The first noteworthy thing to point out about Justice League #40 is that it has not a thing to do with the Justice League. None of the League is to be found within, the tale told is not set on earth, and indeed the focus is not on Earth in particular, and virtually no one of note within these pages is even of earth.
To illustrate the problem with this issue, one of them at least, the focus of this issue and its narrator is none other than the New God Metron. Metron. Not Scott Free, not even Orion, but the coldly logical and inhuman brainiac of the Fourth World.
Geoff Johns' best work has tended to come when he utilises characters who have an emotional depth to them, a broadly positive humane outlook on the world, these are the characters with true depth as they express responses and emotion recognisable to us, the reader, and possess admirable qualities by which we can aspire to and hope to emulate. These vital human qualities to his storytelling approach however have become less and less present in Geoff Johns' work of recent years, with the brutal bleak hopelessness of projects like Forever Evil and Batman:Earth-One the magic and warmth that once defined Johns' talent and instant connection with the readership has faded with each successive series he has headed. With Justice League #40 the drift away from audience identification within his storytelling has reached the point where his best judgement is that a character as notoriously removed from humanity and emotion as Metron is is a sensible and acceptable means by which an engaging story can be told and used as a set-up to further events to come which will also to appeal to the audiences interest. But the human element is but one of the things missing from this months issue, the other absense is originality...
In truth Justice League # 40 is, for the most part, a competently put together exposition piece, as narrated by New God Metron. But due to this it isn't a book about character or the struggles of the human spirit, it is a book instead about baffling cosmology and dark omens of yet more war and strife for the DC Universe to wallow in. As Metron muses on his own superiority and the secret history of the universe we are given insight into the Apokolips/New Genesis war and his subtle influences on it, in a surprising move we are told of his awareness of not just the Crisis on Infinite Earths but every single subsequent revision to the universes since, he was there, he saw it all and he has full recollection of these supposedly now deleted events. We learn of the origin of his distinctive Mobius chair and the fact that is once belonged to The Anti-Monitor. We learn that the Anti-Monitor is well know to Metron and some secret ancient history exists between the two. We learn that the Anti-Monitor has a name - Mobius. We finally learn the location of Darkseid's absent Daughter and the identity of The Anti-Monitor's Herald. We see Metron's concern over the brewing and inevitable clash between Monitor and Darkseid, the effect he fears it will have on this still unsettled new universe... Yes, there is plenty to be had within these pages, they all but drip with intriguing reveals and trivia, what they do not have however is much point.
Perhaps given the green light given to Convergence it shouldn't have come as great a surprise as it did. But the spine of Johns' plotting throughout this issue concerns the history of the DC Universe, and the fact that everything the publisher comprehensively wiped away forevermore in 2011 to start afresh from Year One is somehow deeply relevant and of vital concern to the theoretical fresh new audience the publisher cultivated in the four years since. Cue then impressively rendered double page spreads of characters and events supposed to be forgotten about as we see vistas from the Crisis, Zero Hour, and so on. Right from page one the overriding first concern Geoff Johns is selling to his readers is that the Multiverse cannot stand another reboot, no more Crises' must occur as the fabric of reality cannot survive yet another revision... the curious impression given from this massive exposition dump is that it feels more like a plea coming from Geoff Johns himself than Metron.
Suffice to say this book made my head spin somewhat. It has some amazing visuals courtesy of fine talent like Jason Fabok, Kevin MaGuire, and Phil Jiminez, there are some interesting details furnished concerning the nature of DCs mangled and irretrievably lost history, but more than anything it is very much the sequel to 2006's Infinite Crisis. The same fan thinking underpins it, the same grimness and desperation is seen in its presentation, and even the same artists contribute. So how has this backwards looking letter of complaint as to the state of the current DCU been deemed acceptable by the same management that forced the 2011 rebooting and have, until recently, kept to the initial promise of that rebooting? Why suddenly the overhwelming concern from management for its own willingly jettisoned and obsolete past?
An issue of Justice League without the League. Nothing of human concern within its content, and nothing with a soul. Techically this is an efficiently told story, as strange a mandate as it is, but If anything this issue is just a tickbox of plotpoints and nonstop exposition which is the sort of promotional set-up we have come to expect from the Free Comicbook Day give-aways, part fan-service, part promotional setup. Certainly though it is out of place in the Justice ,and any regular will be justified in feeling cheated by the absence of the said Justice League within these pages...
It is a point repeated by Geoff Johns again and again throughout this issue - the DC Universe cannot stand another wholesale rewrite. It is exhausted.
It is easy to suppose that this plea comes straight from Johns' own heart, as at his height Geoff Johns was rightly lauded as being the saviour of many a tired or mothballed character concept which had been run aground through years of gross mismanagement or a failure to unlock their true potential. All of this rehabilitation was done through exploiting existing continuity and honouring the original good intentions which drove the concepts, Johns skillfully used DCs rich history and continuity to repair, refresh, and move forward characters who were then instantly embraced by a duly impressed and appreciative audience. Since 2011 and the rebooting of the publishing line such a conservative approach was made instantly void, and the after-effect has meant times have not been so rewarding for this much praaied writer who is at heart a traditionalist. Without the established backstories and continuity by which to weave new possibilities there has been a visible degree of attrition and emptiness to be found in the writers work, so to see such a heavyhanded critique of this cycle of rebooting which his publisher sponsors coming throughout the pages of this issue of Justice League one does wonder if things are really as united as we are led to believe at the top of the DC Comics' executive chain of command... Justice League #40 serves up such extraordinary visuals and plot elements that it can be interpreted in no other way really. Here is a written admission and criticism that the DC Universe is struggling to function anymore, thanks to the ongoing ceaseless meddling and erosion of its very structure.
Johns seems to have fixation, and that's without knowing what may be behind te scenes, with Crisis. Three of major Crisis stories have been penned by him, and none with the strength of the original, nor the impact. Perhaps he wants to get it right? Whatever the case may be, he's right, if only in exegesis, that the DC Universe cannot withstand another reboot. . . and yet something must be done. Didio's warning that story with trump continuity is on full display, as Superman is depicted on a motorbike in his books, and as his N52 self in JL. It's obviously not sustainable, but what is the alternative that will stabilize this all ready threadbare patchwork?
R. I. P. Kato: A good friend to one who has so few