Professionally made comics simply shouldn’t be this bad. I certainly read more amateurish work in 2012 from a storytelling standpoint. And other comics had events transpire that I strongly disagreed with, like Avengers vs X-Men. But the bad taste that Justice League #13 left me with lingers even now, months after it came out.
The issue opens with Superman and Wonder Woman kissing, a continuation of a headline-grabbing plot development that started in the last issue. Then the reader gets abruptly taken to a brawl between Wonder Woman and the Cheetah, who writer Geoff Johns tells us has been around for a while. However, this issue is the first appearance of the new version of Princess Diana’s arch-nemesis. OK, sure.
Plotwise, the issue bounces back and forth from the hunt for the Cheetah and the subplots concerned with Wonder Woman’s alooofness, her budding romance with Superman and the cohesion of the superhero team. The hook for this reboot of the Justice League was that readers would be getting interpretations of iconic characters that were learning to work together. Mostly, what we’ve gotten has been a lot of brooding, a lot of yelling and the occasional easy platitude about bonds created through shared experience.
Regular penciller Jim Lee takes a break from this issue, Tony Daniel’s fill-in art recapitulates the sculpted yet hollow-feeling take on superheroes that’s become the house style at DC Comics. Lee’s presence is still felt because much of the art seen in DC series takes its cues from his drawing.
We’re supposed to believe something’s at stake in this issue but those stakes haven’t been believably established. Barbara Minerva and Wonder Woman were close friends? Really? Then why haven’t we seen it before in Justice League or the heroine’s own title, which happens to be one of the best solo DC titles ? One possible answer is that there’s either lack of co-ordination in editorial or a wide gulf between the goals that the series’ creators have set for themselves. Whichever it is, the dissonance makes this single issue feel even more flat.
The one thing I still turn to superhero comics to see is world-building. Seeing lots of storytelling viewpoints swirl, combine and separate amongst one another is a kind of entertainment that you really don’t get anywhere else. And the biggest failing of the New 52 reboot has been how thoroughly squelched that sensation has been in the re-imagined DC universe. Yes, shared sensibilities and plot points happen in lower strata of the publishing output, as in the Batman books and across the Dark line — made up of I, Vampire, Justice League Dark, Swamp Thing and Animal Man.
But Justice League is supposed to be where it all comes together. The team book is supposed to be where the gestalt of the DC Universe reaches high boil and the ethos of the massive collective undertaking shines brightest. Instead, the work in these pages so often feels rote and insecure, warming over re-skinned plot beats that have been done to death for decades now. What’s worst is that this is a book helmed by one of the three major decision-makers at DC Comics/Entertainment. It feels like the worst kind of fanboy retread. Sure, the minutiae of the plots may be new for the moment they’re published in — Steve Trevor no longer Justice League liason! — but Justice League doesn’t have a sweeping takeway feeling. Hell, it barely justifies its own existence. A marquee title like this should be able to do much, much better.