Current Reviews


JLA #85

Posted: Tuesday, September 9, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell

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

Publisher: DC

The book opens with the leaders of two warring Middle-East countries coming to an understanding, and in spite of the peace & goodwill that is sweeping the entire planet the JLA are deeply troubled by the idea that all this behavior is the result of telepathic interference by an unknown entity. After we see J'Onn's efforts to locate this telepath fail, we see Superman is not exactly pleased with the new behavior he is seeing in J'Onn as he's displaying a more flippant attitude, and Superman attributes it to his hanging around a woman that he considers a villain with possible hidden motives. We then see Firestorm was rescued after the attack by the unknown entity stripped him of his power, and we see Batman has decided that the answer to the mystery attacker's identity might be resolved if Ronnie goes back over the events leading up to the attack. As Superman is busy making J'Onn aware of his concerns, we see John Stewart is busy getting a message via his power ring that leads the JLA to the hidden base of the villainous immortal Vandal Savage. As this meeting reveals that Vandal Savage has encountered this entity before, and that it goes by the name the Burning, we see the JLA decide the best course of action is to bring Vandal Savage back to the Watchtower. However, once there they find Superman in a bad way, as he's been savagely attacked by the Burning.

The problem with having a super-powerful telepath sweeping the globe with a wave that essentially eliminates the criminal element from the minds of every villain in the DCU is that you know it's not a lasting change. Now I suppose the same argument could be used against almost every threat the JLA runs up against, as they tend to face threats that endanger the entire world, and since this book is never going to be given free reign to obliterate the entire DCU, one can enter every arc safe in the knowledge the in the end the JLA will emerge victorious. However, the big difference between this current threat and the ones we've seen previously, is that Joe Kelly seems to be unwilling to examine the more interesting aspects of this idea, as he instead seems to feel that continuing to show us the effects of what is essentially one big Care Bear stare is enough to hold the reader's interest. I want to see some debate about whether it's such a bad thing that the villains are being cured of their villainous ways. I want to see Batman's reaction to the idea that his crusade against crime is over. I mean yes it's cute to show the two leaders of warring Middle-East countries discussing peace over a cup of tea, and Vandal Savage is certainly an interesting means to provide the back story for the mystery villain, but the simple fact is that this book is avoiding the more engaging aspects of its central premise.

I will say that the last page reveal does more or less reaffirm the idea that the mystery villain is a character who is very familiar to the JLA, and it should be interesting to see whether this character is acting of his own free will, or is he under the influence of the force that Vandal Savage described was responsible for the earlier massacre. If nothing else it should be interesting to see how the JLA deal with the idea that this character may very well be responsible for this latest attack, as the Burning did viciously attack Firestorm & left him to die, and the simple fact of the matter is that now that this character's one weakness has been conquered, he's pretty much an unstoppable force. It's not often that I can feel comfortable saying that a single character could defeat the JLA single-handedly, as frankly there's only a handful of characters that come to mind when I make such a statement (Despero, Darkseid, Kite Man), but I have to say that with his Achilles heel removed, this character could conceivable hand the JLA their heads, as he knows their weaknesses, and has the raw power to deliver & receive the punishment that it takes to bring down the JLA. Plus, speaking as a big fan of this character, frankly it's just nice to see this character has been given a prominent role to play in this story, even if it is as the primary villain.

The art of Doug Mahnke is fairly interesting in that is has a rough, somewhat organic look to it, but at the same time it also manages to deliver a wonderful sense of visual impact during the moments when the book calls for a big visual. I mean one has to be impressed by the one-page spread where we see what happened to the Vandal Savage's army when they encountered the Burning, and the images on the final page where we see Superman fused into the meeting table, while the mystery villain hovers ready to attack makes for a great little visual teaser to carry us into the next issue. I also have to make mention of the cover image as it's a wonderful looking shot, though I do have to question the idea that Batman's pointy ears would show up on his vaporized skull. In any event there's some very solid moments in this issue, starting with the sequence where J'Onn makes an effort to locate the mystery telepath that is responsible, and to accomplish this rather impressive task he transforms into a massive tree like structure. There's also some nice work on the scene where the power ring starts to broadcast a message, and the establishing shot of Vandal Savage's hidden base is also quite strong. Our first look at the artifact that is responsible for the attack is also nice & creepy both in appearance & in the implication that it makes.

Final Word:
The DCU is engulfed by a telepathic directive that has effectively erased evil from the minds of everyone on the planet, and this is the best that Joe Kelly could come up with? I mean this is a very compelling idea that is being utterly wasted by Joe Kelly who seems to feel that readers will be happy with a few fleeting glimpses at the radically altered DCU, and that his time is better spent on the slow, and almost meandering investigation of who is responsible for this unusual attack. Well I'm here to say that I would've liked the focus to have been centered more on the effects of this attack instead of the investigation of who is responsible. Than again I will concede if the person responsible is who I suspect it is than I can't wait for him to be exposed as the culprit by the JLA, as I would love to see this character take on the combined might of the JLA. The book also offers up some fairly interesting moments of interaction between John Stewart & Raven, and Vandal Savage is makes for a fairly solid means to deliver the needed exposition.

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