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Sunday Slugfest – Justice League of America #13

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

“Unlimited, Chapter 2”

Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Artists: Joe Benitez, Victor Llamas

Publisher: DC Comics





Average Rating:

Bryant Frattalone:
Shawn Hill:
Bruce Logan:
Kevin Powers:
Thom Young:






Bryant Frattalone

Plot: The League counterattacks. More members get captured.

Commentary: I struggled with pulling the trigger and giving this issue the two and a half bullets I did. Ultimately, I had to do it. Here’s my reason: Justice League of America is supposed to be a flagship title and as such, I think both the writing and art chores should be given to top notch creators. Dwayne McDuffie’s writing here and in the JLA Wedding Special is top notch, but Joe Benitez’s art in this issue is not. The Wedding Special’s writing and art were great and set a high standard as the first chapter in this new “Injustice League” storyline. Sadly, the choice of Benitez as fill-in artist here does not live up to that promise. Two things I really can’t stand in comics: The cover art being better than the interior art and fill-in artists in the middle of a story not being as good as the regular artist(s). Mike McKone made the new JLA and their villainous counterparts look the best they’ve been since the re-launch. We should have gotten more of that in the regular book this month. Ed Benes, as sketchy and cheese cake heavy as he can be at times, was even starting to grow on me with each issue he penciled. Benitez here is just all sketch and cheese, and Ian Churchill’s ensemble cover is better than what is in this box!

There’s some strange and rushed anatomy going on from page one. Just look at Batman’s right leg and chicken beak nose! This opening shot should have wowed us and given us visually what McDuffie gives us script wise: a cunning and dangerous even-though-bound Batman. Benitez’s Batman looks like “The Dark Chicken” not “The Dark Knight.” The title splash pages with five “A” list villains look flat and unimpressive. Grodd just looks plain goofy. Benitez’s Joker is a let down too after the Wedding Special’s suave but sinister McKone version. Luthor’s battle-suit just looks bulky, not impressive. There is a conspicuous lack of backgrounds throughout the issue. This is a sure tip-off that this was a rush job. No one’s power displays look the least bit powerful. I know a lot of times the “special effects” for the powers are enhanced by the colorist of the book, but Pete Pantazis’s colors do not deliver the goods in that regard.

A final thing about the art on this title from issue one to the present is that no matter who is drawing the book, we do not get a sense of wonder or scale in regards to the Hall of Justice, The Justice League Satellite or now, The Hall of Injustice. C’mon people! These should be impressive, awe-inspiring edifices. Get an artist who can do the set pieces justice!

McDuffie’s script and dialogue give us half of a good time though. Batman’s inner monologue is cool as he sizes up the situation at the Hall of Injustice and chooses to free Diana first. We learn something about her from Batman that seems to fit the character perfectly: she’s the greatest melee fighter in the world. I’m not sure we’ve ever gotten this assessment of Wonder Woman before and it adds to her greatness quotient. In a way I’m glad she didn’t get freed this issue as I doubt Benitez would have shown us visually what a great combatant Batman says she is. I enjoyed the dialogue between Black Lightning and John Stewart too. McDuffie wasn’t afraid to bring the “blackness” of these characters out and gave their voices an authentic ring with realistic ribbing and banter. The private conversation between Superman and Mari was well done too. Superman’s encouragement and treatment of Mari in her time of difficulty and need was heroic. It showed us a part of what Superman should be, namely, the big brother to all of these other heroes lending them strength when they’re down. Superman is fine with allowing Mari to use his powers in the thick of battle but encourages her to open up to her teammates so they all can help her. Good stuff! Other highlights are the way our heroes deferred to one another in planning their attack plans and next moves against Luthor’s gang. Other writers would have given us juvenile infighting. McDuffie gives us another reason to believe these are the World ’s Greatest Superheroes! Bottom line here is, the story is still packed with enough excitement and team dynamics to lift the series out of the slump Meltzer left it in, but we need art that packs as much punch as the writing.

Final Word: An uneven follow up to the JLA Wedding Special. What could have been an entirely impressive second chapter is a letdown because of the poor art.




Shawn Hill

Plot: On the eve of Black Canary’s wedding, the League of Doom makes a series of concerted stealth attacks on our heroes. They are surprisingly successful, and our heroes are in big trouble.

