Current Reviews


JLA #86

Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2003
By: Cody Dolan

“Trial by Fire Part 3”

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

Publisher: DC Comics

After almost killing my enthusiasm for this title, Joe Kelly has managed to resurrect my interest…well, almost anyway. The League is in dire straits fighting a mysterious enemy they can’t see but has no trouble pounding away on them and their lack of any kind of offensive paints the team in a humbling light. While it’s always nice to see the JLA knocked down a peg or two, I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen this kind of thing before especially given who the “surprise” villain is. I’ll name that villain in the following paragraphs, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know any more.

Still here? Good.

I’m not sure if the revelation that J’onn J’onnz has lost his mind is supposed to be a big surprise this issue, but if it that was Kelly’s intent he fails miserably. If we were supposed to figure out way before the rest of the team does, then it’s a success, but having the team fight someone they’re so familiar with has been done before, and, quite frankly, done better. Rather than have J’onn take out the League systematically a la Batman in “Tower of Babel,” Kelly has him fight them all at once and even though it’s a successful strategy it doesn’t seem like a smart one. Superman’s admission that J’onn is the most powerful being on the planet may be a little surprising given that it’s Superman talking here, but it makes sense. Take away Superman’s cold breath; add shape shifting, density control, telepathy, and the ability to turn invisible and you’ve got a character that’s way too powerful. Pitting him against the League makes sense from a “World level threat” standpoint, but J’onn has always been one of the noblest heroes on the team so his turning against his friends stretches believability even if Scorch is a world-class girlfriend (and I’ll leave it at that for the younger readers out there).

There’s a lot of fighting this time out, but too much of the action is confusing to the point of frustration. It doesn’t help that we still don’t know what Faith’s powers are, so when she creates some kind of energy wall all I could do was shrug. We’re led to believe that Major Disaster had something to do with the asteroid that hits the Watchtower, but I have no idea how he did it. I was under the impression that his powers were tied to earthquakes, so his ability to summon comets is more than a little confusing. Said comet strike leads into a flashback, but since there’s nothing signifying that a flashback is starting I was once again befuddled. After that scene ends, the League is shown to have teleported to the Fortress of Solitude which is straightforward enough, but only those that read the Superman books would know why Kelex the robot is talking like Jamie Kennedy in “Malibu’s Most Wanted.”

Doug Mahnke has gotten a lot of praise for his work on JLA, and this issue does nothing to refute any of that. His two-page spread of Fernus the Burning is truly frightening as is the splash page that ends the issue. Flipping through the book I couldn’t find a single panel in which I was confused by the art (that’s Kelly’s job) and that’s the main thing I look for in a comic artist. While I tend to think Mahnke’s figures are overly muscled (Batman’s six-pack stomach sticks out farther than his chest in one panel) that didn’t stop me from enjoying his efforts.

I’m this close to begging DC to add a “Previously” page to JLA as the scope of this and every Joe Kelly story calls for one. This is the kind of arc that should be released in TPB format only, and that hurts my enjoyment of the title. I don’t want to have to reread the previous issues to understand the current one, and that’s what I feel I have to do. Everything feels disjointed because there’s too much going on at once. Between the big fight, the flashback, Vandal Savage’s involvement, the appearance of the Guardians, the multi-layered scene in the Fortress, and the deepening relationship of J’onn and Scorch I’m left feeling like I either missed something or the story is stretched to thin.

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