Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Remarkably Blasé Story And Worse Artwork Sink JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell.

The Good: Initially interesting premise
The Bad: No real character development, Often listless artwork, Very stale plot
The Basics: JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell pits the Justice League against an ancient evil that is surprisingly underwhelming.

As my Flash Year continues, I find myself reading all sorts of weird DC Universe graphic novels while I await the next Flash books. While some of them are hit or miss, I was actually surprised to realize how little I enjoyed JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell after I finished reading it. While reading the book, I knew it had issues, but the more I analyzed it, the more I realized I pretty much loathed the book. Ironically, the incarnation of the Justice League Of America featured in JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell features Wally West, who is my favorite incarnation of the Flash.

JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell is also my first encounter with a graphic novel that features Lex Luthor as the President of the United States of America. The subtle jab at Bush-era presidencies is actually cute, though the book does remarkably little with the character. Instead, JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell uses six of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe to combat a single entity that makes for one of the least compelling villains ever created in the pages of DC Comics.

Members of the Justice League of America are spread out doing their own things when seemingly coordinated attacks begin around the world. Theymyscira’s floating student island explodes, a series of LexCorp scientists kill themselves and there are explosions in Gotham City and one that Linda Park investigates. It does not take long for Superman and Lois Lane to coordinate the data to realize that LexCorp is somehow behind the strange pattern of destruction worldwide. J’onn fills in the blanks when the artifacts causing the destruction are recovered and revealed to simply be pages with an alien writing on it.

After informing the president, the Justice League teleports to Las Vegas, where a fissure has opened up and is menacing the world. Abducting Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Batman, the Martian Manhunter and Superman, the entity known as Z – the God Of Terror – prepares to judge the world. Separated, each member of the Justice League fights their own nightmares in order to attempt to defeat the God Of Terror.

What starts with an interesting setup quickly turns into the mundane, when Z’s challenge to Superman and the Justice League of America is revealed. The “surprise” is anything but and writer Warren Ellis clearly is influenced by the original Star Trek and has a fundamental lack of understanding about the Flash. The fact that Superman detects an anomaly based upon speed that the Flash does not is entirely ludicrous. Moreover, he seems to be pretty unable to tap into the psychology of Wonder Woman.

Ironically, Ellis uses the brief appearance of the Oracle in JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell to create the most compelling argument that Z actually is the God of Terror. Over the course of a few panels, Ellis and artist Jackson Guice recreate Barbara Gordon’s sense of fear at being shot and paralyzed by the Joker. Unfortunately, this scene stands out in JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell and ultimately – despite having a decent point – it feels like filler.

JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell is utterly lacking in character development. In fact, what understanding there is of the characters involved seems to be brushed aside pretty much the moment that it becomes plot convenient to do so. So, for example, J’onn Jonnz has a well-established fear of fire. In order to combat Z, there comes a moment when the Justice League has to create a large fire in a very small space. To address J’onn’s feelings, it is suggested to him that he turn himself invisible. ?! How, exactly, J’onn not being visible is supposed to make him less afraid of fire makes no real sense.

Unfortunately, JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell is full of similar weird conceits. Wonder Woman’s fear is, apparently, not failing entirely and ending up the last person on a burned-out planet that failed to heed her warnings, but rather being trapped underwater where she cannot stand and fight. Oddly, the excuse for Z’s utter ineffectual attacks is that it is an old entity. But if the God of Terror is telepathic, it seems like age would not make it suddenly able to dig deeper than mildly uncomfortable situation for our heroes.

JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell is utterly without character development. The book begins with the characters in the same emotional place as where they end it, making it feel much more like an academic journey than one that is actually compelling. None of the characters are shaken, no lessons are learned and the build-up is quickly overcome, pretty much proving that the fate of humanity was never truly in the balance.

As for the artwork, JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell features remarkably simple artwork, though the coloring is decent. The characters frequently appear as very under-detailed versions of themselves. There is not a strong sense of movement within or between the panels and the result is that JLA Classified: New Maps Of Hell falls utterly flat.

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
The Tornado's Path
The Lightning Saga
Justice League Of America: The Injustice League
Second Coming
Justice League Of America: Dark Things
JLA: Terror Incognita


For other book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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