Comments: Wonder Woman, Batman and Red Arrow have been captured. Hawkgirl and Firestorm have been injured. This issue sees the heroes try to strategize a rescue attempt and a resolution to the concerted attacks. But the villains seem one step ahead of them and mirror the Canary’s strategy of small strike teams with eerie efficiency. The heroes are operating at a disadvantage, and in Superman’s case (with Vixen), a teammate who’s been hiding a power loss/fluctuation.

Meanwhile, on the villain side, Killer Frost, Cheetah and Fatality are feral attack dogs, Poison Ivy is as formidable as ever, and Grodd and the Parasite almost seem redundant when Dr. Light rears his ugly head. The Canary takes particular exception to the rapist’s reappearance, and it’s a very awkward moment to try and use him now in a story that is more a clever display of powers than it is a dread serious tragedy or murder mystery.

That cuteness factor (something that McDuffie, with his obvious love for the Silver Age splendor of most of these characters, is prone to) is underlined by an unfortunate choice of artist. Benitez isn’t horrible, but he’s cartoonish and Image-y, with lots of tiny little lines and exaggerations of height and jaw-lines that almost reach Ramos-ian dis-proportions. His visuals undercut the seriousness of the attacks and aren’t up to the level of Benes or Churchill (who does the cover).

The cover’s the right idea, though, answering this series’ debut a year later with a parade of villains rather than heroes. If this title had a problem under Meltzer, it was in finding a consistent foe to aim the heroes at; they were distracted by guest stars, and the pace was very leisurely. This issue is quite lively, but we need a greater sense of drama and more realistic visuals to up the stakes.




Bruce Logan:

EXCLAMATION: “F**k yeah! Now this is a (real) JLA story!”

EXPLANATION: Following up from JLoA #12.5, or as DC marketed it JLA Wedding Special #1 (talk about squeezing to death), this issue of Justice League of America builds on the story started in the first part, complete with the bad-guys giving the beat down to the good-guys. All this is due to the Injustice League's strength-in-numbers and, more importantly, team-working skills. Both sides send out their respective teams. The JLA’s (first) trio of Green Lantern (John Stewart), Red Tornado and Hawkgirl gets taken down by Killer Frost, Shadow Thief, Fatality and Poison Ivy. The second team of Superman, Vixen and Black Canary also almost lose to the quartet of Gorilla Grodd, Dr. Light, Cheetah and Parasite. The timely arrival of Black Lightning saves their spandex clad behinds, just in time for the last page Luthor-i-fic ending.

EXAMINATION (Story): Just two issues into his run Dwayne McDuffie already has given to the reader more than Brad Meltzer did in his first arc, issues #1-6. McDuffie’s "Unlimited" is not a fanboy wank on part of the writer, or if it is, it is not just that. Given his history with the League (the JLU animated series), I "know" that even at his worst, McDuffie's JLoA run isn’t going to be as ponderous and anticlimactic as the preceding one.

The one thing that struck me most about this issue (as with the first part of the arc) is how fluid the story is and how natural the characters are. The reader will care and recognize about the characters and their "iconic/heroic" status not because the writer tells them do so but because they prove themselves so by actions. From Green Arrow and Black Canary’s romantic closeness to Green Lantern and Black Lightning’s friendly banter to Superman’s friendly "confrontation" with Vixen, and even Batman’s respect/recognition of Wonder Woman’s fighting skills, it all seems to flow on its own volition. Sadly, fans of the previous run’s hormonally crazed soap-opera style horizontal mambo antics will be disappointed, for there are no forcibly shoved in sex romps.

The only thing that didn’t quite sit well with me was Black Canary’s outburst against Dr. Light. Her (and the other six "mindwipe" leaguers’) actions might not have descended to the same disgusting level as what Dr. Light did to Sue Dibny, but Black Canary is in no position to be all righteous-angry-emo on him, especially not now when she is the chairperson of the JLA. This ain’t no Birds of Prey, this is the friggin’ J.L.A.

EXAMINATION (Art): Hey look, it’s the "slim" brigade! Replacing Ed Benes, artist Joe Benitez’s (equally) detailed, flamboyant and lively style is a perfect fit for McDuffie’s summer/fall-blockbuster story. Even though coming in after Benes might make Benitez’s "lithe" style seem a bit too slim, it is not of the level of Turner-esque semi-anorexic, especially for the female characters. The coloring, however, doesn’t quite work. The dark saturated colors and great expanses of black draw attention towards instead of away from the near-total lack of backgrounds.

PROCLAMATION: McDuffie’s "Unlimited" is all set to become the New World Order of the Post-IC DCU.

FYI, New World Order was the title of the now legendary first arc (issues #1-4) of the previous JLA series, with creators Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, John Dell, Pat Garrahy.

