It has been a while since I sampled Geoff Johns’ Justice League. Like maybe the second month of the new 52. I simply could not stand the taste of the New 52 and was so put off by the drastic trashing of the Justice League’s continuity and the radically different take on the franchise that I was not able to get past those two issues and try to enjoy the story for what it is. So, now that DC has officially trashed the New 52 label and has, for all intents and purposes, admitted the New 52 was a failure and are open to bringing back aspects of the pre-New 52 DCU I find myself more willing to sample more of DC’s titles. Of course, it helps that I have realized that DC trashing their continuity is a “me problem” and I can either get over it and try to enjoy their comics or just keep boycotting DC. Well, it is pretty hard to run The Revolution and boycott DC comics so I have started sampling more and more of their titles as the new DCYOU direction was kicked off.
I have always loved Geoff Johns’ writing. From his days on the Justice Society of America and Teen Titans all the way up to Blackest Night. However, Blackest Night was the turning point for me. From that big event and going forward I felt that Johns’ quality of writing had taken a noticeable dip. That Johns seemed more content to toss out issues employing the exact same formula. Deliver an incredibly decompressed story that offered little plot development, then end with a massive hook ending that offered some quick plot progression and then end the issue. Johns’ issues became so decompressed and so lacking in-depth that I began to lose interest in his work. Also, I feel that DC had Johns spread way to thin leading up to the New 52 relaunch and that having far too much on his plate caused his writing to dip. Hopefully, with a reduced amount of work, Johns can show me that he has rebounded and his recharged and is delivering the same quality of work that he used to prior to Blackest Night.
There is a good chance that I will enjoy Justice League #43. Mainly because I am the biggest Kirby Fourth World fan you will ever find. I adore all things Kirby. And Kirby’s Fourth World stories are probably my all-time favorite Kirby tales. Now, Johns has never professed a real love or interest in Kirby’s Fourth World characters and stories. And it shows as Johns’ handling of the Fourth World characters demonstrate a lack of understanding of what made these characters so great when Kirby wrote them. Still, I am hopefully that Johns can pull it together and deliver an exciting read as the Darkseid War looks to get kicked into high gear with Justice League #43.
Words: Geoff Johns
Artist: Jason Fabok
Colors: Brad Anderson
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 10 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 9.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Kalibak cruelly killing some rabid looking attack dog-like creature. Steppenwolf appears and says that Darkseid has summoned Kalibak to join him in going to Earth and entering into battle. Steppenwolf says that Kalibak must show restraint as he has killed too many of their own simply because they were in Kalibak’s path. Steppenwolf says that Darkseid wants Grail (Darkseid’s daughter) and Myrina Black (Grail’s mother) alive. Kalibak says that he is showing restraint right now by not smashing Steppenwolf’s head in. Steppenwolf says they do this for Darkseid. Kalibak replies “Bah. For Kalibak.”
We shift to the Rock of Eternity. We see Batman on Mobius’ chair. Flash, Hal Jordan, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Power Ring and Steve Trevor are all there. Our heroes try to talk Batman into getting off of Mobius’ chair. Batman says that the chair belongs to him.
Diana narrates how her father was a god. And that because of that fact she has never trusted gods. Wonder Woman tells Batman to come down off of the chair. Batman simply responds by levitating the chair even higher. Hal says that the chair could do permanent damage to Batman’s brain. That the chair is mainlining the information straight into Batman’s brain. Batman says he is fine and can handle it.
Cyborg says that Batman is probably the only person with a mind strong enough to handle the chair. But, Cyborg says that he connected with a Mother Box once for only a brief moment and the experience nearly drove him insane. That Batman should not take such a risk with his mind. Batman says that he appreciates the concern but that he can handle it. Batman says this is the only way to get the information that they need from the chair.
We cut to Apokolips where Lex Luthor and Superman are teaming up together. Lex says that he did not need Superman to save him. That his suits medical mode would have kicked in. Superman replies that next time he will refrain from trying to help. Lex says that it looks like they are in a slave camp. Lex says that the only way they can get back to Earth is via a Mother Box. Superman says that the air must be lined with lead because his x-ray vision is not working.
Suddenly, some of Darkseid’s brainwashed slaves attack Lex and Superman. Superman tells Lex that the slaves are brainwashed and that Lex should refrain from seriously hurting any of them. (Well, this clearly is not the Man of Steel Superman! Man of Steel Superman would be all like “It is neck snappin’ time, bitches!”) Lex and Superman fight off the slaves. Superman knocks them all out with a massive shockwave by punching the ground.
