A large part of my excitement for Justice League Odyssey was the thrill of seeing a very strange Justice League made up of some of my favorite underutilized characters team up with Darkseid for some wild, cosmic adventures. A lot has happened over the past fourteen issues, both at DC and in the pages of this series, but somehow we find ourselves in a completely different place, technically a different universe, but still reaping the benefits of this series: a very strange Justice League made up of some of DC’s best underutilized characters teaming up with Darkseid’s son for some wild, decidedly cosmic adventures!
Dan Abnett has really brought out the best of Jessica Cruz over the last few issues. There’s always something cathartic about seeing someone pushed to their breaking point and coming out stronger for it, but I really appreciate how Jess’ decisiveness still feels rooted in her anxiety and courage. This Lantern is fed up and she will do what it takes to save her friends. Despite this rather glorious evolution, Abnett wisely keeps Jessica’s limitations in mind. Her frustrations are compounded by the fact that she doesn’t really know how she’s survived or how to use her newfound powers and that presents an interesting challenge for such a powerhouse, especially when she’s faced with a foe that doesn’t fear her Omega Beams.
Even better, I love that Jess is clearly working off of incomplete information throughout this issue. It’s most obvious at the story’s start, where she hasn’t been caught up on last issue’s reveal, but unlike many comics, which feel like they’re afraid readers won’t follow realistically slow-dripped information, you can tell that the characters are making educated guesses, some wrong and some right. It’s a little thing that really adds to the tone of any story, but does even more for this one, with its themes of people stepping up and taking on threats above their weight class.
The rest of the cast also gets a chance to shine this month. Abnett sells Blackfire as a proud yet rational ruler without a nation and takes time to put emphasis on her pragmatism as well as her leadership abilities, even implying that she might be the natural choice for field command over more central characters like Jess or Orion. Dex-Starr is not as hateful as I might expect the Red Lantern to be, feeling a little more indebted to his memetic popularity than past appearances, but it’s hard to argue when that’s what created the character in the first place. Even more, Dex-Starr kind of steals the show with his droll, feline matter-of-factness saving the day in a pretty big way.
And then there’s Okkult, now revealed as Orion. Fans of the character might not feel that he’s been given enough to do here, but I find this to be the most promising debut for the character in years, tossed around the New 52 universe as he has been. Abnett isn’t afraid to contrast Orion’s solemn understanding of the stakes against the more results oriented approach of his ragtag crew. The result is an Orion who still demands respect as Darkseid’s progeny and a mighty warrior, but who is too caught up in old habits and modes of thinking; a New God, but one for a universe who’s time has ended. It’s fitting, considering what Darkseid has told us about the fate of the Fourth World (or is it Fifth? It’s a little hard to keep track) and it immediately gives a sense of clarity about Orion and a niche that holds potential in his interactions with the cast.
There are also hints about what Darkseid and his New New Gods are up to. Despite the importance of these scenes to Jess, I can’t help but feel like they add little to the story of this issue. Perhaps in time the exact dynamics of the Justice League’s transformations will be necessary, but right now I can’t help but wonder if this doesn’t remove tension rather than create it. It’s also not as cool as I fear Abnett thinks it is to have Darkseid talking to an underling who only responds in pings. I certainly appreciate the idea of Cyborg being overwhelmed by and transformed into a divine embodiment of his Mother Box, but it can feel silly to have Darkseid play C3-P0 to his R2-D2.
In fact, though it is unclear who made the decision, it feels as though The Machine is still too human in design. Even if it were not the case for the other two, there’s a certain sense to the New God of technology continuing to advance horrifically and the design feels somewhat underwhelming as a representation of Darkseid’s power to corrupt. Still, it’s nice to see Victor and to play up his relationship with Jess. Kory and Jean-Paul are entirely missing from this issue which saddens me, biased as I am towards both of them, but I acknowledge that this is not any of the New New Gods’ issue (despite their prominent place on the cover).
Given that we’re completely missing sections of the cast, you might think its strange that we also get a tease of a new character entering the fray, but I think it’s both a good cliffhanger and smart writing. Abnett is wise not to leave the characters too far adrift in space, and throwing in a reinvention of a classic DC character is a good way to give the series flavor and possibly open up new avenues for the book. I admit though, I don’t expect many people to react with warm familiarity to the concept as it seems to be a pretty deep dive into DC’s cosmic toy chest, especially for a headlining character.
One thing that does feel odd is how our villain is portrayed. I don’t want to say too much, but it seems odd how rational this issue plays the Eskaton. Combined with some very colloquial dialogue, it doesn’t sync too well with the cosmic inevitability of it all. Still, as unstoppable forces go, it serves the role more than adequately.
The cramped corridors of the Astrorunner are not the most interesting setting, but the art does a capable job of making you forget that fact altogether. Will Conrad proves adept at communicating the time pressure of the story, turning the somewhat drab backdrop of the ship into a non-intrusive dash of sci-fi, just right for livening up a moment and providing clarity to the scene.
In keeping with Abnett’s focus on character this issue, there are a number of really nice shots that are focused on giving intriguing glimpses into the characters and their relationships. You can always feel when Conrad has something to say with a character’s expression, it’s clear and heavy with meaning. The reverse of that coin is that you know when he doesn’t, and he doesn’t always.
There are a handful of panels that center largely around characters that are just there to fill time. They leave space for the story and dialogue to advance, but they’re just action and, though they possess Conrad’s characteristic realism, they lack the life that he provides to other moments. At their worst, characters can feel cut and pasted into their surroundings thanks to their ‘caught in the middle’ movement and floaty environment. There are also some anatomical oddities that are not always immediately noticeable but still nearly impossible to miss on some level. Bodies can sometimes seem to have been constructed in sections, with parts resized or moved out of the way as the panel demands. Still, when a panel has a strong foundation, the results are impressive.
Now regularly unmasked, Orion proves a bit of a problem. Without the distinction of Kirby’s style or his classic helm, the prince of New Genesis isn’t exactly recognizable. He looks fine, but his unusually defined cheekbones fail to tell you who this character is. On the other end of things, Blackfire looks great. I think she’s had better crowns than her somewhat generic insectoid design she wears here, but Conrad really gets a lot out of her. She looks fearsome and beautiful without falling into that generic, Othered objectification that consumes many, many comic women. I find it especially interesting to see Blackfire get the full ‘Batman treatment’ and gain pupils at close distances.
For any oddities in their writing, the Eskaton has a near universal menace in its depictions. Conrad really blurs the line between the animal and alien, resulting in something still humanoid but with pugnacious energies somewhere between a gorilla and a bulldog. It’s weight and reactions are not stressed but they come through clearly.
Justice League Odyssey slows down a bit this month, at once zooming in on a tense moment and also providing just enough pause to recognize that the heroes’ plan is undercooked and dangerous. An imprecise and distant villain could leave some fans unimpressed, but Abnett and Conrad take this opportunity to start building a potent team dynamic with surprisingly vital characters. As a result, even though colorists Rain Beredo and Pete Pantazis are working with a fairly earthy palette, there’s a vibrancy that underlies the entire issue and not only keeps it afloat but positions this series for even greater heights going forward.
Especially as JLO embraces the Green Lantern and Fourth World universes more and more, the book is changing, but its core appeal remains the same. A seismic story featuring great characters, well written, who haven’t had the chance to shine they deserve. And luckily, it looks like that’s bound to change.
Justice League Odyssey #12 is currently available in comic shops from DC Comics.