I have absolutely loved the Darseid War story arc. Right now, Justice League is easily the best DC title on the market. It simply is not even close at the moment. Geoff Johns is firing on all cylinders like a gloriously tuned Porsche 997 GT3 RS. If you are not a gearhead then that means Johns is on the top of his game. And Jason Fabok? Good God. Fabok has become my favorite artist. I think I want to have his babies. Anyway, I am more than confident that Justice League #44 will be another brilliant read. Let’s hit this review.
Words: Geoff Johns
Art: 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 Wonder Woman narrating about how her mother hated Gelos, the god of laughter. We see a picture of the Joker. This then shifts to a picture of Batman. Wonder Woman explains that her mother didn’t hate Gelos because the Amazons do not love laughing and love. The fact is that the Amazons do love laughter. They are loving. But, Gelos was an invisible god who the Amazons could hear cackling at every death during any battle that the Amazons waged.
We the picture of Batman pans out and we see him on the Mobius Chair and with Hal Jordan. Batman explains that the Mobius chair knows everything about the past and the present but not the future. Our heroes arrived at the Crime Syndicates Earth. The Anti-Monitor destroyed this Earth and absorbed all of its energy in preparation for his battle with Darkseid.
Batman says that he does not know why Anti-Monitor wants this war with Darkseid. Hal says that they should go back to their Earth and help the other Justice Leaguers stop the Anti-Monitor from destroying their Earth. Batman disagrees and says that they must go unlock the forgotten knowledge.
Hal asks Batman if he is sure he is seeing clearly. Batman replies that he has never seen clearer before and that includes how Hal Jordan. Batman says that Hal has failed to build any life for himself outside of the Green Lantern Corps. And that even within the Corps Hal has done from leader to outcast one time too many. That it is quite clear that Hal is not the hero. The ring is the hero. (Here Johns is riffing off of Miller’s All Star Batman where Hal Jordan got punched. Miller essentially stated that Hal was nothing and that the power ring is what made him a hero.)
Hal gets pissed and says that the Mobius Chair doesn’t just give Batman all knowledge but it also makes him an ass. Hal says that maybe Batman is right. But, they are on the horizon of a war that they must stop and Hal assumes that Batman still wants to stop it. Hal says Batman can sit on his high horse and thinks whatever the hell he wants. Hal just wants Batman to tell them where they need to go next. (And that was some kind of weak sauce come back to Batman’s wicked burn.)
Batman says that they need to go to Qward: the birth planet of the Anti-Monitor.
We cut back to Earth where the Anti-Monitor and Darkeid are locked in battle. The Justice Leaguers are totally ignored by the two combatants. The Leaguers watch in amazement.
Grail, Darkseid’s daughter, and Kalibak, Darkseid’s son, start battling each other. Grail blasts Kalibak in his eyes so he cannot see. Wonder Woman then joins the fight and tackles Grail.
We zip over to Apokolips and see Superman all supercharged off of the solar energy from Darkseid’s fire pits. Superman easily dispatches all of the attacking Parademons. Superman then looks at Lex and easy “What to do next?” (Uh oh. This does not look good for everyone’s favorite bald guy.)
Lex says they need to get off of Apokolips and back to Earth. Superman asks “Do we?” Superman comments how Lex said that Superman would never be human even if he did not have his powers. Superman says that he can hear Lex’s heartbeat quickening. Superman can see the perspiration on Lex’s face. Superman can smell Lex’s adrenaline gland producing cortisol. (Ewww. That is gross. I never want to read about how Superman is smelling something being secreted from Lex’s glands again.)
Superman says Lex is afraid. Lex counters that maybe he is preparing for a fight. Superman scoffs at the idea that Lex would ever stand a chance against him. Superman says that Lex has only ever come close to beating Superman before because Superman always held back. Superman makes a fist and is about to punch Lex when we cut away from the scene.
We hop back to Earth. Grail takes down Wonder Woman. The other Leaguers have joined the battle. Power Ring decides she is going to join the fight. (Wait? Power Ring? I thought Power Ring was a dude. It never ceases to amaze me how confusing the New 52 can be.) Her power ring tells her that she will die if she joins in the fight. Power Ring says she can do this.
Power Ring creates a massive green tentacle thing that encompasses the Anti-Monitor. Darkseid then says “Enough.” Darskeid then summons the Black Racer. (Black Racer is the avatar of Death in the Fourth World mythology.) The Black Racer then blasts through the Anti-Monitor.
We cut to Qward where Green Lantern takes out the Qwardian soldiers with a massive blast from his power ring. Batman and Hal enter an underground lab. Batman says that the Anti-Monitor was here. That the Anti-Monitor’s real name was Mobius. That the Mobius Chair was the Anti-Monitor’s chair. (Nice. I dig this.)
