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Mild Mannered Reviews - Justice League Comics

Justice League #22 Justice League #22

Justice League #22

Scheduled to arrive in stores: July 10, 2013

Cover date: September 2013

"Trinity War" - Chapter One: "The Death Card"

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Ivan Reis
Inker: Joe Prado and Oclair Albert

Ralph Silver Reviewed by: Ralph Silver

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Justice League #22 Justice League #22 Madame Xanadu, a mystic and a member of Justice League Dark, remembers how she lived a life of wickedness and sin until she met magician John Zatara, who taught her it is never too late to choose righteousness. Xanadu has a fortune-telling shop in Greenwich Village, New York. She waits for those in distress to find her, so she can help them choose a better path just like Zatara helped her.

A woman enters her shop, and speaks of nightmares she is having. Xanadu attempts to tell this woman her future; but it is someone else's future she sees. Madame Xanadu has a vision of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman scanning a ruined, urban landscape in the aftermath of a great war; the Trinity War.

Madame Xanadu turns to some Tarot Cards to get answers. This is an unusual deck, because it reveals actual beings living in the world. She pulls the card titled "The Boy," and sees images of Billy Batson and Shazam. Xanadu says to herself that she knows who this is, and how wrongly this person has chosen.

We switch scenes and see Billy and his siblings at the Vasquez home. Billy may be feeling some remorse for having caused the death of Black Adam (seen last issue). Billy is reminded that Black Adam was a very bad guy. Billy needs to dispose of Black Adam's ashes. He is contemplating traveling to Kahndaq, to deposit the ashes on Black Adam's home turf. As his brothers and sisters warn him that the U.S. State Department has strictly forbidden Americans from traveling to Kahndaq, Billy reminds them that Superman and Wonder Woman were there recently to rescue some hostages (as seen in Justice League #19). Billy says the magic word, and the magic lightning transforms him.

Back in Greenwich Village, the young woman is still looking for answers. But Madame Xanadu is incredulous as she pulls two more cards: "The Hero" featuring an image of Superman, and "The warrior" featuring an image of Wonder Woman. Xanadu realizes that the upcoming Trinity War is all about the Justice League.

At Belle Reve Prison, Superman and Wonder Woman have just deposited Despero for safekeeping. Despero is definitely a flight risk, so Superman indicates they will transfer him to Hal Jordan for imprisonment on Oa, home of the Guardians and base of operations for the Green Lantern Corps. Wonder Woman expresses a harsh sentiment; that super villains should be "dealt with" so that they never get the chance to escape. Superman asks if she is talking about killing them, and Wonder Woman's answer is vague. They discuss this some more, till it gets a bit testy and Superman changes the subject.

Madame Xanadu pulls another card and says, "No. Not her." She is looking at an image of Pandora, in a card titled "The Hostage".

Superman and Wonder Woman have left Belle Reve. They are approached by Pandora, one of the three scorned individuals who make up the Trinity of Sin, a trio of individuals who are being punished by an ancient council for past transgressions. The three of them are cursed to an eternal life of walking among us and acting as observers.

Pandora converses with the two heroes, telling them her tale of woe. Way in the past, she opened a mystical box and freed the seven sins from their prison; releasing the sins to plague humanity. Due to Pandora's misdeed, humans have the capacity for evil. Pandora believes that one of the Greek gods manipulated her into opening the box. Pandora wants Superman and Wonder Woman to help her eradicate evil forever.

In Washington D.C. at the headquarters of the Justice League of America, Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller are discussing Waller's suggestion that the JLA should recruit Dr. Light. We see Dr. Light elsewhere, sitting in a room in the dark. He tells somebody on the phone that he has the unfortunate power that when he walks into a room, he sucks all the light up like a black hole. He says that Waller wants him to use his power against Firestorm. But Arthur Light knows that Firestorm is really two kids; and Dr. Light does not want to hurt two kids.

Trevor and Waller know that Dr. Light has shared some adverse information about the new JLA with his wife. Amanda threatens to send Martian Manhunter to do a mind wipe of Arthur Light's spouse. Dr. Light agrees to toe the line to keep his wife safe.

Madame Xanadu keeps pulling cards: "The Politician" (Amanda Waller), "The Soldier"(Steve Trevor), "The Detective" (Batman).

At Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, the Watchtower has finally crash landed after losing altitude and falling out of orbit. Batman and Cyborg are investigating. Cyborg reminds Batman of some mysterious recent events. Recently, someone successfully hacked into the defenses of the Justice League satellite headquarters, allowing the villainous and very dangerous Despero to enter and cause trouble. Also recently someone (maybe the same person) broke into the Batcave and stole a Kryptonite ring that Batman was keeping for his own purposes. Batman tells everybody that he had the Kryptonite in order to study it and find an antidote for Superman; but Cyborg is very perceptive, and does not believe this lie.

Speaking of lies, Atom is still fibbing and telling everyone that she stopped Despero single handedly when he attacked. She is in a bind, forced to tell this lie, because she is sworn to secrecy. But we all know that she is covering for Martian Manhunter, who arrived at Watchtower just in time to take Despero down.

