|Justice League #68|
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis (Justice League), Ram V (Justice League Dark)
Art: Scott Godlewski (Justice League), Sumit Kumar (J.L.D.)
Colours: Gabe Eltaeb (Justice League), Nick Filardi (Justice League Dark)
Letters: Josh Reed (Justice League), Rob Leigh (Justice League Dark)
Published by DC Comics
Justice League #68 seems to be rolling out the red carpet for DC fans and newcomers alike with its cover from David Marquez and Alejandro Sanchez, depicting a huge gathering of heroes outside the newly rebuilt Hall of Justice. There’s Superman offering a welcoming gesture in the foreground and, behind him, members of not only the League but also nods to JLD and other cameos besides. Perhaps even more notably, Batman is smiling. If that doesn’t invite you to read on, then what will?
It’s a really warm piece of art, which depicts the aftermath of recent events in Justice League in just the right way. Comics don’t always have to be full of drama and pathos, after all (at this point, readers of the Justice League Dark backup story will admittedly not connect the vibe of the cover to their favored content!).
As before, the issue opens with Brian Michael Bendis giving readers an ‘in case you missed it’ synopsis page, with mugshots of the prominent heroes within. This is a nice touch for comic fans who might either be taking their first ride with Justice League or are more inclined/able to dip a toe in only every now and again. It also helps younger readers keep track of events; a wise move, in light of the pacing of this title in recent times. In essence, though, it levels the playing field each time and broadens the appeal.
Rejoining our heroes in the aftermath of their battle with Synmar Utopica (think alien Superman gone awry), we find them in a surprising face-off with the United Order (an intergalactic JL). They are debating proper use and control of the Phantom Zone and, even in the wake of such a harrowing battle, tensions are mounting. The resolution of this is interesting and gives a nice insight into Superman’s intergalactic standing.
We then move to a much-needed light relief scene involving Doctor Fate’s mild panic over John Constantine’s transgressions – both real and imagined – while he was in the Tower of Fate looking after Naomi’s parents. These pages serve not only to amuse but also act as a further ‘catch-me-up’ for those needing it (another sign this comic is trying to include newcomers). Meanwhile, the Justice league debrief and set about rebuilding the Hall of Justice (at least, two of them do…).
The second half of the Justice League story involves Checkmate, Green Arrow’s ‘other team’, a group tasked with covert operations/spycraft. We join them as they watch footage of Leo Lane, aka. Daemon Rose, fight multiple Deathstroke’s. This fight follows on from the ambush at the end of the last issue and shows some of Leo’s prowess. The group makeup of Checkmate is interesting, with a particular highlight being The Question (a Steve Ditko creation thought widely to have influenced Alan Moore’s Rorschach). Checkmate seems to be interested in Daemon Rose, be it as a potential threat or ally.
Hints of another shadowy group emerge, one intent on killing the Justice League. Before more can be revealed, all hell breaks loose once again, leaving us wondering what comes next. Until the next issue…
‘United Order’ part 5 brings the intergalactic threat storyline seemingly to a close while expanding on plot seeds planted in recent issues. There’s now a sense that perhaps the mega threat of Synmar Utopica was in fact Bendis’ ‘magician’s assistant’; while we were watching the spectacle, hands were busy at work, building the true threat.
Certainly, his approach to writing Justice League seems to be focused on delivering entertainment with variety, almost in the style of the Saturday morning cartoons. We have big headline characters, with impressive action set pieces, drama, comedy, and cliff-hangers. What new peril will the League face down next?
While the sheer volume of characters involved in his stories might seem off-putting to some, he is careful to offer some guidance for those not fully immersed in the series. This is a commendable approach and is one that might further appeal to a younger audience too.
The writing is supported not only by some fine lettering from Josh Reed but also by a different art team this time, with Scott Godlewski and Gabe Eltaeb working hard to bring us well-defined and dynamic superheroes. Panels are always laid out thoughtfully to enhance the narrative: wide and cinematic when suitable; closer, more intimate for dialogue. Their art is eye-catching and atmospheric throughout and delivers some cool moments.
Speaking of cool moments, the Justice League Dark story has many. ‘The Wrong Way Up’ opens on the catastrophic events facing John Constantine and the company as they try to both stop Merlin and save Atlantis. Matters go from bad to worse as they tackle the many problems and distractions Merlin has left in his wake. Ram V has written this in such a way that even with characters like Constantine, Detective Chimp and Zattana in the mix, we always have the sense that Merlin is several steps ahead of anything our heroes might fathom.
We’re given page after page of excellent reading here, with no end of superlative art depicting some seriously ‘way-out’ moments. The closing page for this issue has some serious nightmare fuel, so be warned…
This run of Justice League Dark has been consistently superb, and all credit is due to the team working on it. It’s clear they’re having great fun with a very cool story and the ‘back-up’ story (as they are sometimes known) stands as a wonderfully contrasting counterpart to the lead.
Justice League offers two stories with marked contrast, each bringing its own strengths to the mix. Both teams share a base of operations but their stories are pleasantly divergent in tone. This issue gets bonus points for a double dose of Constantine, too. There’s something for everyone here, but I’d mention – perhaps in hushed tones – that Justice League Dark is the show-stealer. It’s excellent.
Review by Andy Flood 27/1/22