Current Reviews


JLA #81

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell

Writer: Joe Kelly
Artists: Duncan Rouleau (p), Aaron Sowd (i)

Publisher: D.C. Comics

The book opens in the aftermath of the massive explosion the occurred at the end of last issue, as we see over a thousand people were killed, and Superman has turned himself over to the authorities, as he holds himself responsible for this tragedy. After looking in on Raven as he pays a visit to his old lands to discover a casino, and a people who have forgotten their proud heritage, we look in of Faith & Major Disaster, who have taken to hiding in a rather low rent hideaway that Major Disaster had in place before he became a hero. With both of them holding themselves responsible for the disaster, we see Major Disaster isn't big on reaching out to others for help, but Faith seems to be convinced that a man named Manson can help them. We then look in on Batman, Firestorm & the Atom who are busy investigating the explosion site, and while there appears to be bodies in the rubble, there's something about the scene that leaves them troubled, and when Raven arrives on sight and uses his magic to reveal no one has died in the explosion we're left with a bit of a mystery. We then see that the bodies found in the rubble were transported there from another location (most likely a mass grave), and that the people who were supposed to have died are trapped deep underground, along with John Stewart. We the see the four JLAer looking to clear their teammates of this horrific crime are attacked by a group calling itself Axis America.

This book has Superman decide that he's responsible for the attack that left the compound devastated, and seemingly killed over one thousand people. Now having read the opening chapter to this story I have to ask how Superman arrived at this conclusion, as the attack that seemingly killed everyone gathered at the scene was clearly the work of Faith, and if nothing else Superman would make it his duty to track her down & bring her in, if only to keep her from doing it again. Now I'm sure he believes her actions were not intentional, and he holds himself to blame for trusting that she would be able to control the power she unleashed, but given she did it once and the possibility exists (however slim) that her actions were not an accident, one would think Superman would ensure she was in custody before he turned himself in. Sure it's noble & heroic for him to assume all the blame upon himself, and grief isn't exactly conducive to clear thinking, but one would think a sense of duty, and the protection of others would be paramount, and as such I can't see Superman drowning in self pity while Faith runs around on the loose. Then again it serves the story for Faith to be running around so that she can deliver herself into the hands of the villains, and as such having Superman act like the hero he's supposed to be would be counterproductive to the needs of the story.

Now the new members take up most of the spotlight in this issue, as while there's a nice investigation scene involving Batman & the Atom, most of the issue is handed over to the new guys. Now I don't mind the focus being placed upon the characters who aren't staring in their own monthly titles, as if nothing else it allows Joe Kelly to deliver some much needed character development. I mean it's nice to see how quickly Major Disaster returns to the role of a fugitive from justice, as he takes an emotionally devastated Faith to one of his safe-houses, and freaks out when Faith decides to call upon others for help. There's also a scene involving Raven, in which we see he discovers how far he's people have fallen during the time he's been gone, and while the scene is a bit obvious that it's trying to deliver a message, it doesn't lessen the impact of his discovery. There's also a nice little moment where Batman turns to Raven for help in his investigation, and this leads to a pretty solid display of the character's power. However, my favorite section of this issue would have to be the scenes involving the Martian Manhunter, as I love the fact that J'Onn is working to overcome his fire weakness, as once this weakness is removed Superman had better be prepared to take a step back, as J'Onn claims the title of most powerful JLA member.

Duncan Rouleau is a visually interesting artist, and his work gives the material a nice sense of energy that works exceptionally well during the scenes where various characters abilities are on display. From Raven's cloud of crows, to J'Onn impression of a melting wax figure, the art knows how to make these scenes visually engaging. There's also the powerful credit page shot of Superman in his prison cell (though I'm guessing those handcuffs are simply for show), and the shot of the Atom & Batman looking over the wreckage does a nice job conveying the deductive powers of these two characters. There's also the chaos of that one-page shot where J'Onn looks inside the mind of Scorch, and the art does a wonderful job conveying the madness he finds there. There's also fun little background details, like Major Disaster's best villain trophy, or the Batplane in the background, seconds before it is blown out of the sky. The visual designs of the group that confronts the JLA on the final page are also quite interesting, with the flaming skull man in the foreground being a particularly impressive visual. Now the cover to this issue is a bit strange given the Flash is nowhere to be found in this issue, and Batman wasn't even on scene to be connected to the crime, but for visual impact that makes people want to read the story inside, the art has more that done it's job.

Final Word:
The story doesn't work nearly as well as it should because it tips it's hand right at the start by having Superman in chains, blamed for the murder of over a thousand people. I mean, if it was Faith in chains then it would be easy to buy into the idea, as she's a new character who doesn't have an established fan-base, and as such it would be far easier to ask the readers to accept the idea that she could've killed those people. However by having Superman accept the blame Joe Kelly automatically tells you that that not only are these people alive, but also that there is a villainous plot at work that needs to be exposed. Still I will concede that seeing Superman in chains does make for a powerful moment, and there's some strong work on the scene where the free members of the JLA are investigating the ruins. Plus, the new cast members all get some strong moments, with Raven's attempt to contact the spirits of the dead being a particularly impressive reveal scene. The group of villains that attack in the final pages also looks like an interesting bunch.

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