By Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Rod Reis
In Justice League #30, Geoff Johns finally presented us with the post-Forever Evil Justice League, kind of. In issue #31, Johns is still building toward the new Justice League. This issue focuses on two emerging storylines. First, we get Lex trying to bully his way onto the Justice League based on his knowledge of Batman’s true identity. This then dovetails into the Jessica Cruz/Power Ring subplot.
Johns pens a script that feels lazy, on many levels. The jokes are stale and the motivations are out of sync with the characters. Furthermore, the backbone of this story is flimsy at best. Lex Luthor knows Bruce Wayne is Batman, at least Lex believes this to be true. He then presents his thesis to Bruce Wayne, who quickly shoots it down. To begin, one must think Lex would be smarter than to simply reveal his knowledge to Bruce/Batman. Then, from there, Lex finds new evidence to support his theory right there on the spot. Lex is arguably the smartest man in the DC Universe, so having some detective skills would be expected. Instead, Johns writes him with super senses to find this new evidence. Wait, I thought Luthor had no super powers?
Regardless, this storyline was approached from a weird angle. The characterization is off beat, and this plot comes across as rushed. Overall, this book’s pacing is wonky. This storyline moves quickly, while the Power Ring storyline seems to be moving much slower (especially considering DC teased it as part of Forever Evil way back in September). One might think it would be better to flip that presentation. When revealing how he put Batman and Bruce together, Lex gives one line of dialogue that doesn’t actually answer the question. The old adage is “show, don’t tell.” This especially holds true in a visual story telling platform, such as comic books. Instead, we get one line of dialogue.
While the Lex/Bruce showdown is intense, Johns does find some time to squeeze in a little humor. We get a scene between Cyborg and Shazam that might be the highlight of the book. The scene is funny and charming. Even the most hardened cynic will smile.
Artistically, this book is exquisite. Doug Mahnke’s pencils and Rod Reis’ colors are always a treat. Mahnke excels with the action shots, especially one featuring Alfred. But Mahnke also does a great job with facial expressions, including a panel with Shazam that puts an exclamation point on Geoff Johns’ humor. Reis colors each scene beautifully, which each location feeling unique. He takes us from the darkness of Wayne Manor, to the electronic bright lights of the Justice League tower, to an explosive final scene demonstrating the scope of damage Power Ring is capable of.
The Justice League is held to a higher standard, as it should be. It’s the flagship of the entire DC line. While it is clearly a team in transition, it still has high expectations. Those are missed in this issue, but the last page gives us a “fist pump” moment that we can expect to play out over the next few issues. The main plot of this issue felt off, but the smaller scenes make up for those misses. The direction of this book is changing. When the new, post-Forever Evil team finally comes together, the story should pick up. It seems the Justice League now has a two-tiered conflict upcoming, which could go either way. Will we get the heights of Throne of Atlantis or the doldrums of Trinity War?