Justice League #19: A ride worth taking
(Almost) perfectly funny
I frequently praise Scott Snyder for his use of humor in Justice League. He has managed to strike a good balance between fun and real stakes, and I appreciate that. I always feel like I'm reading a comic book, but it's a comic book that thinks bigger than most of the other super-books on the shelves. Justice League #19 marks the start of Snyder's six-issue return to the title after a spotty few months (he and his wife are expecting another child), and he's brought back the ridiculously amazing art team of Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez, as well as series constant Tom Napolitano on letters. Beyond Jimenez's obvious storytelling capabilities, his versatile aesthetic, whimsical character designs, and seemingly boundless imagination are a better fit for Snyder's Justice League than any of the other artists who've worked on the book.
The laughs are plentiful this time around, and I enjoy it all in the moment; but, if I'm picking nits, there's a moment or two when humor in the mouth of Batman seems misplaced. The worst offender by far is when, after a certain character declares that Metropolis is more fun than Gotham, Bruce later responds under his breath that Gotham is, in fact, more fun. It seems a bit too casual and unfocused for the Dark Knight; and for all of the love he shows toward his hometown, I've never been led to believe that "fun" plays any part in nurturing that affection.
Focus makes a world of difference
The scope of Snyder's Justice League epic is intimidating. There's the seven energies, their dark opposites, Perpetua, the breaking of the Source Wall...other stuff. It's a lot to keep track of, and if the grandiosity of vision were all this story had going for it, I think it might be in trouble. But from Day One, Snyder has focused on a character or two in each issue and arc, and the approach has paid dividends. Yes, there's some crazy cosmic crap going on. Yes, I don't understand the half of it. But my favorite heroes are in the middle of all this, too, and they don't understand the half of it, either. I can suffer the unknown if I'm in the company of the Justice League, and following them to the answers—and seeing how that pursuit challenges and changes them—is a journey I'm happy to take.
This time around, the "zoom-in" character is Superman. I'm not sure which interviews and previews you’ve read, so I won't spoil the biggest reveal, but suffice it to say that Superman is the obvious choice once you know who we're dealing with. And so with us following Clark Kent more closely, Snyder treats us to some crowd-pleasers: some well-intentioned deception in the Daily Planet office, so that Clark can slip past the Chief and join his fellow Leaguers; citizens of Metropolis looking up in the sky as he flies over; and, Clark making his teammates wait while he stops a bus from running over a little boy's dog. Jimenez sells these moments perfectly, whether it's the wry smile Clark has for Perry, or the unstoppable grin on his face as he flies through his city. Check out page one:
At first glance, it's pretty easy to spot the obvious visual leading Jimenez does here. Just follow Clark from panel to panel, Jimenez recovering from the second panel's rightward movement by sneezing Clark back toward the left. As a side note, that A...ACHOO!! is a delight, and when I reached out to letterer Tom Napolitano to congratulate him on it, he told me it was actually Jimenez who penciled that in. So he's good at that, too.
Anyway, the eye-leading with Clark is an obvious device, but have a look at Perry. You can trace a line from his first appearance to the end, as well—but that's not all! When Perry first enters, he's to the right of Clark (from our perspective). He remains on that side until the last panel, "blocking" Clark's forward motion. But in that final panel, with the mischief done, Perry is at last behind him—not just literally at Clark's back, but from our vantage point as left-to-right readers, behind him in the panel, too. A-mazing stuff. But there's more to it than neat technique. This sort of whimsical motion through the page matches the tone of the opening scene perfectly. Clark is being playful with Perry, and Jimenez is in turn being playful with us.
Turn back if you don't want to be spoiled
Snyder has already uncovered the big character reveal of this issue in an interview, but I still don't want to spoil those who've not read or looked at future covers, so here's your warning. You can skip the rest of this review if you haven't read Justice League #19; but if you have read it and want to know what I think about some of the more specific goings-on, scroll past the dead air and read on.
As best as I can recall, we last saw Mxy during the Superman: Reborncrossover between the two Superman titles back during Rebirth'sfirst year. That was a memorable appearance, to be sure, but the dynamic there was the sort we would expect: the imp, uninvited, intrudes upon, and starts messing with, Superman's world. It all turned out okay in the end, as Rebornwas the event that merged elements of The New 52and post-Crisis timelines (doing away with the historical coexistence of New 52and post-Crisis Superman), gave Superman red boots again, and made the DC Universe a better place (for a little while, at least).
I love love love that the JL is turning to Mxy for help. This is the kind of crazy crap that I love in this book. We thought Snyder was making things big by expanding outward and encompassing more heroes, villains, worlds, and what-have-you, but then he says "what if we expand to the Fifth Dimension, too?" Mxy is a fun character, sure, but it's more than that: when you're dealing with the foundations of reality, it just makes perfect sense that the League would at least consider whether or not he could be of assistance.
Before I talk about the implications of his "help," how about his hallucination-retaliation sequence when he first shows up? This is where Jimenez's imagination really comes to bear, and if you've ever seen a finer cadre of malevolent, toothy buildings and cars, I don't believe you. This is crazy, crazy stuff, and I love every moment of it.
Anyway, as you know, since you've read the book already, Mxy points the League towards the 6th Dimension, the penthouse of the Multiverse (as Starman calls it). Here is a place outside of time, outside of place, outside, even of imagination. It's a place for a select few beings capable of going there, and that is where the League must go. At least according to Mxy. Who's either a lying turd bastard, or not as smart as he thinks he is. Because Superman gets sent to a custom-fit death-trap galaxy, and the League gets to play fantasy futureball with some creepily-handsome, salt-and-pepper-haired, future Superman and Justice League that—so says they—actually won the fight with the Legion. Plus J'onn and Kendra made beautiful Hawkmartian babies together.
Look, I don't know what the heck is going on (the point, I think), but I like it, I want to know what's up, and I'm happy to follow Snyder, Jimenez, Sanchez, and Napolitano through another five issues to get there. With the quality dialogue, story, artwork, and lettering, It’s a ride worth taking, and honestly, that’s all I ever wanted from this series.