Justice League of America #29
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Hugo Petrus and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Wrapping up its run, there’s a dichotomy at play with Steve Orlando’s run on Justice League of America. There’s ideas, and then there’s the question of execution. There’s intent, but that also comes crashing against reality. There’s aspirations, but there’s also the need for substance. And I’ll be honest, in a lot of ways, Orlando’s finale issue with artist Hugo Petrus feels like the truest distillation - for better or for worse - of a lot of Justice League of America’s hopes and shortcomings. While the ideas behind this run have that spark of potential, it’s often the follow-through that’s let this series down the most.
Take, for example, this finale issue’s plot - with the god of superheroes dead and the time-traveling Chronos standing triumphant, there’s a lot of cool twists and turns that could happen here. But unfortunately, Orlando’s script feels like it’s largely jogging in place as the Atom finally stands up to his arch-foe, until an all-too-easy conclusion is abruptly lobbed at us. (Without spoiling too much, if a bad guy who wields the forces of history can be defeated by simply stealing his weapon and undoing everything with the flick of a switch, it completely deflates the tension of the entire story.) Additionally, by giving so much focus to the Atom’s thin “believe in yourself” character arc, the rest of the League comes off as largely superfluous, making an esoteric storyline feel even more wasted.
Yet like much of the rest of Orlando’s run, there are some interesting ideas going on that are muddled underneath the misdirected cast - for example, Killer Frost gets a few good beats here, especially when she patches up the Atom for his big moment, while it feels fairly ambitious for this straight-laced cast to get roped into Doom Patrol’s subplots as they deal with the aftermath of the murder of Ahn, the god of superheroes brutally bricked to death in the Gerard Way series. But it’s ultimately the epilogue of this book that really shines, in part because it highlights all the potential that Justice League of America promised but never quite got to deliver amidst crossovers like Dark Nights: Metal - seeing characters like Strange Visitor, Extrano and B’wana Beast join the next iteration of the League is a cool sight, even if it’s a shame we’ll likely never see these concepts come to fruition.
Hugo Petrus, meanwhile, goes down swinging, reminding me a bit of a rougher version of Doug Braithwaite - he is still in over his head in terms of the heady high concept work that Orlando is asking him to pull off, particularly since the majority of Orlando’s pages are at minimum five panels each. But there are some cool beats here, particularly a moment where the Atom winds up jumping behind Chronos in a flash of atomic-powered light, or the triumphant double-page spread seeing the rest of the League in action. But at the same time, Petrus isn’t quite in the showstopper category just yet, and Hi-Fi’s over-bright colorwork doesn’t do him any favors in terms of setting a mood. Given the kind of promise Justice League of America started off with, the series doesn’t so much end with a bang as it does with kind of a thud.
But in a lot of ways, that feels emblematic for Justice League of America, for a franchise that has seen major names try to launch a spinoff series and failing to really catch fire. For Orlando and company, it particularly didn’t help to have this series kneecapped with Batman’s absence during Dark Nights: Metal, robbing this team of a solid figurehead or even a striking modus operandi in the realm of the Legends of Tomorrow or the Outsiders. What is the Justice League of America supposed to be about? That’s the question this finale only barely gets to scratch, capping off this series with a surprisingly quiet end.