Justice League #14

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Tony Daniel, Matt Banning, Sandu Florea and Tomeu Morey

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Don't blink, or you might just miss it. With the "Throne of Atlantis" storyline fast approaching, Geoff Johns has to quickly wrap up the Justice League's battle with the Cheetah — but considering the rock 'em, sock 'em tone this book has had since the get-go, this conclusion feels a little too fast. While the stop-and-start action might give you whiplash, Johns' character work continues to pique my interest in this comic.

I've said before that Justice League is a very different animal than anything Johns has written before — it's not thematic, like JSA, it's not mythology-building, like Green Lantern, it's not even character-distilling like his all-too-brief run on Action Comics. Justice League is about backstory, about giving characters new meaning and new context within the New 52, and the three characters that really get the spotlight here are Wonder Woman, Superman and the Cheetah. This is where the book truly succeeds, even if these new backgrounds and new insights come second to the action beats. I like it when Johns asks if the Cheetah corrupted Barbara Minerva, or if it was the other way around. I like it when Superman shows us he fights for the little guy, saying that doing the right thing can be "as simple as Smallville." In particular, the Superman-Wonder Woman romance has some surprising heart to it, and is already feeling more organic than attention-seeking.

That said, the action — the other main draw of this book — is a victim of page count here. Last issue, we had a super-speedy Cheetah running around the Congo, having not just gone toe-to-toe with the entire Justice League, but having also infected Superman with her magical curse. That's huge. That's a threat. Unfortunately, it's also a threat Johns don't have much time to go into, so Superman is KO'd with disappointing ease (and not even by a member of the League), and Cheetah's comeuppance and capture is so abrupt, I honestly thought the next scene was a flashback. Given how many different powers and personalities are at play in this book, it does feel a little disappointing that the action sequences weren't more memorable.

I will say, however, that artist Tony Daniel does feel right at home with this book, particularly with colorist Tomeu Morey at his back. Little touches like the Flash blurring in the background of a group shot look great, and there are three splash pages with the Leaguers that look particularly iconic (seriously, this might be the most badass I've ever seen Aquaman, and that's counting his own series). In terms of character design, Daniel almost seems to be emulating that ultra-sharp Top Cow style (which may also have something to do with the energetic greens and reds of Morey, who reminds me a lot of seminal Top Cow colorist Sunny Gho). Sometimes that hampers Daniel's expressiveness, but he does make up for it in composition and panel-to-panel transitions.

I'll admit that as far as conclusions go, Justice League #14 doesn't quite have the explosive ending that I was hoping for, but that's not to say there isn't plenty of good here, as well. This feels like the victim of scheduling rather than the flaws of craftsmanship — it honestly feels like there needed to be one more issue to adequately wrap this saga up, so Johns had to rapidly tie up all of his complications rather than let them play out. While the main objective — the showdown with Cheetah — might feel a little underwhelming (at least for now), Johns and company still sell their secondary goal — the dynamics within the team — with aplomb. There are plenty of sparks flying between the members of the Justice League, and I think that will only continue to increase, making this comic a title to watch.


The Amazing Spider-Man #698

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Richard Elson and Antonio Fabela

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

With only two issues of The Amazing Spider-Man remaining, I can only hazard a guess that the worst is yet to come.

When Peter Parker, he of the renowned "Parker Luck" says that "today is going to be the best day ever!" readers can automatically be assured of the reverse.  Naturally, by the book's final pages, after following a day in the life of Peter Parker - with all of the attendant joys (time with Aunt May and making time with Mary Jane) and regrets (a brief, highly effective bit of contemplation regarding his life choices), those suspicions are fully confirmed.

Now, Dan Slott has a lot of explaining to do - and I'm rather looking forward to seeing how he pulls off the "how" behind this latest complication.

