Review: Justice League of America #38

JLA38

I think that, when it comes to Read/RANT, I’m the resident James Robinson fan.  It isn’t easy these days.  Go back a few years, and there were few who would dispute Robinson as a top-notch creator.  Admittedly, many hadn’t heard of him, nor had they read the title that earned him such accolades… but that just meant they couldn’t really dispute the claim.  Now, however, Robinson has failed to produce a truly successful follow up to Starman, instead giving readers a string of mediocre-to-bad comics, from his uneven Superman to his downright laughable Justice League: Cry for Justice.  And yet, with many of Starman‘s fans, good will remains.  His newest, and arguably his highest profile book to date, hit yesterday as he takes over writing duties on Justice League of America with issue #38.

Unfortunately, there’s little of value in Justice League of America #38.  Robinson opens the issue with the death of Blue Jay, insults Young Justice on the following page, and then introduces Gypsy by having her brought in unconscious and thrown around by Despero.  It’s hard to describe that sequence of events without at least imagining that Robinson is slyly satirizing the recent trend to piss off fans of the critically-praised, beloved JLI and Young Justice, but he plays it so straight and with so little heart that it almost seems incidental to everything else.

Led by Vixen, a group of heroes battered by Prometheus in Justice League: Cry for Justice has gathered in the headquarters of the original Justice League to discuss the future of the group.  Vixen, Dr. Light, Plastic Man and Red Tornado can think of few reasons why the team should exist, let alone any world in which they could be the glue that holds it together, but a surprise attack by Despero unites the four injured heroes with Gypsy and Zatanna.  Together, they manage to fend off the attacker, and that’s when we get the real news: this is a “Blackest Night” tie-in.  Taking place at the exact same time as the events of Blackest Night #3, the newly-formed Justice League decides to crash the Hall of Justice and confront the now-undead villains, seemingly led by the malevolent Dr. Light.

Mark Bagley, recent superstar of DC’s Trinity, does a fine job on the art.  His style is extremely traditional – impossibly thin, curvy women and enormous, muscle-bound men – but that hardly hurts the issue.  The action segments flow smoothly and he keeps the dialogue-driven scenes running well, too, most notably because of Plastic Man, who looks increasingly as though he’s about to fall apart as the issue progresses.

This is a book that I very much wanted to like.  A Justice League comprised of Vixen, Zatanna, Plastic Man, Red Tornado, Gypsy and Kimiyo Hoshi is… well, that’s a pretty damn interesting team, and there are a lot of stories to be told.  Unfortunately, Robinson takes the easy way out – a whole lot of exposition broken up by a brief brawl with a bland baddie. The issue does not suggest that we will see the clever, character-driven action and well-constructed drama for which Robinson justly became a star.  Justice League of America looks to remain, at least for now, a book desperately struggling to find a voice, tone or interesting creative direction.

Grade: C-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT