Justice League Incarnate #4 review

Given the events inside this penultimate issue, Gary Frank’s intense cover at first seems an odd choice. There are cataclysmic moments aplenty, but here’s new heroine Dr Multiverse in accusatory mode.

As it turns out, it’s the first panel of the story, as Dr Multiverse – newly imbued with cosmic awareness – tells her Justice League Incarnate teammates the secret history of the DC Multiverse. For Dr Multiverse, read Captain Exposition. The original Crisis on Infinite Earths, and those that followed, are reframed as part of an ongoing struggle between The Great Darkness that existed before anything else, and the Light that followed the Big Bang.

Art by Chris Burnham and Hi-Fi

The compromise brokered by the Swamp Thing didn’t hold, as a dark god watched from the sidelines.

Art by Chris Burnham and Hi-Fi

If you’ve been reading this five-issue mini-series, you’ll have seen Dr Multiverse betray the JLI’s mission, insisting that she has to help Darkseid win his battle against The Great Darkness. After ten pages taking us from the Big Bang through Crisis on Infinite Earths and right up through the recent Metal nonsense, I see her point. The Flash, Superman, Captain Carrot and Batman, though, aren’t convinced.

Art by Mike Norton and Hi-Fi

And so the stage is set for the action-packed second half of the issue, as we move from past to present and hope that there’s a future. Not that I minded the knitting together of decades worth of DC events, I’m a sucker for deep continuity cuts, and writers Joshua Williamson and Dennis Culver make a convincing case that superhero comics really are the Never-Ending Battle, with the Multiverse a body at war with itself, and superheroes as antibodies.

Yeah, it’s big, daft nonsense, but a lot of thought has gone into it, and it’s fun. Plus, we get to see my least-favourite character blasted to smithereens by Darkseid… well, that’s what we’re meant to believe, but it’s already been announced that they’re starring in an upcoming mini-series. The character dynamics are nicely played out, with Superman commanding, the Flash steadfast and Captain Carrot inspirational.

Art by Mike Norton and Hi-Fi

Penciller Mike Norton’s Captain Carrot is the best-looking since he started being used away from Earth C about a decade ago. Too many times he’s looked freakish, horrifying, think Donnie Darko’s pal in a union suit. Norton, though, gives him enough weight so as not to look out of place while retaining his fundamental simplicity, his cartoon charm. The other heroes also look great, but the standout figure is Darkseid, with Norton showing him in one of his two most famous poses (the other is sitting in an armchair…).

Art by Mike Norton and Hi-Fi

Norton draws the middle third of the issue, with the opening super-recap coming from Chris Burnham and the climax handled by Andrei Bressan. The episodic nature of the story – exposition, reaction, FIIIGHT! – lends itself to different hands, and both Burnham and Bressan deliver dramatic, powerful visuals. Burnham is always a massive treat, I love his grainy style, but it’s Bressan who provides my favourite scene, a spread featuring Apokolips’ worst vs the Gentry from Grant Morrison’s Multiversity project.

Art by Andrei Bressan and Hi-Fi

The pages positively glow, thanks to the colouring talents of Hi-Fi – there’s so much going on in terms of characters and backgrounds, but the clarity is superb. The Earth-7 scenes are especially eye-popping.

Letterer Tom Napolitano brings out the blacks for the dialogue of both Darkseid and the Gentry, but the treatments are refreshingly different. The lettering throughout is excellent. And kudos to editors Chris Rosa and Paul Kaminski for being the empty hands holding everything together.

I think I can safely declare Justice League Incarnate a sleeper blockbuster – it started off as a fun mini-series focusing on a parallel League and has built into a story with massive reach and the potential to remake the multiverse (again). And I love it.

11 thoughts on “Justice League Incarnate #4 review

    1. If you mean the guy who gets the slight case of death, he’s from Flashpoint. I don’t know about others but one reason I don’t like him is he was supposed to be part of a finite story and got his ending. The other is that he is everything his archetype should never be. It worked for a single story but it just feels more and more wrong the more he is revived again and again.

