When Brian Michael Bendis took on Marvel's New Avengers, his opening gambit was to shake things up with some new blood. He thought it strange that some of the company's biggest characters weren't a part of the franchise and put Spider-Man and Wolverine on the team. Now, he's taking over Justice League, a team where DC's most major characters – namely the trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman – have been a large presence throughout its history. Justice League #59's cover shows that some characters will be joining the team in the story to come, but he's not just hitting the same angle twice.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Ram V
Art by David Marquez, Tamra Bonvillain, Xermanico, and Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Lettered by Josh Reed and Rob Leigh
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Instead, Bendis builds off Clark Kent revealing his secret identity to the world, the core ramification of his Superman run. This opens with a page of connected heroes' symbols by David Marquez and Tamra Bonvillain, while Black Canary and Green Arrow have a conversation overlaid on this image. Ollie believes that the members of the League are seen as icons more than they are as people. His current frame of thinking comes back into the fold before the issue's end, but it takes a back seat in the issue cutting to Kahndaq where the bulk of the action takes place.
Marquez and Bonvillain bring a vibrancy to DC's flagship, and it's a very lovely-looking book from their opening vista of the country. The former's clean and precise linework is enhanced by the latter's soft neon stylings. Here, Bendis gives them ample means to show off what they can do.
Black Adam quickly becomes engaged with the arrival of a casually antagonistic force named Brutus. The duo ensures a clarity to the action even with the intensity of the power being exerted. Even when the panel borders disappear, the flow of the fight is evident and at times enhanced by Josh Reed's SFX which translates the way a blow lands into the direction of how to read the page. Another moment comes after the Justice League arrives on the scene. Aquaman and Brutus grapple as they get pulled into a whirlpool. Marquez and Bonvillain build a layout out of this beat which similarly sucks the two in and depicts their fight within its confines as it circles around.
Despite the level of acumen that the two bring to this run's kick-off, they can't overcome the ultimate sense of frivolity that arises from the issue's structural problems. While Brutus' arrival sets up an arc of investigation for the League, the fight itself occupies so much of the page count that there is little chance to develop this further. The same applies to how Ollie and Dinah's opening conversation is brought back into the fold. Just as soon as it seems like these threads are going to built out and expanded upon rather than purely being established, the cliffhanger brings proceedings to an abrupt end when just a few more pages could have pushed them further.
The pacing of the main story is noticeable in its own right but stands out all the more considering how the Justice League Dark back-up is a more complete serialized installment despite running just a fraction of the page count. It helps that Ram V's scripting of this back-up has a tight focus in terms of what he establishes rather than getting lost in the expanse of the bigger picture. Even though it's disappointing that he doesn't have a full series anymore to tell these stories, this teaser-sized installment manages to set up an antagonist in Merlin, get Zatanna and John Constantine involved via what they discover, as well as having room for a couple of character moments between the two protagonists in the middle of all this.
Like an omen of what's to come, the mood is appropriately struck up by the duo of Xermanico and Romulo Fajardo Jr. Opening in Wales, the night is dark, the air is cold and a magical gateway looms larger than any person in the scene. Upon stepping through, the new locale's design is that of a longstanding place that has existed for centuries. Zatanna and John's scenes have a similar level of supernatural spectacle, yet the most impactful panel is the one that emphasizes their feelings of being lost, personally and in the wake of Diana's disappearance, through the gestural depiction of hands reaching out for each other.
It's a case of a thin main story and a back-up that shows what can be done with a little. Bendis's pacing has become more relaxed as his career has gone on; nevertheless, it is still surprising to see him be so upfront with a thesis by putting it on the first page and not manage to take it further than this. Still, after a few years where the title has been a somewhat impenetrable series as a result of Scott Snyder's big plans, Justice League #59 is a much easier jumping-on point for new readers. Just they might find it lacking in reasons to stay on board.
Brian Michael Bendis recently spoke to us about how this Justice League run will put the team at the center of the new DCU.