Friday, January 20, 2012

A Typical Adventure Is Followed By Two Uninspired Outings In JLA: Terror Incognita.

The Good: Tense story, Intriguing villains, Generally good artwork.
The Bad: Two additional stories are somewhat ridiculous, No real character development.
The Basics: Despite giving J’onn J’onzz a chance to shine, JLA: Terror Incognita is a surprisingly unremarkable trade paperback anthology.

As my Flash Year continues, I am enjoying getting in some books that feature the Flash without focusing entirely upon him. In the case of JLA: Terror Incognita, Wally West is very much a peripheral character, as are my favorites Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Even more than being about J’onn J’onzz – the Martian Manhunter -, JLA: Terror Incognita is a plot-centered story about an invasion from the white martians. This invasion is an action-packed story that is likely to resonate very poorly with those looking for a substantive graphic novel. Even the two additional stories in JLA: Terror Incognita, after the main white martian invasion story, are not particularly engrossing. That makes JLA: Terror Incognita a very tough sell, though I didn’t hate it while I was reading the book.

That is not to say I hated JLA: Terror Incognita. I didn’t. I just kept waiting for the book to become something more. Instead, JLA: Terror Incognita is a very straightforward alien invasion story and because the Justice League Of America is kept on the defensive the entire time, author Mark Waid is unable to make a significant statement about the characters involved in it. The primary invasion story is paired with two short stories, one involving a Batman plotline that seems to be part of an entirely different storyline and a one-shot on how Santa Claus joined the Justice League Of America. I kid not.

Starting with the Justice League of America spread out, investigating different puzzles, the world quickly turns dangerous for human life. When J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, hunts for a serial killer, he discovers a powerful telepath that has managed to elude him. Unfortunately for him, he finds himself overrun by white martians, who capture him and begin torturing him. Elsewhere, Batman and Nightwing investigate a series of “ghost” appearances that lead to Nightwing unwittingly almost killing Batman! Similarly, Superman is baffled when a fire in Oregon puts itself out. While working to save a Russian city, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Plastic Man and Green Lantern survive a nuclear explosion only to be attacked by brainwashed, zombified Russians.

This quickly is revealed to be the work of the white martians, whom the Justice League had tangled with before. Unfortunately, the efforts of the white martians are remarkably well coordinated. By making the oxygen on Earth less flammable, they are less vulnerable and having harvested human telepaths, they are ready to take over. They incapacitate the Justice League and move on toward total world domination, leaving humanity with very little hope for survival.

This story in JLA: Terror Incognita is the thrust of the book. The white martians are characterized as almost entirely sadistic and monolithic in their evil nature. Their plan is an ambitious one and it seems like it actually had a decent chance for success, which is why J’onn J’onzz was taken out by them first. I knew a little about the martians from Brightest Day (reviewed here!) and this seems to fit what was alluded to there.  But in creating this story that focuses on J’onn J’onzz, other characters get neglected for their abilities. So, for example, Wonder Woman is characterized in her own titles as being vastly smarter and more proficient with her lasso than she appears in JLA: Terror Incognita. Similarly, despite the ability of the white martians to phase from solid to immaterial, the Flash – who has similar abilities – is thwarted ridiculously quickly.

JLA: Terror Incognita, then, is a tough sell on its own. Much of the book hinges on understanding an event that happened prior to this book, in which J’onn J’onzz made a wish to not be lonely any longer. JLA: Terror Incognita does not present the character with any real sense of loneliness, so it is tough to see this as a story where the Martian Manhunter grows or develops. But, more than any other character, JLA: Terror Incognita is focused on him.

“Bipolar Disorder” is a one-chapter story that seems to fit into a larger Batman story. That Batman story apparently has the Joker releasing a serum that transforms people into Jokers, much like in the film Batman. The issue comes up in this book because Dr. Polaris has been Jokerfied and is causing chaos with the world by robbing the south pole of its magnetism. The Justice League is called in and Kyle Rayner and Batman clash over who ought to take down this Polaris; Batman because of his experience with the Joker or Kyle because of his history with Dr. Polaris.

The whole purpose of this story appears to be, troublingly enough, to simply teach Kyle Rayner the value of planning ahead. The story seems compacted and is not nearly as interesting as it might be in the context of the larger story. This is another one where the characters are not all fleshed out as well as they ought to be, even Dr. Polaris.

“Merry Christmas, Justice League – Now Die!” has Plastic Man telling a child the story of how Santa Claus became a Justice League member. I, in the process, discovered again that I am not a fan of Plastic Man. The story is amusing but not terribly substantial or serious and it caps off a frequently dark book on an emotional downbeat.

The artwork throughout JLA: Terror Incognita is good, but nothing exceptional. The characters are all recognizable, but it is clear to the reader which panels the artists cared about and which ones they were simply getting through. This is not an extraordinary graphic novel on an art front, but it is not terrible, either.

That, sadly, is the epitaph of JLA: Terror Incognita. It is not a great book, not a good book, but it is not terrible, either. That does, however, make it remarkably easy to pass by.

For other Justice League books, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Kingdom Come
Identity Crisis
Justice League: Secret Origins
Justice League: Generation Lost – Volume 1
Justice League: Generation Lost – Volume 2
Justice League Of America: The Injustice League
Second Coming
Justice League Of America: Dark Things


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

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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