Review: Justice League Vol. 3: Hawkworld trade paperback (DC Comics)

Scott Snyder and company's Justice League Vol. 3: Hawkworld is an interesting book. It is most of all a much-needed come-down from the heightened antics of Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth (and before that, Totality and No Justice), wonderfully more character focused than this book has been.

Which is not to say it's uneventful — there's more revelations here that rock the direction of this book than there were in all of Drowned Earth. Snyder and James Tynion commit a variety of slights of hand that tie together the lore of these characters in previously unrevealed (or previously uninvented) ways, and it creates a very rich tapestry from which to continue to tell this story. Understanding now some of the hows and whys of these characters' motivations gives Snyder's Justice League a depth that wasn't originally apparent.

[Review contains spoilers]

Though the events of this book take place in and around the three-part "Hawkworld" story with the Martian Manhunter J'onn J'onzz, Green Lantern John Stewart, and Hawgirl, this actually feels more like Lex Luthor's book. Hawkworld starts with a one-off pitting Luthor against the Joker and ends with an annual in which Lex triumphs over the League, followed by another single issue pairing Lex and J'onn and a final issue in which Lex spars with Brainiac. Some of the revelations here feel "Geoff Johns-ian" in their scope, subtly twisting known continuity, and similarly Snyder and Tynion's "wrong for the right reasons" Lex also evokes Johns' bad guys like Sinestro and Black Adam before them.

Among things we learn here is that J'onn wasn't the last survivor of Mars by accident, but rather that he lived due to his childhood involvement in experiments with human and Martian DNA conducted by one Lionel Luthor; that J'onn escaped those experiments due to the kindness of a young Lex Luthor; and that prominent scientist Lionel had his memory wiped by Vandal Savage after being hired to experiment on the Totality, as did Lex, leading to Lex's childhood with the now-abusive, addled Lionel.

All of this, being previously unremembered by all parties, emerges as perfectly plausible, fitting between the pages of what we knew previously. I'm not sure how this coincides with Steve Orlando's apparent new origin of Martian Manhunter in his recent miniseries, but the details that Snyder adds here help smooth out the strange coincidences in this day and age of J'onn surviving the death of his population and then also being the one inadvertently teleported to Earth.

Moreover, all of this gives Lex Luthor much more motivation in Snyder's wild story than simply a grab for power. It has not been particularly clear why Lex was doing what he was doing, though clearly Snyder's planned the deeper intentions from the start; also we now better understand the discrepancy between Lionel Luthor, historically not a scientist, and the one previously mentioned in this book. (I also appreciated, in Justice League Vol. 2: Graveyard of the Gods, how Snyder suggests that Luthor's strange hero phase toward the end of Geoff Johns' Justice League run can also be explained as in pursuit of these same goals.)

We now understand Lex's quest for the Totality, and the goddess Perpetua within it, is personal, the answer to childhood mysteries and the reversal of childhood failures. To an extent, Lex becomes the hero, the character here with specific goals (even if ultimately to use the Totality for ill), while the Justice League is simply playing catch-up and trying to mitigate the fallout. It makes the villain as interesting as the heroes, if not more so.

On top of that, we find that a once-benevolent Lex previously saved the Martian Manhunter's young life. In the main I prefer Lex Luthor as a Superman villain; pairings of Lex with Batman, while fun on occasion, seem to me largely a misunderstanding or repudiation of Superman as not being equal to Lex's mental prowess, which I think is incorrect. I don't accuse Snyder or Tynion of that, however; rather, if anything, positing Lex had an early encounter with an alien that disrupted his life fits perfectly into explaining his later reflexive hatred of Superman. So I can make an exception this time, and also this further complicates Lex in the story — not only do we find that he has nuanced reasons for doing what he's doing, but also there's a tragic friendship between the villains and heroes (a la Hal Jordan and Sinestro) — even if said hero is not Superman.

Again, given all this, the story from which the book takes its title gets a little lost. "Hawkworld" has fun moments — the reference, for instance, to the New 52's Savage Hawkman and general continuity-keeping with the all-but-forgotten Death of Hawkman, and it's always nice to see Shayera Thal in stories (and that she can coexist with Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders). But it feels as though the story gets away from Snyder sometimes — it takes for granted for instance the presence of a living Martian sage on Thanagar that J'onn apparently knew about, without explaining myriad aspects to the reader; Kendra and Shayera's coexistence gets a blithe fix that also doesn't explain anything; and someone seems to have forgotten that John Stewart is the current Corps leader. It's not that "Hawkworld" is poor by any stretch, it's just that it's well overshadowed by the more surprising and revelatory parts of this book.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Justice League Vol. 3: Hawkworld

But in all, what Justice League Vol. 3: Hawkworld shows — and perhaps what it shows Scott Snyder's Justice League has been missing so far — is heart. One would not expect we'd find that between Lex Luthor and the Martian Manhunter, but there we have it, and it makes me much more eager (in what's becoming a long road to this book's inevitable line-wide event) to keep going.

[Includes original and variant covers]

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


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