By Jonathan Edwards
Welp, I'm back. And if you read my review for the previous issue of JLA, you'll know that means the book has, in fact, gotten worse. But funnily enough, it's not all that rage inducing this time around. It's shit, but it doesn't really feel like much of an effort is being made to convince us otherwise. It's more of a whimper than a bang as T.S. Eliot might say. That being said, shit is still shit, and I'm hard-pressed to let this alone as long as Steve Orlando continues to provide such baffling and stupid content in hopes it'll somehow justify the book's existence. So, here we go: Justice League of America #5.
As with the previous arc, one of the big problems is the main antagonist. However, where the previous Lord Havok was entirely one-note and redundant despite the amount of time he was focused upon, Nikos Aegues is so underdeveloped here that calling him "one-note" would be generous. He has some very brief spiel that amounts to "chaos is power, order is dumb." In that regard, it's clear that Aegues is just supposed to be the polar opposite of Havok but also still a villain. The concept is just a cliché as Havok's "people need to be oppressed for their own good" garbage (something I harped on almost as much as he brought it up). More so, it's a really lazy follow-up, and it really doesn't work when there isn't even a proper introduction for the character that's supposed to be espousing it. The issue starts with a random terror attack in "Penn City," jumps to the JLA having a press conference (which I will be getting into shortly) where one of the reporters brings up Aegeus, and then we pop over to him while he's in the middle of making an arms deal. Now, you'd think this is where he'd really be established, but that's not the case. Sure, he mentions his bullshit philosophy, but mention is the operative word. The closest thing to a reason behind it is only implied, and even then it doesn't actually justify anything. Furthermore, the rest of the sequence is dedicated to simultaneously bringing up and glossing over the fact that his weapons are created from a mixture of "firepower and folklore." I'm sorry, what? How exactly the fuck can he do that? And no, "the Might Beyond the Mirror visited me and granted me the story I wished for" is not a good enough explanation. It's vague as all hell and doesn't actually make any sense when, apparently, someone else is actually needed to build said weapons. How exactly does one commandeer the power of folklore and story? If Aegeus is only coming up with the designs, than are those powers only being replicated? How exactly does a layperson replicate sending "victims into a murderous, Bacchic state"? If they're not supposed to be a layperson, that how exactly does one specialize in replicating fucking fairy tale powers? Way too many questions go unanswered. Literally, It sounds like the premise of an Image book that would spend the entire first issue explaining why it makes sense, but here it's crammed into less than two pages. Maybe it wouldn't have so much of an issue if anything about the bomb used in the initial terror attack made it seem like it was somehow fueled by folklore. The first impression I get is that someone just shoved a grenade into the mouth of a decapitated head for the sake of being macabre. I guess the flowers imply something potentially supernatural about it, but I don't see how anyone would guess "folklore weapons" when "bio-engineered explosive botany" is just as plausible in the DCU. So when Orlando suddenly brings it up, I want to know more goddamn it. By the way, Aegues only appears in one more page (meaning our antagonist shows up in a whopping three pages this issue), and absolutely nothing more illuminating comes from it. Way to go.
Now, let's talk about that press conference I mentioned. Firstly, there's an undercurrent I've been noticing throughout the previous issues that I've hesitated to bring up, mainly because I wasn't sure if I was just reading too much into things. However, this issue, starting with the press conference, doubles down on it, and I think it's worth bringing up now. Given the JLA's "of America" suffix, and their tendency to, so far, support groups of citizens under some form of tyrannical rule, it feels like there's a pretty strong advocacy for American intervention in foreign affairs going on here. I'm pretty sure it's unintentional, but it gives the book this weird sense of "let us come clean up your mess, because we know best" that's entirely antithetical to the whole "let's be people not gods" theme. It's not really "inspiring everyone to be a hero" when you come in and demand to handle their problems for them, now is it? I've been very vocal about how stupid I think that theme is, especially for Batman, but contradicting it doesn't suddenly make it okay. But, that's not the stupidest thing that happens during the press conference. No, that award goes to the moment when a reporter, very appropriately I might add, points out that Lobo is literally a mercenary with no qualms about killing. Vixen's response? "Lobo will save a life for every one taken." I'm sorry, no. Just no. That's not "atonement," and I'm not going to bother explaining why, because it should be fucking self-evident. And, the fact that not a single reporter questions that further proves that Steve Orlando doesn't know what he's doing. Period.
Pretty much the only thing about JLA that I've been consistently kind to is the art, and that's because it has maintained a certain level of quality thus far. But, even that is starting to wane with this issue. To be fair, it's fine for the majority of the issue. It's not until Lobo gets inside the mayor's mansion that it becomes harder to follow. In theory, I get what supposed to be happening. Yet, with no real establishing shots, the plethora of troops end up appearing out of nowhere and then compile into one big red/green mass that's hard to follow and not at all appealing to look at. This is not helped by the complete lack of backgrounds, making it look like this whole sequence appear to take place in some abstract void. It sticks out as particularly problematic when nothing else in the entirety of the run has come close to being this visually confusing.
Despite the fact that this is already the most verbose review I've down for Comic Bastards, there's still more nonsense to behold. For example, there's Batman not tracking The Atom's movements because Black Canary told him that he needed to "trust them." Yeah except, trust isn't the only reason to keep tabs on someone, especially when they're still the least combat trained member of the team. I pointed out something similar back in my review for Justice League of America #1, and it's absurd that not a thing has been done in universe to address and better equip Ryan for combat situations. Additionally, there's whatever the hell you want to call what happens in the last two panels. "The plan couldn't be simpler," eh? Really? Are you sure about that, Black Canary? Because, it sure seems like a lot of unnecessary thought has been put into it. Anyway, I do recognize that the sheer length of this review does seem to contradict my earlier T.S. Eliot reference, but I think my vehemence for JLA peaked at issue #3. Although, this is easily the weakest issue of JLA to date, and the more this series falls apart, the easier it ends up being to write extensively about it. It should go without saying that I still don't recommend this to anyone. And, that should be presumed to be the case until I say something to the contrary (if ever).
Justice League of America #5