JLA: Trial by Fire review

April 27, 2005

I'm trying to figure out why I just didn't like JLA: Trial by Fire as much as JLA: The Obsidian Age. And hopefully I've praised Joe Kelly enough that everyone understands that I mean no offense when I say that, even on the second reading, JLA: Trial by Fire just falls flat for me. It's truly strange, because I think The Obsidian Age, and even JLA: Rules of Engagement are true classics, but when it comes to Trial by Fire ... nothin'.

It could, first of all, be the Martians. When Grant Morrison first introduced the White Martians back in the beginning of JLA, I thought the whole Martians/Hyperclan thing was pretty cool. And the time they came back and impersonated Bruce Wayne wasn't too shabby, either. But maybe I just have bad memories of Bryan Hitch being replaced by a fill-in artist at the end of Mark Waid's run, where White Martians weren't a lot more than "we're bad guys, booga-wooga, fear us," but at some point White Martians stopped being scary to me and started being stock. And now here's a Burning Martian, who — as opposed to Ganamae and her secret, hidden, plan — is just pissed at the world and not afraid to show it. Which isn't as intriguing a villain for me.

Maybe's it's the whole "is this J'onn, is this not J'onn" bit. As much as I liked the bits in J'onn's head (does anyone else really dig the new Leaguers, especially Major Disaster, Faith, and Manitou Raven? That JLA Elite trade paperback can't get here fast enough. Every scene with them just sings), but me, I prefer the "let's go rescue Aquaman" JLA to the "woe is us, J'onn J'onzz is our soul and he might be evil" JLA. And yeah, maybe Trial by Fire's pathos is better than The Obsidian Age's gung-ho superheroics. But I thought The Obsidian Age had some pretty good pathos, what with Green Lantern's premonitions of death, without my feeling like Superman needed a little less concern, a little more action.

And in the end, maybe Trial by Fire was a little too earthbound for me. Now, I'm all for massive coastal destruction, but that's nothing compared to time-spanning master plans. Maybe all good JLA stories involve alternate timelines/dimensions — who knows? But give me 3,000 year-old schemes versus a 3,000-foot Plastic Man, and the time travel wins every time.

Which is not to say that Trial by Fire didn't have it's good points. To wit: the freaky bit where Firestorm gets slammed by a giant hand on the moon, Green Lantern busting in to Manitou Raven's hut, Major Disaster living in a trailer in the desert, the whole Vandal Savage/Guardians of the Universe mystery, the Burning cleaning up the White Martians (it was a cool scene), the Atom getting chewed on by Krypto, and Batman with Plastic Man's son, to name a few. So take it as it comes — I still say Joe Kelly's JLA run ended much too soon.

Now, however, I'm on to JLA: The Tenth Circle, followed by JLA: Pain of the Gods. Hey, someone who read JLA #100, drop me a line. I have a question — does the JLA disband at the end of that issue (so Pain of the Gods starts without a League in effect?)? Because I saw a mention along these lines in Wizard, but I think they got it wrong. Let me know — thanks!


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