Batman says that Mobius came here to see the forbidden. And that Mobius was cursed because of it. Hal asks what Mobius saw.
We then shift back to Earth. Due to Black Racer’s attack, Darskeid has the upper hand and starts whipping ass on the Anti-Monitor.
We cut back to Qward. Batman says that free will was at the center of it all. The white lite from where everything came splintered into existence and created gods and men. Batman asks what sat rotting at the center of the Anti-Matter Universe. Batman and Hal stare at a great pit in the lab. Batman says that it was down in the pit until Mobius unleashed it. It changed Mobius into what he is: The living embodiment…
Before Batman can finish we cut back to Earth. Ant-Monitor takes control of Barry Allen. Anti-Monitor says that Death needs a host. Anti-Monitor then merges the Black Racer with the Flash. (Presto! Now we get Black Flash! Ehhhh, I don’t like the sound of that name. How about Flash Racer? That’s better.)
We hop back to Qward, Batman says that Mobius was the first to discover it underground. Mobius touched it. Batman says that the universe was founded on free will. But, the Anti-Matter Universe has no free will. Only the opposite.
We cut back to Earth. Anti-Monitor says that he knows Darkseid’s one weakness. The Anti-Monitor says that he was changed into this because he held what Darskeid wants. The Anti-Monitor is forever bound to it. The Anti-Monitor says “The Anti-Life Equation is in my veins!” (Damn!!! Hell, yeah! What a fantastic twist! Love it!)
Flash Racer then blasts through the middle of Darkseid. Shazam collapses in pain as he says he can hear the gods fighting. They all want out. The heroes are stunned as Darkeid explodes and collapses to the ground. Wonder Woman says that a god is dead. We see Darkseid on the ground dead. Wonder Woman says “Then I hear laughter.” End of issue.
The Good: Justice League #44 was another superlative read. Right now, Johns and Fabok are operating at an entirely different level than anyone else at DC. If DC was wondering why they have been in a death spiral since the ill-fated New 52 reboot then they need to look no further than this issue for help. Justice League #44 is what the mainstream comic book reader desire from DC. Not random niche titles that appeal to fringe internet fans. Not ridiculous and laughable takes on established characters like Victorian Era Wonder Woman, Dude Bro Superman or Mecha Batman. What the mainstream majority reader desires are stories featuring DC’s iconic and classic characters in straight forward super hero styled action-adventure stories. It really is not a hard concept to grasp. What made super hero comics immensely popular under Lee and Kirby is still largely the same with today’s readers.
No super hero comic can ever rise above the villains in the story. For me, the villain is the most important ingredient in any super hero action-adventure romp. And in Justice League #44 we have a villain in the Anti-Monitor created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez and we have a villain in Darkseid created by Jack Kirby. Those are three of my all-time favorite comic book creators so I knew going in that this story should appeal to me.
What I did not know was whether or not I would enjoy Geoff Johns’ take on these classic characters. I have been a huge fan of Geoff Johns work in the past. However, from Blackest Night on into the New 52, I have been less and less impressed with Johns’ work. I have also been largely unimpressed when Johns handled classic characters from creators that I admire.
A good example would be Johns’ work on Legion of Three Worlds. The Legion of Super Heroes is undoubtedly my favorite comic book franchise of all time. Paul Levitz’s Legion of Super Heroes is arguably my favorite incarnation of the Legion of Super Heroes. So, when Johns brought back my beloved Pre-Crisis Levitz Legion I thought that there would be very little chance that I would not immediately fall in love with Johns’ Legion. However, Johns displayed a tone-deaf feel for the Legion’s core characteristics. The result was that Johns’ Pre-Crisis Legion never captured my heart the way that I thought it would have or should have.
The same has occurred in the past whenever Johns has handled any of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters. Johns has never shown me that he has much knowledge or passion for the cosmic mythology that Kirby created during his time at DC. Once again, Johns’ take on the Fourth World character seemed tone-deaf at times or simply downright clumsy with a disregard for the genius that Kirby poured into the Fourth World mythology.
Well, Johns is certainly showing me that he can weave a brilliant story involving the Fourth World characters with this Darkseid War storyline. Justice League #4 is a brilliantly constructed issue. Johns puts on a clinic and delivers what is simply a beautifully written issue. Not only does Johns construct a well written and constructed issue from a technical standpoint, but Johns also brings a level of artfulness that I was not expecting.