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    2. I’m going to name names, I don’t like the Thomas Wayne Batman because he’s Batman, but EXTREEEEME! As Steve says, he was meant to be a one-shot story deal, but he just won’t go away. I won’t be buying the Flashpoint series. Well, that’s the plan…

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  1. I pledged to myself to jump off the never-ending DC Crisis merry-go-round after Death Metal, which I generally enjoyed, and am glad I did. Been keeping up on Infinite Frontier and this mini through various reviews. Maybe Williamson has some big twist planned, but, for now at least, the use of “The Great Darkness” as the behind-the-scenes puppet-master is, admittedly, a fun continuity deep cut (those Swamp Thing issues involving all of the mystical characters are great!!!). But how is it different from Snyder’s use of Perpetua in his Justice League/Death Metal storyline? She, it was revealed, was behind all of the Crisises, including even Hal Jordan’s going bad. Also, the current Justice League title is ending with a Williamson-penned issue that “kills” the members – similar to how Snyder’s run ended in the lead up to Death Metal. I know that there are only so many comic book stories, and that the fun is in the new twists that creative teams bring to them. And maybe if like a decade had passed between Death Metal and what Williamson is doing now I could enjoy this. But given it’s been, what, a year, it’s hard not to see such strong similarities and wonder what the point is? And Williamson was one of the writers who participated in Death Metal, too! Is “Death Metal” just swept under the rug as the “old regime’s Crisis” and Williamson’s will now be the NEW OFFICIAL CRISIS, kind of like when Waid’s Superman: Rebirth was quickly replaced by Johns’ origin of Superman? Not dumping on DC. There have been far worse periods in the company’s modern history. And Williamson is a fun/talented writer and I don’t begrudge anyone enjoying this mini and looking forward to what comes next. But I just don’t get WHY this current Crisis story is being told/needs telling so soon after Death Metal, other than “sales.”

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    1. Oh, I couldn’t tell you where Perpetua fits in, she was just rubbish. It’s tough to keep the Crises straight, so I’m happy to learn what (this week’s) official version is. Didn’t the original big Crisis, Crisis on Infinite Earths, get wiped out at the end of Convergence, but that lasted about a week. Thank you so much for your thoughts, it helps my withered brain.

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  2. This issue wasn’t quite as much fun for me as the previous ones; chalk that up to the opening sequence, which is clever at tying all the various crises and continuities together, but it’s exactly the stuff I tend to skim. That said, kudos to Chris Burnham for the excellent image of all the Crisis baddies as fingers on the same unseen hand under the surface. I don’t know if he’s originated that image or if he’s paying homage to something*, but it illustrates the point memorably and concisely.

    *(other than old JLA covers, which didn’t have that same thematic significance.)

    The Norton art was my favorite; I’m almost always a simpler-is-better guy these days, and yes, his Captain Carrot is the best modern one I’ve ever seen. (Nothing will ever top Scott Shaw!, though.)

    The scene of Darkseid running for his life under a giant foot gave me big underground comic vibes — it seemed designed to take the wind out of DC’s biggest baddie, so it felt massively irreverent. Loved it.

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    1. The old JLA Felix Faust cover – and the one it was homaging, Sensation Comics #109 – may not have had thematic significance but they were corkers.

      Great observation about Darkseid and the foot. I am jealous!

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  3. This one was definitely more cosmic and less goofy than previous ones. Still a few moments of humor, but I wouldn’t call it a parody at this point. It’s taking itself seriously now.

    Though their styles were different, I liked all the artists’ work.

    Regarding yet another crisis: I saw or heard an interview somewhere. Williamson was on the Death Metal writing team, aware of where it was headed. I believe he said he was planning to leave – one of a number of writers who saw no place for them in 5G. Then he was asked to chart a course for post-Metal, which became Infinite Frontier. What I found remarkable is DC had no roadmap even as Death Metal was winding down – they cut it very close to the bone. And I speculate that the 2-month gap of Future State was a publishing pause to give time to reset and prepare for Infinite Frontier.

    All this was a scrambling – post-DiDio, 5G’s approach dead, trying to figure out what comes next.

    I really hope this doesn’t lead to a Crisis the size of Death Metal, though. Or anywhere near it! I kept track – that event had a 7-issue main series, 12 one-shots, and 5 issues of Justice League. 24 books to pick up the whole thing. Most of them in an expanded length and with only card stock covers – expensive.

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    1. I’m not surprised by what you describe, I heard the New 52 was the same – they had the big, general plan in place but no creative teams or directions for a lot of books. No wonder it all went tits up.

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