Story Above All: Justice League Odyssey #12

by Noah Sharma

This week at Marvel, Loki bemoaned that he does not know exactly what he is god of anymore. He has had many titles, god of stories, of evil, of lies, he is ever changing. DC has no such ambiguity. Darkseid is not a god of stories and he is not a god of lies. He doesn’t need deceits and he doesn’t change. Darkseid is the god of evil. Darkseid is.

And so all that Darkseid has promised comes to pass, with only three of the Justice League left to oppose him.

Primary cover by Will Conrad with Ican Nunes

Justice League Odyssey #12 is framed as a monologue and I feel that was probably the right choice. While you could make valid critiques of the choice to structure the issue this way, the single viewpoint accurately reflects what this story is and how its lead perceives himself. It is possible that there were stronger ways to present this story, but, given that Dan Abnett chose to arrange it this way, I think he did about as good a job as he could have.

While there’s undoubtedly a repetitious feeling that settles in here and there hearing Darkseid monologue through his opposition, Abnett crafts the crucial moments just right to sell the issue. Glimpses into Darkseid’s mental state and perception, reminders that the god of evil has not been at full power for years, and spotlights on the danger that a restored Darkseid represents and the heroism of facing him align the reader’s perceptions just right to bring out the best of the story. I think one of my favorite moments comes just a page into the issue, with Darkseid acknowledging that, yes, it is somewhat unlikely that Cyborg’s history lines up just right to serve our villain’s needs… if you treat him like a character. No, it doesn’t truly break the fourth wall, but Darkseid wants you to know that he is not a character in this story, the story is whatever he makes it, and Abnett sells that notion with appropriate gravitas and just enough deadeyed rationalism to let you know that this is not trickery or ego, this is fact, as Darkseid sees it, which makes it fact, as it is

Interior art by Will Conrad and Rain Beredo

From there Abnett (through Darkseid) walks us through the mad deity’s plan, stopping just briefly enough to inject pathos into the Justice League’s failures, resistance, triumphs, and submission. The best parts of this are the use of Jessica Cruz, who absolutely captures the best of a Green Lantern story, and the dueling heroism of the JLO. Cyborg serves as an example of Darkseid’s incredible power to pervert and repurpose even the most stalwart of heroes, but Abnett fights against the inevitability of it all in all the right places. Kory has obviously been under Darkseid’s influence in some form for a long time, but her connection to Victor is written with the primacy that one of her oldest friendships deserves and Azrael was always one step away from reverting to quick, totalitarian solutions, but he gets time to simply and effectively show that he’s a real hero. These moments keep the reader invested and prevent this from feeling like an author filibuster for how cool their villain is. What’s more, the knowledge that this is the darkness before the dawn means that Darkseid will have to trample every light of hope under his boot and that gives all of this stakes.

But while these ideas are strong and the critical moments ring true, I must admit that much of the monodialogue is merely workmanlike on its face. It gets you from point A to point B, certainly, but inconsistently more than that and, where it is, its merit is more about its ability to seed ideas into the reader’s mind in subtle and efficient ways than how beautiful or unique it might read. Luckily, I think that’s largely what the issue aimed for, however. My appreciation for this issue’s writing comes largely from what is unseen and unheard. I was able to ramble though two lengthy paragraphs about the characters based solely on the subtext of a couple of lines and, where the dialogue is sometimes a little flat, Abnett’s writing choices seem to bear out in the art.

Interior art by Will Conrad and Rain Beredo

It’s hard to say with any certainty who contributes to a page layout and in what increments, just looking at a final product, but the results are strong. The storytelling in this issue is great at communicating pace and tone as well as bringing out the subtitles of the dialogue that might otherwise go unappreciated. I think that splashes and other large panels are used a little liberally and some might rightly point out that this limits the amount of development characters can get, but as a single parcel, a complete unit of narrative that starts when it needs to start and ends when it needs to end, it really does tell its story very well through the fundamental architecture of American comics.

