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Justice League #23
posted September 3, 2013

imageCreators: Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, Eber Ferreira, Rod Reis, Nick J. Napolitano
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, August 2013 (October 2013 cover date), $3.99.
Ordering Numbers:

This is the sixth and final chapter in the "Trinity War" storyline that DC spread across their Justice League titles like so much cream cheese on a lengthy row of bagels, variations of a single flavor -- Justice League (the big DC heroes), Justice League Of America (the other big DC heroes, although not as big), and Justice League Dark (a Justice League-type gathering of characters that deal in magic and the occult) -- with a smattering of solo titles and special offerings to gather in any discarded crumbs. The basic plot of the narrative revolves around the Pandora's Box of legend. This is depicted as a fancy, metal skull. The superheroes are either very polite or extremely on message to keep referring to it as "the box." While hot and bothered under this artifact's influence, and perhaps feeling the effect of other, unseen hands, Superman kills a fellow, much-less-famous superhero. The remainder of the mini-series is the various heroes on all three teams trying to help Superman by finding the skull, then becoming overwhelmed by its evil influence and fighting one another while Sexy New 52 John Constantine smokes cigarettes and stands around looking fit. Meanwhile -- there's usually a meanwhile -- a presence manipulates the heroes from the shadows for his own, to-be-revealed purposes.

I thought this was fairly dreadful all the way through. I have low standards when it comes to works like this one. Trinity War failed to meet them. There's very, very little happening here despite the flurry of plot points. The set-up seems arbitrary and forced and nonsensical. The pay-offs are practically non-existent. By that last point, I don't mean that the pay-offs are so weak that they feel relatively insignificant; I mean had a hard time detecting what if anything was at stake for the vast majority of characters, and, even more thoroughly, whether or not our heroes got what they wanted or failed to do so. These are foundational storytelling elements. My primary memory of this work overall is the heroes chasing each other around various rooms fighting one another, like a cluster of seven-year-olds pursuing a soccer ball, or those wonderful scenes from Hawaii 5-0 when secondary cast members would follow Jack Lord from station to station around the office. I don't have a significant investment in these specific iterations of these characters to an extent that would seem necessary for me to be concerned when they become "evil" or selfish or questions about their character come up. The story lacks dramatic stakes except as it insists on telling you what these stakes should be.

imageThere are several moments of curious logic: characters run and leap and pose at times in a way that almost feels like a comedy sketch of how superheroes act. I didn't get a lot in the way of unique atmosphere out of any of the set pieces: a fight in a modern defense-industry headquarters seemed like a fight in the catacombs beneath an ancient monument. With everything worked up into a directionless frenzy, this last issue felt more a capitulation than a conclusion. I was baffled about once a page -- and I think that's on writer Geoff Johns, because it seems like Ivan Reis' art unpacks the foregrounded story moments fairly well. Reis' design work is settled solidly within the current DC "look"; nothing about his particular contributions there stick in memory. Reis is inked by Joe Prado, Oclair Albert and Eber Ferreira, and it's an appealing "first team" result as much as superhero comics are about figures standing in space or caught in the suggestion of movement and impact. The way Reis arranges the characters on the page seems to me his strongest quality; the blocking of each scene may seem odd for so many characters having little that's meaningful to do, but I was never surprised where one character might appear in relation to another. The priorities of the story being told through Reis seems odd, though, focusing on plot point overlays when attention to the figures and the places in which they move might suffice to build dramatic tension. For Superman to indicate mid-fight he feels Batman is a sexual rival for Wonder Woman sounds to me like fan service than anything that drives home a more central point. One of the big visual moments, of the three biggest DC characters fighting, looks like a dance number from an old Neil The Horse comic for all that it feels grounded, or the logical outcome of a dramatic progression of events, or a moment with a single thing in the balance. We are told and told and told again; rarely shown.

One notably weird thing about this last issue of this particular plot line is that the story ends in semi-effective fashion -- or, more properly, its non-ending comes off with a bit more verve than anything that preceded it. The Trinity War is one of those comic book sagas where the climax comes from the reader figuring out what the hell the story is about. In comic book stories like this one, the creative summit is the Riddler, and we're Batman. In this case, learning what the trinity in trinity war stands for seems to be about setting up a forthcoming big-event plotline involving implications of said discovery. Congratulations: you've unlocked another $200 in additional purchases. This is always a groaner moment -- this whole series exists solely to set up the next one -- but it's fairly well-played here, particularly relative to the torpor of the story thus far: the characters in question seem sharp and motivated and together and formidable in a way the array of heroes and feckless, shouting dopes with whom we just spent time do not. It reminds me of an anecdote attributed to the late Walter Matthau about playing a bad guy: "Look like you know what you're doing; wear a tie." That would seem to apply here. I'm grateful as a reader to see people that have clear motivations, even if that motivation is "be rotten." I wanted to follow them off of the page and into a better comic, which I suppose may be the idea. If you're an invested member of the DC Comics audience and prone to checking off certain items on a long list called "character development made easy," this whole dance may have been awesome, I don't know. I mean, so many of the characters had so little to do I can't see that, but maybe I'm wrong. For a reader like me, I felt Iike I had just wasted so many minutes of my life reading $25 worth of comics for what in happier times for the comic-book industry and its devoted readers of summer superhero fun might have been an eight-page introduction.