Justice League of America continues to disappoint The Revolution. It seems that the main purpose of this title is to set up stories that are going to take place in other comic books, whether it is Tangent: Reign of Superman or Salvation Run. Not much effort has been placed on crafting actual plotlines for Justice League of America itself. And it looks like Justice League of America #21 is going to serve as set-up for events to be seen over on other titles like Final Crisis and Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge. Hopefully, Justice League of America #21 will be better than what we have gotten the past couple of months. Let’s go ahead and do this review.
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Pencils: Carlos Pacheco
Inks: Jesus Merino
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman meeting at the Hall of Justice. They enter the Slideways with their communicators tuned properly to a specific channel in order to transport into a hidden room in the JLA headquarters. We see the three heroes appear in a room with stairs and a round table with three chairs. The room appears to be floating in space.
Wonder Woman explains that they are in an inter-dimensional bubble in the hyperspace tunnel between the Hall of Justice in D.C and the Watchtower in Earth orbit. That John Henry Irons reverse-engineered it from Boom Tube technology and that John Stewart drew the plans for both structures and this room. They are the only two people outside of the three of them that know about the room. The rest of the League has no knowledge of it.
Superman says that it is a place where the three of them can meet privately. Superman says that he calls it the “Lounge.” Batman sarcastically calls it the “Star Chamber.” Superman asks Batman if he is suddenly against secrecy. Batman responds he is simply against self-delusion and that they have to admit to themselves why they are doing with meeting in a secret room.
Wonder Woman says that none of them have time to run the League, but that they should get together occasionally and give things a nudge when necessary. Superman adds that they don’t always have to talk business. That they can use this meeting room to catch up with each other and talk about their personal lives. Batman surprises me by agreeing with Superman.
Batman then asks Superman what he was doing making out with Vixen a couple of weeks ago while they were fighting the Injustice League. Superman stammers nervously to try and explain himself. Batman interjects that he can’t blame Superman for straying. That Vixen is a beautiful woman. (And Lois has been drawn rather poochy for quite some time now.)
Wonder Woman asks what is going on. Superman explains that he can’t walk about it. That he promised Vixen not to say anything. Batman tells Wonder Woman that Vixen’s powers have changed and that she is leeching off her teammates instead of animals.
Superman is horrified that Batman told Wonder Woman Vixen’s secret. Batman points out that he never made Vixen any promises and that it was stupid of Superman to make one. Superman counters that people have to be able to trust him completely. He is Superman. Batman then surprises me again by agreeing and saying that he didn’t consider the position that Superman is in.
Batman comments that he thought something was up with Vixen back when she raced Jay Garrick and neat him. And then a few weeks before that she punched a hole in Amazo. Batman tells Superman that he had better talk with Vixen. That the JLA cannot operate effectively as a team if everyone is not aware of everyone else’s abilities.
Wonder Woman makes the point that Clark was right that they are the Justice League and they need to be able to trust each other implicitly. Batman sarcastically interjects “Secret meeting rooms notwithstanding.”
Wonder Woman then says that Black Canary told her that Batman has been undercutting her authority in the field. Batman readily agrees that he has. Batman says that Dinah is still developing and needs an occasional challenge to her authority to help season her. Diana retorts that it had nothing to do with Batman feeling responsible for everything Joker does when he is on the loose. Batman curtly responds that it is possible to achieve more than one goal with a single action.
Superman then says that they need to add some formal reserves for the League. Superman asks about Martian Manhunter and if anyone has heard from him. Batman says that once J’onn has completed his work then he is sure that J’onn will be rejoining the team.
Wonder Woman comments that the new Atom has been contacted and is thinking about joining the League. Superman says it doesn’t feel right. That it feels like they are giving up on Ray. Batman doesn’t feel the same way. Batman says that they are honoring their friend’s choice and moving on. Batman says that if Ray wanted to be found he would let them know. Batman says that Clark can’t fix everything and that Ray needs time to heal.
