By Jonathan Edwards
How does Steve Orlando suck so bad at writing exposition? Seriously, he routinely has characters suddenly bring up plot elements and character developments that hasn't even been hinted at. Furthermore, he's written every villain in this damn book so far in exactly the same way. Lord Havok, Aegeus, and now Terrorsmith are all far too eager in divulging their entire backstory, philosophy, and subtext to everyone they happen to run into. No joke, the first thing that Terrorsmith does is say his name to security guards that were minding their own business. Admittedly, Orlando is going for a "he's pissed no one remembers him" angle, so him introducing himself outright should work. In theory. However, he fucks it up by drawing it out and, again, devotes too much time to shitty exposition dumps that are really hard to care about when the villain hasn't even done anything yet. It would've been infinitely more pithy if Terrorsmith introduced himself, the guards are confused but tell him he can't enter, Terrorsmith has some follow up one-liner like "remember the name," and then he transforms them into monsters. Boom, we've established our threat and foreshadowed his motivations. Sure, people unfamiliar with the character won't get an exact breakdown of how and why his powers work, but is that important to the story? Certainly not enough to front-load it. The details can always be worked in later if they're really necessary, and with the space saved, we could have actually seen him start to transform the guards. Instead of, y'know, just being told that's what happened.
Speaking of saving space, Orlando seems to think it's necessary to show us what every member of the JLA is doing in every issue, and it's really not. Yeah, it's a team-up book, but this issue was supposed to be dedicated to Killer Frost and the Atom. So, if you can't think of a useful way to include the other characters, don't do it. The Batman/Xenos scene at the beginning adds nothing, but it does poke holes in the book's internal logic and remind us of the garbage supporting character that Orlando shoehorned onto the team at the end of the previous issue. The Lobo cutaway is the only one that works at all, though it really only needed to be a panel or two, not an entire page. And, the Vixen/Ray scene is completely pointless, plus it kills what would be a much more organic transition from the museum to the penultimate scene.
Though, to give some credit where it's due, that penultimate scene (where Killer Frost and Black Canary talk) is the first bit of honest and decent character development from this book since Justice League of America: Killer Frost Rebirth #1. Too bad it wasn't set up very well. At all. If the first taste we got of Ryan and Caitlin's "budding romance" (as DC's synopsis for this issue calls it) was Dinah pointing it out here, then it'd work. But, Orlando's been dropping hints at it since, I think, the first issue, and learning that Ryan has, off panel, been working just as hard as Caitlin to find a cure for her condition is giveaway enough that feelings are there. And, again, that's something we were told last issue.
The art's solid. No complaints from me. Not even any nitpicks. Because honestly, I really don't care. I read this book to give the writing the criticism it deserves, and unless the art's particularly good or bad, I really don't think about it much. It's the same problem I have with Dark Knight III: The Master Race. The good art completely fails to save the almost entirely mediocre story. In fact, more than not, the former is completely eclipsed by the latter.
The execution remains as rife with flaws as ever, but at least Orlando displayed some ideas that could have worked this time around. You could argue that the lion's share of what he's attempting to do with JLA could actually work if it were in the hands of a better writer, and I might agree with you. My point is, the stuff that I almost liked here would've only needed minor adjustments, where just about everything else would require much more substantial revisions. And for that reason, I'm not rating this issue quite a low. Although, it's still not very good. There's this weird red herring plan that Ryan comes up with to try and stop Terrorsmith's monsters with time pills created by Doctor Sivana, and it's really confounding how shittily it's set up. There's absolutely no foreshadowing. They aren't established until literally the exact same panel as Ryan finding them, and it's laid out so that you definitely will read Ryan's speech bubble before seeing the nameplate for the exhibit. It's such a bad way to do this, because then the whole momentum of the fight has to stop so that Ryan can explain some bullshit that doesn't even end up mattering. There's nothing inherently wrong with having a character come up with a plan that fails, but going through the effort of explaining something, coming up with a plan, attempting it, and seeing it fail (all in the second half of the issue) is a fool's errand. I'll never understand how an editor doesn't look at shit like this and say "this is fucking stupid. Rewrite it."
Justice League of America #7