You can find more reviews by Bruce Logan at www.xcave.net




Kevin Powers:

Dwayne McDuffie, Justice League Unlimited alum and the writer of the decent Justice League Heroes video game takes officially takes over Justice League of America this month. McDuffie is no stranger to the superhero genre, credits aside from JLU include his own creation Static Shock, and he is currently writing Fantastic Four. McDuffie set the tone for his run with Justice League of America: Wedding Special, a surprise hit that featured the formation (or re-formation) of the Injustice League. In that issue the Injustice League made their move and began attacking the Justice League and go so far as to kidnap certain members such as Batman, Red Arrow and Wonder Woman. The Injustice League wasted no time, and while their hideout is the famed “Hall of Doom,” their tactics are much more brutal than their Super Friends incarnation. I hope though that McDuffie goes in a new direction rather than revisiting his work from Justice League Unlimited.

One noticeable problem with not just this story, but the general events surrounding this story, is continuity. This is not McDuffie’s fault as the stories he scripts are easy to follow from point to point. However, let’s take Justice League Wedding Special where the Injustice League interrupts the bachelor party. After Firestorm and Hawkgirl are brutally attacked and Batman, Wonder Woman and Red Arrow are captured, Superman calls the League into action. But the following week, DC released Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special which presents the actual wedding, an attack by Deathstroke, a plethora of lower tier villains, and then of course the odd scene where Black Canary kills Ollie. Now, Justice League #13 goes back to the Justice League: Wedding Special where Ollie and Canary are perfectly fine and act like a married couple. So it’s safe to say continuity in the whole of the DC universe is beginning to become an issue. After all, Kyle Rayner is a Green Lantern again in Countdown, just a week before the Parallax one-shot was released.

The only problem I have thus far with McDuffie’s Justice League is the exclusion of Hal Jordan. I know “he’s splitting duty” with John Stewart, which is fine, but Meltzer made a big deal about Hal being voted in and also made it quite clear that Hal’s membership in the League was special because he was “an original.” I have no problem with John Stewart in the Justice League, and I understand that his involvement is how DC markets the JLA to the general public, with the exception of The Batman, but Hal is one of the original members, his inclusion on a full-time basis seems just as prudent. I don’t think having two full-time GLs in the JLA should be a problem. After all, Sinestro is a Hal Jordan villain. John doesn’t battle Sinestro in this issue, rather he battles Fatality, who can be considered his arch-nemesis, but she fits more into Kyle’s rogue’s gallery.

Aside from general continuity and lack of Hal Jordan issues, I really like what McDuffie has started. I was a fan of Meltzer’s run, I enjoyed the nostalgic feel to the Justice League as well as the more personal side of things, but it’s time for the Injustice League/Legion of Doom/Injustice Gang to reform, and if there’s anything “Silver Age” I love DC working towards, it is massive superhero vs. super villain battles. There’s a general lack of the big villains in the main books these days. There’s not enough Luthor, Joker or Grodd, and while the best superhero vs. super villain story in a long time is being told in “The Sinestro Corps War,” McDuffie looks as if he is going to mix it up in JLoA.

The writing is very strong, and McDuffie manages to keep the characters true to themselves, which is definitely key with an ensemble cast. The reason this works so well is because all of these characters have been established in the comic book medium in the past. For example, the opening sequence features Batman dislocating his shoulder to break free from a straight jacket. The narration is true to his character as he knows exactly what to do and how he can do it. If, say, a Justice League movie was in the works, the major problem would be introducing characters that haven’t previously been introduced in that medium by having their own individual films to establish their characters.

Either way, McDuffie provides some great dialogue, especially between John Stewart and Black Lightning. I couldn’t help but laugh at the conversation over Lightning’s afro, and I have to say that I rather enjoy the page time Black Lightning has been getting. He’s a rather powerful player who is a bit underrated in my opinion and needs his own mini-series at least. Lightning is possibly the smartest member of the team, aside from Batman. He’s able to problem solve and does so at the end of this issue. However, the very last page was pretty exciting when Lightning and Superman come face to face with the “returning” Lex Luthor, fully decked out in the battle suit.

The artwork here is also strong. I take a few issues with some facial features, the overly muscular John Stewart at certain points, and the unnecessarily long bat-ears (which is all a matter of preference), but Joe Benitz and Victor Llamas artwork is well done. It’s got the perfect mix of realism and cartoon style while keeping the characters distinct. The action is also exciting and done very well. I can’t complain too much about the artwork because I felt that it was strong overall, my favorite piece being the menacing look on the Joker’s face.