We cut to Baltimore, Maryland where a minor criminal named Mike Miller, also known as the Human Flame is breaking into a bank. Human Flame thinks how he only pulls safe jobs and is no longer a big super villain. That he just wants to avoid super heroes. Unfortunately, as Human Flame leaves the bank Hawkgirl and Red Arrow arrive on the scene.
Red Arrow begins beating up Human Flame until Human Flame fires up a big explosion that envelops Red Arrow. Human Flame then runs for it while Hawkgirl puts out the fire around Red Arrow. Roy says he is okay and Kendra goes ahead and chases after Human Flame.
Hawkgirl catches up to Human Flame. She is about to lay a beating on him when Libra suddenly appears on the scene and knocks out Hawkgirl. Libra then tells Human Flame to come with him.
We shift to Central City where Libra is meeting with a bunch of low level super villains and some rather high profile super villains like Lex Luthor and Gorilla Grodd. We slide back to the Hall of Justice where Red Tornado gives Red Arrow, Hawkgirl and Firestorm background information on the Human Flame. They learn that J’onn captured the Human Flame years ago. Red Tornado then says that Libra was the alien warlord who assembled the original Injustice Gang. That his power is incalculable.
We hop back to Libra’s headquarters in Central City. Lex is highly doubtful that this ridiculous plan of Libra’s will ever work. Libra tells Human Flame that he can give Human Flame his heart’s desire. That Libra can give Human Flame revenge on the Martina Manhunter who defeated him and humiliated hum. That Human Flame’s life has been a bitter series of failures ever since that day. That Martian Manhunter took everything away from Human Flame.
Libra promises to give Human Flame enough power to return the favor. Libra says that Human Flame wants enough power to see the Martian Manhunter dead by his own hands. Human Flame answers “Yes.” Libra says consider it done.
The Good: Justice League of America #21 was a solid read. I have to admit that McDuffie pulled off a much better issue than I was expecting. This was a fairly well paced read as McDuffie balances the slower first half of the issue with a faster paced second half.
Justice League of America #21 is a tale of two stories. The first half of this issue feels nothing like the second half of the issue. What made Justice League of America #21 so much more enjoyable than previous issues was the magnificent first half of this issue dealing with the meeting between the big three.
I will openly admit that I have never really viewed McDuffie as anything more than a journeyman writer. However, the fact is that McDuffie delivers some wonderfully crafted dialogue between the big three. Each of the big three possess a proper external voice. The dialogue between the three old comrades has such a pleasant flow.
The character work on the big three was impressive. McDuffie simply nails their personalities perfectly. McDuffie delivers Batman as the true individualist. Superman the true idealist. And Wonder Woman is a calming balance between the two of them. After reading this scene the reader gets the impression that despite Superman and Batman seemingly overshadowing Wonder Woman, the truth is that Diana is the rock that serves as the foundation for the Trinity.
McDuffie manages a difficult task of being able to make Superman the icon of Truth, Justice and the American Way and making Batman the bad-ass and cynical detective who knows everything without putting one character over the other. Too often writers fall into the trap of making Superman seem like a naïve idiot and Batman the ultimate human who can do no wrong. McDuffie manages to show the reader that both men are important in their own way to the DCU and that both of their contrasting styles actually complement each other rather than conflict.
McDuffie’s excellent feel for the big three’s characters combined with the well crafted dialogue created some fantastic chemistry between the big three. Seriously, this is some of the best chemistry that I have seen a writer generate between the big three in quite some time. The blunt talk between the characters is appropriate for old friends who respect each other greatly and have no qualms talking frankly.
I laughed out loud when McDuffie had Batman matter of factly call out Superman about smooching Vixen. Even better is that Batman never judges Superman by stating that Superman’s straying is understandable since Vixen is a hottie. This is exactly the kind of conversation that you see between old friends.
