Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Second-string Heroes Rise To The Occasion In Justice Volume 2!

The Good: Amazing artwork, Good story development, Decent character work, Handy character descriptions
The Bad: A few "missing scenes," Incomplete story
The Basics: A very cool graphic novel, Justice Volume 2 is a tough middle act and does not stand on its own, despite having amazing artwork!

Middle acts are often the toughest to stand on their own. In fact, in contemporary media, only The Empire Strikes Back (click here for my review of that!) stands out as a perfect middle act that might actually be better than the episodes which surround it. As I make it through the three volume Justice series, I find myself thinking of that. "Volume 2" had a lot of pressure to perform given the near-perfection of Justice Volume 1 (click here for that review). And, for the most part, "Volume 2" holds up.

Justice Volume 2 is a trade paperback anthology that collects issues five through eight of the limited edition series. As a result of nothing more than DC Comics not wanting to present the full version of the story in one nice, simple anthology right after the limited series was finished, they made a middle-ground presentation, which was to make three smaller anthologies. This is especially annoying now, as there is a full version of Justice available.

Picking up where "Volume 1" left off, Chapter 5 opens with a second string member of the Justice League of America realizing that the main team has been taken out and working to find them. Martian Manhunter overcomes the brainwashing he was subjected to in order to escape the undersea prison. As Superman nears death, he is rescued by Captain Marvel as Lex Luthor and Brainiac bring forth the promised cities for the people they have healed. With all of the rest of the main Justice League heroes incapacitated, Captain Marvel takes Superman to the last safe place on Earth; the Batcave.

In Chapter 6, Captain Marvel aids the infected Superman in ridding his body of the parasites he saw in Batman by throwing the superhero into the sun. After an attempt on the Atom's life, Martian Manhunter regroups the surviving heroes while Hal Jordan slowly goes crazy in his exile. As Luthor, Brainiac and Gorilla Grodd adapt to the survival of the super heroes by calling in more villains, Wonder Woman, seriously wounded, enters the Batcave, which has been taken over by Poison Ivy. But Ivy isn't the worst of Wonder Woman's problems, as Batman turns on her.

Chapter 7 opens with Martian Manhunter and Zatanna finally rescuing Aquaman, while Brainiac and Luthor initiate their insurance plan: capturing the loved ones of the principle members of the Justice League! With Batman under her control, Wonder Woman journeys to Superman's Fortress Of Solitude. Hawkman and Hawkgirl make an astonishing discovery about what Brainiac's endgame appears to be while Captain Marvel and Superman figure out a way to finally stop the Flash! But even as Superman arrives to take charge of the League, there is a betrayal in Atlantis that continues the menace to the heroes.

Finally, in Chapter 8, Superman deduces who is behind the plot to incapacitate all of the superheroes while the Flash captures Captain Cold to find out more about the alliance between the super villains. While the scientific team learns all that they can about the parasites being used against the superheroes, the Phantom Stranger locates Hal Jordan and helps him return to the Justice League. But even as the Green Lantern eradicates the parasites in Batman, virtually every ally or family member to the Justice League is captured by Brainiac's forces.

Justice Volume 2 is burdened by being a middle act and as such, there are a few moments that feel like filler between the setup and the conclusion. So, for example, on page 117, Plastic Man and Ralph (I don't know his superhero identity, but he stretches like Plastic Man) have a confrontation about how there can't be two stretchy people in the League and that it's time for Plastic Man to leave. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the book and if it is an example of a fan-desired confrontation, then it's lost on the non-fans, like me. As well, while Volume 2 closes with character sketches of some of the more important heroes and villains who might not have been fleshed out in Volume 1 for readers, they are missing key characters from Volume 2 which would be a lot of help to non-fans. So, for example, Zatanna (sorry, can't tell you who she is, she pops up and one assumes people are supposed to know who she is, but after reading the book all I know is that she has limited magical abilities) and a whole team that helps put Red Tornado back together again and save Aquaman's life are not detailed. While Captain Marvel is pretty easy to intuit (he turns from a boy to a superhero each time he says "Shazam!"), others are less so.

"Volume 2" of Justice also seems to have some storytelling gaps. Take, for example, pages 88 and 89 where allies of Captain Marvel encounter Black Adam (another villain). The setting and characters come out of nowhere and it serves only to confuse readers for a few moments.

What Justice continues otherwise is amazing artwork which has to be seen to be believed. Far from being the typical comic book, the art was created first as pencil sketches by Doug Braithwaite and then was painted by Alex Ross. The result is a book that is a beautiful gallery of actual paintings; the backgrounds are lush and realistic, the characters are dynamic and three-dimensional. The artwork helps tell the story and most of the time, it is obvious where the action is occurring just by the coloring. So, for example, when Hal Jordan enters his ring to survive as energy, the colors in his in-ring realm are all muted and shifted toward the yellow/green part of the spectrum. Through most of the book, the sense of movement is clear and the artwork is nothing short of astonishing.

What this second volume of Justice lacks is any real character development. With the heroes on the defensive, the supervillains begin to revert more and more to their tendencies toward backstabbing. While the Joker makes a brief appearance, this is more of a plot-based story where the heroes are struggling to catch up. The exception to this, which is actually quite wonderful, is Hal Jordan's parts. Jordan begins to go crazy and without the authors making it explicit, it is quite clear as he gets more and more inside his own mind.

This is not a comic book for children, though, which makes sense when one considers that panels include such things as the Atom being smothered graphically with a pillow and Wonder Woman being mauled by a bloodied Cheetah. Even Poison Ivy is rendered in rather artful adult terms and this helps the book and the menace it references gain credibility.

Ultimately, this is an awesome story and my inability to recommend it comes for a very simple reason: there is a complete anthology of this graphic novel (reviewed here!) and readers would do better to pick that up and get the whole story. Getting only "Volume 2" of "Justice" is just going to leave the reader clamoring for more and having to buy something else!

For other trade paperback anthologies, please check out my reviews of:
Absolute Kingdom Come
Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps
The OMAC Project


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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