Atom, Firestorm, and Element Woman, the three new Justice League members, are looking for anything from the trophy room that might have survived the crash. Suddenly, Atom spots a chess set with pieces representing the Justice League heroes. This is a souvenir from a past encounter with Despero. Atom discovers that the Superman piece is missing.

Superman, Wonder Woman, and Pandora are still conversing. Superman does not believe her story that evil exists in the world today because Pandora was tricked into opening the magic box many years ago. But Wonder Woman knows the story is true, because Greek mythology is part of her origin. Pandora shoves the box at Superman, asking him to open it. We know that Superman is very susceptible to magic. So when Superman touches the box, he is immediately victimized by ethereal energy. He cries out in pain, and is momentarily transformed. Pandora shoots a couple of magic-laced bullets at Superman and then vanishes.

Batman contacts them, and says that the new caped hero known as Shazam is flying into Kahndaq; and that the Kahndaqi army is on his tail. Batman again scolds Superman and Wonder Woman for traveling into Kahndaq without authorization. He says they have set a bad precedent; making it seemingly OK for other heroes to travel there.

Batman confirms that Shazam is powered by magic, something the Justice League has very little experience with. Superman suggests they call in Zatanna, who has offered her services whenever magic is involved. Batman had the same idea, and is already making the call.

Atom is in contact with Colonel Steve Trevor, confirming that she is heading into Kahndaq; and that she has other Justice League heroes with her.

Meanwhile, the Justice League of America is also heading to Kahndaq. They board a jet for that purpose. Their mission will be to get the Justice League out of that nation. The members of the JLA are very reluctant, seeing the Justice League as heroes, not adversaries. But they are being coerced by Amanda Waller with Steve Trevor assisting.

In the Kahndaq desert, Shazam is preparing to say a few words before scattering the ashes of Black Adam. But suddenly the Kahndaqi military attacks him, ruining the informal private ceremony and destroying the urn full of ashes with a stray bullet. Shazam loses his temper after being shot at.

Superman shows up in Kahndaq and takes a swipe at Shazam, to quell his tirade. Shazam then flies off the handle, and punches Superman hard. Shazam, still adjusting to his powers, and still just a boy inside, is amazed that he managed to knock down Superman. But Superman is right back up, and proceeds to whack this new hero hard in retaliation. Shazam goes down and stays down; although he continues to speak to the Justice League. Wonder Woman asks Shazam what he is doing in Kahndaq. Shazam gives her some sass, but not a straight answer. Zatanna says that there is something familiar about Shazam's magic, as if she has encountered it before.

Just then, the Justice League of America arrives. Steve Trevor announces that his team is going to escort the Justice League out of Kahndaq. The two teams face off against each other. Wonder Woman explains to Trevor that the Justice League is actually there to escort Shazam out.

Madame Xanadu pulls some more cards: "The Alien" (Martian Manhunter), and later "The Unknown" (The Question). Her customer begins to get impatient and wants to know what is going on.

We see that all the members of the Trinity of Sin are about to become involved. Pandora is still fretting that she needs someone to open the box. The Question is asking his next question, wanting to know who is the source of the current evil. And Phantom Stranger, standing before the graves of Jonathan and Martha Kent, says that it is time for him to get involved.

Atom is having serious regrets about spying for the JLA.

Hoping to lower tensions so that things do not escalate, Dr. Light says that everyone just needs to stop and work together for common goals. But with Superman nearby; and since Superman is essentially a powerful human solar battery; Dr. Light's powers begin to run amok. Wonder Woman inadvertently becomes the target, and is in serious distress; caused by whatever is happening with Dr. Light. Superman approaches Dr. Light in order to protect Wonder Woman; but then Dr. Light inadvertently triggers and attracts Superman's laser vision, and receives a fatal dose. Superman is suddenly feeling guilty, confused, apologetic, and defensive. He knows he did not do this on purpose, but others think it was deliberate. Superman has no idea what just happened; but he is not looking very good right now to the other heroes.

Madame Xanadu, who truly is able to see the future, knows what Trinity means, and knows the dangers. She also knows that Superman is innocent. But her customer turns out to be Plastique, a member of the Secret Society, in disguise. Plastique has the power to project explosive force; which she uses to take down Madame Xanadu, perhaps permanently.

As events really start to spiral out of control in the Kahndaq desert, Atom pleads loudly several times for everyone to stop. Nobody is listening. The battle wages, with each Justice League of America member facing off against a particular Justice League member as dictated by Amanda Waller's battle plan.

We see many Tarot Cards now; pretty much representing every character involved.

We see a villain from the Secret Society on the last page. He is giving himself credit for making everyone believe that Superman has actually killed Dr. Light, and done so deliberately. This appears to be part of a greater plan to discredit the Justice League. I believe his name has not yet been revealed. His Tarot Card only identifies him as "The Outsider".

5Story - 5: Trinity War has been billed as the DC Comics event of the summer. And so far, it is living up to my expectations. This is an excellent start!

