This month’s issue of Justice League, written by Geoff Johns with art by Jim Lee, is intense. Beginning with May’s issue, Justice League has begun an arc titled “The Villain’s Journey,” which is an obvious inversion of the “monomyth” story-pattern Joseph Campbell postulated in his seminal work The Hero With A Thousand Faces. “The Villain’s Journey”, which you no doubt were able to deduce from the title, recounts the transformative journey a character named David Graves has taken to become the new arch-nemesis of the Justice League, while also revealing his sinister plot to take down the Justice League in the present. To be honest, Graves has been a somewhat underwhelming baddie the past couple issues – he’s not really that interesting from a design standpoint (he appears to be some kind of crusty Dracula wannabe, but that may be the fault of Jim Lee, who has continued to be a lukewarm presence in terms of art), and Johns hasn’t really developed him enough to be an enthralling force of evil. Thankfully, in Justice League #10, which hit stands last week on June 27, that all begins to change, and the series begins to gain a little substance.
Justice League #10 begins with a flashback sequence in which our antagonist – one David Graves – is recounting his journey to the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia, looking for a supposed “nexus to the worlds of the afterlife” called Mount Sumeru. It is here that Graves makes contact with supernatural creatures named Asuras, who lead him into the Sumeru temple. Fast forward to the present, where we find Steve Trevor, badly tortured from his last encounter with Graves (see Justice League #9). In a very squirm-inducing sequence, Trevor breaks his already mangled hand to slip free of his restraints. Unfortunately for him, once he is free, Trevor is then attacked by some kind of creepy supernatural claws that reach through him, declaring, “His loss is mine. I hunger for his pain. Steve Trevor. FEED US!” Before we can find out what is happening to Trevor, or what the creepy claw things are, we are whisked away to find Aquaman saving what appears to be a giant ocean-liner that has run a-ground. While dealing with some annoying reporters at the scene, Aquaman is contacted by Batman, and he abruptly makes his way to the Watchtower satellite, where Batman has called the League together. Batman explains that many of the League’s enemies have been attacked and tortured by someone named Graves. It is here, while the League is discussing who this new villain could be, that Graves appears before them and begins to take the team out, one by one. The issue ends on a cliffhanger, with Graves seemingly sucking the life out of Superman, declaring, “The Justice League killed my family.”
The scene with the League meeting in the Watchtower is hands-down the best scene that Geoff Johns has written thus far in Justice League. It is during this scene that the series finally begins to feel like there’s some depth behind it, like the characters – which are normally fleshed-out in their own titles – are finally showing some depth to them, some actual characterization if you will. And it all boils down to the dialog. As I’ve said before, great dialog can really breathe life into a story and its characters. Great dialog is something that I feel has been sorely missing from Johns’ run on Justice League, and the series has felt very surface-level because of it. I won’t spoil it for anyone – you should definitely go pick it up! – but just as a quick spoiler-less example, my favorite part of the dialogue has to do with Green Lantern addressing Superman: “You seem like a nice guy,” GL says, “you say all the right things when you do talk. But you’re always floating behind us.” And indeed, when the panel expands, Superman is floating just above floor level, behind everyone else on the team. Great stuff.
If Johns keeps the rest of the series’ dialogue as fresh as the dialogue in Justice League #10, there’s hope that this series will one day rank up there with Johns’ very own Green Lantern series (which, I maintain, is simply one of the best-written comics of all time). In order to get there though, he needs to dig deeper into these awesome characters, especially their interactions – and hangups – as a team. Until that happens, Justice League will remain woefully sub-par for Geoff Johns.