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Justice League of America #39

Posted: Monday, November 30, 2009
By: Danny Djeljosevic

James Robinson
Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter (i), Pete Pantazis (c)
DC Entertainment
Plot: Zombie Vibe comes back to stereotype everyone to death. Zatanna and Zombie Zatara have a back-and-forth On UOY tuhs pu! spell-casting argument. Also, Dr. Light battles zombie Dr. Light.

Comments: Something tells me that a Justice League of America: Blackest Night tie-in book should have the big guns of the Justice League battling zombie versions of Batman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Elongated Man, and Firestorm and bringing to the front the idea that, for all the good these superheroes do, they are surrounded by death. Justice League of America vs Justice League of Necrosha would make for a pretty harrowing comic book, but those guys are all busy in the actual Blackest Night series, so we get to see what Red Tornado, Zatanna, Plastic Man, Vixen, Dr. Light, and Gypsy are up to. Which is how Justice League Detroit happened in the first place.

The most interesting thing about Justice League of America #39 is the mostly female lineup, but Im not sure if James Robinson was trying to spotlight these marginalized women or if these characters are just meant to signify that the Justice League is in such shambles that the team is a skeleton crew composed of a bunch of chicks, a sexless robot, and a man who is literally flaccid. Superhero comics are all about id, so Im leaning towards the former but I want it to be the latter. Desperately.

All this zombie business and the past resurfacing amounts to continuity porn for the Justice League enthusiast. Here are some dead superheroes from the "Motor City Justice League" era (a name in this issue that I seriously want to catch on), here's Zatanna's dad, and here's the evil version of Dr. Light, made even creepier as a reanimated corpse. Robinson kind of attempts to make the thing seem accessible by opening on a teaser of Vibe's entire history, which thankfully only involves some gangland upbringing (though the art made me think a young Plastic Man had joined the Latin Kings) and joining the Justice League until a pair of robot hands choked him to death (uh...?). Zatara's appearance is a no-brainer--a woman's father has come back from the dead to kill everyone. Dr. Light gets absolutely no introduction, which tells me that either Robinson has given up on giving this issue any pretense of comprehensibility or that Dr. Light is a character so important that he needs no introduction.

Otherwise, Robinson's scripting is pretty sparse even by fight comic standards. From these first two issues of his it seems like he's writing an entire story arc based on the remnants of the Justice League traipsing into old headquarters, getting into a fight, and moving on to the next headquarters. Last issue it was Despero at Happy Harbor. This time it's zombies at the Hall of Justice. Next issue will be either a damaged satellite, the Moon, or Detroit. I'm not sure which is more dangerous. Moreover, he struggles to find his voice as a writer and to get a grasp of these characters.

Mark Bagley's art is often solid and much better than some of the pencilers who preceded him in this series, but this issue feels a bit rushed compared to his debut in #38. It doesn't help that the entire issue takes place in the dark. This would have been a fantastic opportunity for a book where the superpowers manifest as beautiful primary color abstractions in the oppressive dark, making for an apt metaphor for the superhero's place in the world (theirs or ours) while making the visuals pop, but instead Pete Pantazis has to render the entire thing a muted palette that makes me a bit sleepy when I try to look at it.

At best, Justice League of America #39, points out the ridiculousness of Blackest Night proper by focusing on minor characters instead of Green Lantern and the Flash. In setting up for a zombie Plastic Man (oh please no), suddenly the silliness of a zombie Elongated Man becomes apparent, doesn't it?



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