Saturday, February 4, 2012

Near The Top Of The Average Field, JLA: The Lightning Saga Offers A Fairly Intriguing Team-Up!

The Good: Overall story, Moments of character, Decent plot, Interesting character development in the side stories
The Bad: Very fractured narrative technique, Relies upon some other stories for maximum emotional impact.
The Basics: Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer might once again tie together the DC Universe well with JLA: The Lightning Saga, but it reads as a very average superhero team-up story.

Sometimes, there is something exciting about reading graphic novels and getting an unexpected surprise. In the case of JLA: The Lightning Saga, the surprise is one that relates to my Flash Year, but I cannot reveal, lest it spoil the book for those who have not yet read it. Sufficed to say, there is an important Flash component of JLA: The Lightning Saga that I was not aware of until it came up in the book. It made for a pleasant surprise and is just enough to make an otherwise very average graphic novel worth picking up to read.

At its core, though, JLA: The Lightning Saga is a very simple superhero team-up story that unites the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America. Added to the mix for the bulk of the book are members of the Legion Of The Superheroes from the 31rst Century and that is where the book almost lost me. I have no familiarity with the stories that involve Superman being launched into the 31rst Century and joining the Legion Of The Superheroes. I couldn’t even tell you what era of DC comics that was from (though, from context, I suspect it was from right before Crisis On Infinite Earths). In many ways, JLA: The Lightning Saga is a transition story and the reliance upon this, apparently very old, chapter of Superman’s history was very offputting to me as one who is not exactly a Superman fan.

Following the main story in JLA: The Lightning Saga, there are two one-shot stories that are somewhat less thrilling. Even so, the book has its moments and the artwork in one of the two stories is pretty incredible.

Following up leads that place two apparently insane people on Earth in our time from the 31rst Century, Batman, Superman and the Justice League of America quickly learn that members of the Legion Of The Superheroes have been deposited in the (for them) past. With apparently no memory of who they are or how they arrived there, Mr. Terrific and Batman determine that Starman and a new arrival may actually need their help. By scanning the planet for the Legionnaires distinctive rings, Superman and the members of the Justice Society of America begin a search for the remaining members of the Legion who have been teleported back to the past.

Of course, things are never that simple. While the team-up between the Justice League Of America and the Justice Society Of America goes with an uncharacteristic smoothness, neither organization quite trusts the Legion Of The Superheroes. Their plan is obscured, but seems to have something to do with drawing lightning to futuristic devices in order to attempt to resurrect a fallen comrade. The cost will be the death of one of them, a price that the JLA and JSA members are not willing to let them pay!

Outside a pretty much all-consuming lack of emotional resonance, JLA: The Lightning Saga suffers because up until the very end of the primary story, the motives of the Legion members are entirely obscured. While I can live with knowing that the methods of the impending lightning storm have a problematic undertone, the focus of the impending sacrifice leaves much to be desired. Because so much of the story focuses on the potential that a character I do not know will die to resurrect another character whom I was unfamiliar with, JLA: The Lightning Saga is a tough sell. In fact, writers Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer seem to realize this frequently throughout the book. As a result, the recognizable characters in JLA: The Lightning Saga often try to rebrand the book as a crossover between the Justice League and the Justice Society with the characters gushing over one another.

Sadly for the writers of JLA: The Lightning Saga, the readers are not fooled by this attempt at rebranding!

The artwork in the main portion of JLA: The Lightning Saga is good, but not great. The panels have vivid coloring and very recognizable characters – even the ones who are not instantly recognizable. But they do not have a terribly good sense of movement to them within or between the panels (one notable exception when Superman realizes he has been duped). Regardless, the quality of the artwork does not negate the fact that this is a very plot-driven story that does not truly develop any of the characters readers are likely to care about.

Following the main story in JLA: The Lightning Saga is a one-shot called “Walls.” In “Walls,” Red Arrow and Vixen find themselves trapped in the dark in a collapsed building that they soon learn is trapped underwater. In this story, the two prepare for what seems to be an inevitable death and Red Arrow determines that he is not going to go out without a fight. This is when Vixen, who has been without her ability to take on the properties of different animals, is forced to confess to him that she no longer has her powers and cannot save him . . . or herself.

“Walls” is an intimate story that is actually surprisingly engaging. The character story is a compelling one and it continues to advance Vixen’s character through what appears to be a very long arc (it has come up in several of the other Justice League books I have read). The artwork in this story is phenomenal and helps set the very dark mood. It is like a rougher series of paintings than the classic images used in Kingdom Come (reviewed here!). This story is actually the true gem of JLA: The Lightning Saga and might be the real reason to pick the book up.

Unfortunately, JLA: The Lightning Saga is capped off by a surprisingly poorly written story. Jumbled throughout time and different eras in the DC Universe, the story mashes together the yearly attempts by Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman to come together to pick the current roster of the Justice League Of America. The less I can say about this story the better; the artwork is fine, but the narrative technique is annoying and it fractures the story in a way that is utterly incomprehensible. This story alone almost robs the book of whatever points it gained for the inclusion of “Walls.” Moreover, this story – which is utterly lacking in character development – is entirely reliant upon a pretty comprehensive knowledge of events (mostly major, to be fair) in the DC Universe to be even remotely understandable. It is not worth the time to try to unravel it.

In the end, JLA: The Lightning Saga is little more than it initially appears. It is a mostly-plot based trade paperback anthology that has a wonderful cover gallery at the back, but lacks enough substance to really land it with serious readers.

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


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing.

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