Justice League #14
Writer: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Artists: Jim Cheung, Steven Segovia, Mark Morales,Segovia,Tomeu Morey & Wil Quintana
Back in the saddle! Back to reviewing comics after a five-month break! And where better to start than with the new Justice League, right? A kick in the pants! A jolt of energy to get things started!
[reads Justice League #14]
….Yeah, that figures. Of course I’d review the first issue of the run that’s NOT action-packed. Of course.
Ahh well! It’s a solid issue anyway, and I’m excited to be writing again! Let’s start off with the art!
The art is incredibly proficient. It looks just the way I want a flagship comic to look, with strong colors and clean linework. The panelwork isn’t exactly thrilling, but y’know… that’s the thing with the art in this issue. The artists are great! They’re doing a great job! But there’s just not a lot for them to draw right now. It’s a people-talking comic, so the facial expressions come out fairly well, which is good but kind of a basic expectation for this type of comic. Even though the setting is interesting, it doesn’t get a lot of play. What little designwork the artists get to do is good, especially the giant superstructure around Thanagar Prime and Kendra’s special map-wing things. Basically, the art is great, but because the issue is slightly less than exciting the art comes out as slightly less than exciting. Also, I will note a small missed opportunity: There is a festival in this story that John, J’onn, and Kendra attend. Kendra mentions that she hopes they packed something formal, and I was all set to see them in cool formal versions of their costumes, but no! And you can’t make the argument that “Well, they didn’t pack something formal,” because all three of these characters have the ability to change how their costumes look at will (Hawkgirl could have used her wings). So that was just a small disappointment for me. But the art’s good! It’s good.
Okay, this is where things start to get a little more interesting. The story begins with the phrase “There is power in a secret,” and I couldn’t agree more. The story then goes on to use the word “secret” precisely 16 more times, with one of those times being a repetition of the initial phrase, and I find myself agreeing a little less each time. There is power in a secret, yes, but the power of any literary device begins to wane slightly if it is overused, and there is no writer in existence that loves a secret better than Scott Snyder. Look at his body of work. Look at the way his Batman run had secrets that led to Metal, which had secrets that led to No Justice, that had secrets that led to Justice League, which is still going hard on secrets. His secrets lead into more secrets, which is certainly a strength of his, but secrets must be carefully balanced. Observe the following Venn Diagram, made in Paint in about 60 seconds:
This is my patented “Who Knows What” diagram, which shows you the mechanical function of secrets within the context of fiction. In the middle, you have the premise – everybody knows the basics of what’s going on. Secrets that the main characters and reader share become points of strength – a hidden special move, a plan to stop the bad guys. Secrets that the bad guys and the reader share become points of tension – knowing how powerful the bad guys are makes us wonder, “how on earth will our heroes fight that?” Any secrets that the reader is unaware of are classified as Reveals, and once revealed they move into one of the previous three categories. A good writer will have a balance of all of these secrets, and the balance will change depending on the type of story being told. A detective story will probably have a high number of Confidence and Premise secrets and an extremely low number of Tension secrets, for example. Comic books and adventure-style stories, on the other hand, absolutely thrive on Tension secrets: “Meanwhile, at the Legion of Doom…!” The more Tension secrets a story has, the more tension it has. Simple enough.
But it’s here at the Tension secrets where the current JL run and this issue in particular is starting to lose me. See, the writers keep telling me that there’s aaaaaaaall these secrets to be uncovered. They’re teasing us with all these cosmic knowledge that’s right around the corner. But they’re not telling us any of them, and that’s their biggest mistake. They’re saving all the secrets for the reveal, but there’s a limit to the amount of anticipation that a single reader is capable of, and if you overload them with things to expect then the impact of each individual reveal is going to be a lot less interesting and the overall impact of the story will be somewhat less memorable. This issue is chock-full of reveals, but how many of them really resonated? And how many of the stated secrets are you really that invested in uncovering? For me, the answer is not very many. There’s a couple of the secrets I’m super intrigued by, but the rest just seem like they’re there to be secrets. That’s a problem. Here’s what I recommend: use more Tension! Give us a couple of the smaller reveals as Tension secrets, and then let the readers watch the heroes try and find the secrets out for themselves! I guarantee such an approach will raise the reader’s level of engagement in the story.
Aside from all the hullabaloo about secrets, the characters are all very well-done in this issue. It’s great to see J’onn and Kendra interacting, and they each have very meaningful character moments that I really enjoyed reading! It just reinforces how strong this JL lineup is, and it reminds us that Tynion really knows how to write a group book.
The story is solid! It’s a good setup issue, and though it suffers slightly from a lack of balance it still gets us decently hyped for what’s coming next. There’s big stuff on the way!!
Justice League #14
A slightly unbalanced and unexciting issue that nonetheless gives us strong character moments and sets up some very interesting stuff moving forward.