I like a lot of Brad Meltzer’s relaunch, but Justice League of America v.2 #5 left me thinking, “That’s it?”
SPOILERS FOLLOW, I suppose:
With two issues left in “The Tornado’s Path,” the plot of the main villain has been revealed. If I understand it correctly, Solomon Grundy has orchestrated an elaborate “humanizing” of the Red Tornado — preserving his super powers, and involving Felix Faust and an anti-Mr. Miracle, among others — in order to appropriate the android body for himself and thereby break the cycle of reincarnation that makes him alternately evil, good, or just plain dumb. Working with Grundy, and looking to address his own issues with immortality, Professor Ivo has wedded the body to an Amazo which, naturally, now thinks it’s Red Tornado. Along the way they’ve used Starro-style devices to control a handful of C-list villains and steal power-sucking/mimicking things like the Parasite and the Tantu totem. Anyway, issue #5 ends with most of what will be the new League ready to defend Reddy’s old girlfriend and daughter from (you’ll excuse me) Red Tomazo.
This is not a bad storyline, although with its musings on mortality it feels like a thematic sequel to Meltzer’s Green Arrow arc. It just doesn’t feel like the kind of world-shattering romp which should kick off a Justice League book.
To be fair, the apocalyptic adventure underlying this incarnation of the League was Infinite Crisis, with 52‘s “World War III” no doubt further encouraging the Big Three to start their fantasy draft. “The Tornado’s Path” picks up with the new JLA a foregone conclusion not only in the reader’s mind, but also in the minds of the principals. In other words, they don’t need circumstances to convince them to restart the League. JLofA #0 underscored that fact, skipping back and forth through time to show some of the challenges this League will face.
So why not start #1 with the nightmare-fuel splash page of a sickly, zombiefied Amazo head grafted unsteadily onto the Red Tornado’s body, and introduce the new JLA as they struggle against him? The “surprise” members (Not-Speedy, Geo-Force, Black Lightning) wouldn’t have to appear right away, because after a few pages (including the obligatory double-page splash) you could go right into flashback with Deadman or Will Magnus. Everyone’s raving about Geoff Johns’ last-page teaser of coming attractions over in the new Justice Society; so JLofA #1 could have taken a hint from #0 and played the Amazo card early.
The way this arc is unfolding, though, I suspect that Red Tomazo is the big boss-monster that can only be defeated by the full Justice League, and therefore represents the main physical conflict. The real payoff may well be an emotional climax that restores Reddy to his old body and/or separates him from Kathy and Traya (with the obligatory “your life is too dangerous for us, John”), thus leaving the new League to comfort him with the old “you’ll always have a home with us.” Cut to geosynchronous orbit.
Now, that might not happen, and Red Tomazo might end up being a genuine menace on a global scale, maybe even absorbing folks’ humanity like he did in that Hourman arc. (That was a cool arc, and by the way DC could do worse than to expand on Hourman‘s use of Amazo.) If that is the note upon which the new League is founded, and not some variation of “we were going to do it anyway, and isn’t it lucky all our picks are together already,” I’ll be a lot happier.
This is not to say that the Justice League can’t be formed in quiet contemplation, divorced from the usual “we work well together, huh?” team origins. A change in pace is a good way to broaden the series’ horizons, after all. Indeed, a lot of fine Justice League stories have eschewed the widescreen-blockbuster threats.
However, it’s been a long time since the Justice League has faced a widescreen-blockbuster threat. (I make it since the Crime Syndicate story ended in JLA #114, some twenty months ago.) Meltzer seems more concerned with the minutiae and the personalities than the big picture, and that’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not big either. Fighting Starro was big, even if Snapper Carr helped. Fighting the Appellaxians was big. The proto-JLI saved the UN in Giffen & DeMatteis’ first issue, and then headed into the Soviet Union against rogue Justifiers. The last League started with KnowMan and Doctor Destiny in A Midsummer’s Nightmare, and fought the Hyperclan in Morrison’s first arc.
If this weren’t Meltzer’s first arc, I’d judge it less strictly. I’m all for different approaches that will grow the series, and Meltzer is clearly emphasizing relationships this time out. Regardless, though, this isn’t a story about a new Justice League, at least not at its center. The new League is coming together on the margins, while the main narrative focuses on Reddy’s newfound humanity. Maybe Meltzer is taking a page from the New Teen Titans, formed by Raven to stop Trigon (because she couldn’t get the Justice League, incidentally). That story was as much about Raven as it was about the team, because the team had to trust her in order to hold together.
However, it helped that Trigon was a global threat, justifying the existence of a new Teen Titans. Simply put, nobody here seems to want to take over the world. Ivo wants to die, Grundy wants to stop being reborn, and Red Tomazo might just want a hug. There are a lot of familiar Justice League trappings, but right now “The Tornado’s Path” is a Red Tornado story. It has two issues to go big.