Justice League of America so far has set itself apart from the main League title by revolving around Batman’s attempt to form an effective team from his hand-selected team of outsiders, rookies and, in the case of Lobo, outlaws. So far, the concept has yet to really effectively gel, despite some considerable flashes of brilliance. Justice League of America #10, the opening instalment of the “Curse of the KingButcher” arc, isn’t any less uneven an issue than the ones that preceded it, although it does succeed when it focuses on its characters.
Writer Steve Orlando is one of DC’s star writers at the moment, and it’s clear that he has a special affinity for the Ray and his story. The issue deals with a crisis affecting his home town of Vanity, as its citizens find themselves dreaming of wishes they desire only to wake up to find them granted. However, their dreams are starting collapse with a vengeance as a powerful entity known as the KingButcher is appearing and stealing back all their wishes, to disastrous and tragic effects. As the team heads to Vanity to investigate, Ray finds himself confronting his own crisis of conscience following the League’s previous mission and is forced to also deal with his complicated relationship to Vanity and his upbringing.
Justice League of America #10 isn’t a terrible issue, but it’s not exactly a compelling opener to an arc either. First off, the idea of taking back wishes that seem miraculous is sort of a nebulous idea at its core, and Orlando doesn’t really effectively illustrate what kind of threat level the KingButcher represents. We’re introduced to him as he takes back a man’s wish to be cured of his fibromyalgia, which is a pretty crappy thing to do, to be sure, but sort of on the small side as super-powered threats go. Then a news report shows the result of another of his take-backsies, which results in a person’s house burning down. From a visual and impact point of view, I know which one of these would illustrate KingButcher’s power more to me. It’s just a weird kind of threat, depicted a bit too abstractly, affecting people about whom we aren’t given enough information to really be invested in. If you’re going to threaten strangers, then the threat needs to be primal to generate our involvement. As it is, while I can see how the KingButcher’s actions would be unfortunate and malevolent, I’m not really all the intrigued or affected by the issue’s end.
As for the KingButcher himself, we learn very little about him, and what we do learn doesn’t serve to differentiate him from your garden variety pontificating mysterious meanie. I’m hoping that more will be revealed, but as it is, he mostly seems at this point to be a generic uber-powerful cosmic guy.
I did really enjoy the part son the issue that were focused on the Ray and his internal conflicts. Orlando clearly enjoys the characters he’s brought together here, and one of the frustrating things about this title is that I feel by this point that this gang of misfits should hold more of my love than they do. I like the team’s make-up, I enjoy their personalities and conflicts, it’s just that there’s something missing to forging them into a beloved line-up. It’s close, to be sure, and the moments here where we spend time with Ray, or we focus on the Atom and Killer Frost’s attempts to cure her issues, or get a funny story from Lobo about his grammar school days, the issue comes alive and you can see how well this line up could work. But when the issue swings back to the main plot and the threat itself, it starts to feel pretty generic and more serviceable than inspired.
The art by Andy MacDonald is pretty good, however. It’s still in the super-hero category, reminding me a bit of Howard Porter’s work, and during the actions scene there’s an effective sense of pace and dynamic choreography that serves to give the book some energy. But MacDonald’s work has a bit of edginess to it that works well in conjunction with the scrappier, less A-list make up of the cast. As a result, Justice League of America #10 has the action you want from this franchise but without sacrificing personality. There are a few moments when the figures and faces look a little off, a little rushed or sketchy, but for the most part it’s a good-looking if inconsistent issue.
For me, I’m still rooting for this title to take off and become the engrossing underdog title it’s clearly aiming to be (at least as underdog as a Justice League book can be, anyways). But I remain frustrated that this League’s adventures simply aren’t grabbing me in the way they should be. I hold out hope that this arc will develop in ways that will prove me wrong, but as it stands, Justice League of America #10 has all the strengths and weaknesses that have been featured in this title from the beginning. 6.0/10