By Jonathan Edwards
Simply put, Justice League of America #25 is a boring issue. And, I don’t mean just low-key. Low-key is to be expected from the issue following a story arc’s conclusion. Some writers monopolize on that phenomenon by writing the issue as an epilogue or character-focused one-shot. Orlando has attempted that at times throughout his JLA run, and it would’ve worked if those issues had been better. However, after finishing the arc he’d spent almost twenty issues building up to, he’s opted to start right in on the next one. Granted, that is perhaps more a symptom of him learning his run will soon end than his discretion as a writer. Regardless, the problem isn’t actually that he rolls right into another big (well, as “big” as two issues can be) arc. In fact, at first, it seems like this might actually be a great jumping on point if, for some reason, you wanted to jump on the book right at the end of its lifespan. But, what makes “New Life and Death” ultimately not work is the fact that it’s basically a less interesting, less relevant, and somehow clumsier, retread of “Deadly Fable” that also tries way too hard to tie into the events of Dark Nights: Metal.
Now, when I say “retread,” I don’t mean it’s exactly the same story as “Deadly Fable.” Rather, it’s the same type of story: the culmination of a handful of plot threads that Orlando has hinted at (albeit, not as consistently or prominently as he did for “Deadly Fable”) over time. Or, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Because, while it is mildly interesting to see how some of those threads come together, they barely impact the actual story which is little more than a sequel to the book’s very first arc. Batman wants to fulfill the promise to save Angor I barely remember him making to Lord Havok twenty issues ago, and therein lies the real issue. Twenty issues translate into nine stories over ten months (given JLA’s bimonthly release schedule), so, even though we’ve progressively seen Blue Jay escape Angor, meet up with Ray Palmer, then Dreamslayer, it doesn’t make up for the enormous disconnect between when Batman made his promise and now. As such, when Black Canary accuses Batman of trying to play God by suddenly wanting to resurrect Angor, she kind of has a point. Especially when he initially has no intentions of bringing any other JLA members with him. Furthermore, if that’s the case, why didn’t he go with Dreamslayer to Angor before returning to them instead of after? The only reason I can think of is that, if he didn’t, Orlando wouldn’t be able to shoehorn Black Canary into going as well. And, if she weren’t there, Dreamslayer wouldn’t have a reason for his massive exposition dump.
Of course, revisiting Lord Havok and Angor wouldn’t be complete without Batman spouting his strange, sometimes actively contradictory, conceit for creating the JLA. And, sure enough, he both brings it back up and elaborates on it. Apparently, Batman, knowing about the coming threats of the Queen of Fables and the events of Dark Nights: Metal, realized people would doubt him and his “image,” so he wanted to put together a team that would instill hope once that happened. And, according to him, the JLA succeeded at that with flying colors. There’s a fair amount to unpack there, so I’m going to address in the order that makes the most sense to me.
First and foremost, wasn’t the whole setup of Dark Nights: Metal that Batman didn’t know what he was getting himself into? Admittedly, the only part of it I’ve read so far is Dark Days: The Forge, so I could be wrong about that. But, even if I am, I don’t have to be caught up to know that Tsaritsa was nowhere near as dangerous as the Dark Multiverse. Sure, Orlando tried to tell us that she was this huge threat affecting the whole world, but the most we actually saw was her fighting the JLA and wishes being granted in Vanity. That doesn’t even compare to the scope of at least seven evil Batmen, all with their own tie-in one-shots detailing their origins. I don’t know if that’s Orlando overestimating the significance of his book to the current DCU or underestimating the significance of Dark Nights: Metal. But, what I do know is that the events of the latter are directly responsible for the cancellation of the former, while I’m fairly certain the only way JLA has influenced any other DC book is through Milk Wars. And, let’s be real, that is far more thanks to Gerard Way than Steve Orlando.
Next, if Batman “knew” people would doubt him because of what was to come, why would he think they wouldn’t doubt a team created by him? Additionally, why the hell does he feel it’s his responsibility to instill hope? Hasn’t that always been the job of a certain big and blue flying strongman and explicitly not Batman? And, I’m sorry, Orlando but no. You can’t just say that the JLA has been some beacon of hope and have it magically and retroactively become true. Presuming Batman’s absence marks the period when the JLA was supposed to start instilling hope, this was all that was accomplished: they were tricked by Prometheus; Ray quit; they lost civilian faith to Prometheus; they got that faith back; they beat Prometheus; Lobo got revenge on an old rival; Ray dicked around in Vanity; Caitlin accidentally summoned the Queen of Fables with a wish to cure her heat vampirism; the Queen of Fables blew up Vixen; Vixen regenerated thanks to the Tantu Totem; Vixen then used the Tantu Totem to focus the “power” of all of the wishers somehow ungranting their wishes; Queen of Fables was unfazed by this; Caitlin froze the Queen of Fables to death by ungranting her wish as well; and, Ray rejoined. Notice a pattern? Practically that entire list is zero-sum; every success is preceded or followed by an equivalent failure. It’s an overly simplistic adherence to cyclical story structure that ensures the status quo changes only by degrees at a time, if at all, and that is entirely antithetical to the idea that the JLA has prospered as a beacon of hope. What’s more, it prevents the couple of instances where you could argue the JLA was inspiring from working properly. Civilians helping to fight back against Prometheus isn’t all that impactful when they were first so easily swayed to start doubting the JLA. And, Vixen’s whole ‘use the Tantu Totem to converge ungranted wishes’ thing (aside from completely missing the spirit of The Red) is worthless when it doesn’t affect Tsaritsa. Especially when previous depictions of civilians consistently portrayed them as selfish and excessively dubious of the JLA’s intentions.
Miguel Mendonca and Minkyu Jung’s art might be the best this book has had for a while. Stylistically, it’s relatively similar to Ivan Reis’s except a bit cleaner and not quite as heavily shadowed. Plus, at times (and mostly with Black Canary), there’s a sort of organic imperfection to their expressions that’s slightly reminiscent of Matt Kindt. It confers a little extra punch of character that makes the emotion feel more genuine and the expressions themselves more interesting to look at.
The ending of Justice League of America #25 doesn’t make a lot of sense. Lord Havok just sort of shows up, and I guess Batman and Black Canary have to fight him now. It certainly doesn’t suggest the next issue is going to be any more interesting. But, perhaps that was inevitable when this is the two-issue follow-up to an arc that barely got anything done in four issues. In conclusion, a few thoughts I couldn’t find a place for in the rest of the review. Ray finally doesn’t suck at all in an issue, and the three-page flashback showing Ray Palmer and Preon finding Blue Jay is some of Orlando’s best writing for this book. It’s legitimately interesting and amusing. And, Black Canary has a point: why hasn’t Lobo left yet if he already paid his debt to Batman? Actually, wait, why was it so important to Batman that Lobo be a part of the JLA in the first place? Seriously, he was a bad fit for the team in multiple ways, and he even still killed while on it. Didn’t Batman say he had an important part to play in a coming threat that was heavily implied to be the Might Beyond the Mirror? Because the only thing Lobo did during the fight against the Queen of Fables was attack Killer Frost who wasn’t even an actual threat. And, Batman doesn’t take Lobo to Angor either, so what the hell? Did Steve Orlando just forget to follow through on that promise? Jesus, even for this book, that’s lame. If only there were another, better reason for him being on the team like, I don’t know, helping Caitlin learn to cope with and control her heat vampirism and be an emergency source if she needed to feed, since Lobo’s healing factor makes him functionally immortal. If only.
Justice League of America #25