By Jonathan Edwards
It seems I was wrong about “Deadly Fable” being only two issues long. Well, sort of. Because while DC claims the next issue is part one of “New Life and Death” (which is supposedly “following the Queen of Fables saga”), this one ends on a cliffhanger without any kind of conclusion in sight. Now, could I simply be taking DC’s description of next issue a little too much at face value? Sure. In fact, I hope that’s the case. But, it’s hard to be certain with a book that has previously failed to end arcs satisfactorily and at one point abruptly injected two flashbacks into the middle of a story before resolving its own cliffhanger. Of course, the biggest question regarding Justice League of America #23 is whether or not it keeps up the actually decent quality the previous issue finally managed to achieve. And, the answer is, again, sort of.
This issue does have problems, most notably regarding Freya, and they emerge pretty much immediately. As of the writing of this review, I haven’t read any of the Queen of Fables’s previous appearances. But, as far as I can tell from the small amount of research I’ve done, Tsaritsa having a sister is completely the invention of Steve Orlando. However, the retcon of her suddenly existing was never the problem, especially since all of the Queen of Fables’s previous appearances were pre-New 52. Yet, here we find out that, not only did Freya look exactly like Killer Frost, but she also has the exact same condition of heat vampirism. Yes, Tsaritsa did say Caitlin reminded her of her sister, but this is overkill and forced as all hell. Not to mention, it’s not even treated as a real revelation. Caitlin just mentions it offhandedly as if she was reiterating something established in a previous issue. Which, it wasn’t. Additionally, why the hell is Freya named after the Norse goddess of love and prosperity when she has ice powers? Was Skadi somehow too on the nose? This is the type of thing that’s really pissed me off in the past, but this time it didn’t. Nor did it negatively impact the overall quality of the issue much. It’s dumb in a uniquely Steve Orlando way, yeah, but it also doesn’t feel like that big of a deal. And, maybe that’s simply because the rest of the issue remains fairly sound.
Tsaritsa is still JLA’s best villain to date. Orlando characterizes her as dancing between consciously using the pursuit of a “greater good” as an excuse for revenge and actually believing that’s what she’s doing. And, he does this with unexpected skill. Seriously, I was so used to his one-note and heavy-handed approach to villains that it was surprising to see her go back and forth so much, and I didn’t believe it was intentional until Caitlin confirmed it with her narration. Furthermore, Justice League of America #23 is notable for being the issue where Ray FINALLY realizes and admits it was an overreaction to quit the JLA, and he was wrong for it. Although, in the same way Freya’s similarity to Caitlin doesn’t kill the issue, Ray’s acknowledgment of fault doesn’t elevate it. After all, this really should’ve happened in issue #9, when Batman turned out to be right about Makson. Even accepting the idea that Ray only gets his head out of his ass after impulsively quitting, that happened five issues ago in JLA #18. And, between that issue and this one, the only issue that focused on his departure ended with his being resolute he would stay in Vanity. Something that might very well be irrelevant now that he’s entertaining the idea it was a mistake to leave.
Neil Edwards’s art remains pretty good, and as slight as his problem with expressions from the last issue was, he’s pretty much corrected it with this one. Although, the splash page depicting Ray’s return to help the JLA fight Tsaritsa was noticeably wonky. It’s just a bit difficult to tell where he came from, what he smashed through, and which vector he traveled along in relation to everything and everyone else in the scene. It’s distracting but also small potatoes and an isolated incident.
Despite this issue continuing the newfound okayness of Justice League of America, I’m still hesitant to recommend the book or change my overall outlook on it. And, there are reasons for that. For one, while it does take two to tango, it takes at least three to form a pattern. So, if Steve Orlando manages to keep it mostly together in the next issue, perhaps I’ll concede those points. But, at the same time, this potential new era of Orlando’s JLA is passable but not great. What’s more, DC just announced that both Justice League of America and Justice League will end with issues #29 and #43, respectively, to make way for whatever the hell they’re doing with Justice League: No Justice. And, I honestly don’t expect the last six issues of JLA to be good enough to warrant anyone jumping on the book at the end of its lifespan. But, I could be wrong.
Justice League of America #23