Review: Justice League Incarnate hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


Joshua Williamson delivers something pretty great all around in Justice League Incarnate. As far as cameos go, Williamson works the Multiverse setting to aplomb; I’ve long complained that DC Comics uses the Multiverse more as an applause line that an actual thing through which to tell stories, but Williamson’s Incarnate is an excellent exception. I will say that, for one, the book starts better than it ends, and for two, the extent to which the book gets caught up in its own cosmic nonsense by the end gives me concerns about the Dark Crisis to follow. But I’m also excited for the apex of Williamson’s Infinite Frontier trilogy — June, for the collected editions, seems very far away.

[Review contains spoilers]

There is a wonderfully chaotic moment in just Incarnate’s second chapter where the multiversal House of Heroes, already overrun with parademons, suddenly has the new Batwoman Who Laughs beamed in from one of the book’s other parallel storylines. It’s great, representative of a story with a lot going on, and with a writer in Williamson who recognizes a book like this needs big set pieces stacked atop big set pieces and the more, disparate aspects of the DC Universe he can throw together, the better.

By that point, Williamson’s story has already been through Earth-8, a pseudo-Marvel Universe, and Earth-13, in which Williamson cleverly puts meat on the bones of the Multiverse’s “Vertigo Earth.” Plus Darkseid versus a Thanos analogue (with a knowing “snap” when Darkseid wins), plus Darkseid versus Asmodel from Grant Morrison’s JLA, teamed no less with the Sheeda Queen from Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory. It’s a lot, no doubt, but a brilliant “a lot,” and plenty of little moments had me smiling, not to mention running happily to my Multiversity guidebook to check out this or that reference. In this Multiversity Multiverse, Morrison created something exceptional, and Williamson’s story luxuriates in it.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

There’s a particularly keen paradigm, we’re given to understand around the edges, that the Earths of the Multiverse are mostly stable, but that if you’re a regular traveler like “President Superman” Calvin Ellis of Earth-23, you might at times visit an Earth and then come back later to find a Crisis-level retcon or Great Disaster has taken place — that is, traversing the Multiverse, you never quite step in the same river twice. At the same time, Williamson does well preserving continuity among the Earths such that it feels like an authentic universe — on both Earth-8 and Earth-13, there’s reference to (and reckoning to be had for) various betrayals during the Infinite Frontier miniseries.

Williamson writes a fine and stable leader in Ellis, and his great buddy comedy pairing of Ellis and the Flashpoint Batman Thomas Wayne in Infinite Frontier continues here — amazing the number of “lives” and uses writers have found for this Thomas Wayne. Williamson also continues to use one of the standout new creations of his Flash run, Flash Avery Ho, to great effect here. Captain Carrot, the Aquawoman of Earth-11 — all of them do well from the jump.

I would say that later in the book, the characters begin to feel tired. There’s a clever bit where Ellis and Doctor Multiverse Maya Chamara are stuck on “our” Earth, Earth-33, and months pass for them in a manner of pages. But, within that they start and end a relationship, and all we see is the awkward beginning and messy end, and it’s less compelling than it is kind of embarassing. This continues to a confusing bit where a vision reveals to Maya that the heroes should let Darkseid win, and this leads to a melodramatic sequence of everyone being angry at Maya until suddenly they’re not again.

Williamson also has a heavy lift here with Darkseid, who’s meant to be the ultimate Darkseid, the combination of apparent lesser pieces of Darkseid along the years. But to make that believable requires writing a Darkseid divorced from his usual overblown depiction, and Williamson can’t quite seem to get there. Ultimate Darkseid is really just regular Darkseid here, never the threat he’s made out to be, and that robs the book of some seriousness and suspense. Not to mention, Williamson makes the questionable decision to dub the book’s McGuffin a “crack” in the Multiverse, leading to instances like Batman shouting with grave seriousness, “We have to stop Darkseid from getting his hands on that crack!” That no editor gave this a re-read and thought twice is surprising.

Incarnate feels like it has too many artists — past “special artists for special worlds” and into “there was a problem somewhere” territory. When it’s good, it’s good — Kyle Hotz on the spooky Earth-13, Paul Pelletier in the same chapter, and later Chris Burnham on a new history of DC’s Crises and Mike Norton following him. But the third chapter, for instance, the Image/Wildstorm analogue Earth-41 and the swashbuckling Earth-31 looked rushed to me, and that was also the place I felt the story slowed a bit.



There’s something to say, perhaps, about Justice League Incarnate spending as much time as it does with Doctor Multiverse and the denizens of Earth-8, Thunderer of Earth-7, and Dino-Cop of Earth-41 — Marvel, Ultimate Marvel, and Image analogues respectively. It’s clear Joshua Williamson knows well the not-knock-off Multiverse Earths, too, but I might have liked to see one fewer Spore (read: Spawn) and one more Atomic Knight of Justice from Earth-17. That said, Williamson’s got a reference late in the book to Darkseid’s murdered wife Suli — what you want in a book like this is a writer smarter than the reader, one who’s got every reference at their fingertips and then some, and Williamson delivers. Here’s to Dark Crisis — I’m ready, and now starts the waiting.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Like you, the last 2-3 issues made me apprehensive about Dark Crisis. I applaud any attempt to make the multiverse interesting and lived in, but the crack was silly and I didn't much enjoy the "every crisis was just a precursor to this one" attitude. The Empty Hand, especially, was an unfortunate choice - Morrison's stand in for corporate greed and timidity are now just vessels for a primordial being of negation? I'll mention the other thing that bothers me about the lead up to Dark Crisis when you review Shadow War

  2. I don't think anyone else has mentioned this before, but one key aspect of Dark Crisis has been almost entirely overlooked. With one notable exception, this is DC's first major "event" book in nearly 20 years by someone other than Geoff Johns or Scott Snyder. The one exception, of course, was Final Crisis (2007) by Grant Morrison. Yet even that book had some of Johns' fingerprints on it - including two tie-in miniseries, inclusion of the Alpha Lanterns, and the return of Barry Allen (just to name a few). So, in many ways, Dark Crisis really is the first post-Johns/post-Snyder event from DC Comics in 2 decades. Maybe someone like Bendis would have been better equipped to the task? I definitely think his "Event Leviathan" storyline was (at least originally) intended as such. But those plans were either lost or abandoned in all of the editorial reshuffling that has plagued DC these last few years. Unfortunately, I found Dark Crisis to be both flat and uninspiring, and I fear you will probably agree with my assessment. Perhaps Joshua Williamson had an impossible assignment in this particular context, but I look forward to reading your review in a few months anyway!

    1. Yeah, Williamson's been one of my favorite DC writers since his Flash run, but this definitely wasn't his finest outing.

      I don't know if actually having to oversee and construct a line-wide event (rather than just tying into one or doing a smaller scale event like The Button and Shadow War) was too much for him, or if it's everybody being sick and tired of Multiversal shenanigans after Snyder's Justice League (or both).

      That's a good point, though, about this really being the first post-Johns/Snyder DC event. As someone who came into the DCU during the lead-up to the Infinite Crisis era, I got used to having a DCU with Johns as a major, guiding power.

      It's kinda weird to see that era's passed and that a new guard's come to the fore. It's not dissimilar to a post-Bendis Marvel (and those of us who came in during his New Avengers and Secret Invasion -- although I admit that by the end, I was utterly sick of Bendis).


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