By Jonathan Edwards
This is not the worst issue of Justice League of America. In fact, as far as the amount of content goes, this might be the most substantial thus far. And, I would even say that the first couple pages are a promising start. However, it very quickly returns to the same old problems I've been complaining about for months. But what's more, this issue actually gives us a glimpse of the bigger picture. We start to see how things are supposed to tie together and build toward some future payoff. And, this newfound perspective is what makes the reason that none of it works that much clearer. Somehow, the biggest problem with JLA, a book that ships twice monthly, is that none of the plot points, character development, story arcs, etc. are given the time and space necessary to be developed beyond the bare bones concept.
Let's follow in the footsteps of this issue and take another look at Batman's mistrust of Makson. It's a conflict that represents what is more or less meant to be an ongoing philosophical debate between Batman and The Ray. In theory, there's nothing wrong with that idea. But in practice, it completely fails to function. Ray's argument is meant to be "give people the benefit of the doubt," and I'd agree that you shouldn't automatically assume that everyone is an asshole 100% of the time. But, Ray pushes that to the extreme with how much he defends Makson at first. And, we're never really given a reason for why he trusts the wild man so much, so it ends up coming across like complete and unwavering blind faith in the guy for the reason of "just 'cause." Batman, on the other hand, doesn't make a reciprocating argument. At no point does he even insinuate the idea that people shouldn't get the benefit of the doubt, or that he thinks they're always assholes. What he says is that Makson (specifically and only Makson) is lying to some degree about something. He cites body language as his reason for believing that, and then he muses about not being sure what he's lying about. Does he follow it up an keep prodding? Sure. But, I'd like to remind everyone that this is FUCKING BATMAN, and he used his fucking "World's Greatest Detective" skills to determine something about Makson and voice it rationally. So, Ray biting his head off for "not trusting people" is in no way a rebuttal or counterargument. This is not a debate, philosophical or otherwise. We're expected to empathize with Ray, but because Steve Orlando doesn't dedicate any time to showing us Ray build trust with Makson and Batman's progressive paranoia (or I don't know, maybe editorial isn't letting him include it), Ray is instead an entitled brat spitting in the face of someone way more experienced just because he dares to have a different perspective. What does Orlando do instead with those pages? Well, we got a Lobo flashback. Because, that's real god damn important.
Although, possibly the strangest thing about Justice League of America #10 is all of the Might Behind the Mirror material. The news broadcast that first informs the JLA of the situation in Vanity is laughably bad. The exposition is clunky as hell (which I've come to expect, but still), the reporter's reaction to what she's reporting is far too blasé to feel genuine, but what really kills it is the victimization of "the wishers." I just don't understand how Orlando can expect anyone to take the line "someone's killing Vanity's wishes, people" seriously, when they're referring to wishes that were suddenly and inexplicably granted by an unknown supernatural force. I mean, are you fucking kidding me? Give me one good reason to feel bad for the people losing shit that they magically got via Faustian deal made in their sleep. And, Caden (the mayor of Vanity) confirms that people aren't even wishing for things they really want, just whatever pops into their stupid heads first. One reason to feel bad. One. I'll wait.
The art is whatever. Generally, it's fine, but there are a number of weird slip-ups and/or just plain oddities this time around. First, why the fuck is the wish the Kingbutcher "executes" at the beginning personified as a bird when it has to do with fibromyalgia? (also, why did doctors not believe Christopher Kaminski had fibromyalgia?) Second, during the two-page spread at The Sanctuary, I can't tell if Batman is meant to have stepped away when Ray and Xenos have their aside or not. Because, we don't see a reaction from him, but their only a maximum of ten feet away in the first panel, and they're definitely not whispering. Third, speaking of Ray and Xenos, they look nigh identical for at least half of their one-on-one conversation in the very next scene, and it's incredibly distracting.
Steve Orlando is really trying to position his version of The Ray as a counterpoint to Batman. I get them metaphor of light versus dark, but so far, Ray has been little more than a rebel without a cause or even a reason to rebel in the first place. I mean, I don't find JLA's Batman to be particularly well written, but he tends to be reasonable at the very least. Honestly, it feels like a lot of these ideas would've worked better if Orlando had used them to make his own series with his own characters rather than try and shoehorn it all into the DCU where the characters has established traits that need to be reconciled with. Hell, maybe that is the context in which he first came up with some of it. Whatever the case, Justice League of America continues to be a train that just won't stop wrecking, and maybe I'll actually talk about The Kingbutcher a little bit next time. Although, I don't know; he kind of sucks.
Justice League of America #10