Justice League #59 review

I’m not one for re-starting series willy nilly, but if ever a book deserved a new #1 it’s Brian Bendis and David Marquez’ Justice League. Even though the story continues from recent DC Universe events, it feels as fresh as a Themysciran daisy.

The issue opens in the Hall of Justice with a conversation between an off-page Black Canary and Green Arrow about what the Justice League should mean in 2021

Across the world, the ruler of Kahndaq is attacked by a monstrous figure.

The League arrive to turn the tide of battle. Literally.

Realising he’s bitten off more than he can chew, the creature- ‘Call me Brutus’ – retreats, vowing to return when he’s better prepared.

Back at base, as team members search out information, Ollie and Dinah – who weren’t on the Kahndaq mission – bring their colleagues into their discussion.

Ollie is thinking new members, but that interruption by Superman’s Valet, Kelex, puts paid to the the discussion. For now.

Bendis and Marquez firmly plant their flag in my old JLA fan’s heart by putting Dinah and Ollie at the heart of their team. It seems like decades since we’ve had them both in the same line-up, bickering when they’re not canoodling. And having Ollie suggest diversifying the membership is perfect. Yes, the League has had members of varying cultural and racial backgrounds, different sexualities and planetary origins. They’ve even had an android or two. But Green Arrow is the guy who would remind everyone not to rest on their laurels – to be true to their origins as the Justice League of America, even with the geotag dropped, it must be inclusive. I want to hear more of what Ollie has to say.

Right now, though, there’s the entertainingly curious Brutus to be tracked down, and new hero Naomi looks set to be the key to finding him. And Black Adam will be a key player in taking him down, setting him up for JL membership. But how will Hippolyte, currently mourning the loss of her daughter Diana, come in? And will she go by her Silver Age title of Wonder Queen (oh, please!)? We know she’s coming, she’s right there on the cover, obvious to anyone who caught the recent, terrific Endless Winter event; that heavy shade is fooling no one.

All that black on Marquez’ cover image, coloured by Tamra Bonvillain, is actually a bit of a headscratcher. I first saw the picture months ago, promoting this new run as a tease towards the new line-up, and expected the veil to be lifted for the actual issue. Show me those faces, DC, give me a ComiXology update or something!

There’s no problem with clarity as regards interior visuals – Marquez’ layouts pulled me into the pages, opening up a new era for the World’s Greatest Superheroes. His people are ridiculously attractive without being Uncanny Valley – even Brutus has a certain something. That first page with our heroes’ symbols linked into a unit is striking… somewhere a metalworker is banging out a real-life copy. And if not, why not? I want to see the piece without dialogue boxes.

Marquez dials down Black Adam’s traditional harsh look, reversing the receding hairline and making him less Submariner-ish all round – he’s like the original Captain Marvel but with a more noticeable brow and looks altogether more approachable.

Black Adam is certainly a softer figure under Bendis, from his gentle way with a young boy at the beginning to his acceptance of Superman’s reflex imperiousness as the League turns up in Kahndaq. I doubt his haughtiness is gone for good, though – you don’t add Black Adam to a team and shy away from fireworks.

As for Naomi, she turns up for a panel or two but immediately makes an impression with her refusal to play by the old rules. I like this kid.

Bendis’ script sparkles, the dialogue naturalistic without being mannered. The only question I have concerns Brutus’ entrance on the scene, as he asks ‘Did that look weird?’ Did what look weird? He may mean his crossing over to Earth 0, but we don’t see that moment.

The only other glitch in the issue is a cameoing Barry Allen being coloured as Wally West. Minor communication problem aside, there’s nothing I don’t love in Tamra Bonvillain’s colour art. The heroes pop, the skies are gorgeous and the effects are stunning, especially one involving. Hawkgirl’s mace. The lettering, too, is excellent, courtesy of Josh Reed – it’s enticingly friendly.

A marvellous Justice League story isn’t all this issue has to offer, we also get a superb Justice League Dark back-up – there are 30 story pages now. The feature sees an old ally of one member take a distinctly dark turn, while John Constantine squires Zatanna to Mexico on the DC equivalent of a city break.

Ram V’s narrative is delicately crafted, conjuring an eerie mood while laying out some lovely character beats. He gets major points for John’s very personal spellcraft – I hate it when he’s presented as a point-and-zap mage. And extra marks for setting part of the tale here in the UK… maybe former JLI member Godiva will show up (I am not requesting a Beefeater appearance, though).

Xermanico’s artwork is splendidly moody, especially when he changes style for a flashback. Zee and John look terrific, even if our backwards-talking witch is wearing those demented fishnet gloves from the New 52. John, meanwhile, has left the old trenchcoat at home, what with them being in steamy Latin America. The outfit Xermanico gives the bad guy is excellent, a nice update on his traditional garb – heck, he looks like one of those Silver Fox grandpas the tabloids feature on occasion.

Colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr and letterer Rob Leigh add to the visual success with moody tones and sympathetic lettering. It looks like we have a rather great new JLD creative team all round.

All in all, this is an excellent opening to the latest Justice League run, it’s so good it deserves the classic shield logo up top. I can think of no greater praise.

18 thoughts on “Justice League #59 review

  1. I think Bendis gets characters really well and he has some really interesting plot ideas overall, but the execution of those plots gets muddled most of the time. Granted, I’ve only read a handful of books he’s worked on (Action Comics, Superman, Young Justice, LoSH) but he has a habit of throwing so many characters in to a story that none of them ever really get developed. Legion was a confusing mess. Young Justice started out with a lot of promise but ranged from rushed storyarcs with no real point to exposition heavy issues that were a dull affair. I liked the start of his Action Comics run but Superman felt like it never really knew what it was trying to do in between big cosmic fights. Hopefully Justice League is good, but I’ll wait before subscribing to it again.