The core concept running through Justice League #44 is one of gods and mankind and where super heroes fit within that construct. This concept of gods, super heroes and mankind fuses science fiction with mythology in order to create a new narrative for the modern reader. One where high science blends into magic. Where gods and men blend into each other in the form of super heroes. The question is asked as to what is a god? What is a man? How do they relate with each other? How does high science and magic relate to each other and explain the origins of our universe? These are all fascinating questions that arise as Johns plays with this core concept of gods, superheroes and mankind. Johns handles these various questions quite deftly and even poetically at certain points in Justice League #44.
Johns’ use of Gelos the God of Laughter as the literary thread to tie the beginning, middle and end of this issue together in order to create one neat thematically consistent story is brilliant. Comparing Gelos with the Joker is a smart move by Johns. This helps readers who are unfamiliar with Gelos better understand what type of character he is. The use of Joker also helps to get over with the reader the fact that laughter in and of itself is not necessarily a positive or inherently good thing.
I like that Johns uses a rather arcane Greek deity in this story but is wise enough to connect Gelos with Joker. This helps Johns to avoid appearing as the highbrow writer who could care less if the reader can keep pace with his obscure references and character selections. Using little known characters from mythology or other areas of literature or history is cool and shows off the writer’s research skills and attention to detail. However, doing such a thing with the intention of browbeating the reader over their lack of knowledge or to purposely obfuscate the story with the writer’s “genius” is never a good thing. Johns avoids all of that and in doing so makes Gelos a highly effective literary device that gives Justice League #44 a consistent theme.
The running narration that alternates between Batman and Wonder Woman that runs through out this entire issue serves as the spine for this story. The theme of Gelos serves as the artistic imagery that augments the spine like a decorative garland. And within this strong foundation for the story, Johns deftly weaves the concept of god, super human and mankind inside of this structure to form a story that is dense and substantive and that possesses strong internal logic.
The result of all of this impressive work is that Justice League #44 reads like a focused issue where all the plot beats of the story slide into place properly and logically. Each scene builds off of the previous one. The scene transitions are simply fantastic. In particular the final ten pages. These pages are impressively constructed. The precise surgical scene cuts between Batman and Hal on Qward and the battle on Earth are perfect. These scene cuts help to ratchet up the intensity and the tension of the big reveal of what “it” is that Mobius had discovered and had turned him into the Anti-Monitor. The answer to what exactly “it” is that the Anti-Monitor knows that Darskeid does not know. The reader’s heart is racing by the time we get to the big reveal of what “it” is.
Johns did a wonderful job handling both the Anti-Monitor and Darkseid. There were two huge plot bombs in connection with the Anti-Monitor’s character. The first is the stunning revelation that the Anti-Monitor was Mobius and that he created the Mobius Chair that has always been associate with Metron. The second is that the “it” that turned Mobius into the Anti-Monitor was the Anti-Life Equation. Perfect. Just perfect. I love both of these brilliant plot bombs from Johns.
With these two plot developments, Johns seamlessly and effectively folds Anti-Monitor neatly into Kirby’s Fourth World mythology. The best part is that these two new plot twists concerning the Anti-Monitor’s origin make sense. And fitting the Anti-Monitor into the Fourth World mythology is logical and fits perfectly. This is rarely the case these days as Marvel and DC often shove characters into new origins with all the subtlety and effectiveness as a toddler jamming a wooden square peg into a round hole.
Jack Kirby defined the Anti-Life Equation as having the ability to give the being who learns the Anti-Life Equation the power to dominate the will of all sentient and sapient races. Kirby named it the Anti-Life Equation because “if someone possesses absolute control over you – you’re not really alive.” It is a fascinating concept and one that is probably born from the fact that Kirby was Jewish and fought in the European theater during World War II. No doubt that the Nazi concentration camps played a role in how Kirby viewed the lack of free will as the same as being dead.
At any rate, Johns understands Kirby’s definition of the Anti-Life Equation and logically applies it in context to the Anti-Monitor’s home universe: The Antimatter Universe. The Anti-Life Equation as the center of the Antimatter Universe as a foil to Free Will being the center of the DC Universe is a brilliant, and more importantly, a logical, move by Johns. Even better, this use of the Anti-Life Equation is not only logical but also poetic and creates for a wonderfully themed story.
However, Johns does not stop there. Johns furthers intertwines the Anti-Monitor into the Fourth World mythology by building off of the 1989 Legends mini-series. Metron is a character that has always been neutral in the battle between Apokolips and New Genesis. Metron’s Mobius Chair is one of the most mysterious artifacts in the Fourth World mythology. The Mobius Chair is usually portrayed as being the main source of Metron’s powers. The important part of Legends was that the mini-series hinted at the fact that Metron held the key to the Anti-Life Equation.
