The Forest for the Trees: “Justice League #13”

It’s fair to say that Geoff Johns writes epic comicbooks. Since his breakout work on Green Lantern: Rebirth, the man has been constantly looking at the bigger picture, and became one of DC’s line-wide architects, and was promoted to Chief Creative Officer in 2010. Suffice it to say, Johns has changed the DC Universe over the course of his tenure at the company.

Johns’ biggest and most criticized series to date has been Justice League, the flagship title for company’s New 52 initiative. The first arc, “Origin”, was lambasted for being too drawn out with not enough focus on the full team, while the second arc, “The Villain’s Journey” had it’s share of detractors for needlessly introducing a new, overly complicated villain. Others still complain about how the various members of the League are being portrayed or how they interact. In the end, most frustrations with the series can be traced back to a case of plot coming before characters.

I’d argue that Johns is simply using Justice League as a means of ‘world building’. As a comicbook world still in its infancy, the New 52 Universe doesn’t yet have a totally established timeline or gamut of villains. Since each member of the League (excluding Cyborg, for some reason or another) has at least one solo series where they can get character development, Johns uses Justice League to bring the big ideas to the New 52 universe.

Hopefully, Justice League #13 will assuage the critics, as Johns has set aside the forest for an issue to focus on the trees. Specifically, he shines the spotlight on Wonder Woman and her past coming back to haunt the League.

“The Secret of the Cheetah” is about Barbara Minerva, Wonder Woman’s first friend in the human world after she left the island of the Amazons. Being close to one of the world’s most famous superheroes gave Barbara career opportunities that never would have been available to her otherwise. A.R.G.U.S. hires Barbara to oversee the Black Room–the location that houses all of Earth’s unexplainable, mystic, and/or alien artifacts — and she accidentally cuts herself with “a ritual dagger from a lost tribe in the Amazon,” that transforms her into the Cheetah, the goddess of the hunt.

The Barbara Minerva’s backstory is told through parallel conversations–one between Steve Trevor, Batman, and Aquaman, the other between Wonder Woman, Superman, Cyborg, and Flash. It’s a good technique on Johns’ part, splitting up the storytelling for a sequence that could have-in less skillful hands–easily been a few pages of word balloon madness. Instead, we get a nuanced introduction to the Cheetah that explores the League’s reaction to the situation, evolving into more characterization for each of member.

Superman’s struggle comes from his developing feelings for Wonder Woman and his desire to help her with the ghosts of her past. It’s an interesting sequence because both Superman and Wonder Woman are learning how to behave considering their now more personal relationship. Obviously, the kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman gets addressed, but only slightly. Johns is taking his time with this budding romance and giving it time to develop naturally instead of quickly forcing intimacy onto the characters and the audience.

Cyborg and Flash’s one-on-one reveals that Victor lives on the Watchtower. After their adventures, when all the other members go off to their respective cities, Vic stays on the Watchtower by himself. While it may have only been a problem of loneliness at one point, the League’s confrontation with David Graves has left Cyborg unsure of his own humanity. It’s Flash who convinces the cybernetic man that if he can laugh and have a favorite TV show, that’s proof enough that he’s still human at the core. I really hope Cyborg gets more love in the second year of Justice League, as he’s still the most underused major character in the of the New 52.

And while Batman and Aquaman don’t get much page time, their sequence is mostly about Steve Trevor and his persistent feelings for Wonder Woman. It’s not until the team reassembles in the Congo to go after Cheetah that Batman and Aquaman explain what they actually learned from their visit with Steve-that his complete shut-out from the League might be less about protecting Steve’s life and more about Diana protecting her own emotions. It’s an issue that will obviously play a part in next year’s Justice League of America, which will feature Trevor prominently.

Justice League #13 proves that Geoff Johns can write a character-driven story. For so long his focus has been providing the grand schemes that shape the fate of a great number of characters. It’s nice to see him spend more time with the more specific details of these characters’ lives. Since Wonder Woman takes place in the present day, a lot of Diana’s history hasn’t yet been revealed, so it’s nice to see a villain like Cheetah not only being used, but being used in an effective and prominent manner.

RATING 8 / 10