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Sunday Slugfest: Justice League of America #22

Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Dwayne McDuffie
Ed Benes
DC Comics
"The Second Coming: The Widening Gyre"

Shawn Hill: 3.5 Bullets
Kevin Powers: 3 Bullets
Marx Pyle: 3 Bullets




Shawn Hill 3.5 Bullets

Plot: As Reddy waits for yet another new body, all the other dangling threads from Meltzer's lackluster run jostle for airtime, too. Time to get things moving, better creative team!

Comments: Really, it's not like Meltzer's run was any good, is it? He wrote a refreshing (but not original) smart Grundy, he gave Vixen a spotlight moment (but undermined her powers), and he had Kendra and Roy hook up. It often looked great, but it felt more Detroit league than JLA to me. Once it got distracted (and outclassed) by Geoff Johns' Legion fetish, it was clear that no epic was in the making.

A year of bad crossovers, plugs for misfired series, musical artists and writers, have done no favors for this title, but surprisingly sales stay high. McDuffie and Benes have momentum (or is that inertia?) on their side, and there's no reason they can't actually take it somewhere better than ever. They've got the talent, if only they can be chained to their desks!

I think this is the issue where they start. Vixen comes clean about her power fluctuations, and the Canary makes a tough but wise decision about how to handle the news. She also acts like she's met Mari before, recalling their teamwork in Birds of Prey, and offering to help her friend restore the fractured respect of her peers.

Reddy, by the way, is in a decidedly gloomy mood, and picks the worst time ever to propose to his girl, who also makes a wise choice and gives him a rain check until his current bodiless trauma is over. Very wise, it turns out, as there ends up being both a plethora of available robot forms and a few interested parties too many by the end of the issue.

Last time I reviewed this title I asked how soon they were trotting out Starro again. An equally familiar foe looks to be the subject of this new arc, but I can deal with it. There's unfinished business there, and I'm surprisingly content with Reddy being the focal character of many of the plots of this latest series. He should be. The League is his home, and his ruminations are the kinds of things Vision would be saying, were he still on the Avengers. That's a compliment.

More importantly, while Reddy's dilemma drives the plot, McDuffie and Benes make a multitude of small character moments--in dialogue, narration and body language--that remind us page by page we're amongst a team of DC's very best. That's how the League should feel, whether battling a world-level threat or striding through the Halls of Justice. The tinder is lit, the sparks are flaring Ö what remains is to fan the flames into a full-on roaring fire. And maybe throw in a fresh villain or two, please?





Kevin Powers: 3 Bullets

When Dwayne McDuffie took over Justice League of America from Brad Meltzer, there was a feeling of excitement given McDuffie's track record on the animated Justice League Unlimited. Following Meltzer's run, which for the record I really enjoyed, McDuffie provided a multi-issue slugfest between the JLA and the new Injustice League. When compared to Meltzerís run, McDuffie's first story-arc seemed like nothing more than a mindless slugfest, but damn it was entertaining. At the time, Justice League of America was one of DC's hottest books, and McDuffie brought an exceptional reputation with him. However, once McDuffie's first story-arc finished, things went to hell, quickly. For the span of maybe six or seven issues, McDuffie and fellow animated alum, Alan Burnett, were subjected to the editorial mandates known as Countdown and Salvation Run. The quality of this title just fell apart, the substance seemed trite, and readers weren't getting the McDuffie they were paying for. I don't necessarily mind tie-in issues so long as they are done well. If you ask me, I think Marvelís Secret Invasion tie-ins are better than the main series itself, and there's really nothing wrong with that. However, Salvation Run was a great concept but a poorly executed story and that really dragged down Justice League, making it nothing more than a completely shameless tie-in.

Now there are two ways to approach the current issue of Justice League. If you enjoyed Meltzer's run but gave up on the title once it was done, this is the place to pick it back up. Why, you ask? Because you really haven't missed anything between the end of Meltzer's run and this issue, which seems to pick up right after Meltzer's Amazo story. For the most part, McDuffie does a decent job continuing two of the more important plot threads of this title so far. First, we once again have Red Tornado looking to have his soul placed inside a new body. His current body is a bit contaminated, and he's even said that something doesn't feel right inside him. The second plot thread, which McDuffie handles masterfully, is the storyline involving Vixen and her siphoning of her teammates' powers.

The places where this issue succeeds are in the intimate character moments. Meltzer did a great job writing the relationship between Red Tornado and his wife. McDuffie captures the same emotions and feelings between the couple that Meltzer did, and it really reminded me of the emotional attachment to Reddy that Meltzer was able to develop for the readers. There's also a fantastic scene between Vixen and the Bronze Tiger. The former lovers share a well-written and insightful moment together as Vixen debates over whether or not she should tell the team about her situation. Even the moment between Black Canary and Vixen was fairly well done.