A lot of that obviously falls on Will Conrad. Whatever Abnett wrote in his script, Conrad was the one who brought us this issue, smartly paced as it is. It’s Conrad’s knowledge of when to pull in and how much background to show that holds the issue together.

Interior art by Will Conrad and Rain Beredo

Conrad’s shortcomings this issue are not anything surprising. I’ve often felt that his meticulously hatched and shaded figures can verge too close to the uncanny valley at times and this issue didn’t offer me any reasons to challenge that assessment. Jessica, by far, gets the worst of it, though Cyborg has a subtle quality of being ‘off’ that I can’t put my finger on. The moments when the subject allows this side of Conrad’s style to peak through are immediately distracting as well as off putting to me. But, much as I’ve found this to be an unwelcome quirk of Conrad’s art, it’s also one that’s offset by his subject matter this month. As this review should have conveyed thoroughly by this point, this is Darkseid’s show, and highly detailed yet slightly inorganic is kind of Darkseid’s whole aesthetic. What bothers me in characters like Jessica Cruz only serves to up the horror and drama of Darkseid, which help to mitigate my major complaint about the art.

There is also one moment that’s staged a little awkwardly and might confuse in terms of blocking and space, but luckily it’s not a repeated problem.

Interior art by Will Conrad and Rain Beredo

One thing that needs no qualification is Conrad’s design work. JLO undoubtedly lost its sense of style when Stjepan Sejic had to leave the book, but it’s back in full swing as Conrad debuts a number of new designs and outfits in this issue. Conrad proves able to craft something new that still honors the history of the character or something classic that still feels like a new take. Darkseid’s servants prove both monstrous and alien, with a kind of horrible cosmic beauty and ugliness that the parademons never had and his fellow gods are winners right out of the gate. I admit The Machine didn’t come together for me, but Azrael’s transformation into The Voice That Binds makes for a welcome return to his classic costume while also doing new things with color, menace, and iconography. And, while she’s had a problematic fashion history, Starfire’s new duds immediately go toe-to-toe with her normal Odyssey attire for the title of best costume she’s ever had. It isn’t quite right for average day Koriand’r, but it celebrates multiple previous versions of the character, combining many of the best elements of a slew of inadequate costumes into something that immediately draws the eye and works with the character, but also acknowledges Darkseid’s tampering with her mythos. And, even if I already kind of miss ‘hoodie Darkseid’, the more classic look that Conrad grants the god of evil gives his promise of a return to form some deep primal weight.

Interior art by Will Conrad and Rain Beredo

Rain Beredo has limited options as colorist this issue but he does a solid job of both going with the flow and actively preventing things from getting repetitive with his choices. There are a lot of arcing energy bolts throughout this issue, often obscuring backgrounds, but they at least have power about them. The heaviness of orangey red and black is felt throughout the issue, adding apocalyptic weight as well as a bit of blandness, but Beredo breaks things up just enough to ensure it doesn’t become a slog and the book never difficult to read for it, which I could have imagined being a problem. Instead, as the rest of the team do, Beredo accepts that this issue has very particular demands and goes about doing his best within constraints rather than fighting against them. It means that you’re not frequently stopping to say ‘that’s fantastic coloring’, but you’re never distracted by the coloring either. And whenever Jessica comes to the fore, that basic color theory means that you can feel how overwhelmed she is, a mote of green in a glowing red universe.

Variant cover by Luco Parrillo

This issue has a single purpose and it serves it well. It could be fairly said that the story that made for the best beginning to end here didn’t necessarily require a full twenty pages and there is padding, in various forms, employed to combat that. However, though it is not an issue that demands attention, the storytelling is superb and the writing does all it can with what it has, peaking at just the right moments. Everything in this issue sacrifices what’s trendy and attention grabbing for the sake of telling its story as well as it can, but its cool design and excellent layouts do deserve some praise.

Some could call Justice League Odyssey #12 nothing but hot air, but, even if they were right, I’d argue that it is a single, slow exhalation – one long declaration that Darkseid Is – that empties the lungs and can leave you breathless if you’ll let it.

Justice League Odyssey #12 is currently available in comic shops from DC Comics.

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