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Review Brew: Justice League Vol. 7: Darkseid War, Part 1

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: Jason Fabok

This volume collects Justice League #40-44 and the Justice League portion of Free Comic Book Day: Divergence.

Unironically, DC’s “New 52” era of the Justice League both began and ended with Darkseid. Arguably DC’s premiere villain, he’s the literal Alpha and Omega of this book, something he might appreciate if he were real. It’s too bad that the first half of this wrap-up arc falls a little flat, as the master of evil becomes just a bit too one-dimensional in the climax of Geoff Johns’ Justice League run.

“The Darkseid War” culminates Johns’s run, with the return of the titular villain as the long-awaited follow-up to his initial appearance five years earlier (both in real time and in New 52 time). This time around, the League is investigating the mysterious murders of several women with the same name, Myrina Black. More specifically, the New Gods of Apokolips are back, and they’re hunting down every woman with that name, Sarah Connor-style. It turns out that the real Myrina is an Amazon in hiding, who long ago gave birth to Darkseid’s half-Amazonian, half-mad God daughter, Grail. Grail herself was birthed as a secret weapon to be used against her own father someday, with a mission of tracking down the one being who can bring Darkseid to a stop: that universal engine of destruction, the Anti-Monitor.

There’s a war coming between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor, and it’s a war that doesn’t bode well for humanity either way. Appropriately, much of The Darkseid War is narrated by Wonder Woman, who (as a warrior herself) reflects on the frightening implications of where this war is going. Like ancient Scylla and Charybdis, the combatants present the terrible dilemma of whether Earth should be enslaved by Darkseid or destroyed by the Anti-Monitor.

As an “epic battle” story, The Darkseid War does a decent enough job of putting the Justice League against the ultimate futility where neither outcome is acceptable. As heroes, they press on against the absurdity of the whole thing as they have to find a third way that doesn’t end with the Earth as the loser. In the process, Geoff Johns gives us a few pairings that provide some fun interactions, such as Lex Luthor and Superman accidentally shunted to Apokolips and rivaling each other even as they’re trying to work together. Perhaps more compelling is Green Lantern’s teaming with Batman in their quest to find the Anti-Monitor’s origins, with Johns taking the “Bat-God” joke to new levels as Batman becomes infinitely more powerful after stealing Metron’s chair.

The palpable tension in The Darkseid War makes it an enjoyable enough read as the comics equivalent of the big summer blockbuster…which is to say, it’s fun, but also superficial. There’s some storytelling problems here which keep it well short of being phenomenal. For one, this story is so saturated with characters, that half of the League itself falls to the background. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and a few others play key roles; but members such as the Flash, Cyborg, and Shazam fade into the background excepting a few notable lines here or there. Another problem is Grail herself. The opening short story from last summer’s Divergence special presented the controversial revelation that Darkseid has an Amazonian daughter. Beyond her introduction, however, Grail doesn’t do much more than act as an evil foil for Darkseid. It’s unclear why her mother bothered to have her, when the mission to find the Anti-Monitor could have been accomplished by Myrina Black herself.

Moreover, this story is thick with continuity on some levels, while a bit sparing on others. Either way, it may not be the most accessible story to the casual reader who’s starting out on Johns’ Justice League run (they may want to go back to volume 1 for that). The inclusion of characters such as Lex Luthor and Power Ring obviously puts this volume well after Forever Evil, but the new reader who hasn’t read that story may not understand why a famous villain and a female Green Lantern are on the team. Going deeper down the rabbit hole, The Darkseid War very explicitly references the Anti-Monitor’s past appearances to include the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. If the New 52 reboot was intended to give modern readers a continuity-free introduction to the DC Universe, The Darkseid War completely goes against that by acknowledging that this has all happened before. Older fans may appreciate the anchoring to established continuity, but younger ones may be confused by the references to battles long erased from history.

All of this may be a providential tie to recent, related high-continuity stories like Convergence and The Multiversity, with the latter in particular having multiple references to Darkseid. But it’s here that the connections to other stories run thin. Grant Morrison’s prior works proposed that there’s a “higher” Darkseid beyond all the versions we’ve ever seen, and appearances by Darkseid on Earth-0, Earth-2, and elsewhere are all “aspects” of the higher creature. None of this is explored here, and it’s a missed opportunity to play with deeper issues of the nature of the New Gods. Not that the story needs that much metatext, but it’d be helpful to know if the versions of Steppenwolf and Mister Miracle who appear in this story are the same ones from James Robinson’s Earth-2 or different aspects of higher beings. It’s all potentially confusing to the reader who’s seen Darkseid appear elsewhere in DC’s last five years.

The big draw to The Darkseid War, though, is Jason Fabok’s art. Fabok is one of the better artists in DC’s bullpen right now, and they’d do well to keep him. His art presents the kind of detailed dynamism that we used to regularly get from the likes of George Perez and Phil Jimenez, and he’s a worthy successor to Jim Lee on this flagship title. (Speaking of whom, the “history of the Multiverse” section of this story makes great use of some guest art to include Jimenez, Lee, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Scott Kolins, and others to recap critical moments from DC’s last three decades.  It’s a real treat.) It was a shame when DC pulled Fabok off Batman Eternal midway through that series, but at least he’s not gone to waste on Justice League.

The release of The Darkseid War coincides with the conclusion of the story published this month and next, so it’s an economic way to get caught up with the first half of the story before the big finish. However, it does require a substantial familiarity with both recent and long-term DC continuity, so new readers may want to start earlier in Johns’ run before jumping in here. Alternatively, they may want to skip and just see what the post “Rebirth” Justice League run brings us.

Rating: Three and a half Moebius Chairs out of Five.

 

About Adam Frey (372 Articles)
Adam Frey is still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. In the meantime, he's an attorney and moonlights as an Emergency Medical Technician in Maryland. A comic reader for over 30 years, he's gradually introducing his daughter to the hobby, much to the chagrin of his wife and their bank account.
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