However, there are moments that fall a bit flat. I don't mind Black Canary being the chairperson of the team, but the scene where she lays down her authority over Vixen just felt kind of forced. It was awkward, maybe because it was the first time Black Canary really laid down the law, but there was something about it that just didn't work with me. Black Canary has always been no-nonsense, but the way she handles the situation in front of the rest of the team looks almost as if she is on some sort of power-trip and makes her really unlikeable.

I also had a bit of an issue with the scene between Red Arrow, Superman and Hal Jordan. Now, I loved the conversation and the fact that Hal and Superman, two polar opposites when it comes to women, were giving Red Arrow advice. However, the relationship between Red Arrow and Hawkgirl is so under-developed and swept to the side that I just don't really care about it anymore. It's rather unfortunate because again, the fact that Hal Jordan and Superman are giving a younger man advice on love was spectacular, but the relationship doesn't have the same appeal as it did at first.

I did really enjoy the idea behind Red Tornado's operation. Having Batman, Dr. Magnus, John Henry Irons and Dr. Caulder working on the body while Zatanna maintained Reddy's soul was a really cool idea. I also thought the way that McDuffie brings back Amazo was very creative and very modern in terms of today's technology mixed with DC tech. However, I hope there's a bit more substance to the story and a little more team and character play as opposed to yet another slugfest with Amazo.

Ed Benes' artwork isn't as crisp and clear as it was earlier on this title. Don't get me wrong, the art is still good, but not as great as it has been in the past. A lot of that comes from the fact that Benes did his own inking here, but it does also seem a bit rushed. I'd still pay good money for his artwork any day of the week, but there were points where the lighting was inconsistent and the inks were too dark, ultimately taking away from the quality of the pencil work. For a book of this caliber, DC should have a full art team on board.

Overall, this issue has its moments both good and bad. Ever since Meltzer left the title and it was dragged through the editorial machine, it has certainly lost its identity and McDuffie hasn't really been able to hit the right chords. And thatís not exactly his fault. This is worth a read if you liked Meltzer's run, but as a whole the issue is a bit of a roller coaster.




Marx Pyle: 3 Bullets

"And here we go again." Ė Red Tornado

Ah, those first words uttered by Red Tornado in this issue are so true. It does feel like we did this before. Now, I'm happy to see a return to the Red Tornado centered story that started off this entire series, but it's going to need some extra twists and turns to keep my interest.

The issue starts at The Hall of Justice as the disembodied Red Tornado and his significant other Kathy are talking about their relationship. Also, we learn Red Tornado is a bit of a voyeur. Huh?

The greatest minds of the DC universe have teamed up to build Red Tornado a new body. Of course, things don't go as planned as Amazo turns out to not be so deleted after all. We also get into some interpersonal stuff with Hawkgirl and Red Arrow. Oh, and Vixen finally comes clean about her powers going wonky, which gets her booted off the team.

First, I like the character development and relationship dynamics in this issue courtesy of Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League Unlimited, Static Shock). But there is a fine line between making the JLA seem deeper than two-dimensional costumed chess pieces and crossing the line into a little more mature feel than I am comfortable with for this book. What I'm trying to say is I could have done without Red Tornado saying he spied on Hawkgirl and Red Arrow getting it on. It seemed really unnecessary and hurt the mood for that whole scene (not to mention, Kathy's response was bizarre). Honestly, I'm a little creeped out by the idea of a perverted Red Tornado. Next we'll find out he likes to use wind powers to blow up girls' skirts and he wears a red thong under his costume.

I like the idea of Red Tornado struggling between trying to be human and being a machine, so McDuffie grabbed me with Kathy and Red Tornado talking about their relationship and how Red Tornado has a bad tendency to lose bodies. But it diverted into strange territory (peeping Tom Tornado) and then tried to land back into a romantic marriage proposal moment. Yeah, that just didn't work for me.

Besides that, this story arc has the potential to be one of the stronger ones. Lately, the series (and many of the other DCU books) have been burdened with unnecessary crossovers into larger events making it hard for Justice League of America to gain momentum.

I just hope that McDuffie has a bigger twist planned than just Amazo returning. It is a little too straightforward and expected. But I did enjoy the other scenes of character and relationship development: this crazy relationship between Hawkgirl and Red Arrow, the conversation between Bronze Tiger and Vixen, the fallout of Vixen revealing her power problem with the League, and Black Canary stepping up to show strong leadership even against DC's "Trinity."

Overall I liked the artwork, but I wish it could get less gratuitous with the women. Vixen and Black Canary look a little too much like strippers dressed up for a special Halloween show. There is a difference between sexy and trashy.

One last thing, where the heck was Animal Man? The previews said he would be in this issue. Too bad, I was looking forward to seeing him make an appearance. At least it looks like he will make an appearance a few issues later, if I can trust those previews from DC.

Final Word: Potentially one of the stronger issues in the series with a return to a character driven story that started this whole run, but unless McDuffie throws in a surprise or two next issue, it will quickly become one of the most predictable story arcs to date. Like a tornado, this story could go in either direction leading to a happy ending or a terrible disaster.



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