Justice League #51 review

The Flash, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern and Superman are flying back to Earth after the gruelling space saga of the last few issues.

In the back of their minds, something is speaking to the individuals heroes, digging around in their subconscious.

Back in the Now, they realise that their course has changed. They’re heading for an unknown world. As they enter the atmosphere, the heroes are confronted with the horror of mangled corpses floating in the air, spat out of wrecked spacecraft. On the ground, the League members go into action.

As the World’s Finest team of Superman and Batman wonder at the odd familiarity they’re feeling, it’s Barry Allen who finds the ‘survivors’.

They soon work out what they’re dealing with – the Black Mercy! It’s right there on Philip Tan and Jay David Ramos’ creepy cover – the flower that gives you everything you ever desired, things you perhaps never ever knew you wanted, but at a price… eternal imprisonment in a comatose state. Introduced in the instant classic Superman Annual #11 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the question is, how do you follow that? The Black Mercy was a great maguffin for a What If story cum Mongol slugfest, but once the reader – and the heroes of the DC Universe – know about it, where’s the drama?

Well, writer Jeff Loveness is brave enough to have a crack with this latest League story, and the first thing he does is make the Black Mercy sentient. And big – here we meet the parent plant from which the flowers bloom – think little Starros and their big momma. Black Mercy as giant redwood – the League members know what they’re facing, but it’s so damn huge. And it takes them by surprise, sending, it seems, psychic spores into their systems even before they enter the atmosphere – the Black Mercy begins messing with the heroes’ heads long before it claims their bodies.

Loveness has my attention, adding to the original mental ickiness the body horror of familiar heroes not simply attached to a Black Mercy flower, but entirely skewered by the power plant.

And there’s some really nice writing here, with the metafictive noodling feeling very DC zeitgeist.

‘The story called you back.’ That fits right with the stuff Scott Snyder was doing in his still-unfinished recent Justice League run, but you don’t need to know that to appreciate it.

The characterisation is nice too, with Diana the perfect leader here and no one getting their Spandex in a twist about it – I dislike stories that have heroes whining about someone taking charge; if they’re equals it should just be a matter of who’s the first to step forward, who seems best suited to the situation – and here it’s Diana, with her Amazon military training.

I deeply appreciate that Barry is the Everyman of old, rather than the moron he was written as by Snyder, presumably to fit the character in the Zack Snyder film.

Penciller Robson Rocha and inking partner Daniel Henriques are a ridiculously underrated pairing, constantly popping up on DC books with great-looking storytelling. Yes, it’s very much house style, but it more than gets the job done. Here they blend sci-fi superheroics with horror to fantastic effect, putting a sharp spin on the haunted wood trope. The Black Mercy visions are a treat – I love their classic Wonder Woman, and the nod to Superman’s original floral fantasy. And you likely notice, in the panels showing Diana’s leadership, how both John Stewart and Barry Allen are already getting to work – it’s excellent stuff. And the final page is a real shocker.

Romulo Fajardo Jr mutes the colours for the fantasies, while the real world sequences feature an intense blend of garish reds and putrid purples. Plus, we get the clarity and emphasis of Tom Napolitano’s lettering – it all makes for a great package, edited by Andrea Shea and Alex R Carr.

My one qualm with this issue is the idea of a sentient Black Mercy, but that’s part of what makes this an original take on the monstrosity. It’s not simply a parasite, it thinks it’s the good guy – that’s interesting. I look forward to seeing where we go with this next time.

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