Review: Justice League: Last Ride trade paperback (DC Comics)

July 27, 2022

 ·  2 comments

Ostensibly Chip Zdarsky is a “get” for DC Comics, as evidenced by his about to be taking over the Batman title. I expect, as is sometimes the case, that Justice League: Last Ride was either Zdarsky’s tryout project or something to pass the time until his Batman began in earnest.

Either of those explanations answer the question of what the point of Last Ride is, though I’m reminded that at one time we didn’t ask that question. Elseworlds books like JLA: Act of God or JLA: Created Equal were there because they were there, either as creator spotlights or because DC actively sought titles to release under the Elseworlds imprint. I mention Last Ride, Act of God, and Created Equal together because they’re examples of Elseworld-type books that take as their launching point general mainstream continuity, as opposed to Victorian Batman or cowboy Justice League. They’re what could happen tomorrow, but probably won’t.

That was not Elseworlds' common launching point, though it has been of late with DC’s new “imprint-less” Black Label and similar miniseries — Batman: Three Jokers, Batman: The Detective, Strange Adventures, the DCeased books, and so on. We are not (and may never be) in the wholly continuity-less future many have predicted, but certainly these days DC is not hesitant to publish books that just as well could be in continuity but aren’t, and often without real overt signals to uninitiated readers which is which. Woe be it to a casual reader trying to discern between Last Ride and any of a variety of other Justice League books on the stands.

[Review contains spoilers for Justice League: Last Ride and Green Lantern Vol. 1: Invictus]

Last Ride is just “fine.” It is a self-contained Justice League story, perfect for a car trip or plane ride. It’s got a couple of surprises in it and unexpected cameos, as well as good showings by the classic Justice League lineup. It’s a satisfactory book to give to a friend not well-versed in comics, someone interested in the Justice League movie or a fan of the Justice League cartoon series.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Seasoned readers might find Last Ride more frustrating. At its core, Last Ride plumbs familiar conflict between Superman and Batman — Superman finds Batman too dispassionate, Batman believes Superman won’t make the sacrifices necessary to save the world, each harbors resentments against the other. It’s a conflict we’ve seen play out many times before and that most would deem largely resolved, and so in that sense it’s not particularly exciting.

Moreover, first of all, Zdarsky has Superman and Batman acting like children. Superman, for all his gentleness and control over his strength, knocks Batman’s giant penny down a chasm in a fit of rage; Batman wags his finger in Superman’s face until Wonder Woman has to separate them. Batman has to learn, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, that the strength of the League comes not from power, but from trust. This is altogether a bad portent of what might come from Zdarsky’s Batman, and I hope he’s got it out of his system; see also the insinuation that Bruce Wayne, rich guy but also world’s greatest detective, wouldn’t know what a s’more is.

Second of all, the back cover teases that the great schism in the Justice League resulted from a “murder,” as if the League committed a crime, but they did not. Rather, the startling dark secret at the core of all of this is that Batman stood by as Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz sacrificed himself to defeat Darkseid and save the universe. There was nothing callous about Batman’s actions; J’onn and Batman were in a tough spot, there weren’t any other options, and J’onn gave his life.

The sheer amount of anger, grief, and recrimination that Zdarsky gives Superman is ludicrous. It’s hard to suspend disbelief that Superman wouldn’t have done the exact same thing in that situation, not to mention — let’s be honest — it was J’onn who sacrificed himself, it’s not like Clark lost Diana. All of this undercuts the drama quite a bit — Superman and Batman who can’t get along, an argument that seems contrived, and the rest of the League that mostly stands around rolling their eyes at their two key members' antics.

What otherwise redeems Last Ride outside its reductive premise is Zdarsky’s general imaginativeness, which is hopefully what carries over into Batman. The story takes place in the aftermath of a so-called “crisis” in which Darkseid destroyed the Oan Central Power Battery and absorbed the Green Lanterns' power for himself. Characters from Kilowog to Jessica Cruz to LEGION’s Vril Dox show up, and Lobo features prominently (more trash-talking, too, than in Crush & Lobo). The appearance of a Brainiac/Cyborg Superman hybrid is pretty cool (though an oddly dated reference); at one point Hal Jordan makes a majestic construct of League members past (not, like, the Yazz, but Vixen, the Ray, Aztek, Red Tornado, and the like). Batman apparently day trades in Thanagarian currency.

And yet, even the good points have their troubles. It’s not Zdarsky’s fault necessarily, but here we have Darkseid as the villain, just the same as he’s menacing the DCU in the early pages of Infinite Frontier. Oa gets blown up again, just the same as it is in Geoffrey Thorne’s Green Lantern. Despite a general orientation in the here-and-now (talk of the United Planets, for instance), Zdarsky suggests Green Lanterns are vulnerable to the color yellow, a concept almost two decades gone. The book’s title page spoils J’onn’s eventual resurrection. Some of that suggests not enough effort by the book’s editorial team overall.

I appreciate that artist Miguel Mendonca draws Last Ride straight through here, something that ought not be as rare as it is (this is a book that would have surely been enhanced by moving all covers to the end and removing the various credits boxes). Mendonca draws generally in DC’s house style, however, and there’s no great flair here to distinguish the book (Darkseid looks like a generic Final Crisis Darkseid, Wally West is dressed in a pretty standard Barry Allen costume). I recognize that Darick Robertson on covers is also a “get,” though I don’t think the Boys-esque parody style (the Flash knocking out a Manhunter robot’s tooth, Superman's melodramatic cry on the cover) necessarily helps orient the tone for this book either.

2.0

Rating

Justice League: Last Ride is a Justice League book. It’s not embarrassingly bad by any account, and — no small thing — Chip Zdarsky presents Green Lantern John Stewart particularly well, at times acting as the League’s de facto leader. Even Hal Jordan is less grating here than in other recent depictions, and maybe that’s a victory on its own.

[Includes original and variant cover thumbnail gallery]

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I was interested in seeing what you thought of this. I read it when it finished in singles after not keeping up with the DCU besides the Superman books for a year or two and I wasn't sure if it was in continuity or not until I caught up on the mainline JLA books after. you know what this reminded me of? that unmade George Miller JLA Mortal movie script. this book kinda felt like if they made a soft reboot sequel to the JLA movie that because of mixed reception of Snyder & Whedon's versions they said screw it and thought the general public has seen either and knows the JL cartoon lets make a movie where comic fans will know everything going on, general audiences will catch up by the end. I liked it overall, and if it had been a Justice League movie I probably would have loved it but as a non-canon comic it just treads too much familiar ground and Superman/Batman act like my brother & I as children too much for me to buy this is how these two men would act THIS late into their careers as the greatest superheroes of all time. It basically is the DCU of 2 years ago and I don't buy for a second Clark or Bruce as the experienced & seasoned men they are would be so petty J'onn died a hero as either of them would have and there wasn't really anything Bruce could have done and Clark would have done the same damn thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DCU of two years ago is a good way to characterize it; also you're right that this might land better if one were more of a Justice League DCAU fan than Justice League comics fan. The relationships seem more true to the (excellent) cartoon.

      Delete

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.