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  2. I don’t like Aquaman and I loathe Green Arrow so we’ll see how Bendis handles them. I really hate Black Canary dating beneath her. Bendis made things I previously disliked work for me but he’ll have his hands full with Albatross Man and the hypocrite with the Van Dyke. I also think they have to address Adam’s slaughter hobby. Johns had this weird thing where he couldn’t tell when he’d gone too far with a villain so redemption was impossible. He didn’t hit Sinestro levels with Adam but there’s a whole bunch that was glossed over that prevents Adam from being seen as heroic.

    The back up? I think the best thing to happen to Constantine was returning him to the DCU. I think there’s a place for alt continuity that acknowledges his exile to Vertigo but he filled a whole that Doctor Fate failed at. (Besides the constant reworkings of who he is and Kent Nelson coming back every time on top of me thinking Nabu was a villain right from Fate’s origin and not understanding how the Lords of Order would be fit guardians for chaotic life even before Pratchett). I also applaud what feels like a return of the John-Zee romance. They are the perfect couple…

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  3. You’re very fair as regards Brian Bendis’s work, Craig – I found his Avengers really not to my taste, for example. He rarely seems to get editors who are strong enough to steer him towards a satisfying wrap-up. I’ve learned to buy his books for the journey rather than the destination. Despite disagreeing big time with some of his decisions on Superman, for example, I’ve loved his portrayal of Clark and his family.

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  4. I will never forgive Bendis for what he did to Jonathan but if he does a good job on JL than that is fine by me but he better cut down on his usual nonsense particularly his overly wordiness

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  5. Unmistakable Bendis, but he really toned down the back-and-forth dialog and, while I like him wordy or not, this was probably better. More concentrated but less voluminous humor goes a long way.

    Marquez’s facial stylings remind me of Jen Bartel’s. I think he’s been around a lot longer, and he’s an accomplished interior artist while she seems to be more of a beginner, so perhaps I should say Bartel reminds me of Marquez. Both draw especially beautiful faces, and both leave most of the facial shading to the color artist. (The style on the far opposite end would be the bizarre lines Romita Jr. puts on faces. Most artists seem to land somewhere in the middle, but for me, the less cross-hatching and overly lined faces I see, the happier I am.)

    If you don’t know Bartel’s work, she drew all of Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman, and her Instagram account (@heyjenbartel) features just one stunning drawing of hers after the next.

    I hope Marquez sticks with this beyond one arc, but he bailed on the first DC book he drew, Batman/Superman, after the first arc. Since then he’s drawn a ton of covers for DC, but I guess has been mostly working on his own projects. His work is fantastic, and this immediately looks like it could be a great Justice League run. Certainly it’s going to be a much-needed palate cleanser after Snyder – dialog-driven street-level human interactions peppered with humor, vs. expositionary high-concept nonsense. And it’s going to matter, unlike the odd fill-ins Justice League had after the Perpetua story ended and before Death Metal. (And then the Death Metal tie-ins, and the Endless Winter tie-ins, were dull.)

    Xermanico was fine on JLD, but he’s not at the level of Alvaro Eduardo Martinez Bueno (whatever his name is – he uses various combinations of those names) or Amancay Nahuelpan, who I ended up liking even more. Xermanico is reliable but not as impressive. Ram V is excellent. I don’t always follow the details of his plots, but at least he puts the mood across!

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    1. Thanks for the insights. I’m very ready for less high-concept stories, although solicitations suggest multiversal meddling soon. Still, we shall see how things go down.

      I did praise Jen Bartel’s FS Wonder Woman, here: https://dangermart.blog/2021/01/20/immortal-wonder-woman-1-review/ Perhaps they could pull her in when David Marquez moves on.

      The art on JLD has been great for years now, I’m happy with any of the people we’ve had!

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      1. The meddling appears to be coming from Naomi’s universe or dimension or whatever it is, and was set up in her book. I’m good with that. I’m not expecting a Giant Multiversal threat from the Meta er Omniverse – just a good old, limited invasion. Think of when Young Justice was lost in the multiverse – that was great fun!

        I see you did talk up Bartel in that review. I don’t know if she’s ready for the intricacies of a team book, but I’d sure love to see her on some DC monthly. How about a Supergirl!

        Ah, I forgot she did a Justice League variant cover for Endless Winter – and in fact, I bought it! So, an idea of what her JL might look like:

        www . instagram . com/p/CFAh9Uij_lt/

        Kind of portraity, works for a cover. Lookin’ good.

        Ooh, she did the cover for the Black Canary YA book and it’s stunning. Between the color and the screentone, it’s perfect.

        www . instagram . com/p/CBOWdtYjGvj/

        Aha, her Supergirl, rather unfinished looking but looks great.

        www . instagram . com/p/B7KHnJeA4ls/

        She did a cover for DC Women in Action, which includes a Supergirl – looks kind of stiff, though.

        www . instagram . com/p/B0jmyPKgiF0/
        closeup here
        www . instagram . com/p/BwVC7gCAgtm/

        She’s doing a month of variants for Marvel honoring Women’s History Month including a stunning cover of Cindy Moon (Silk) in Korean garb.

        It seems I’m a fan!

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      1. true let’s just hope Bendis doesn’t make a DC version of The Hood though he may have already done so with Leviathan

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      2. A DC version of the hood would be a character Bendis thought was great that he decided to rectify it being overlooked. Outside of the depressing characters of Future State, which do not need or IMO should be given a push, I can’t think of any new DC character fitting that bill…

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