THIS WEEK: In Justice League #59, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez launch a new era for DC Comics’ flagship team title, and it feels good.
Note: the review below contains spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdicts.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Marquez
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Josh Reed
Look folks, I’m not going to mince words — I found Justice League #59 to be an absolute delight, start to finish. And as such, this review is largely going to run-down the reasons I enjoyed this book, plus a bit of context about where this new run fits historically, as well as a bit of prediction about where it’s headed. This is the first time that Justice League — DC Comics’ flagship superhero team title — has had a new lead voice since writer Scott Snyder and his collaborators took over with Justice League No Justice #1, all the way back in May 2018.
Before I get to the list of what all I enjoyed about this comic, I’d like to talk about what stands out most from the start — the shift in the basic nature of the run. Snyder’s run was essentially one long foundation for a major event, that being Dark Nights Death Metal. Everything Snyder and co. did from the start was a precursor, promising that SOMETHING HUGE was coming. And I liked it — definitely more than most — because it gave the title direction it had lacked since the 2016 start of the Rebirth era. Snyder’s run was a sprint toward something big, even if it at times ran in place as it awaited the launch of said event.
This new Bendis and Marquez run, by comparison, feels more traditional and less concerned with being Important, with being grandiose. That’s refreshing. It’s been a long long while since we’ve seen any of the machinations of the League as an entity. We didn’t see it during Snyder’s run; we didn’t see too much of anything coherent in the Rebirth run; and we didn’t see it during Geoff Johns New 52 run, which felt like the writer trying his hardest to establish himself as the DC Comics mastermind.
In Justice League #59, we get a big action opening when a new threat shows up and tussles with Black Adam. We get the rest of the League coming to help, and we get the villain retreating to the actual depths to combat Aquaman (and a wall of sharks!) before eluding capture and retreating through an extra-dimensional door. That’s a lot, and yet at the same time, we also get Green Arrow and Black Canary contemplating whether the League can and should be doing more.
I really appreciated this. For at least a decade, creators have made the League feel like an untouchable institution, a fact of this world that requires no maintenance or thought, an unwavering pillar only vulnerable to threats from the outside. It was a small moment, but that exchange between Green Arrow and Black Canary can and should presage a new approach to the title, one that uses its reach to bring in more characters from throughout the DCU, as the best runs on this book have done historically.
And while that sort of rethinking was what made the strongest impression on me, I found quite a bit more to enjoy within this comic, too. David Marquez and colorist Tamra Bonvillain are so cohesive with their work that it almost feels like this art just materialized, fully-formed and nigh-perfect. This is one of the most polished monthly superhero comics I’ve encountered in ages. It’s beautiful, and its action storytelling is as clear as it gets, reminiscent of the biggest set pieces that Bendis and Marquez put forth in their late Marvel years on books like Iron Man and The Defenders. In short, it looks amazing.
The last creative choice that really endeared this run to me from the start was entangling it with plot threads from the Naomi miniseries, which have been waiting for their time while the bigger DCU (and the editorial department in the real world) shifts and realigns itself. By picking up bits from the past, the book already feels a bit less contrived than it might have otherwise, just a bit more thoughtful, and this to me is reason to be excited for the rest of the run.
This first issue also conveys a strong feeling that endeared me to both Bendis’ Superman and his excellent Nick Derington collaboration, Batman Universe. There is a feeling that Bendis is awed by getting to use these characters after having spent two decades playing with the toys at Marvel. In small moments between punches, his script gleefully leans into what makes the DC heroes iconic, giving Black Adam a page in which he towers as a benevolent ruler while also feels the weight of being nigh-immortal. Or, getting to deliver us a quick back and forth between Green Arrow and Black Canary. Bendis is having fun writing these characters, and that very much fun comes through on the page.
I tend to enjoy Bendis’ work overall though, which to me uses voice and a fearlessness of new ideas in ways that I don’t often see elsewhere — inside or outside of comics. I’m aware that some folks find this off-putting, of course (I have the Internet), and I doubt that readers who are deeply entrenched in that camp will have their minds changed. It’s 2021; minds don’t change. But I have a hard time seeing the majority of readers coming away from this comic disappointed; it looks too good and feels too fresh-yet-familiar.
- DC Comics has undeniably slimmed down its in-continuity superhero line. This week, for example, we got three traditional monthly titles (one of which had a back-up story in it), as well as an artist showcase anthology. And you know what? I’m really enjoying having less to read every week. Everything feels stronger, more streamlined, and better focused. Plus — I’ll be honest here — at my age with everything I have going on, having less to read each week is a Good Thing.
- So, as I wrote in the lead review I loved Justice League #59, and yet, it wasn’t even my favorite DC book this week. That honor goes to Nightwing #78, which I did not write about because by pal Joe Grunenwald already did an excellent job articulating why it ruled in last week’s advance review. In short, this might be my favorite Nightwing comic ever.
- Superman Red and Blue #1 is a mixed bag, as anthology comics inherently tend to be. There’s an odd whiplash of tone, catapulting between severities and making it tough to process this book holistically. To me, the standout story is Human Colors by writer Dan Watters and artist Dani, the creative team behind experimental indie comics critical darling, Coffin Bound. This short excels by embracing the concept of the anthology (it only uses reds and blues) to put forth a more philosophical Superman story. It’s also the most complete and satisfying read in this book, and I hope we get more of this team working in the DCU.
- Finally, Ram V. and Fernando Blanco are really cooking on the Catwoman title. They used the run-up to Infinite Frontier to put dense plot dominoes in place…and now they’re having a blast knocking them over. What results is a mercilessly-stylish comic, with great tension and taut action storytelling. I’m a fan.
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Plus, less equals more in DC’s new slimmed down publishing line.
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