The final, highly-vaunted twist, shatters the charming mood and bonhomie of this issue of The Amazing Spider-Man - retroactively turning the light, character-driven exploits of the previous pages (and perhaps spinning back to as far back as "Ends of the Earth") into something astonishingly disconcerting. What makes it doubly effective is, ending aside, it reads very much like any other Slott-penned issue of the series, containing smart characterization, exciting, sometimes tongue-in-cheek superheroics, and a dollop of the soap-operatics that defines so much of the interpersonal elements in Spider-Man's world. When he goes on to completely subvert that tone with his ending, it's a pretty marvelous switcheroo.

In point of fact, I would actually recommend reading the issue twice. After knowing the end result of this latest confrontation between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, the events of the issue read rather differently, and readers may pick up on certain tonal points planted throughout, which hint at the fact that not all is well in Parkerland. Of particular note are the extensive internal monologues and soliloquies from Peter, which range from the highly-formal, to the too glib and facile - even for a character known for his wisecracks. In point of fact, over the course of two-pages early on - involving Peter changing into his civilian duds, and listening to messages - Slott writes dialogue that works marvelously on two character levels - particularly Peter referring to Aunt May as a "dear, sweet woman."

This new reveal is also very much part of a Spider-Man storytelling tradition - calling to mind the stories involving the Vulture sapping Peter's youth, or the climax of Tom DeFalco's entertaining Spider-Girl series. The manner in which Slott's final major gambit proves to be both surprising while paying homage to the narrative heritage, is one of the issues many strengths.

The dialogue throughout is crisp, and the characterization allows for much in the way of development - Slott gives us wonderfully warm moments between Peter and Mary Jane, which work to sate the wishes of readers fond of that particular pairing, while in reality doing nothing of the sort. It's this sort of paradoxical effect that ultimately lends a bittersweet, poignant quality to some of the moments in the book. There's also plenty of light humor on display - a new villain, "Destructor," makes his brief debut (and final appearance, I would imagine) here, and his design by artist Richard Elson is a hysterical paean to metallic excess - it's one of the books lighter moments, and it works well. An appearance by the Avengers serves as a nice tie to what Spider-Man's membership to the team has meant in recent years, while continuing Slott's "curtain call" of the last several issues. He also provides Wolverine with some particularly biting lines, which serve the character well.

Richard Elson's sharply rendered art moves the story along at a brisk pace, and the combination of his staging and panel layouts provide a sense of constant forward motion. Particularly praise-worthy is a page involving Peter's slinging into this apartment. Elkins uses a skewed wide-panels, emphasizing the sense of downward motion from the skyline down to the bedroom. It's a simple, oft-used device, but very effectively done here - providing a real sense of kinetic energy, and giving the motions a natural, seemingly effortless flow. His depiction of Doctor Octopus as a withered is simultaneously and sympathetic - as we see a towering intellect reduced to an atrophied shell. Antonio Fabela's color work is equally crisp and buoyant, lending that superheroic pop and sheen to everything - and providing each location with its own distinctive palette - Mary Jane's club, with its gaudy purples and neon hues is a particular standout. The book looks absolutely wonderful, with a crispness of line, and elegance of expression.  Kudos also to Chris Eliopolous's lettering - his use sound effects evoke those from the hey-day of superheroic fisticuffs, and when someone screams "Spider-Man! Help!" the terror is palpable in the text.

Knowing that Amazing is coming to an end in two issues, and a new series is starting is one of the reasons this final moment between these two men works as well as it does - there is a definite sense that what is at stake is real for these characters. The pacing is swift, and Slott takes the time to make sure many of the major characters have a moment to shine here - Aunt May's first steps provides a gentle emotional moment, as well as furthering the conflict between Jay and Peter. Ultimately, what makes this issue truly successful is the fact that even without its devastating final pages, the story would still be an entertaining Spider-Man yarn. The subtext added by this new tangling in the long narrative web of Peter Parker's life lends a gravitas and darker edge to the issue, giving it all a fresh raison d'être. It's always nice to read a superhero comic that fully embraces its genre and style - and this one's a real doozy. I tip my hat to the creative team for taking this sort of risk, and pulling it off in such a smart, understated fashion.

Twitter activity