Poor Justice League Odyssey…
This strange cosmic take on the Justice League seemed to be DC’s attempt to do something wild, unconventional, and character driven but with the gravitas and star power of a core title. Whatever the intentions really were, this book has never had solid ground beneath it. First changes behind the scenes caused two complete issues to be scrapped and reworked from scratch, leading to the necessary departure of the series’ eye-drawing artist, Stjepan Sejic, after issue #2. Carmine Di Giandomenico came aboard to give the series some visual consistency in issue #5 just in time for its writer to depart. What hoped to be a seismic player on DC’s stage alongside Snyder and Cheung’s Justice League has fallen so far…
So, DC has handed the series over to one of the most celebrated writers of cosmic heroes still working in the industry. The question is can even Dan Abnett right a ship that has been asked to sail through such unkind waters?
Well, this first issue doesn’t provide an unambiguous answer. In the pros column, Abnett wastes no time establishing the stakes of the conflict and picking up the fraught but potent relationships between the main cast. Darkseid gets a lengthy turn in the spotlight and, though there’s more to say about the specifics of his characterization, he proves a surprisingly engaging faux hero.
On the other hand, Abnett’s dependence on omniscient narration will probably ruffle a few feathers and even those who don’t mind could find it a little excessive. As charismatic as Abnett’s Darkseid is, his situation is far more interesting as a concept than a prolonged battle scene. In general, character actions are interesting but it’s hard to gauge motivations and whether characters are acting out of the ordinary. Not to mention that, if you’re not reading Justice League, you won’t know what happened that’s got Darkseid so freaked out. Then again, despite a number of helpful editorial captions to other references, all the mentions of JL are strangely oblique.
As I mentioned, Abnett picks up Joshua Williamson’s take on Darkseid and runs with it. To be honest, none of the characters are written in such a different way that there’s a noticeable disconnect. Darkseid’s plans stand revealed after the events of last issue, leaving him an unambiguous villain, but Abnett wisely plays up the degree to which he feels heroic. This Darkseid is not the stoic generalissimo of Superman: The Animated Series or the god of evil abstracted beyond use of Kirby’s original tales, but a hero who’s outlived his morality, carrying it with him into a more civilized age. Throughout the story Darkseid fights viciously to hold the dark end of the universe at bay with his own hands and Abnett ensures that, even if Darkseid himself never mentions it, you are certain that that noble sounding goal is pursued not even out of self-preservation but so that Darkseid has something to conquer and enslave.
It’s also really fun to see Darkseid at war with the memory of Brainiac. On its face the Collector of Worlds seems a little out of his depth taking on the god of evil, especially when he’s usually and currently pitted against a mortal intelligence like Lex Luthor elsewhere, but Abnett makes it feel more than believable and watching a surprised Darkseid struggle against a threat that has little chance of killing him but an unusual ability to cause him real pain has an odd appeal. That said, we get five pages of meaningless combat (Darkseid, by the text’s own admission, isn’t even paying attention) and besides Di Giandomenico’s engrossing depictions of a god’s struggle and some intense cosmic colors, there’s very little visual or action-based value to these pages. They largely exist to give Darkseid a place to voice his thoughts and the droning orders of the Anoot-kin don’t help that.
Speaking of villains, Blackfire shows up again and positively radiates menace and authority. It’s lovely to see, though she definitely gets a couple of weird moments too. My sincere hope for the series is that Blackfire will continue to operate as a separate and valid faction within the Ghost Sector, both for the sake of her character and the depth of the world as a whole. I mean, she’s saying some of the things I’ve been screaming at the characters since at least issue #2.
The other big highlight of the issue is Jessica Cruz desperately arguing with the rest of the League. These moments have a fantastic authenticity to them as each character approaches their own goals and psychological needs with differing degrees of intensity. Like many disagreements between heroes, the scene feels like it actively avoids easier resolutions in favor of the most conflicted path, but that’s writing 101 so I can’t be too upset with this issue specifically. Cyborg’s relationship with Jess is fantastic and it leads to a secret coming out that instantly adds another layer of tension and intrigue to the plot. This Azrael fan is unimpressed with Jean-Paul’s simplistic outlook in this issue, but that’s petty personal preference.
Carmine Di Giandomenico has wasted no time making this series his own. The sharp, direct lines of Di Giandomenico’s style are natural fits for characters like Darkseid, Azrael, and Blackfire and bring something at once spindly and alien as well as classical and heroic to the title. Admittedly, there are moments where there is less drama for Di Giandomenico to find and some of these feel like they’re just waiting for his next moment to shine, but that doesn’t change the pointed, layered aesthetic that permeates the book.
Combined with the vibrant colors and gentle lighting effects of Ivan Plascencia, JLO really leans into the wild, cosmic look of its setting. The colors allow simple compositions to pop and a fierce scratchy substyle to read easily and without excess. Even the most muted, murky scenes use forceful application of sickly earth tones rather than darkness or muted colors.
Admittedly, the focus of this issue is potency rather than consistency. There are numerous figures and panels that are simple or somewhat awkward if you’re looking and the book is really counting on you enjoying the overall vibe to override or distract you from them. Personally, I notice but don’t terribly mind. After the uncertainty this title endured, I’m happy to see JLO establish a strong artistic identity again and the personality present in the Di Giandomenico and Plascencia partnership more than outweighs these few weaknesses.
Justice League Odyssey #6 presents a strong step forward for the series, even as it takes on new authorial management, however, it doesn’t build upon the upswing of issue #5 either. Both plot and character receive specific and well utilized time this month, but they remain oddly separated and too much time is spent on narration and window dressing in Darkseid’s scenes, even if there is something there. And there is something there. From the emotional beats Di Giandomenico imbues Darkseid’s struggle with to the way you can’t take your eyes off Blackfire to the fantastic back and forth of Jess’ arguments with her supposed teammates, there is a lot to like and more to suggest that these elements have room to grow. But Abnett, Di Giandomenico, and co. have inherited a title that has delivered big potential but not a lot else so far and, before long, they’ll have to make good on it. I believe they really can, but the question is whether they will.
Justice League Odyssey #6 is currently available in comic shops from DC Comics.