I dig how McDuffie handles the conflicting philosophical views of Superman and Batman concerning the meeting room. Superman does not operate in secret like Batman does. Superman is a much more upfront straight forward character. However, Kal-El has always had his Fortress of Solitude, his secret hideaway where he could find sanctuary and time to be alone with his thoughts. This “Lounge” is simply an extension of the Fortress of Solitude where Superman can go and socialize with Batman and Wonder Woman.
However, Batman who operates in complete secrecy is the true individualist and distrusts any government or group of individuals who claim to know what is good for the general public. It makes sense that Batman would automatically view the “Lounge” with a derisive attitude by calling it the “Star Chamber.”
I also appreciate that McDuffie has Batman recognize two of Superman’s points during their running debate. Batman surprisingly agrees that a secret meeting room where the big three can catch up with each other and talk about their private lives is a good thing. And Batman again surprises me by conceding the point about Superman needing to keep his word to Vixen. Batman acknowledges that Superman’s position within the DCU that means he has to operate far differently from Batman. That people have to feel that they can trust Superman implicitly simply because he is Superman. Superman is the embodiment of the perfect ideal that serves to inspire people. Batman is the urban myth that embodies fear and punishment that serves to deter people from committing crimes.
These two moments during the running debate demonstrate what an excellent version of Batman that McDuffie delivers. Make no mistake, McDuffie gives us a Batman that is totally bad-assed. McDuffie gets it that Batman must always seem “cool.” However, McDuffie tempers Batman’s sarcastic jerk persona in order to keep Batman from coming off as just a raging asshole. This wise move gives the reader a Batman that has some depth and texture.
I dig how McDuffie handled the topic of the new Atom and Ray Palmer. McDuffie nails Superman’s loyal nature that is prone to nostalgia in refusing to replace Ray with another Atom. That is simply doesn’t feel right to Superman. On the other hand, Batman has the proper pragmatic approach concerning replacing Ray with the new Atom. To Batman, as long as Ray wishes to be alone that they must respect his wishes. Out of all the JLA’ers, Batman can probably relate the most to Ray’s situation. Batman understands the desire of wanting to withdraw from society and the world in general due to painful life experiences.
The second half of Justice League of America #21 was an advertisement for the upcoming Final Crisis. I have had this strange nagging feeling for the past year that Martian Manhunter was slated for a dirt nap. I hope that isn’t true, but J’onn would be a big enough name character to make an impact on readers with his death, but not such a big name character that fans would be upset over his death and clamoring for his return.
Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino provide for some excellent artwork in this issue. I have always been a fan of this duo since they consistently deliver quality work. Pacheco is equally adept at drawing slower paced dialogue heavy scenes as he is drawing faster paced action scenes.
The Bad: Once again, Justice League of America serves as a lead in for a story to be continued on another title. It seems that DC has reduced this title as nothing more than an advertising tool to launch stories on other titles. The second half of Justice League of America #21 was generic and failed to match the intensity and effort that McDuffie placed into the first half of this issue. It had an awkward flow and consisted of standard issue comic book dialogue. It felt like McDuffie just phoned in the second half of the issue.
There is still an alarming paucity of plotlines for the JLA itself on this title. Seriously, there has been practically no effort or attention paid to the JLA itself or to any plotlines unique to this title. The Justice League of America really has lost its focus and purpose and merely consists of random one-shot stories and lead-ins for stories on other comic books. I cannot think of another team title currently on the market that really have so few plotlines. There really is nothing at all going on in this title. DC seriously has to start allowing its supposed flagship title to focus on its own plotlines and stories.
Overall: Justice League of America #21 was a solid read. If you are a fan of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman then you will definitely enjoy this issue. The strength of this issue is the wonderful first half of the issue dedicated to the big three. I hope that the upcoming weekly title Trinity can capture this type of dynamic between the big three.
However, no matter how much I enjoyed the first half of this issue, the fact remains that nothing at all happened in this issue. No JLA plotlines were created in this issue and no JLA related plotlines were advanced. If you aren’t a fan of the big three and actually are interested in reading a JLA story then I would recommend passing on Justice League of America #21.