Review: Justice League of America Vol. 4: Surgical Strike trade paperback (DC Comics)

July 25, 2018

Two of the three stories collected in Steve Orlando's Justice League of America Vol. 4: Surgical Strike use characters directly out of Grant Morrison's JLA. That book's certainly worthy of homage, but this book's Prometheus story, at least, comes off reductive; given similar broad strokes, it seems problematic to tell the same story just with different characters. But Orlando's League's strength, as always, is in its characterization; there's six-or-so pages of the team just talking at the end of this book that's smart and gripping. Clearly this book has struggles that make its forthcoming conclusion timely, but I enjoyed myself well enough reading this volume.

[Review contains spoilers]

Artist Hugo Petrus comports himself well in a strong start to the "Surgical Strike" storyline. This idea, however, of Prometheus infiltrating the Justice League headquarters as a visitor and then diving-and-conquering the team, using their own powers against them, feels tonally the same as Grant Morrison's original. If Orlando were writing in the old continuity and could actually have his new League recognize they're undergoing the same trial as the "big" League, it might offer this story some nuance. Instead, this is inexplicably the same old thing just with new characters, and that turns an opportunity for resonance into basic predictability.

Still, I give Orlando credit for some awfully creative action sequences. Black Canary and Lobo are the clear stars of the whole book (#Canarybo, anyone?), and Orlando dazzles in a variety of scenes: when henchman Aftershock pits Canary and Lobo inadvertently against once another, when Canary has to use her cry to blast Atom Ryan Choi back from nothingness, when the whole team has to take cover within Lobo's stomach to withstand a bomb blast. Despite the Prometheus story's predictable beginning and end, in the manner in which the book is like a Rube Goldberg machine, Orlando's plotting is clever.

Orlando also does well not overextending the story, keeping it at just three issues, and using most of that last issue for the League to confab. The rot that Prometheus reveals in the philosophical underpinnings of this League is not incorrect, speaking to the difficulties many writers, not just Orlando, have had in depicting a League like this. This is supposed to be a Justice League of the people, but the needs of other titles pull the characters this way and that, not to mention that it's hard to write action sequences for getting people out to vote or building low-cost housing (admirable as those activities are). Orlando has had his characters live up to the charter better than, for instance, Extreme Justice, but the team still warrants an accounting.

The conversation then turns to Frost admitting she's fallen off the wagon in terms of using her cold powers. Orlando's metaphors for addiction and relapse here are strong; I don't find the Frost/Atom relationship very compelling, but Frost's dialogue and the reactions among the various Leaguers as a whole are handled very well. Orlando picks exactly the right time to then cure Frost, heralding the arrival of series bad guy the Might Behind the Mirror.

Surgical Strike kicks off with an annual that sees Lobo and Canary head off to space to save alien dolphins. It is as crazy as it sounds, moreover that Orlando manages to convincingly make a case for Canary and Lobo's similarities and why their working together makes sense. Orlando continues to write a fascinating Lobo who is, unexpectedly, much less honorable than I recall him, but whose brutality is balanced with a brilliant technical mind that in retrospect must obviously have been there all along. A story this madcap could only have been drawn by Kelley Jones, and indeed Jones overflows the pages with weirdness that wouldn't stand in an ongoing title but is great here (including the hulking over-muscled Canary of the first page, the bizarre facial closeups, or that time Canary punctuates her dialogue with a leg kick for no good reason). The annual's really the best part of the book, begging for a sequel (or for Lobo to guest-shot in Green Arrow).

In contrast, I found Orlando's Ray one-shot at the end nigh unreadable. Ray's anger toward and leave-taking from the League was ridiculous to start with, and he most assuredly should have changed his mind after understanding Prometheus' role. Then add to that Orlando's new Aztek (another Morrison character), who's furious with Ray because he left his hometown (when, as Ray says, was he supposed to not join the Justice League?). Layered on that is a strange family drama between the story's villain and the police captain he's taken hostage; for me, all the pieces didn't fit, and it seemed a lot of people overwrought for reasons that didn't compute. It's fun to see an Aztek again but this introduction didn't seem particularly lasting.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Justice League of America Vol. 4: Surgical Strike

With Justice League of America Vol. 4: Surgical Strike, Steve Orlando delivers another story of this League, like Justice League of America Vol. 3: Panic in the Microverse, that's not earth-shattering but is good enough for an hour or so of escapist entertainment. It's good that this League surmounted Prometheus; I just wish in this continuity that was more of an accomplishment, but at least it happened before this book comes to a close. I'm ready to see it all wrap up next time around.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Justice League of America Vol. 4: Surgical Strike
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)


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