When we last left the Justice League of America, they had defeated Lord Havok and the Extremists, saving the world from their New Fascist Order. Yay! This issue kicks off a new arc, revolving around a crumbling city that seemingly sold its soul to a terrorist weapons manufacturer to put food on the table. Boooooo.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Issue #5 of Justice League of America opens with the JLA sans Batman holding a press conference from Happy Harbor, RI, the headquarters of the JLA. Led by Vixen, the team makes an unprecedented move towards transparency and accessibility by revealing their previously secret fortress in hopes of facilitating trust and a working relationship with the public they’ve sworn to serve.
Some of the press are understandably curious. Lana Lang from The Daily Star asks if this means the JLA is going to protect the United States only. Vixen says no. She then follows that question by asking about Killer Frost’s sudden turn to super heroing. Vixen responds that Frosty is committed to overcoming her sickness that caused her to do regrettable things, and that the JLA is committed to helping her with this goal.
Ben Rubel of Catco Worldwide Media asks what this new “open” policy really means. Vixen answers that it’s like visiting the White House. Ben, quite understandably, asks a follow-up question about Lobo’s position on the team. Vixen fires back that Lobo is working on atonement and will save a life for every one he’s taken…
So Lobo’s going to be in the white hat visit for a good millennium then. Because really. That’s gonna be a hell of a long list.
Anyways, back to the press conference. Olivia Ortega of WGBS Gotham wants to know why Batman isn’t at the press conference. Vixen (probably 100% done with Bruce at this point) says that Batman stands by every statement she’s made.
Whew! That’s a lot of information they’ve crammed into just two pages, but the flow works, and I’ll never not appreciate little easter egg references.
After the press conference ends and the members of the JLA go back into their shiny hero hall, a reporter from a previously defunct minor paper, Frances Rock, approaches Ray and reveals that not all is well in his home state of Pennsylvania. Apparently, a weapons cartel has taken over. Penn City is a down on its luck town, with industrial flight, and severe enough job loss that the city council let the cartel right in, and now they’ve taken over.
Ray understandably wants to know why nobody has been talking about this, and Frances reports that nobody bothered to cover it. The people of Penn City were desperate for jobs, and now they have them, working under the threat of bodily harm every day for the head of the cartel, Nikos Aegeus.
And Ray, my new favorite son, stops in his tracks and puts on his best hero face and tells Frances, no. Not every day.
Cut to Penn City and the mayor’s house where Aegeus has set up shop. This dude takes the Greek motif waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too far for anyone not part of the Greek pantheon or from Themyscira. He shows off his wares, and we find out he’s got a partner, Xenos, who builds the freaky Greeky weapons he dreams about.
Also, he hates the idea of order, thinks it’s an illusion, and kinda seems to want to watch Gotham burn.
While Aegeus’ bizarrely-dressed mercenaries stroll down Penn City streets enforcing martial law, freaking Batman zaps in out of nowhere and takes them out.
Now that the JLA’s boots are on the ground, Batman tells Lobo to go charging into the mayor’s mansion and take out the guards, then destroy the nerve center while the rest of the team liberates the city. It’s here we find out that Lobo and Batman have some kind of agreement, and Lobo expects Bats to hold up his end of the bargain. Cue the song “Something Wicked This Way Comes” for foreshadowing.
Naturally, Lobo charges in, and we’re treated to a splendid montage of the Main Man doing what he does best.
Once he reaches Aegeus though, things turn south. Turns out Aegeus dreamed up a spear coated with the venom of the Lernean hydra, which somehow stops Lobo’s regeneration abilities? That’s convenient. The Atom en-biggens, turns out he was sneaking a ride on Lobo to go shut down Aegeus’ mainframe and tries to stop Fancy McGreekpants. Yeah, that’s not happening. He rocket launches Lobo clear across town, breaking up the meeting the rest of the JLA was having with the newly liberated townspeople.
So Ryan’s still in Aegeus’s clutches, Lobo is kinda dying, and a homicidal arms dealer set loose a horde of flying, mercenary-bearing chimeras on the JLA.
One of the more fascinating elements of Steven Orlando’s Justice League of America is how he weaves in complex, real-world issues against a backdrop of the absurd. Flourishes of Golden Age action, grindhouse touches, and the flat-out cartoonish stand as an entertaining spoonful of candy-colored sugar as we explore fascism, the price of peace, and the all too prevalent story of poverty-stricken, forgotten towns in the United States. Towns whose economy was smashed to smithereens by the Great Recession, and were then left behind with the Recovery. People who were so desperate for work to feed and house their families, they accepted a dangerous option that left them worse off than before. But can you blame them? When your back is at the wall, your kids are hungry, and you might lose your home, you don’t have time to think about tomorrow’s consequences.
That’s the problem with poverty; it traps you in the present. Orlando gets that.
The best part of his run with the JLA is that he doesn’t stop at pat answers. His JLA don’t come in like saviors and ride on out. They listen. They offer long term help and help that’s needed, not flashy proclamations that are empty calories.
Andy MacDonald’s art ranges from Golden Age reminiscent cartoonish to grindhouse and in your face action. And yet he finds the quiet moments and gives his art the space Orlando’s story needs to stick the landing. Granted, the colors by Marcelo Maiolo and John Rauch complete the package.
The issue ends with one of my favorite closing cells in recent memory, if for nothing else then it’s just so COMIC-y. Not in a bad way, but in the way only people who love the medium can imagine and create. If you haven’t picked up this series yet, go add it to your pull list. It’s a brightly colored tilt-a-whirl of fun and action, with some very real-world subject matter that will hit closer to home than you’d otherwise let it.
Justice League of America #5
Writer: Steve Orlando
Pencils/Inks: Andy MacDonald
Colors: Marcello Maiolo, John Rauch
Letterer: Clayton Cowles