Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Call of the Wild in Justice League of America

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In the last issue of Justice League of America, I was waxing poetic at the subversion of rich lost wildling boy as written into the character of Makson. We’d ended the issue with Batman and Black Canary’s suspicions proving correct, with Makson having gathered all of his family in order to murder them all.

We jump right into the action with this follow-up and see that Makson wants all of his family dead because some of them are responsible for SKULL being sent to the Valley of Monsters to murder Makson in the first place. Ironically, they missed Makson and killed his reptilian mother when they could have just left well enough alone. Makson doesn’t exactly enjoy being around humans to begin with. Greed is a terrible thing.

Luckily, Batman had sent Vixen, Killer Frost, and the Ray to the family gathering and they’re able to prevent Makson from actually shish-kabobbing any of his family members. No kinslayer trait for you, Makson! It’s all wrapped up rather neatly, though I do wonder how Makson was able to fight off members of the JLA without having any actual superpowers himself. No matter, thanks to Batman, Makson’s awful relatives are going to jail, and Makson gets to go back to this valley. Yay for a happy ending?

Not quite. The Ray is still upset at Batman not wanting to trust Makson in the first place, and then not being willing to shake his hand farewell when they put him back in the valley. There’s a line in the issue where Makson and Batman are confronting each other, and Makson asks, unaware of Bruce’s past if he wouldn’t want to kill those who hurt his family. Bruce, of course, says no.

But it comes back to the issue that the Ray doesn’t know Batman’s history. Vixen tries to run some interference, but Ray isn’t having any of it yet. She comments to Bruce that Ray just doesn’t understand where Bruce is coming from. This isn’t the first time a character in Rebirth seems to not know Bruce’s origin story. Jessica Cruz was unaware of it in last week’s Justice League, even though we know that Bruce relayed some of his history to her previously.

Also, this is probably Batman at his best. He was one of the few who never gave up on Jessica, so it’s a bit odd that he’s so standoffish to her in Justice League.

Now, I’m certainly not wanting to say conspiracy, but I find it odd that more than one character conveniently doesn’t know Batman’s story in Rebirth. Maybe this is just a coincidence between two separate authors to explore interpersonal relationships, or some history being retconned. But something is feeling slightly off, and I plan to keep my eyes peeled for other titles I follow to see if this pattern repeats itself. I like my King of the Grumpasaurus’ being charmingly cranky, but it’s not quite fitting for him to have a disconnect with characters like Jessica, or even the Ray.

Elsewhere, Lobo continues to be Ryan’s… older brother/worldly uncle figure? It’s honestly quite charming. Steve Orlando has managed to work a miracle in taking what was once a ridiculously over-masculinized character and float him back down to the realm plausibility. Lobo had, for some time, become laughably violent, misogynistic, and flat out overpowered. New52 tried to rebrand the character into a sleeker, more handsome package with noir wrapping, but many of Lobo’s long time fans revolted. Granted, Lobo was radically changed. Some of the criticism, however, was on the more disturbing trend of glorifying said previous behavior without any recognition of how absurd and problematic it had become.

Orlando with Rebirth has managed to bring Lobo back as a character who, while still the Main Man, has moments of thoughtfulness. Oh, he’s still down for a wild time and some epic violence when called for, but JLA’s Lobo can be self-reflective and willing to bond with his teammates. When Ryan expresses how he can’t understand how bloody and violent Makson became, Lobo admits that anger can make a person do some pretty dark things… like smoke their entire people over a cross remark at school. He goes further in nudging Ryan to own up to his feelings for Caitlin, saying he knows Ryan is braver than he wants to think he is.

Look. When handling a character like Lobo, it’s very easy to veer off course. Orlando has kept the essence of a character but made him tolerable for a larger audience who had been previously turned off by Lobo’s violent excesses. Lobo is still Lobo, but I actually look forward to seeing him every issue instead of rolling my eyes.

And, if it hasn’t been blatantly obvious, I’m not a Bats fan. New52 and some of his darker runs have turned me off of him, but Rebirth has been working overtime to help rehabilitate him. Orlando’s Bruce is still grumpy, and that’s fine. Happy-go-lucky Batman is fondly remembered for Adam West and the Silver Age. That wouldn’t work now. But what Orlando has given us, and what we’ve seen mirrored in James Tynion IV’s Detective Comics is a Batman who is humbler, and more willing to work as a team. And to take input from his team and realize that he has very real limitations.

There’s a reason Batman wanted Mari on his team. She has an emotional centering that he lacks, and she is able to be the public face of their group. As a powerful businesswoman in her own right, they complement each other, and push each other as necessary. Dinah serves a similar purpose, able to call Bruce out on his bullshit, while still being able to back each other up when their bat-senses smell bullshit. Orlando furthers the story of a Bruce Wayne who is legitimately trying to be a better hero and a better friend, even if there are a few bumps along the way.

The art, as usual, is on point. Felipe Watanabe’s penciling allows for a wide variety of facial expressions, especially for Makson as he veers from psychotically feral and terrifying, to sad and lost, and then at some semblance of peace. Hi-Fi’s colors are always welcome and add a vivid palette splash that enhances every issue.

By the end of the issue, we’re given a tease for something involving the Ray and a new arc called the Wishkiller. This should be fun.

Fanfinity Rating: 8/10

Justice League of America #9

Writer: Steve Orlando

Pencils: Felipe Watanabe

Inks: Scott Hanna

Colors: Hi-Fi

Letters: Clayton Cowles

Images courtesy of DC Comics

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