Justice League of America #21 (2006)

Justice League 21
Justice League #21 (2006) cover

 Continuing on in my quest to “catch-up” on the now “defunct” DC Universe circa 2006-2009, I pulled this issue to formally start my adventure into Final Crisis.  This comic has a cover date of July 2008 and was written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino.  The writer, McDuffie, died in February of 2011 at the age of 49.  Random factoid:  I read somewhere that he had a masters degree in physics.

At first I did not like it very much at all.  However, after reading the story through and spending more time looking at the cover, I think its basically a good cover in concept, but there are some challenges that knock it down from being a great cover.  In the background we see large city buildings, giving us a setting for this issue.  The two characters are not ones I am familiar with at all, and I daresay that most DC readers at the time were probably not too familiar with them either.  In the foreground is Libra and standing in the center of the image is The Human Flame.  Libra is holding a staff of some sort that is topped by a small hanging scales of justice. The staff serves as a visual aid to draw one’s attention to Red Arrow, who’s limp tattered body is being held up by a smirking Human Flame. If you’ve spent this much time checking out the cover, you will probably now finally see Hawkgirl.  Those are actually her wings that are cluttering up the center of the image and appear to be on fire. Hawkgirl is the problem with the image. The wings are messy and at first glance I thought they were just burning kindling. Her left leg is bent at an impossible angle and honestly, she’s not very easy to recognize in this shot. Its not a bad cover, but the art for Hawkgirl is messy.

Anyway, the issue starts at the Hall of Justice in Washington, DC with Wonder Woman and Batman bantering a bit. Superman shows up and we learn that Batman came to the Hall so that the other two could present a secret “slideways” room.  Only these three and Green Lantern know about this room – which is basically just a table and chairs for the big three to sit and discuss/scheme/banter in.

In these panels is one of the best smirking shots of Batman I’ve seen.  In fact the writing and art for this whole section is really excellent. Not only is it amusing and interesting just as it is, but I think it does a very good job of storytelling. (1.) the new reader is eased into the storyline, so this issue could be a good “jumping on point,” as they say.  (2.) Even if the reader is not new, we are given some clues as to what is happening with Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, and Vixen. All of this is couched in the problematic that these three superheroes want to make sure the League is in good, capable hands without requiring constant supervision from one of these three.

Nearby, in Baltimore, Maryland, we are treated to the thoughts of The Human Flame. He introduces himself while he is in the process of robbing a small branch bank.  He explains how he is able to break in using his firepower and explains his motivation.  As he gets outside of the bank with his stolen goods, the police are waiting and Hawkgirl and Red Lantern are on the scene. The artwork for the ensuing fight is excellent. Frequently, I am slightly irritated by fight-scene artwork because it can be confusing and absurd.  Although this will not be remembered as the greatest fight in comics history, it was a solidly written/drawn fight.  I followed along with interest. And though it seems the heroes have the upper-hand, The Human Flame is able to give them the slip – until Hawkgirl catches up to him in an alley.  And here we are introduced to Libra. He says:  “The scales must be balanced, Hawkgirl.” And to The Human Flame: “I’m the answer to your every dream. Call me Libra.”

At a gathering in Central City, we find Libra introducing The Human Flame to an ever-growing group that includes Lex Luthor and other villains.  Libra tells The Human Flame that he can give him his heart’s desire, which in this case is revenge.  The Human Flame wants revenge on the Martian Manhunter whom The Human Flame blames for his life of disaster and failure.  Eight years ago the Martian Manhunter defeated The Human Flame, humiliating him in the process.  The last three frames of the book show Martian Manhunter on an arid distant planet. There is a “BOOM” and Martian Manhunter has disappeared.

It’s par for the course in reading comics to encounter a group of villains who decide to band together and get revenge on the heroes who have defeated them.  This sort of storyline is neither original, nor unique.  In fact, in Marvel Comics’ Dark Reign/Dark Avengers event, we find The Hood (Parker Robbins) attempted to do something similar with the Marvel villains. However, even though the plot device was familiar, I was still interested in the storyline – I wanted to know what had happened to Martian Manhunter. I also wanted to know what was going to come of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their secret meeting room.

It’s been said that this issue is a prelude to the Final Crisis event, and I can see that now. And it is a very good prelude, because I definitely wanted to read Final Crisis to find out what happens next.  Both the writing and the artwork were top-notch.

5 stars

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