Heroics in Such Uncertain, Fractious Times: "Justice League #19"

Steven Romano

Geoff Johns returns to his core characterization of the heroes of the Justice League -- super-humans desperately trying to be as human as possible.

Justice League #19

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Gray Frank
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2013-06

Comicbook writers have always drawn upon inspiration from a number of real world sources that they use as the foundation of their stories, with perhaps the most influential of these artistic muses being the cinema. It’s not at all surprising as both comics and movies, at their most rudimentary levels, are a marriage of crafted words and carefully considered imagery that coalesce into a unique whole. Oftentimes, comic scribes will either pay homage to the directorial panache of a particular film’s creative visionary, or attempt to infuse their favorite genre into a series they’re working on, shepherding it into a bold, new direction.

Justice League #19, steadily approaching the upcoming conflict in the long-teased “Trinity War” event, is a prime example of this cinematic influence, though, admittedly, writer Geoff Johns’ tip of the hat is nothing short of overt, borrowing historical elements from Ben Affleck’s recent monumental dramatization of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, Argo. Nevertheless, do not misconstrue my observation as a critique. In fact, I believe it is this very inspiration that makes Justice League such a groundbreaking blend of costumed vigilantes and concern over global affairs that redefines the superhero genre for 2013 onward.

In similar fashion to this month’s gatefold covers that conceal the jaw-dropping (of course, your choice of descriptive buzzwords may vary) revelation or development within each respective DC Comics title, Justice League #19--drawn with the consistently fantastic degree of artwork we’ve come to expect from Ivan Reis and company--is an embellishment of what actually occurs, belying this issue’s strongest point. Yes, Batman, as he always has in the days before the New 52, does indeed keep a secret shard of kryptonite handy in the Batcave—of which was stolen by a mystery infiltrator for sinister ends that remain to be seen. This, in addition to the impromptu infiltration of the Watchtower satellite by longtime Justice League nemesis Despero, pale in comparison to the more substantial portion of the story involving Superman and Wonder Woman’s acting as superpowered world police with unsanctioned diplomatic immunity.

Returning to my Argo/Justice League collation, the hostage situation and the decades-long civil war that spawned it within the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Kahndaq were, according to Superman, born from the appointment of an unnamed United States-approved leader. A transparent reference to the controversial ascendance of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi under the auspices of the U.S. government. In reality, these political machinations went bust, our nation found itself in the middle of a dilemma trying to rescue its own without inciting further tension. As war wages on in the Middle East, today’s problems may be different, but we still find ourselves hard-pressed to concoct alternative plans of action when faced with a difficult mission. But in a world where Amazons and alien paragons from an extinct race are commonplace, it would seem that the wartime tribulations that trouble us should cease to exist. To Johns, these magic bullets in elaborate costume aren’t as perfect as fantasy has made them to be, if not placing the DC universe on the precipice of war on a global scale.

For the longest time I’ve always felt that when compared to the Marvel universe, DC’s has led a charmed life, its champions of justice are media darlings that would never suffer damning PR. This is the 21st century, however, so while we still can have our colorful menagerie of heroes, they can no longer be the unerring pantheon of demigods whose ultimate decisions aren’t without ramifications.

Johns has been dragging the Justice League through the mud since their encounter with dying-author-turned-villain Graves, graduating from derisive fodder for the tabloids to essentially A.R.G.U.S.’s most wanted. He adds to this further by incorporating the fears and anxieties we have in real life, living in a world where seeing tomorrow is no longer a sure thing. And how can one residing within the DC universe remain calm when the Justice League is likely to incite World War III instead of preventing it? That’s what I’ve been enjoying most about this title thus far: modern day epic heroes walking on eggshells as they find their place among people that grow increasingly wary of their presence. In essence, the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are struggling to be as human as feasibly possible, thus making them more relatable and complex than ever before.

And while we’re on the subject of heroes tapping in to their more humble human sides, Johns is having a wonderful romp shaping Batman into a de facto intermediary for both the hero community and the general public, seen especially when Bats warns Superman and Wonder Woman of the political tumult wrought from their unprecedented rescue mission. Some may complain that perhaps the Dark Knight is getting far too much exposure—honestly, the man has titular series and spinoffs too numerous to even list—but it’s interesting to see how the most fallible member of the Justice League will be playing such a key role as these hectic events transpire, with most, if not all of what’s happening, resting square on his calculating shoulders. We’ve seen this in Justice League International Annual #1, and his criticizing Superman and Wonder Woman’s operation illustrates just how crucial a role he is destined to play.

The continuing adventures of Billy Batson in the Shazam backup story entertains as it always does, the bizarrely enjoyable artwork of Gary Frank never failing to delight with each installment. Yet what I appreciated in Justice League #19 was the connections made between Black Adam’s origin and the main story through mentions of Kahndaq and the terrorist group known as the Sons of Adam. Finally, two separate stories are at last coming together.

Justice League is solidifying itself as the superhero title that acts as the voice of the 21st century, using the drama of its heroes as a vehicle for the uncertainties we are regularly subjected to today. Gone are the halcyon days of infallible, god-like heroes, as the genre takes a more familiar, realistic approach in its storytelling.

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