Current Reviews


JLA #85

Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2003
By: Cody Dolan

Writer: Joe Kelly
Artists: Doug Mahnke (p), Tom Nguyen (i)

Publisher: DC Comics

Well, that was confusing. So you’re telling me that J’onn J’onnz is powerful enough to touch every mind on the planet, but to do so he has to shape himself into a gigantic tree? And later it looks like Manitou Raven has birds scoping things out where Firestorm was attacked on the moon, but then they’re not on the moon because Green Lantern interrupts? Then we jump go from Raven’s stereotypical sweat lodge to some secret temple/fortress in a mountain range inhabited by a bunch of dead guys and Vandal Savage.

Let me start by saying that I think Joe Kelly is a good writer. He’s written a lot of books I’ve really enjoyed. However, I think he’s in over his head when it comes to JLA. He wants to tell these sweeping, complex stories that he understands completely, but he fails to convey those ideas to his audience. If you look at his solo work on Action Comics, you’ll see what I mean. Whenever he tells a story that only takes place in that book he’s capable of producing wonderful stories. When he got together with the other writers to tell bigger tales (like “Our Worlds at War”) his work suffers.

The problem is that there’s way too much going on in this issue, and therefore not enough happens on the whole. We’re only incrementally closer to resolving this arc than we were when the issue began, and that’s frustrating, and those small movements come from places that don’t make a whole lot of sense. How did Jon Stewart’s GL ring know about the temple-looking fortress? How did Vandal Savage (a villain I know nothing about) end up there? What’s up with J’onn and Aubrey? I find myself frustrated with the lack of forward progress in the narrative, and that’s all too indicative of Kelly’s work on JLA.

The artistic style of Mahnke and Nguyen is not my cup of tea, but I can see that it’s good. There’s something angular about their perpetually overly-muscled characters that’s never quite clicked with me, but their expressive faces and clear storytelling always gets the job done in such a fashion that I come away with a better impression of their art at the end of the book then I had when I started it. Plus, there’s a “Reservoir Dogs” style panel on page 20 that had me chuckling (even though I know it’s not funny).

This issue is hard to judge because there are some intriguing ideas floating around that promise some good old-fashioned super heroics but the maddening pace of this arc and well as the book as a whole has tempered my enthusiasm. I want to like JLA because it should be the best book DC publishes; when you have all these icons together how can it not be good? Unfortunately, that’s not the way it is at the moment.

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