Lex looks at Superman with a stunned look. We see that Superman is bleeding. Lex says that there is not lead in the air blocking Superman’s x-ray vision. Lex says that there is no sunlight.
We hop over to Lashina and Kanto on Apokolyps searching for Scot Free (Mr. Miracle). Kanto investigates a scene of a battle. Kanto says that Myrina was with Scot and it appears that they fought each other because the blood on the floor belongs to Scot. Lashina says that Darkseid wants Myrina, not Scot. That once they find Myrina then they can pursue their personal crusade to find Scot.
We zip over to Earth. We see Grail standing next to the Anti-Monitor. Grail makes a design of Darkseid’s Omega symbol in the ground. She then casts an Amazonian spell summoning her father to this location.
We shift to the Rock of Eternity. Batman explains that Grail’s mother is the Amazon Myrina Black. Myrina was the assassin of Diana’s mother. That Myrina gave birth to Grail the same night that Diana was born. Myrina then left the Paradise Island immediately after giving birth to Grail. Captain Marvel comments “You and Darkseid’s daughter share a birthday? Creepy.” (Ha! Perfect line.) Batman then says that he sees that someone is coming.
Suddenly, we see Scot Free teleport onto the scene via a Boom Tube. Batman introduces Scot to the rest of the Justice Leaguers. Batman says that Scot was born on New Genesis but grew up in the slave camps of Apokolips. Then Scot escaped the slave camps and has been fighting Darkseid ever since. Scot sees that Mobius is tied up in Wonder Woman’s golden lasso. Scot asks why Mobius is here. Mobius replies that he came here to warn the heroes. Scot says that he does not believe Mobius.
Scot then grabs the golden lasso and says that Darkseid’s arrival is imminent. Scot says that they need to get to the Anti-Monitor and get him to leave the Earth. Batman replies that he is not coming. That if the Anti-Monitor refuses to leave that they will have no idea how to stop him. The more they know about the Anti-Monitor the greater the chance of them being able to stop him. Batman says the chair is telling him that he can find the answers in the depths of the Multiverse.
Hal says that space is his jurisdiction so he will be traveling with Batman. Plus, Batman and Hal could use some good male bonding time. (Ha! Another great line.)
Mister Miracle then places Mobius in some magical/sci-fi Fourth World tech looking manacles so that he cannot escape. Captain Marvel yells out “Hey, good luck Bat-” but he is cut short by Batman teleporting himself and Hal away from the scene. (Ha! Batman does not say “goodbye” when exiting a scene.) Mister Miracle then teleports our heroes from the scene while Batman teleports himself and Hal away from the scene.
Mobius looks at the manacles and says that soon he will be free.
We shift back to Apokolips where Lex and Superman are being chased by more of Darkseid’s slaves. Lex says “We can’t fight them all. And in a matter of hours you will be-” Superman interjects “Human.” Lex replies “You’ll be powerless. You’ll never be human.” (Sick burn! Fantastic line!) Lex tells Superman to give him his hand. Superman hesitates. Lex says “You’ll have to trust me.” Superman then grabs Lex’s hand. Lex then blasts the two of them into the air.
We zip back to Earth. We see Mister Miracle and the Justice Leaguers teleporting in front of Anti-Monitor and Grail. Wonder Woman tells the two villains to leave now and there will not be a fight. Suddenly, Darkseid with Kalibak and Steppenwolf by his side and his army of Parademons behind him appear on the scene. Power Ring asks Wonder Woman who they should fight.
Anti-Monitor and Grail square off against Darkseid and his forces. Wonder Woman recalls the tale of Odysseus and his tale of trying to cross the straight Messina that was guarded by two sea monsters. Odysseus would have to decide which monster to deal with in order to cross the straight. He had to decide which was the lesser of two evils. Wonder Woman says that it does not matter which monster Odysseus chose. That six of his men died crossing the straight. That sometimes there is no escape. That sometimes whatever you chose you lose. That those are the lessons of the gods. Wonder Woman then leads the Justice Leaguers into battle.
We cut to Apokolips with Lex flying Superman over one of the fire pits. Lex says that Superman’s cells are charged by solar energy. That the fire pits of Apokolips should provide that solar energy source. Lex then drops Superman into one of the fire pits.
Wonder Woman continues to narrate that the gods are far from perfect. That the gods will turn on you. They will turn on their own family. That the gods will turn on themselves. That the gods are at war. We see Darkseid’s forces clashing with the Anti-Monitor and Grail.
