the review!

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