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Cover date: July 2012
"The Villain's Journey" - Chapter One: "The Call For Adventure"
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
"Shazam!" - Part 3
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Gary Frank
Inker: Gary Frank
Reviewed by: Ralph Silver
We begin four years ago, in an elaborate home in Augusta, Maine. Author David Graves is wheelchair-bound. He appears extremely frail. Intravenous tubes hang from a rod attached to his wheelchair. David speaks with his physician, who confirms that David is gravely ill. David immediately reacts to this news by pulling a revolver and murdering his doctor. David exclaims that since his doctor and his Justice League heroes could not save him, he must now save himself.
The scene shifts to present-day Washington D.C. While emerging from a grocery store, Colonel Steve Trevor encounters paparazzi who ask rude, probing questions about his rumored brief relationship with Wonder Woman. When Steve arrives at his sister's house for dinner, he is clearly down in the dumps. She offers support and encouragement.
In the Batcave, Bruce Wayne listens to a TV news analyst who asks why Batman persists in his relentless yet futile war against crime in a city with the highest murder rate in the nation. The news announcer speculates that Batman's time and energy would be better spent working full-time to tackle world issues with the Justice League rather than continuing his endless battle against Gotham's criminals. Bruce's mind drifts back to his childhood and the emotional pain in the aftermath of the murder of his parents. A news alert snaps him back to the present. Justice League adversary The Key has caused an explosion at Arkham Asylum that has ripped open that institution and is causing chaos. On his computer screen, Batman is reminded that The Key is a heinous murderer who uses psycho-chemicals to feed off the psychological state of his victims. Bruce cancels his appearance at a business meeting so that Batman can address the problem at Arkham.
At the Daily Planet, Perry White is buying a taco lunch for his staff members. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen head down to the taco truck, but Clark Kent sits quietly alone with his sandwich. He also daydreams about unpleasant childhood memories; in his case the pain of pretending to be weak and un-athletic back in his years at Smallville High. A text message arrives on Clark's smart-phone, with a request from Bruce Wayne for assistance. In the next moment, Superman and Batman are at the center of the Arkham chaos, rounding up powerful criminals such as Clayface, and restoring order.
Cyborg arrives and uses his technology to help them locate The Key. Cyborg reveals that he is able to hack into every computer on Earth, including Batman's personal computer. Victor Stone's unpleasant memories are of his father's callousness during his high school years and of the pain from the explosion that caused his transformation.
Steve Trevor sits alone and watches an unflattering TV report about him from the two reporters who confronted him earlier. A stranger enters his apartment and talks to Steve, saying he hopes that Steve has read his book, and suggesting that Trevor knows many of the secrets of the Justice League.
Green Lantern and Flash are mopping up a mess caused when somebody freed the Weapons Master. Like the others, GL and Flash each have a moment when their thoughts go back to unhappy times. They confront Weapons Master to determine who freed him, but Weapons Master does not cooperate. Wonder Woman arrives and uses her lasso to get Weapons Master to talk. We learn that the person who freed the Weapons Master was asking him for ways to hurt the Justice League members. Meanwhile, Diana's unpleasant memories revolve around rejecting the romantic advances of Steve Trevor, and feeling guilty for the pain she caused him.
Superman, Batman and Cyborg locate The Key, who is passive and wants to be locked away in a cell. He says his mind was stolen from him by David Graves.
Steve Trevor is being tortured by the person who entered his apartment; a man who wants Steve's help in destroying the Justice League. His torturer also threatens Trevor's sister and children if Trevor does not cooperate. His attacker repeatedly tells Trevor that his family will die horribly unless Trevor reveals how to breach the Justice League satellite. Trevor breaks, and promises to reveal the information.
Story - 4: I enjoyed this story. This is the first installment in a new multi-book story arc. As such, its purpose is to build suspense by teasing us with some of the details about the new challenge to the Justice League, without spilling all the beans.
So that left unanswered questions. I found myself playing detective; going back over the story and looking for small clues.
At first, I asked myself the question: "Who is the main villain of this story? The Key or David Graves?" The reader is initially led to believe that The Key is going to be the main villain, because of the news item revealing that The Key has caused the explosion at Arkham Asylum. But this is a case of deliberate misdirection. As events transpire, it becomes clear that The Key is a pawn in the game, and that David Graves is the criminal mastermind behind the events in this issue. When Superman and Batman locate The Key at Arkham, he is in a prone position, defenseless, practically quivering in fear, and begging to be locked in a cell, far away from the man who attacked him. He reveals that Graves accosted him and got inside his mind. The Key says that Graves stole his mind, including all of his knowledge about the Justice League.
The Key may have been coerced by David Graves into attacking Arkham Asylum, perhaps as a diversion so that Graves could carry out the next steps in his plan. In fact, Graves works behind the scenes for much of this story; but clues are there to suggest what Graves is up to. It was Graves who released the Weapons Master, soliciting knowledge of how to hurt the Justice League, and causing mayhem in the process. Upon being captured, Weapons Master tells Green Lantern "I don't feel well. I want out of here.", suggesting that he had a similar experience to The Key.
And the man in Steve Trevor's apartment may be Graves, or may be another super-villain who is being manipulated by Graves behind the scenes. I am led to believe it is in fact David Graves, because he says to Trevor "I hope you had a chance to read my book, Colonel."