Overall McDuffie’s off to a strong start. This could shape up to be a classic yet modern comic book battle between two groups of very powerful beings. I just really hope that McDuffie doesn’t put all his eggs in one basket and have a huge battle where one side wins. His run, as well as the arc featuring these groups, should play out like an action packed chess match.




Thom Young:

While this issue is being called Dwayne McDuffie’s official debut on the title, his actual debut was on Justice League of America Wedding Special #1—which is the beginning of his current arc. I’m sure from a marketing perspective it makes sense to debut a story arc (and a new writer) in a “special issue” that is not part of the regular numbering of the series, but I don’t like it.

I almost skipped the Wedding Special until I volunteered to contribute to the slugfest for issue #13. After volunteering, I suddenly realized, “D’oh, now I'm going to have to buy the Wedding Special”—which, of course, is why this move makes sense from a marketing perspective. Companies will do anything to get customers to buy more than they intended to buy.

Even though this strategy irked me, I read both issues and was only mildly disappointed with some aspects of the story and illustrations. Some of McDuffie’s characterization bits bothered me—such as in the Wedding Special after Batman learns that Firestorm has been hospitalized and he tells Red Arrow to meet him in “hangar two in five minutes.”

There’s nothing wrong with that exchange, of course. However, after Batman strides off, Green Arrow then says to his former ward, “If you’re late, hell kill you. Not a metaphor, kid. He’ll make you dead.”

“You’re messing with me, right?”

“Could be. I’d still get a move on, though. Just in case.”

Come on. Are we supposed to believe that Red Arrow is so naďve that he needs to ask to be certain that Oliver Queen is only “messing” with him? How old is Roy Harper supposed to be?

I expected to find more faults with McDuffie’s work in issue #13. However, I was okay with it for the most part. However, neither the issue nor the arc (probably) will go on my list of one of the best superhero stories of all time. Still, this wasn’t a bad issue.

McDuffie follows the formula established by Gardner Fox for telling superteam stories—going back to Fox’s 1940s Justice Society stories in All-Star Comics and continuing on to his 1960s Justice League stories (and continued by most writers who came immediately after Fox on the title).

A crime (or other problem) occurs that draws the attention of the team. They discover there are two or more aspects to the problem in different locations, so the chairperson assigns the members into smaller groups to attack the problem at each of the locations.

The smaller teams are then bested at one or more (perhaps all) of the locations of the multi-pronged problem. They then regroup, work out a new strategy, and bring home the victory to the clubhouse.

McDuffie followed the same formula when he was writing for the Justice League cartoon. Normally, I don’t care for formulaic writing, but this formula is the Gardner Fox “classic,” and it can work if used effectively.

McDuffie's not breaking new ground here, but neither is he using the formula ineffectively. It’s just “okay.”

My main problem with the issue is with a few of Joe Benitez’ illustrations. First, Lex Luthor’s war suit is too bulky. The shoulder pads, chest plate, gloves, and boots are just ludicrous in their size. Second, and similarly, Gorilla Grodd is also ridiculous the way he’s drawn.

When Carmine Infantino first designed Grodd in 1959, he was a normal-sized gorilla with mental powers and a highly advanced intellect. Now he’s a towering monster ape that looks more like the last living Gigantopithecus rather than a gorilla.

The scene on page 18 where Grodd picks up Black Canary (panel four) is particularly ludicrous in that the length of his forearm appears to be about two-thirds her height. In an earlier scene, she had to stand on her tiptoes to kiss Green Arrow (page six, panel four), and her lips still only came to his chin—indicating that she must be around five feet, five inches tall (or else Green Arrow is over seven feet tall).

If Black Canary is 5'5", then the length of Grodd’s forearm would be a little over four feet—which means he should be between 28 and 29 feet in height. Indeed, Grodd seems to be that tall in the scene where he’s picking up Black Canary. However, in other panels he seems to be 10 to 12 feet in height—which is still too big for a gorilla. A full-grown male gorilla is usually just under six feet tall when standing erect.

Obviously, Benitez is exaggerating the size of Luthor’s battlesuit and Grodd's height for “dramatic” effect. However, he isn’t consistent in his use of this type of “impressionism” throughout the story.

Since I started it, I suppose I’ll stick with the series to the end of the current “Injustice Gang” arc. However, I doubt I’ll continue buying it after that unless something really impresses me over the next few issues.



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