Review: Justice League Vol. 7: The Darkseid War, Part 1 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Justice League Vol. 7: The Darkseid War, Part 1 would seem to be the start of Geoff Johns's magnum opus, at least until Doomsday Clock comes around. This is gutsy work by a writer who's earned his confidence, starting with the fact that Johns goes almost 30 pages in this book before he brings the Justice League on the scene and continues from there. And before Rebirth was a glimmer in the reader's eye, at least, Darkseid War is in many ways a gauntlet thrown into the midst of the New 52, cementing the DC Universe's timeline from pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths to now many months before Rebirth codified it.

It is not seamless. As the finale of the Justice League title, the first part of Darkseid War does not succeed, eschewing character development for big action sequences and cosmic revelations. To that end, perhaps Darkseid War is poorly served by being split up into two volumes (a fact that'll be rectified with the upcoming Justice League: Darkseid War omnibus), as this volume feels like a whole bunch of setup with little satisfactory resolution -- understandable, perhaps, but problematic in the reading experience nonetheless.

Be that as it may, Johns has crafted a comic book story so full of heady moments and explosions that it's impossible not to get lost in it. Perhaps even more notable is that artist Jason Fabok delivers the defining work of his short career here; anyone who doesn't recognize Fabok as a Jim Lee-level talent obviously hasn't cracked this book yet.

[Review contains spoilers]

In the historic DC Comics tradition -- perhaps misplaced for a while but not forgotten -- Geoff Johns kicks off Darkseid War with a nod to a bevy of continuity-bending crossovers past -- Crisis, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, and Flashpoint -- rounding up Phil Jimenez, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, and Scott Kolins to do the honors. An expansive Crisis flashback splash page was at some point a common part of the DC storytelling vocabulary, though verboten come the New 52; granted we're out of the New 52 at this point, into the murkier continuity waters of DC You, but still that Johns is pasting up past-continuity events against the backdrop of the New 52 era screams of rather joyful transgression.

Indeed, though on the face of it Darkseid versus the Justice League is the most canon part of the New 52 that there is, the fact that in the rematch Johns pits Darkseid and the Justice League against the Anti-Monitor is about as close as this book comes to a meta-acknowledgment of the end of the Justice League title. If the New 52 Justice League versus the essentially New 52 Darkseid was the alpha, then all of those New 52 characters versus the Anti-Monitor -- the apex of a character who by its very definition refuses to be limited to just one continuity -- is the omega. The New 52 Justice League versus Nekron wouldn't have cut it; the New 52 Justice League versus the continuity-spanning Anti-Monitor signals nothing can be the same again and the end must be in sight.

Though undoubtedly not to this purpose, this is a story Geoff Johns has been trying to tell for a while. Startling as it was, the Anti-Monitor's presence in Johns's Sinestro Corps War never made a lot of sense, nor that Johns would revisit him now and again in the years since, and one always had the impression Johns wanted to do something with the Anti-Monitor that never quite manifested. In some respects, Darkseid War is a poor compromise, with the Anti-Monitor not even getting his name on the masthead -- and surely the plan was not always to have the Anti-Monitor team with vengeful Amazonians against Darkseid -- but Johns does at least get to flesh out the Anti-Monitor, giving him at last an actual name and an origin with deep ties to DC history.

That's well and good, and I was wowed and entertained to learn the Anti-Monitor is the fabled Mobius of the "Mobius Chair" all these forty-some years since Jack Kirby introduced the New Gods. At the same time, I'm someone who thought a clean break and a new New 52 continuity would actually be good for DC Comics, and the fact that five years later Johns is back to set in stone an origin for Crisis on Infinite Earth's McGuffin villain seems navel-gazing in the extreme. To be sure, I devoured this book and bellowed for more, but some things just don't need extra explaining and surely breaking new ground (like Scott Snyder's Court of Owls, for instance) is better for the well-being of the DC Universe than constantly looking backward.

I'll gripe also that given that we know, at least in retrospect, that Darkseid War marks the end of this era of the Justice League, Johns does not do much to wrap up the book's threads, at least in this volume. Hal Jordan makes what should be his triumphant return to this title, but there's really no acknowledgment among the team that's he's back, nor mention of the feud with Wonder Woman that drove him away, nor even any insight into what Hal thinks of the alt-dimension Green Lantern "Power Ring" Jessica Cruz. Understandably Johns may be limited by events in the Green Lantern title -- equally it might have been interesting to see some mention of the collapsing Superman/Wonder Woman relationship given that it also originated in this title, except the Super-titles have taken ownership of that -- but still there's little if any personal stake here for the heroes, which is unusual for a Johns story.

Again, Jason Fabok wins page upon page here, drawing particularly moody sequences of Mister Miracle quite aside from his depictions of the Justice League proper. Fabok's movie poster-style issue covers lend the proceedings a cinematic feel, too. Fabok's art offers Jim Lee-esque realism without some of the angular similarity between Lee's figures; there is actually some Jim Lee material in this book, and perhaps only because Lee is the benchmark and Fabok is the new, Fabok's work holds a freshness that the others' doesn't. That DC has Fabok on interiors of books as important as the Batman/Flash "Button" cover is exactly right; this is a talent they should hold on to tightly.

Justice League Vol. 7: The Darkseid War, Part 1 is indeed just the first part, with two more books to go, so it's exceptionally possible Geoff Johns might resolve some of what I've raised before it's done. There's no question this book is a loving testament to the DC Universe, a big action story, and representative -- if the success of Rebirth is any indication -- of where most DC Comics fans wanted this universe to go, even if I wonder if it's good for the line's long-term health. A heck of a book nonetheless.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Justice League Vol. 7: The Darkseid War, Part 1
Author Rating
5 (out of 5)
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4 comments:

  1. Really interested to read your further thoughts on this...

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    1. Y'know, as will unfold in the next couple weeks, ultimately I almost liked Power and Glory better, or at least P&G did a couple things I wish this story would've.

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  2. I agree 100% about Jason Fabok. I've loved his artwork ever since he started doing Detective Comics in the New 52. I used to think of him as a better version of David Finch, but you're right, he's even better than that and to compare him to Jim Lee is spot on, in my opinion. He was the very best choice for the artist for this story.

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    1. Yeah, Fabok's got a bright future. Glad to see he's included in Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.

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