Time paradox stories are, if well-constructed, fun in a puzzle-box kind of way. Bryan Hitch‘s Justice League #20 attempts to take on the fun and mind-bending aspects of this science-fiction staple, and though this opening instalment of the “Endless” arc does at time suffer from clunky story progression, ultimately the issue winds up being an intriguing stab at this kind story with a lot of promise.
The issue revolves around the Flash experiencing apocalyptic temporal disturbances that feature a disturbed stranger continually causing death and destruction before the whole scene shifts backs to earlier and then plays out again, albeit slightly differently each time. Driven to prevent these nightmarish and tragic occurrences, the Flash persuades the League to reach down the source of the disturbances and try to prevent them from ever occurring. But will the League be successful, or are their very attempts responsible for creating the chain of events that lead to catastrophe in the first place?
This isn’t exactly a novel concept, really. Causality has been a staple of time travel stories since time travel stories were invented. If you are planning to write a story about paradoxes, then questions about causality has to be at the heart of the tale. In this case, the drive for the story stems from the destruction Barry Allen is forced to experience over and over, and Hitch uses his skill set as an artist to swing for the fences, showing us scenes of devastation and giving us appropriately wide-screen combat. Hitch also effectively keeps things from getting boring by changing up the scenarios slightly each time, which serves to unbalance the reader slightly and puts us in the Flash’s boots, so to speak. And by focusing on the action and keeping Barry’s motivations clear and heartbreakingly high, the reader is immediately on board with his drive to figure things out and prevent the unthinkable.
The flaws of the issue for me came in scene transitions that weren’t the result of temporal disturbances. There’s an abrupt cut, for instance from one character we’ve just met telling another we’ve just met that they need to talk in private, and then the next panel is that first character in mid-speech, addressing a crowd. The switch was so abrupt, I thought my copy was missing a page. It’s not that I didn’t get that Hitch wanted to keep that conversation a secret or off-panel, it’s just the abrupt and clunky move into the next scene served to sabotage the flow. There’s a couple other big jumps in the issue along these lines. Like, the League tracks down who they think is the culprit completely off-panel, they just show up and spout some technobabble as explanation that seems a lot like an afterthought to me. Give me a scene showing the League doing some actual legwork, and then you’ll suspend my disbelief.
However, I do like the questions Hitch is asking about the League and their culpability in the situation. They charged into a situation about which they knew little with a very high degree of certainty, and while that works out for them most time, Hitch seems to be asking here what would happen when a group of people this powerful are wrong? And it’s believable that this kid of result would happen, despite their good intentions. What, then, is their responsibility? It’s an interesting question.
With Hitch’s customary skill as an artist on display, and with its interesting questions and genuinely high stakes, Justice League #20 is a fun read. I do think that there’s some structural issues in the transitions that make things move a bit in fits and starts rather than flow smoothly, but overall this looks to be a solid opening instalment to an adventure that could ask interesting questions about the team of gods that make up the Justice League. 7.5/10