Whether intentionally or not, Johns picks up on this key piece of DC continuity and extrapolates it to its logical conclusion. Johns reasons that Metron received the key to the Anti-Life Equation from the Mobius Chair. It is only logical that the chair itself was created by a man named Mobius. The logic further flows that Mobius himself programmed the chair with the information concerning the Anti-Life Equation. It also makes sense that Mobius coming into contact with the Anti-Life Equation would transform him into the Anti-Monitor. All of this makes sense within existing continuity of the Fourth World characters as well as within the logic of the Anti-Life Equation and the Anti-Monitor’s own background.
John’s use of the Black Racer and the Flash is also impressive. Black Racer is the avatar of Death. Anti-Monitor selecting Barry Allen was perfect. Barry Allen and the Anti-Monitor are forever linked together as a result of the events in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Barry “died” saving the Earth from the Anti-Monitor’s anti-matter cannon. So, Johns having the Anti-Monitor combining Barry Allen with the Avatar of Death was a brilliant moment that organically flowed from the characters’ histories.
The ending to Justice League #44 with the dramatic death of Darkseid was well-played. This was a massive bomb that left the reader excited and wanting more. I like that Darkseid is being placed on the shelf for a while. Darkseid’s character has had a ton of exposure since the New 52 reboot. It is time to give Darkseid’s character a rest before he becomes too overexposed and loses that special quality that his character should bring to any story. That will make his return to life that much more powerful.
While Justice League #44 is not a character driven story that does not mean that Johns skimps on the character work. Most of the character work is relegated to the scene with Superman and Lex and the scene with Batman and Hal. I loved the interplay between Superman and Lex. This scene was dripping with tension. It is interesting that Superman is essentially a god who desperately wants to be a human. That is in stark contrast to the other gods in this story arc who clearly view themselves as superior to humans.
The interaction between Batman and Hal Jordan was also well done. The testy barbs between the two characters continues to fuel the tension between the two. I thought Johns did a nice job not protecting his pet character in Hal Jordan. It is something that Johns has not been successful in doing in the past. However, in this issue, Johns lets Batman own Hal in their verbal sparring. And that is the way it should be. Virtually no character in the DCU should ever be able to get in a verbal sparring match with the Batman and win. Also, I had zero problems with Johns making Hal seem much more likable than Batman. Batman should be an asshole. That should be his default setting.
Justice League #44 definitely serves up an all-you-can-eat buffet style serving of action. Action fans will be more than pleased with the amount of brawling in this issue. To be sure, Justice League #44 is by no means a dull or boring read.
Now we turn to the matter of the artwork for Justice League #44. Jason Fabok continues to deliver some of the best artwork that you are going to find on any DC or Marvel comic book. Faber was born to draw classic super hero stories the same way that George Perez was born to do so. And that is about the highest praise I can give a comic book artist. Fabok takes Johns’ already grand story and elevates it to an entirely different level. Sure, Johns’ story would be large in scope with another artist. But, Fabok is able to make Johns’ story truly epic. Fabok brings Johns’s story to life in glorious painstaking detail that many artists simply do not deliver. Fabok delivers Justice League #44 in a stunning and exciting fashion.
The battle between Darkseid and Anti-Monitor practically leaps off the page at the reader. The energy from this battle crackles off of each page. Fabok is clearly at home with scenes that are dialogue heavy and simmering with tension like the one between Superman and Lex as he is with large battle scenes. Fabok’s versatility in handling just about anything Johns could throw at him is impressive.
I love the character design for the Flash Racer’s costume. It is a cool melding of the Flash and Black Racer. I also love how Fabok draws Wonder Woman. I love the costume design. It is a great mix of Wonder Woman’s classic costume and a traditional Amazon warrior outfit. It looks great. But, what I really loves was Fabok’s rebellious streak of placing Wonder Woman in high heel boots. Fabok, you sneaky dog. One of DC’s unwritten rules is that Wonder Woman does not wear heels. It is part of DC’s weird obsession of always making sure to strip Wonder Woman of any type of sexuality whatsoever. Fabok takes that rule and throws it in the garbage where it belongs.
The Bad: It must be kept in mind that Justice League #44 is constructed in Geoff Johns’ typical fashion. That means the pacing for this issue is methodical and the plot progression is limited. The reader is not going to get a ton of plot progression. Like most of Johns’ issues, the reader gets a slower paced read up until the fast paced final scene that offers the only real serious plot progression. And in typical fashion, Johns delivers an ending that is dramatic and designed to get the reader to forget the slowness of the issue and make the reader excited to come back for more.
Overall: Justice League #44 is a fantastic read that delivers a story in a grand and epic fashion. This is the type of larger-than-life super hero action and adventure that makes comic books so much fun. I cannot recommend Justice League #44 enough. You need to give this title a try. At the very least, get this story arc when it is released in trade format. Justice League #44 continues to be one of the few mainstream super hero titles that is worth every penny of its cover price.