“Crisis of Conscience”: Part One
Writers: Geoff Johns, Allan Heinberg
Artists: Chris Batista (p), Mark Farmer (i)
Publisher: DC Comics
How well this issue affects you depends on how compelled you are by DC’s Identity Crisis/Infinite Crisis events.
If you feel these DC big tent attractions have ushered in a foul era of corrupted heroes involved in decrepit and unnecessarily graphic stories (an understandable reaction), then it’s best you spend your money on another book.
If, on the other hand, you’re absorbed by the changes that Identity Crisis has wrought on the DC Universe, then it is imperative that you buy JLA #115 and its subsequent issues. The story arc beginning with this issue will present a day of reckoning for the super-heroes who performed ethically questionable mind wiping several years ago as they now must confront both the Batman and a potently reformed Secret Society of Super-Villains. The Silver Age-like cover blurb is accurate: “The unavoidable fallout from Identity Crisis begins here!”
Identity Crisis disappointed me as a murder mystery, but intrigued me in the way it shook up the DC Universe and left matters unresolved. One of my favorite Identity Crisis scenes occurs in issue #7 after Jean Loring has been institutionalized; Wally West sits at a JLA Watchtower meeting and watches Batman out of the corner of his eye. I interpret Wally mulling over what the Justice Leaguers he has grown up idolizing have done to one of their own. When Wally doesn’t hear a question J’Onn asks him, Batman challenges, “Is there a problem, Wally?” Wally stammers his way through an inadequate response until the meeting gets abruptly adjourned as the heroes learn of immediate emergencies they must attend to.
At the beginning of JLA #115, Wally gathers Hawkman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Zatanna, and Hal Jordan and declares he is ready to blow the whistle. The ensuing squabbling amongst these upper echelon DC super-heroes will disturb, I’m sure, the sensibilities of many long time readers. A few reviewers/message board commentators have accurately pointed out that the Secret Society of Super-Villains get along better with each other than the JLA. Contention amongst super-hero teammates never bothered me though. Comrade conflict was one of the most enjoyable aspects of Giffen/DeMatteis’s Justice League run. It is an aspect I expect to enjoy in their upcoming Defenders series. Of course, there is a marked difference in tone and intention with the super-hero squabbling presented by Giffen/DeMatteis and the type presented in this issue. Giffen/DeMatteis present the strife mostly for laughs while this issue presents it with gravity, presents it as a serious fissure amongst colleagues and friends. I for one am enjoying the drama produced by Batman’s mind wiping, and I am glad that the Powers-That-Be have decided to push the matter to a resolution (I assume) rather than let it drag out for a year or two after Identity Crisis.
Honestly, JLA #115 isn’t very “meaty.” One third of the issue basically recaps one development of Identity Crisis and how a previous incarnation of the Justice League mind wiped Batman and the various super-villains who had learned of the heroes’ secret identities. After this recap, the League then responds to distress calls from ex-teammates, and mundane super-heroics occur. A humorous bit of flirtatious interruptus between Batman and Catwoman leads into the issue’s cliffhanger.
And that’s it. But the issue’s set-up and cliffhanger, cleanly presented by Chris Batista and Mark Farmer, hooked me. I anticipate a pivotal day of reckoning occurring between Batman and the Justice League over the course of the next four issues, and this will kick start the Fall’s Infinite Crisis. So if you’re looking forward to that mini-series, I advise you to buy JLA #115-119.
And if you’ve already made up your mind to ignore Infinite Crisis, then, again, it’s best you skip the next five issues of JLA as well.
Plot: Identity Crisis continues to eat the entire DC Universe, as the heroes (the same ones we had from 1975-1985, more or less) argue amongst themselves. Which is bad timing, since the villains are suddenly getting along so well (the same ones we had in 1977, more or less).
Comments: This is a complete falling off in quality from the Busiek issues. From bombastic fun and playfulness (even in the midst of space warrior races and kinky doppelgangers), we descend into a meta-human bitchfest amongst confused teenagers. I guess Batista’s the appropriate artist for this, because it reads more like an Abnett and Lanning issue of The Legion than it does a JLA tale. This is direct fallout from Identity Crisis, and it sucks the life right out of the book.
Sexism watch: Johns is a step up on Meltzer, however, as he actually makes time for Zee to speak about her role in the betrayal (the Canary’s attempt at same doesn’t work out so well). He also captures just the right tone for a rare Catwoman appearance (I love it when she shows up in the JLA, for whatever reason).
Canary’s nowhere to be found on Rags’s unusually arranged cover, though Zee’s right there watching her doom approach, or leave, or whatever he’s doing.
Art-wise: The villains are shining this issue, as they are this year at DC in several books: Villains United by Simone, Manhunter’s Rogues Gallery, various other Countdown tie-ins. Though she’s always been the very definition of a crazed femme fatale, I welcome a reappearance by Star Sapphire. Something about that Gil Kane costume with domino mask, I guess. Not being Carol Ferris helps.
Catwoman looks beautiful in her flirtation/fight scene with Batman, but it’s the newly reformed Secret Society of Super-Villains that promises what excitement this story possesses beyond all the guilty recriminations.
Leaden: Carter Hall comes off as a conservative blowhard, with Oliver less than an articulate critic. It’s nice to see Hal back, but he’s a bit hard to take as the voice of reason to someone who hasn’t been reading about his Rebirth. This issue is too decompressed, and flows out of a story that left too many danglers. The schematic, committee-approved design of Countdown is dreadfully obvious: long-term plans designed to provide story, but without the drama that true passion or inspiration would bring.
JLA #115 had so much going for it, but it lacked a most important ingredient.
I did like the story, don’t get me wrong. It had drama, intensity, emotion, divisiveness in the League ranks, all complemented by sterling artwork. It had the return of a Justice League of America I’m particularly fond of, and it had the threat of the Secret Society of Super-Villains.
But it lacked imagination.
I’ve recently been reading a run of Superman stories published in Action Comics in 1969. These are outrageous tales, filled with blatant plot holes and questionable plot devices, but they are imaginative. They make you “ooo” and “ahh” and wonder, “What’s going to happen next?” and “How is Superman gonna get out of that?”
JLA #115 doesn’t make me “ooo” or “ahh” or wonder about anything. (Well, no, I wonder if the mention of Opal City being in Maryland is really accurate. I was always under the impression it was more towards the mid-west.) There’s nothing to spark my imagination. Everybody’s angry, everybody’s suspicious of one another, everybody’s on edge, and these are the superheroes I’m talking about! The villains are organized! They’re having a good time! They take down a good portion of the League with no problems at all! I’m rooting for them to clobber Batman and the Martian Manhunter! Something’s not right.
I also wonder about continuity. Not with the past, that’s always going to be messed up. I’m concerned with how everything ties together in the DC Universe books currently being published. The Zatanna in JLA #115 is nothing like the Zatanna in Seven Soldiers: Zatanna. Are there parallel universes going on here? Is one adventure occurring several months after the other? I have no idea. It distracts me.
So I give JLA #115 . One bullet is for seeing Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Flash, Batman and Hawkman all involved in a current League story. That’s fantastic. It makes me happy. The other bullet is for the artwork. I think Batista and Farmer do a great job. The JLAers and the Secret Society look terrific. But that’s it. I feel about this book the same way I feel about House of M #1.
There is an emphasis on melodrama in these books, as if I’m watching soap operas saturated in colorful spandex, and while I concede that it makes for some intriguing moments, a little imagination would go a long way toward making these comics something special.
What did you think of this book?
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