If it is Graves in person, then the next question is "How did he regain his vigor after appearing so frail in the opening scene?" We never get those details. But since four years elapsed between the opening scene and the rest of the story, there was plenty of time for a man who is an expert in ancient, mysterious civilizations, to find some arcane method for accomplishing his revitalization.
There is one clue that suggests the possibility that Graves is still frail and immobile. That is a single panel at the bottom of page 17, below the image of Wonder Woman using her Lasso of Truth on Weapons Master. So if that is indeed a picture of Graves in his current state, then who is in Trevor's apartment, and what is going on? My guess in that case is that David Graves is using telepathy to control super-villains as pawns, looking for information on ways to defeat the Justice League. So in that scenario, the man in Steve Trevor's apartment is merely a puppet.
We will know more next issue.
Another thought: Sometimes it is the character interactions and the little touches that for me elevate a story from a 3 to a 4. Such was the case here. Steve Trevor being victimized by the paparazzi, and not handling it well. Batman reading a short inspirational note from his friend Barry Allen. He values the note so highly that it is encased in glass and on display in the Batcave. In Arkham Asylum, Batman referring to Cyborg as his "map". Lois Lane saying she is not waiting for Superman; but rather, that Superman is waiting for her. Clark Kent getting a short text message from Bruce, suggesting they meet on their "lunch hour". You get the feeling these two friends send a lot of text messages back and forth. Flash attempting to play "Bad Cop", Green Lantern's usual role; and failing badly because Flash is just too nice a guy. Wonder Woman bailing them out with her magic lasso, and her "hard way" comment to Weapons Master.
I find myself looking forward to Justice League #10.
Art - 5: Many times, after finishing the story in a comic book, I go back and take another look at the artwork, to find and evaluate my favorite images. In this case, I have a clear-cut favorite: the splash on page 4. The scene is the library, a well-appointed room in a very luxurious home. We view the room from an interesting vantage point, looking down from the ceiling. Even a chandelier hanging from the ceiling is a couple of inches below us. A well-stocked bookcase covers the back wall. A spiral staircase is visible off to the left. Light coming in from a large window creates kind of a checkerboard pattern on the floor in an otherwise dimly lit room. The body of Dr. White, newly deceased from a gunshot wound, lies in his own blood inside the pattern of light. The now-empty wheelchair casts a shadow within the checkerboard pattern. The contrast of the elaborate furnishings against the body of the late Dr. White, with the unusual lighting and perspective, make for a very eerie and highly effective image.
This is great comic book art!
Also, it cannot be denied that Jim Lee has a knack for drawing women and making them look especially beautiful. I see two great examples here: Lois Lane walking inside the Daily Planet at the top of page 7, and Wonder Woman preparing to use her magic lasso at the top of page 16. They both look as lovely as I have ever seen them!
"Shazam" - Part 3
Billy Batson is still adjusting to his new life with the Vasquez family. On his first morning in his new home, he awakes to find everybody waiting for him so they can eat breakfast together. This clearly is a family tradition that will take some getting used to. Billy is still very resistant to the idea of fitting in and accepting those who have welcomed him into their family.
Billy's first day of school in his new town is rather eventful. When four nasty bullies harass Eugene and pound Freddy into a wall, Mary protests and gets put in a hammerlock. Billy jumps in and shows some real street-fighting prowess, landing successful punches and taking the four of them down. His new family tries to express gratitude, but once again Billy avoids any feelings of warmth towards them.
A teacher catches Billy in the act of fighting, which gets Billy sent to the principal's office. Mr. Vasquez gets called to the office as well, and defends Billy. The father of the four bullies shows up. He is Mr. Bryer, a wealthy contributor to the school, and demands that Billy be prevented from fighting his sons.
Outside, Billy confronts Mr. Bryer, saying he will use force if necessary to prevent his sons from harassing or hurting others at school. Mr. Bryer grabs Billy and threatens him. Mr. Vasquez confronts Bryer and defends Billy, but is knocked down for his efforts. Sadly, Billy is less that grateful for the heroic actions of his new father.
45 miles north of Baghdad, Dr. Sivana is leading an archaeological dig as they search for the Tomb of Black Adam. Sivana is struck by lightning, which somehow transforms his right eye. Dr. Sivana says he can now see magic.
Story - 4: I like how this story is progressing. The focus is still on Billy and the challenges of adapting to a new home in a new town. Billy is still resisting any feelings of kinship towards his new family.
You get the feeling that Billy has had a rough life up to this point, and deliberately puts a wall up to keep from having any close feelings with anybody, and thus being vulnerable. At some point, I am sure that Billy will take the risk of having feelings for somebody other than himself.
Art - 5: Gary Frank once again fills the backup story with emotion and human interest. Facial expressions are his strong suit. Go back and look at the range of human emotions evoked in the images of Billy, Darla, Mr. Bryer, and Mr. Vasquez.
Between Jim Lee and Gary Frank, readers of Justice League are treated to top notch artwork every issue!
Cover Art - 4: Superman, Batman, and Cyborg make short work of the rioting Arkham inmates. All three heroes have a look of intensity and determination. This is well drawn!
Cover Art (Variant Edition) - 3: This must be a picture of David Graves or whoever has invaded Steve Trevor's apartment. Although we never get a full glimpse of him inside the book, this must be him, based on the red eyes and hands.
This is an eerie image of someone who is not really depicted inside the book. For that reason, I cannot go higher than a 3.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2012.