"New Maps of Hell, Part One"
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Butch Guice
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: After seeing a distraught man jump to his death in Metropolis, we soon discover that this suicide in the latest in a string of Lexcorp employees who have decided to inexplicably end their lives. As Clark and Lois investigate this mystery, we jump over to Gotham City where a clear cut case of murder earns itself the attention of Batman when he learns the Gotham PD are being kept from investigating. We also look in on Themyscira which becomes home to an unspeakable tragedy.
Comments: An effective issue for establishing a dark and sombre mood which in turn makes for an interesting change of pace for the JLA which, for the most part, offers up stories that have an epic, summer movie action vibe. However, much like other recent Warren Ellis efforts, this arc does is a little slow to get itself into gear. While establishing the atmosphere of a story is important, the opening issue of a new arc on an anthology title like this one needs to convince the reader that this is an arc that they'll want to follow. If not for the big attention grabbing finish this issue was pretty unremarkable in its efforts to grab the attention of JLA fans. The suicide that opens the issue does grab one's attention, but this level of excitement takes a serious downturn in the pages that follow, as the book spends an excessive time trying to impress the readers with its display of witty banter, as Clark and Lois put on a low rent version of the old screwball comedy classics that had newspaper reporters holding rapid fire conversations as they pursued the latest sensational scandal. It also doesn't really help matters that for a pair of reporters who are supposed to be investigating a rash of unexplained suicides, these two don't really seem to do much other than recap information that they both already know. Of course we also get the tired plot device where Lois has pinned her information on the wall and has drawn those ever revealing connecting arrows. We also get to look in on Batman as he's made aware of a mysterious death in his city, and his investigation has him breaking into the office of the organization that is looking to keep the Gotham P.D. out of the investigation, where it would appear all the incriminating information is readily available for his perusal. Now I realize he's the DCU's greatest investigator but is it too much to ask that he actually has to do some real detective work if only to validate this often repeated claim? In the end the final section is the only reason on the writing side for why I'll be back for the next issue, and this is only because of the sheer scale of what has happened, as explosive cliff-hangers like this one make for one of the most common of comic book issue endings.
I was going to leave this issue on the shelf, as I'm not the biggest fan of Warren Ellis, and I'm currently in my title trimming mode. However, Butch Guice is one of the first artists whose name I took notice of in the credit box. I remember looking it up when the art on Micronauts suddenly improved. Since that time I've made it a habit of following him from project to project, and I was delighted to see him starting to get some much needed recognition with his work over on the CrossGen's Ruse. In any event, it's nice to see him pop up once again, and while it does look like he's using the sketchier style that he had was using during his time on Resurrection Man, rather than the more polished work he provided on Ruse, this story benefits from the rougher edge that comes with this style, as how can one not be impressed by the emotional impact of the scene that opens the issue? He also makes a pretty strong case for being given a regular assignment on a Batman title, as there's a lovely reveal shot of the character after he takes out the guards. The double page shot of the issue ending event is also a solid visual to carry readers into the next issue.
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