We cut to Apokolips and see Superman engulfed in a fire pit. We see Lex battling the attacking Parademons over the fire pit. Lex calls out for Superman. Wonder Woman narrates that the gods are at war and not all of us will survive. We see a dark energy version of Superman fly out of the fire pit. Superman says “I should have killed you a long time ago.” End of issue.
The Good: Hot damn! Justice League #43 is a fantastic read! This issue far exceeded my expectations. This issue is fun. Just pure and simple. Pure and unadulterated super hero action and adventure that is an absolute blast to read from start to finish. This is the type of issue that grabs the reader by the nape of the neck and does not let go until the very end. The reader finds themselves sucked into the issue with the very first scene and gets completely lost in the story until we arrive at the exciting conclusion gasping and eager for more. Justice League #43 is a thrilling roller coaster ride that takes the reader on a rollicking good journey and brings them to the edge of their seat.
Justice League #43 is a prime example of what I expect from my super hero comic books. I want super heroes who are true heroes. They are confident in who they are and what they stand for. They are a force for good. They are positive characters even in the face of doom and destruction. They do not waver. They have the hearts of true champions. The heroes are not dark and gritty and questioning who they are. The heroes are not standing around and backbiting each other.
I want action and adventure that embraces all that is good about the super hero genre. Fantastic settings, impossible tech, grand settings and larger than life characters. All of this with the design of entertaining the reader and putting a big smile on their face. Justice League #43 is an issue whose main objective is escapist fun. Fun. See, fun does not have to mean “kiddie.” A story can absolutely be “fun” and still deal with heavier themes. Yes, this is war and there is a sense of darkness to the situation at hand that our heroes face. However, it is all framed within the context of a classic super hero story where we know that when the conflict gets darkest our heroes’ hearts shine even brighter. This is what inspires the reader and has us rooting for our heroes to overcome the odds and win the day and save the world.
I must applaud Johns for making Justice League #43 relatively new reader friendly. This big story arc was kicked off in Justice League #41. I did not read Justice League #41 or #42. However, at no point did I feel lost in Justice League #43. Johns managed to sprinkle in enough back-story throughout the issue and managed to properly introduce all of the characters in a fashion that never slowed down the story and bore long-time readers yet still made new readers like me able to hop right onto this story without missing a beat. Johns deserves a ton of credit for doing this. This is much harder than it seems.
I also love that Johns made Justice League #43 all-ages friendly. That was something of a rarity during the New 52. In a rush to shed their lighter and more positive image compared to the darker and mature Marvel, DC went to overboard with trying to be “grown up and dark and gritty” to the point where the New 52 titles no longer targeted readers under the age of 16. And that is trading the long-term growth for an immediately short-term payoff. Comics survive because children read them at an early age and fall in love with the characters and stick around even after becoming adults. The more titles that DC publishes that are all-ages friendly the better their long-term health.
Justice League #43 is a fine example that being all-aged friendly does not mean it must be “kiddie.” The odd stigma that the all-ages label carries makes no sense. Johns delivers an issue that can easily be enjoyed by kids, teenagers and adults. It is simple. Johns avoided unnecessary gore, sexual situations, cursing or adult themes. Johns focused on super hero action and adventure and the result is a comic book that can be enjoyed by any reader regardless of age.
Johns delivers a beautifully constructed issue. Justice League #43 is excellently plotted and paced. Johns juggles a huge cast with aplomb. There are numerous big named writers who wilt under the pressure of handling such a large cast of characters. Johns is also able to manage numerous plot lines and have them all progress forward in a smooth and cohesive manner as all of the various characters converge upon the climactic battle scene. Johns never loses focus and moves the story forward in a steady fashion. There is never a dull moment or a wasted page in this issue.
This issue has a pleasant flow as the scene shift naturally back and forth. I love how Johns is able to gradually crank up the intensity as the issue progresses. The rising tension of the story is palpable as it hits a crescendo with the riveting hook ending as the three factions engage in battle on Earth while an evil Superman attacks Lex Luthor. On top of it all, Johns manages to make Justice League #43 well-balanced between action heavy scenes and dialogue heavy scenes.
Johns whips up some fantastic character work and some excellent dialogue. The characters all have well-defined personalities and unique external voices. What I loved so much about Johns’ dialogue is that he took the time to carefully craft some one-liners that really helped to define the characters saying the lines and their relationship with the other characters in the scene. The ability to use small moments and just a single line of dialogue to perform quality character work and to build chemistry between characters is something that is difficult and is not seen that often.
