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Subj: Justice League of America #5 - Great Rao! Where Art Thou?
Posted: Sat Nov 28, 2015 at 02:36:10 pm EST (Viewed 513 times)
I Genuinely Have No Idea." - Jonn Jonzz.
A dive into this weeks titles just out and Bryan Hitch's Justice League of America glistens forth from the rest as the first that must be read. Five issues in to a story concerning mankinds repressed need for messiah's and miracle Men to solve the worlds ills and Bryan Hitch's debut story is proven to be as traditional a JLA tale as you could ever hope for, expect nothing less than 'traditional' and Hitch's Justice League will not dissapoint you. It has no ambitions to be anything but generic Justice League of America. Which as discussed Previously is not what we expect for a Bryan Hitch production, but, charmingly, still no bad thing to be either.
So the League is faced with the Messiah that is apparently Kryptonian God Rao and his followers, arrived on earth and quite literally solving the worlds problems. And very successfully too. Batman suspects, obviously, but the rest of the League is slow to choose sides and be critical of Rao, Green Lantern and Flash have found themselves conveniently caught in an accidental trip back 250'000 years into Kryptons's past where they discover they are in the era that may shed light on who and what Rao is. And somewhere else Superman begins to ask questions about Rao's aims in doing the impossible and ridding society of their various problems... until Rao himself appears and demands to know what Superman is doing. All very interesting to follow, a familiar plot certainly, but it entertains. And so arrives Justice League of America #5, which picks up the unfolding tale...
Except, it doesn't.
This is a guest issue of The Martian Manhunter intead. But wait - Martian Manhunter isn't a part of the book under Hitch? No, he isnt. So what the...?
Lets get right to the point and have me admit that it has been ages since a mainstream DC/Marvel title threw me off and baffled me as much as this one did upon opening it. Imagine the disconnect that would hit you as a buyer and reader if you picked up Grant Morrison's fresh new JLA back in 1997 and with issue #3's arrival instead of Morrison/Porter, Martians, Batman and the Justice Leaguers, it is an inventory issue of Aquaman by Joe Bloggs & Arthur Daley with guest artist Ivor Bigun, with an assist from Barry White... imagine it... the crushing awfulness of it. The terrible waste of a books prestige launch, your money, and your time.
Proving that a first page can be the one that sets the tone and quality for the rest of the story that follows we open up the book on the JLA orbiting Watchtower and a Jonn Jonzz in the distant background looking morosely down off a balcony at the peculiarly positioned Leaguers on the floor expanse below him. The Flash is racing around the floor for reasons only he knows, Superman is stood strangely position to a Wonder Woman who seems to be walking by him while shoving The Flash aside, Cyborg is with Captain Marvel being harrassed by The Flash(?), The Flash meanwhile is tending to an... experiment?
It is difficult to know what is going on on this page, other than the artist for these two opening pages can't compose natural figurework and draws extremely poor faces for his characters. And that is Philip Tan by the way. arginally more successful is Jason Paz, who then illustarates the rest of the tale. Set in the past one might well believe this story will reveal some secret history that better reveals the Martian Manhunters history with the League, but no, no, this story which then unfolds turns out to be nothing more than an alien and loner forcing himself to go out in the world and do something. There have been many Martian Manhunter tales in the past where we have seen just this, what it is that Jonn Jonnz does on a quiet day, but nearly all of these tales are possessing of more warmth and interest than this one from Matt Kindt & Rob Williams.
Why is this tale set in the past? To contrive to connect Jonn with his mysteriously brief time with this League, of which we have been told ended spectaculary badly? Or to offer some insight into what makes Jonn do what he does perhaps? The reasoning for the past-tense is not at all clear, but Kindt & Williams join the ends quickly to have Jonn go on the trail of a serial killer who marks their work as by " Thoth", Thoth is targeting members of a fringe conspiracy group of slackers who are obsessed over Mars and believe Martians are hiding amongst us, though confusingly for the reader Jonn appears to be actually well aware of Thoth and has met him before. On Mars?!
Tracking the trail of Thoth's victims leads quickly to the freshest, finding police detectives already on the scene leaves Jonn immediately suspicious, and the very next moment that suspicion is noted by a telepathic someone who greets Jonn. Thoth, posing as one of the detectives. Thoth has claimed to be a Martian but as he transforms this is no Martian as Jonn understands it, this is some form of demon. Who then introduces himself as The UnNamed.
The two confront the other and The UnNamed taunts, Jonn's telepathy and deductive intuition tell him that this creature is an ancient and alien creature who's true body died long ago and now travels from victime to victim, taking a host and doing what it has to to survive on an alien world. And in him Jonn sees a good deal of himself, this is what he too could one day become, and so then the moral of the story is realised. By admitting to the fact and seeing a possible and real future that could unfold Jonn is being educated on what role he should take here on this strange planet that is Earth. From his debut in Stormwatch to teases of his untrustworthiness back in the early days of the League this story sets about smoothing the rough edges of the character and assuring us the audience that this Martian Manhunter really is ittle different than the Manhunter of old - he just wants to observe, protect, and find a place for himself.
Battling his evil counterpart equally the contest seems an even one, and Jonn has to admit to the parity and a growing doubt as to how he can end this. Fortunately events then come to play that offer him an opportunity as The UnNamed targets an old man stood curiously waiting on a rooftop Jonn takes events into his own hands, knowinng this demonic force intends to take the man as a host Jonn has no hesitation at all in instantly diving forth and wiping the old mans mind! Thereby setting The UnNamed up for a doomed attempt at a possession that is empty and vulnerable. Quite what he does next is not at all clear but The UnNamed explodes with one good punch and the Old Man's mindless shell collapses. Believing his opponent is now dead leaves Jonn the time to then restore the old Mans mind to his body, and begin to contemplate what he has experienced here and how it will shape him going forward.
Being fair to the story, it isn't awful. It isn't great either, but the more fundamental point to it is that it is both utterly out of place in this title and not welcome from an audience expecting to see chapter five of the billed Bryan Hitch storyline. Perhaps that isn't DC's fault, perhaps it was truly unavoidable, but in which case something that is actually compatable to the title and its stars should have been endeavored to be met. Not someone as foreign to the book as The Martian Manhunter.
Jonn Jonzz was a key member of the previous short run series of Justice League of America along with Stargirl, this new one though is one which he has had nothing to do with and why it is DC felt this would be a good place to showcase him is a complete mystery. After Four issues is this title boring Bryan Hitch? Has the lukewarm reception to it dulled his enthusiasm as well as DCs? Why no word of explanation for this unexpected filler?
For its failings this fill-in story does have some points to praaise nontheless. For instance s Jonn Jonnz discovers his just glimmering connection to humanity and absorbs his conntest with the UnNamed the moment is contrasted by the sight of him walking the red sands of Death Valley, an extremely effective visual as artist Jason Paz and colorist Jeromy Cox complement the other by presenting it in red light and parallelling it as a Martian landscape Jonn is walking across. That he would stay here is logical in the context, but for its attempts at humanising Jonn the story also struggles to present a cohesive narrative, and the relevance of the name of Thoth and how Jonn knows him is difficult to follow. Adding to the irritations that the faces of Justice Leaguers are dropped into the opening and end pages is also distracting as it is so very forced, as this isn't remotely a story that concerns the League, Jonn barely knows them, but here they are, hammered onto the page for no real reason than to try and validate its existence. But then this is filler, as poor a substitute for a modernday Justice League of America book as you will find. The more depressing fact of the matter though is that I resent the issue as I opened it up fully expecting my wine and steak, and instead was handed a packet of crisps... Unsalted.
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