I love the way this story manages to pull together so many disparate elements from the DC Universe; and does so in way that makes perfect sense. Everybody has an agenda. The Justice League is trying to figure out who has been working behind the scenes against them. They are also picking up the pieces from some bad recent events, like the destruction of their satellite headquarters, the loss of some important artifacts and data due to theft, and some bad press. The Justice League of America, led by the devious and manipulative Amanda Waller, is out to embarrass and discredit the Justice League. In fact, the JLA is a completely bogus, pseudo-heroic operation; put together for the main purpose of working against the Justice League. Waller is forcing compliance from some of her more reluctant members through coercion techniques that are nothing short of blackmail.

The role of Justice League Dark is not clear yet; although we see the occult community already getting involved. The Trinity of Sin is mostly doing their thing, walking, observing, and commenting. That is, except for Pandora, who makes a very boneheaded maneuver and inadvertently victimizes Superman with a magical attack. Madame Xanadu is sympathetic to Superman and his teammates; except that she gets taken out by a member of the Secret Society before she can come to Superman's aid and publicly declare his innocence.

And Shazam is in the middle of everything. His allegiances are not clear yet either. He looks pretty perplexed as he watches the two teams stare each other down.

I found some of the characterization in this story quite interesting. For example, the conversation between Superman and Wonder Woman as they leave Belle Reve Prison is fascinating. Wonder Woman expresses doubt that Despero will stay put. She then makes a startling confession; that she feels her list of rogues is shorter than Bruce's, Barry's, or even Clark's; because when confronting her enemies, she makes sure to "deal with them". When Superman presses her to find out if she means killing them, Wonder Woman is vague in her answer. She certainly does not rule out deadly force; saying her Lasso of Truth keeps her from eliminating an innocent suspect. This conversation is quickly getting outside of Superman's comfort zone; and he suggests they change the subject.

It occurs to me that this more powerful and slightly ruthless interpretation of Wonder Woman is a far cry from the gentle version played by Lynda Carter on TV in the 1970s. That Wonder Woman talked to and soothed animals, and was an ambassador of Love. The New 52 version is above all else a warrior, just like her Tarot Card says.

And speaking of Superman, he certainly had a rough time this issue, between his difficulty with Pandora's Box and the loss of control of his heat vision while in proximity to Dr. Light. But his behavior in the desert in his encounter with Shazam had me scratching my head. I expected him to first question Shazam and try to settle him down. Instead Superman decides to take control by tackling Shazam; and things escalate very quickly after that. I thought this was way out of character for Superman. I had two possible theories for Superman's aggressive behavior against Shazam. The first theory is that Superman's conversation with Wonder Woman about treating her adversaries harshly influenced Superman to be more physical and less diplomatic this time around. The second theory is that physical contact with Pandora's Box caused Superman to be more aggressive than usual. After all, she did say that the box was responsible for causing evil behavior in the world. And it did appear that the ethereal energy emanating from the box might be having such an effect on Superman.

As I read this story, I was reminded that certain heroes naturally have an aggressive nature, while others are more inclined to be compassionate and empathetic. Two examples of aggressive personalities are Katana and Hawkman. And some of the kinder, more compassionate heroes are Superman and Flash. Personally, I am drawn to the kinder, more compassionate, less warlike heroes. I am discovering that the new Atom also falls into this category. As things spin out of control in the Kahndaq desert, Atom is the one pleading loudly for peace. Her cries are totally ignored. We see her covering her head in despair as the battle rages. I felt so sorry for her. I hope one day soon she can break free from Amanda Waller's grip and abandon her spy mission for her.

Dr. Light is another voice for peace during the skirmish. He begs for people to calm down; but tempers are already flaring. Amanda really has him over a barrel, threatening to wipe all memories of him from his spouse's mind. That is a particularly despicable threat. This Dr. Light looks a bit like the classic villain, but is a much kinder, more decent man. The original Dr. Light is a rapist who committed an unspeakable act during the outstanding Identity Crisis series back in 2004. I am sure that many of you remember.

I look forward to the next installment of Trinity War in Justice League of America #6.

4Art - 4: The artwork is strong. Ivan Reis does a great job showing emotion on people's faces, whether it is Superman grimacing as his heat vision runs amok, Shazam losing his temper on the battlefield, or Madame Xanadu reacting in horror with each new Tarot Card she turns over.

4Cover Art - 4: I generally dislike crowded covers; but this after all is war; and war is messy. So we have lots of action all occurring simultaneously. I like the look of determination on Wonder Woman's face. She appears to be uttering a loud battle cry as she tosses her lasso.

I also like that the covers work together for a mural effect. If you place this book side-by-side with Justice League of America #6, you see that Superman's arm goes off the page here, but continues on the cover of that book. When all six issues are released, I presume the mural will be complete.

Notice Phantom Stranger in the upper right corner, solemnly observing the unpleasant events as hero battles hero.

3Cover Art (Variant Edition) - 3: This has a similar theme, except that Phantom Stranger is now being attacked by the heroes instead of just acting as a silent observer. I like the original cover better.


Mild Mannered Reviews

2013

Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

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