In his review of Justice League #3 last month, Tom Tomorrow called the book a “big dumb Michael Bay action movie.” I don’t disagree with his assessment, necessarily (I might substitute a nicer word for “dumb,” like… unreflective?), but I do disagree that that’s a bad thing. After all, those blockbuster popcorn movies serve a purpose, which is to entertain as many people as possible. Yes, that means a lot of the time applying the slightest critical eye will unravel their seams in an instant, but there are few things quite like a full-blown action movie that’s also pretty good. Consider Terminator 2, for instance, or Die Hard. That’s the bar Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League can and probably should reach for — a loud, colorful story full of explosions and fights that manages to provide a compelling, un-idiotic plot and characters you at least enjoy spending time with.
Now, not every issue of JL has hit that bar; like Tom, I thought last month’s was relatively poor in quality, both in terms of writing and art. JL #4 rebounds significantly by correcting several of its predecessors’ errors. For one, Jim Lee’s art has returned to full glory here. Last month’s outing seemed rushed and undeveloped, which is a problem when you’re dealing with an artist famed for his attention to detail. Tom noted correctly last month that Johns and Lee pack a ton of splash pages into this comic, which might make some readers feel cheated on story, but I don’t actually mind it, especially when they look this good. Lee struts his stuff here on a few panels that impressively show off Aquaman’s powers and three pages that introduce the League to their new threat, the evil god Darkseid. I can’t imagine what the original pencils of these pages will go for, or what wealthy private collector will purchase them.
Although it’s a little harder to judge, I think Johns has also corrected for some of his mistakes in last issue. By design, paint-by-numbers characterization tends to be a part of these giant action outings. I think that’s basically forgivable in a team setting, as long as you settle in on broad characterizations that actually work. Last issue I was really put off by Wonder Woman’s “fish-out-of-water” shtick (“what means this ‘iced cream?’” is only a slight exaggeration), but here Johns focuses on another part of her personality I can get behind — her compassion. I enjoy that her instinct in battle seems to be to make sure everyone’s safe as much as possible. That especially makes a nice contrast with the rebooted Superman; here Johns plays up his rebellious character from Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, hanging a hat on his distrust of those in power explored over in that title: “You seem like someone who wants to do the right thing,” Superman says to Flash, “but the same can’t always be said for everyone in positions of authority.” As I come around to accepting this chip-on-his-shoulder Clark Kent, I can appreciate lines like this.
Something else I enjoyed about this issue — and another important component of most blockbuster action flicks — is the humor. I actually laughed out loud twice reading this comic; it’s rare to get even one out of me. Green Lantern’s “Conan O’Brien” line just hit the right notes for me, and I felt the scene involving Hal Jordan and Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth worked very well because it starts off pretty understated… the comedy sneaks up on you. I don’t recall Johns flexing his comedy muscle too much before, but I think it’s a welcome addition to his repertoire.
Justice League will probably never be a book to deliver deep character reflection or pondering about the nature of reality. The closest this issue comes to development has to do with the Vic Stone/Cyborg plot, which I imagine will be carried out fairly predictably. But, you know, that’s okay. There are a number of fantastically insightful books being put out by DC right now (may I please recommend Animal Man and Swamp Thing at the top of that list), but I don’t know if any nail the straight-up action and excitement of Justice League. As a flagship book, I feel its job is to provide a solid point of entry for as many readers as possible just coming to the DC Universe, and I think it does that pretty well. Not every issue’s going to be perfect, but I’m enjoying the general feeling of this series enough to keep reading it. So far, it’s been more Terminator 2 than Transformers 2; hopefully it stays that way.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more