Justice League #68 – Review

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.

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
November 2021

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.


Verdict

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


Justice League #67 – Review

Green Arrow and Black Canary facing overwhelming odds in the form of multiple (!?) Deathstrokes is exactly the sort of high-concept, action packed, crowd pleasing scene we might expect from Justice League.

Justice League #67

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis (Justice League), Ram V (Justice League Dark)

Art: Phil Hester – Pencils, Eric Gapstur – Inks (Justice League), Sumit Kumar (J.L.D.)
Colours: Hi-Fi (Justice League),
Romulo Fajardo Jr. (Justice League Dark)

Letters: Josh Reed (Justice League), Rob Leigh (Justice League Dark)
Pubished by DC Comics
Released 14/9/21

Green Arrow and Black Canary facing overwhelming odds in the form of multiple (!?) Deathstrokes is exactly the sort of high-concept, action packed, crowd pleasing scene we might expect from Justice League. David Marquez and Alejandro Sanchez really deliver with this kinetically charged cover; it’s a crazy piece of choreography and the sort of thing that can only really work in comics.

‘United Order: Part Four’ opens on two contrasting scenes: a moody, Bourne-esque sequence as Leonardo Lane/The Daemon Rose nurses his wounds and gathers his thoughts following his near-deadly encounter with a Deathstroke imposter; meanwhile, the Justice League and The United Order are locked in a mighty battle with the nigh-incalculable might of Synmar Utopica (a Superman analog gone awry from the farthest reaches of the Galaxy).

Even with the recent addition of Black Adam and a new ‘mega power’ from another world, Naomi, the Justice League has been struggling to contain the mighty alien threat. Following his escape from the United Order, he raced to attack Earth and draw out Superman. In the process, the Hall of Justice has fallen. Incredibly, Synmar Utopica seems indomitable, even with the added might of various alien heroes from across the galaxy. His power grows ever stronger, feeding off the might of his opponents. This leads to Batman and Superman resorting to drastic measures…

This Justice League story has been quite high concept and high impact so far, and this chapter is no exception. Just as with the previous story written by Brian Michael Bendis, there are a large number of characters in play, and each gets their own ‘title card’ introduction. This is a great idea for those not familiar with all characters and certainly comes into its own when dealing with members of the United Order. There’s a fair amount to keep track of as more characters enter the fray and yet this remains a title which seems geared toward accessibility, inclusion and popcorn entertainment.

It’s occurred to me while reading previous issues that perhaps Bendis is writing for a younger, or at least newer audience, one accessing comics by way of the DC cinema and TV offerings. Certainly Justice League has been working on this level thus far and has even had tie-in covers with the recent ‘Zach Snyder’ cut of the Justice League film. With an approach that courts mass appeal, Bendis writes huge battles and set-pieces punctuated with classic, comic book style dialogue throughout this action packed issue.

His words are paired with some high intensity art from Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur, coloured here by ‘Hi-Fi’. There’s a bold, slightly angular style which calls to mind some of the DC animated series while also having a tone all its own. Hester’s distinctive renderings are emphasised with sure-handed inks and high-saturation colours. Each art team working on this title thus far has brought its own stamp, and these guys are no exception. It’s a busy story, with some crowded sequences, but they convey proceedings with confidence and skill.

Moving from the high octane, interstellar antics of the main Justice League story to this issue’s instalment of Justice League Dark, we find an entirely different proposition. This story has been phenomenal, so far; lurking in the shadows of the main title, waiting for the unsuspecting reader…

Any comic story that opens on a wide black panel, empty aside from a quote from Algernon Blackwood (a British writer of supernatural stories, admired by many, including H.P. Lovecraft, for those looking to delve further!), is looking to do things a little differently. The JLD are in pursuit of Merlin (yes, the Merlin of Arthurian legend) and hope to stop him from achieving his goal of tapping into some ancient dark power.

We join the action in Atlantis, a city under siege. While John Constantine plays for time with Merlin, Aquaman, Zatana, Etrigan and company fight to defend Atlantis’ borders from multiple sinister threats raised or summoned by Merlin. It’s an action packed episode for this run, almost atypically so, having been at times more cerebral and deeply atmospheric in the past. No matter the pace, however; Justice League Dark delivers on every page, every issue.

With Ram V, at the helm, this run has been immensely enjoyable. Often clever and surprising and unfailingly engaging, Ram V’s story has been a joy to follow. With a motley crew facing down one of the greatest magical beings in this or any other existence, there have been many memorable moments. I’m happy to report that this time out is no exception. Further, Ram V seems to collaborate with some outstanding teams, and the guys working on the art and lettering this issue (as with all previous ones) provide some truly excellent, jaw dropping panels.


Verdict:

Justice League is a title to be enjoyed either by jumping right in and embracing the feeling of not knowing entirely what’s going on, or you can choose to backpedal through a few back issues and play ‘catch-up’. It pretty much works either way, and chances are good you’ll find things to enjoy, as Bendis and the team bring some big-moment super hero story beats to the page. Justice League Dark, meanwhile, can similarly be enjoyed either way but almost certainly would reveal its best version when read in its entirety. It’s a really special title, and one I hope gets a collected edition in the future.


(Recommended by DC for readers 13+)

Review by Andy Flood, 09/11/21