Review: Justice League of America Vol. 5: Deadly Fable trade paperback (DC Comics)


Justice League of America Vol. 5: Deadly Fable is a dull book, on its own but especially in the glare of DC Comics's shiny Justice League: No Justice. Despite an auspicious array of toys to play with, Fable brings us three slowly paced stories, favoring action over plot, over-narrated and not particularly well drawn. One wants to see a concluding book go out on top, especially one whose writer I honestly believe had good intentions, but with this final volume Justice League of America seals the case for its own cancellation.

All along I've praised Steve Orlando's "for the people" approach to the Justice League even as I've noted the difficulties inherent in bringing that to a superhero comic month after month. This volume fares no better than the previous, speaking its aesthetic more than it shows it; I think Orlando arrives at something smart by the end, but then of course it's too late.

[Review contains spoilers]

Orlando has got Mark Waid's Queen of Fables and Alan Moore's Promethea in this book's opening three-parter, and if something gripping can't be made out of that then I can't help you. Orlando's Frost narrates in a whiny, woe-is-me manner; Orlando continues with narrators throughout the book, often overstating what we already get from story and art. Orlando has Frost and the Queen discuss incessantly the morality of the Queen taking over the world on her lost sister's behalf; clearly the Queen is wrong but the audience still has to sit through their repetitive debate. Wisely Orlando doesn't give Promethea an outsized role nor use her as deus ex machina, but at the same time one wonders if she was even necessary for such a small part (neither does Neil Edwards attempt any J. H. Williams-style paneling, as other artists sometimes do with Batwoman appearances).

"Fable" is mostly just fights and banter, as is Orlando's final three-parter, "Dawn of Time." There's plenty potential here too, with long-time time-traveling Atom foe Chronos and also teases of the secret history of Happy Harbor (which, one hopes, would lead to some pre-Flashpoint alt-continuity material). But Chronos's motivations never seem much stronger than beating up Atom Ryan Choi for laughs, and the extent of time-travel is that the team spends an issue or so in the prehistoric era. It also involves Chronos capturing the ancient "god of superheroes" Ahl, an alien "idea" that came to Earth and inspired superheroics such that his death would eliminate Batman et al from existence. It feels wobbly, especially if like myself you haven't read Orlando's contributions to the DC/Young Animal: Milk Wars crossover where Ahl factors; Orlando needed to be less subtle here than the heroes just accepting Ahl as fact and the Ray's sudden, distraught concern for the Doom Patrol who've never otherwise been mentioned.

Perhaps in recognition of this book coming to a close, DC brings in a handful of artists with fewer DC credentials. Neil Edwards starts this book on the wrong foot; though Edwards is able to mimic Bryan Hitch's original Queen in some close-ups, his basic house style (and tendency to draw writhing faces out of context) gives the story a plainness that only exacerbates its other problems. Equally Miguel Mendonca offers standard superhero fare; Hugo Petru does slightly better with more rounded lines, but the scant cameo by Minkyu Jung is really the best, with much more expression to the characters' faces.

The collection cover, from a variant cover by Doug Mahnke, is also bizarre, with Batman seemingly flying upward under his own power while the Atom falls downward, and with the logo at bottom. The Teen Titans Vol. 3: Return of Kid Flash cover has a nontraditional logo placement, too, and I wonder if DC's trying something in the post-Metal era; I don't think it's working yet. Mahnke is an artist I really like, but his variant covers here -- and on Justice League of America for a while -- seem too dark and also a tad blurry; I'm not sure Wil Quintana is inking Mahnke quite as well as Tom Nguyen did.

I give Orlando credit for the middle story, a Batman/Black Canary team-up where they spend most of the time debating whether they have the right to rebuild a decimated world in the image they think best. That's of course a slippery slope, and while I'm always up for Batman and Canary chatting, the problem throughout the book is that the characters' positions are predictable. Also, illogically, Orlando shows Canary able to destroy the multiversal bauble of a supremely powerful "Adjudicator" with just her canary cry, and late in the story Batman can suddenly sacrifice his own life to rebuild the fallen Angor when for the first three-fourths of the tale that never seemed possible.

The end of this book introduces a Justice League of America 2.0, the Justice Foundation. There's a metaphor here, in that Orlando's book buoyantly introduces the Foundation, but the end of Christopher Priest's Justice League Vol. 7: Justice Lost sees the new "No Justice" League poaching the Foundation's members. I'm not confident we'll ever see the Foundation in action, though I like very much Orlando's idea of putting a civilian on the Foundation's "board." That's something I would've liked to see all along and that would have added credence to Orlando's "for the people" aspirations for the book, a couple of regular people hanging around with the League to say, "What are you going to do about that building you destroyed?"

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Justice League of America Vol. 5: Deadly Fable

Many of the other Foundation members at the end of Justice League of America Vol. 5: Deadly Fable come from Steve Orlando's various DC series since the DC You era (plus an Unexpected cameo). That's a fun bit of cross continuity even if I had to look up one or two of them. Orlando is a creator whose frames of reference I share and whose thoughts on the characters in interviews, etc., I like. Over about thirty issues I'm not sure this title ever got where it was trying to go, but I'm happy to sample what Orlando does next in Unexpected and Martian Manhunter.

[Includes original and variant covers, penciled Promethea page]

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

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Will Quintana is a colorist, not an inker, so I assume Mahnke himself inked the covers. I find his dark, sketchy inking style a good fit for offbeat books like Major Bummer and Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein, but not for conventional super-hero books.

    Come to think of it, that's how I feel about Orlando's writing as well. I loved his work on Midnighter, the "Milk Wars" bookends and both Batman/Shadow minis, but his Supergirl and JLA mostly left me cold. Hopefully his Martian Manhunter will be a more daring, unusual book.

    There's also the problem that some of the more "out there" ideas Orlando uses in his last arc, like Ahl and the thinking brick that can kill him, only made sense to me after I read the very late Doom Patrol #11, which leads into "Milk Wars" but ended up shipping in the same week as Justice League of America #29.

    Unfortunately, thanks to the also late Doom Patrol #12 (shipping on 10/31, unless it gets delayed again), the series' second volume won't ship until December. If someone out there is reading both series in collected editions, I strongly suggest them to read Justice League of America vol. 5 only after Doom Patrol Vol. 2 and DC/Young Animal: Milk Wars, in that order.

    And lastly, I assume everyone on the collection cover is jumping on a trampoline. It's the only way the illustration makes sense to me.

    1. Really liked Orlando's Midnighter. There are some writers that I sense are stronger on their own characters than writing their version of an established character that may or may not match what I'm looking for; I get that sense of Orlando and it's another reason I'm eager to read Unexpected.

      Also I think I'm only realizing late the extent to which Orlando is interested in and writes like a Young Animal contributor. I see now that vibe in Justice League of America but I didn't see it originally, and again this is a case of my expectations for Orlando's work perhaps not matching up to actuality.

      I'm salivating for Riley Rossmo to draw Martian Manhunter, but I'm very suspicious of Orlando's stated take (being light on details so as not to spoil for anyone). I feel like this is a taken on J'onn that could go wrong fast.


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