Justice League Dark #23
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Mikel Janin and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The “Trinity War” has been a tightly controlled maelstrom up until now, taking each of the divergent parts of the various Justice Leagues and molding them into homogeneous whole. In the penultimate chapter of the cross-title saga, Jeff Lemire wastes very little time in grabbing the box with both hands and letting the chaos loose. Framed within a narration from the very much alive Madame Xanadu, only a single page is spent on catching readers up on what has transpired in the other tie-ins and related chapters. After that, it’s multi-colored free-for-all.
For an issue that mostly amounts to a superhero version of pass the parcel, as the hot potato of Pandora’s Box has a catnip effect on the hero community, Justice League Dark #23 is still a wild ride. Lemire packs the book with twists and turns in this simple setup, making villains out of heroes and bringing those characters that are somewhere in between to the noble side of the force. The final turn may not be seen in advance by some, or understood by others without the aid of Wikipedia, but it effectively sets up the finale and acts as a prelude to the “Forever Evil” month.
It isn’t all perfect, as the many teams of superheroes are often just seen in the periphery, while the so-called Justice League Dark go toe-to-toe with Woman Woman, who begins the issue hopped up on the red cordial of the ubiquitous box. There are moments when it could just as easily be the Injustice video game, with characters occasionally floating creepily in the background with few contributions made directly to the story. It’s a minor quibble, for the series has mostly managed to keep tabs on what even the majority of the minor of players are doing.
Spanish artist Mikel Janin gets plenty of chances to show off the reasons why DC has him exclusively working for them. From the kinetic layouts of the opening montages through to the stunning reveals of a few splash pages involving Shazam, it’s a well designed piece. Mixing up the close-ups with some wider piece of explosive goodness, it’s a clean and simple action style that suits the subject matter.
Everything about this issue feels like a climax, yet with only a single issue to go, it also seems unlikely that “Trinity War” will be wrapped up in a neat little bow by the time Justice League #23 concludes next week. Indeed, advertisements for the “Forever Evil” miniseries and surrounding event more than suggest how this will conclude, potentially spoiling the pot for everyone. Regardless, “Trinity War” has continued to grab hold of the audience from the opening pages to the next-to-last, even if next week’s final chapter proves to be less than definitive.
Superior Spider-Man #16
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Every villain is the hero of his own story - and maybe that's why you can't help but feel a pang of sympathy reading Superior Spider-Man #16. In many ways, Otto Octavius isn't actually the focus of this comic, as he ruthlessly hunts down the new Hobgoblin, Phil Urich. Still, while there's a decent amount of emotional content as Urich has his fall from grace, the book's assorted subplots wind up making this chapter feel a little light.
Given Otto Octavius's penchant for going for the jugular, you might be surprised to see how dialogue-heavy Dan Slott's story is this week, as he really cranks up the tension Urich is under, as Spider-Man reveals his secret identity to the world. Just like Phil was conceived as a dark mirror image to Peter Parker, he still shares that underlying fear of being exposed - but unlike Peter, who went on the run after he outed himself in Civil War, Phil is trapped among everyone he ever loved. In a lot of ways, Slott truly succeeds in making the Superior Spider-Man into a villain, because he doesn't just beat the Hobgoblin - he utterly destroys his life.
Yet that means there isn't a whole lot of action to this comic, which puts artist Humberto Ramos in a bit of a lurch. Whenever Spider-Man is on the page, the energy spikes, particularly when he brandishes his talons at Daily Bugle publisher Robbie Robertson. What's interesting about Ramos's work is that while his character composition is fairly static, his layouts really lend a dynamic quality to the page - in particular, watching Spider-Man crouch underneath a panel of Phil Urich makes it look like he's actually "ducking" an attack. Ramos's cartoony characters do occasionally stretch our suspension of disbelief, particularly when Phil transforms from a normal-looking Joe to looking wrinkled, haggard, almost drug-addled.
The one problem this book has - aside from letting Phil steal the show from underneath Otto's nose - is that Slott has a lot of subplots still in the air, including the return of the Green Goblin, Spider-Man's probation with the Avengers, AWOL Horizon Labs tech Tiberius Stone, and a whole lot more. For new readers, this is actually a good thing for getting in on the ground floor for what (hopefully) will be Otto Octavius's comeuppance... but for regular readers of Superior Spider-Man, this might read a little too much like recap, at the expense of really playing up the changed dynamic between the Hobgoblin and Spider-Man.
Karma has always been a part of the Spider-Man mythos, and given just how badly Otto Octavius has dealt with Phil Urich, I wouldn't be surprised if the Superior Spider-Man's sins aren't about to catch up with him. Still, this issue falls victim to too much going on at once, with the plot superseding the characterization - something that could have really made this comic memorable, especially considering that Peter Parker and Phil Urich were two sides of the same coin. Still, it takes a lot to juggle that many subplots, as Dan Slott succeeds where many more writers would have totally failed. Ultimately, Superior Spider-Man #16 isn't a bad book, even if it also isn't one of the unfriendly neighborhood web-slinger's strongest outings.