By Jonathan Edwards
Wow, another whole issue completely dedicated to a flashback for this fucking story arc. At least this time we get some resolution for the how and why of Aron Aut’s betrayal. However, I’d like to reiterate that that’s a cliffhanger we were left with two issues ago, and there’s no good reason both flashbacks couldn’t be contained in a single dedicated issue. The lion’s share of Palmer’s was made up of redundancies, and Aut’s goes to bizarrely extreme length to ensure his characterization is nothing more than a one-dimensional, unrepentant supervillain, even going as far as giving him a whole different costume and the moniker “The Null.” If all of that fat was stripped away, they probably could’ve had a pretty strong and streamlined backstory issue that, dare I say, could’ve even gotten us excited to see the conclusion of “Panic in the Microverse” (side note: while the covers to every issue in this arc have consistently called it “Panic in the Microverse,” I’m fairly certain the internal credits of the first two or three issue referred to it as the “Crisis in the Microverse” instead).
So, we start with Aron Aut in his youth, and he’s always loved the concept of mathematical nothing because of its beauty and simplicity or whatever. It’s immediately obvious where this is going. Because, one, you’d have to jump on the book this issue to not know he’s the bad guy, and two, there’s nothing subtle about a character with an affinity for nothingness. I mean, Aut might as well have killed neighborhood pets in his youth. Except, Aut is also supposed to have a tragic backstory, so his entire civilization was devastated by the Microverse’s patented quantum storms. Here’s where things start to get more than a little convoluted and contradictory. The wake of destruction left by the storms showed him the toll it would take to get to true nothingness, something that horrified him (like a normal person) but then also somehow strengthened his resolve and commitment to the idea of nothing. Now, how does that make sense? Surely such a conclusion could only come from a sociopath, but if that’s what Aut’s supposed to be, then wouldn’t he be relatively unfazed by the mass destruction from the storms?
Furthermore, his analyses have apparently found that there’s no possible way to fix the Ignition Point, meaning the Microverse will be destroyed no matter what, and so he reasons accelerating the process will at least be a “merciful” death. Oh, and as The Null, he’s also apparently the head of a cult devoted to the idea of bringing the preemptive end to the Microverse (not that we actually say either of those things when Aut could just tell us they happened). Here’s my question: wouldn’t it make way more sense and be far simpler for Aut to have just been a scientist at the top of his field like Palmer, then the quantum storms devastating his civilization drove him to be obsessed with the Ignition Point, and that he only came to the conclusion that the end need come swift and painlessly as a way to come when he believed his research proved there was no way to fix it? That’d present him as a human character with an understandable motivation even if he’s going about it the wrong way. All of the shit about the “elegance of nothing” is just pseudo-philosophical dogma that only serves to make Aut’s, or rather The Null’s, perspective appear crazed when compared to Palmer’s and the JLA’s, and frankly, it talks down to the reader too. Aut’s ideology is already the inherently unintuitive one, but here it’s not even presented as if there could be merit to it. It’s a problem that Justice League of America has had since the first issue of Orlando’s run. Characters can’t simply have different opinions or philosophies; there’s one that’s correct, and deviation from it is wrong, and it’s not exclusive to the villains. Back when Batman was skeptical of Makson’s sudden assimilation to modern living, The Ray bit his head off for being paranoid and unwilling to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, the extent of Batman’s mistrust was merely stating that the wild man was lying about something and then investigating it just in case it happened to be a big deal (which it was). And given that the context was, again, that a man who’d live almost the entirety of his life in the wilderness adapted to civilization in a manner of weeks, The Ray’s complete lack of skepticism is flat out irrational.
Felipe Watanabe’s art is fine here. No complaints. At least, none that I haven’t already voiced in the first couple reviews for this story arc. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the sins of this book fall squarely on the shoulders of the writing and nothing else. Okay, admittedly I’ve never said it quite that way before, but the general sentiment is there.
In the end, Justice League of America #16 manages to be better than #15. Yet, that’s not saying very much, and, as per usual, it’s still not good. And, you know what? I’m getting tired of it. I’ve read and reviewed every issue of this book thus far, and Jesus Christ, can it please just get better? As much as I’ve voiced my problems with Steve Orlando as a writer, DC doesn’t seem likely to replace him or cancel JLA anytime soon, so I might as well want him to start doing well instead of… whatever it is he’s been doing. But until that happens (if it does), don’t buy this.
Justice League of America #16