This is noticeable in the scenes with Lex and Superman. I loved the scenes between these two men. These two characters have some incredible chemistry. It is obvious that Johns loves these characters and has a strong understanding of their personalities. The line by Lex that Superman will never be human delivered the impact of a bombshell. In just one line, Johns is able to crystallize the dynamic between Lex and Superman. This one quick bit of dialogue encapsulates Lex’s attitude toward Superman in such a raw and honest fashion. It is fantastic.
I enjoyed the lines that Captain Marvel delivered in this story. He did not get a ton of dialogue, but what he got was judiciously written by Johns and helped to emphasis Captain Marvel’s more youthful and naive personality. The line about how creepy it is that Wonder Woman and Grail share the same birthdate? Love it! Such a youthful reaction to have to such a fact. And Captain Marvel trying to wish Batman good luck? It emphasized Captain Marvel’s youthful positivity in contrast with Batman’s normally brusque and cold nature. Again, just a few wisely crafted lines of dialogue can pull of so much quality character work and build good chemistry.
We also see this with the line Hal Jordan when he says that he will be joining Batman in his journey into the Multiverse because space is his jurisdiction and so that the two of them can have some quality male bonding time together. That was hilarious! And it also highlighted the longstanding tension between the two characters. I’m pretty sure Johns has never forgiven Frank Miller for having Batman and Robin completely punk Hal Jordan in All Star Batman.
I have never been particularly impressed with how Johns has written Batman in the past. However, I must admit that Johns wrote a hell of a Batman in this issue. Bruce is a proper badass. The only mortal able to channeling the power of the gods is Batman. Of course. I love that Batman takes a firm grasp of Mobius’ chair and refuses to relinquish it. Batman’s response of constantly elevating his chair higher and higher as his teammates plead with him to let go of the chair was perfect. This scene effectively conveyed Batman’s supreme confidence in himself and his natural loner attitude that he is the only human good enough for the job.
I enjoyed how Johns wrote Wonder Woman in this issue. Diana comes across as a natural-born warrior and the most logical choice to lead our heroes into a battle among the gods. Johns also did a wonderful job crafting Diana’s narration that framed the last half of this issue. Diana’s narration was practically lyrical. Diana was the perfect choice to discuss gods and their impact on the mortal realm.
Diana’s drawing a parallel between Odysseus trying to cross the straight of Messina and our heroes dealing with the warring factions of Anti-Monitor/Grail on one side and Darkseid on the other side was brilliant. Super hero comics are nothing more than modern-day mythology. Classic mythology is full of stories populated by incredible human adventurers, demigods and gods. The characters in super hero comics like Justice League are a mixture of incredible human adventurers like Batman, demigods like Wonder Woman and gods like Darkseid. This was a well-played bit of metacommentary by Johns and helped to frame the story as an epic tale of modern mythology.
Kalibak is the only villain that received much character work in this issue. However, Johns definitely succeeded in getting Kalibak over with the reader as a big bad villain who might be a legit rival to Darkseid himself as a threat.
Jason Fabok is amazing! Seriously, Justice League #43 was a gorgeous issue from start to finish. I cannot praise Fabok’s artwork enough. I adore his impressive attention to detail. Fabok is able to bring Johns’ huge story to life and to give it a truly epic feel. Fabok massive two page splash scene with Anti-Monitor/Grail heading into battle against Darkseid and his forces was jaw dropping. That conveyed the massive scale of this war. I’m running out of superlatives to gush on about Fabok. The guy is just insanely talented and is probably my favorite comic book artist at the moment.
The Bad: I have no complaints with Johns or Fabok at all. I do have a quibble with the editorial staff. Where does Justice League fit in with the rest of the DCYOU titles? In this story we get a classic Superman rather than Dude Bro Superman from Action Comics, Superman, Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman. The Hal Jordan we get in this issue is not the renegade Hal Jordan we get in Green Lantern. And, obviously, Bruce Wayne is Batman unlike the Jim Gordon Batman we are getting in Batman, Detective Comics and Batman/Superman.
I get that the answer is that Justice League takes place prior to all of those other titles. But, the fact is that Justice League is one of DC’s premier titles featuring their premier writer. Justice League, only with Batman, have been DC’s two flagship titles since the New 52 reboot. It is lazy editing to have your flagship title taking place in a different time than your other titles. And it robs the story in Justice League of some of its impact when it takes place before all of the stories in the other DC titles.
Overall: Justice League #43 was an excellent read from start to finish. Johns treats the reader to an issue that has something for everyone. Great character work, engaging dialogue, entertaining action and adventure all wrapped up in some gorgeous artwork by Fabok. If you like super hero comic books then run out and buy Justice League #43. Johns is delivering a classic super hero epic that will appeal to readers both young and old.