“Justice League” #11 is several chapters into the title’s second big storyline by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, but feels like it’s settling down into a pattern after a promising start. Johns’ idea for the new villain, Graves, is solid, but there’s remarkably little momentum in the actual plot. Scenes of the main characters confronting ghosts are later bookended with… more scenes of main characters seeing ghosts. I get that the repetition is helping hammer home that basic idea, but the amount of time given to this makes it feel almost like a sledgehammer.
Part of the problem is that other than those scenes, there’s remarkably little to the plot of “Justice League” #11. Wonder Woman fighting her teammates might have sounded good in an outline, but the execution feels slightly ham-fisted and uninteresting. The fight succeeds in demonstrating the friction between the team members and Wonder Woman’s ability to hold her own, but it’s in such broad strokes that the level of interest just isn’t maintained. The only real germ of interest (other than the surprise cliffhanger) involves Cyborg, whose origin we saw in “Justice League” #1-6 but is already heading towards a “You didn’t know the whole story” moment. It gives the character a story hook, and that’s a good thing.
Jim Lee’s pencils this month are variable; a lot of pages look incredibly cluttered, but every now and then you turn the page and everything comes together just so. Page 3 is a prime example of the former; everything’s packed into the page’s seven panels in a way that feels like there’s not enough room to tell the story; the tight zoom-ins on Graves’ head do a bad job of establishing the look of the character, and the first glimpse of the Valley of Souls is a bad mish-mash of figures that blend into one another (am I the only one who thought the ghosts of Graves’ family were initially a chandelier?) and narration boxes that threaten to crowd out the art we do see. Compare it to the big two-page spread with Wonder Woman backhanding Green Lantern; not only is the image instantly popping out at the reader thanks to its size, but it feels open and able to use the detail of all the little broken shards to its advantage rather than overwhelming the reader. It’s ultimately an unbalanced book visually, not just in terms of script.
The “Shazam!” back-up story has some similar problems too. It’s nice to see, as I think everyone expected, Billy Batson already getting along with Freddy Freeman and the rest of the foster children he’s living with. With last month’s debut of Black Adam, there wasn’t any doubt that the big overall story with Shazam himself making an appearance was just around the bend. But while the plot of Billy and Freddy pranking a house is nice to see finally happening, we end up with “Justice League” #11’s backup story inching along at the same pace as the lead. In this case, though, it at least has the slight excuse of containing fewer pages.
That leaves the high point of “Justice League” #11 being Gary Frank’s art, saving the best for last. Look at page 6 of this story; like the cramped page of Lee’s spotlighted earlier, it has seven panels, but Frank does such a great job of making each panel feel big and expansive without shrinking down the characters. Frank’s got such a strong storytelling ability, and his characters look real and lifelike without ever coming across as stiff or posed. There are some nice little touches here too, like the one panel where Billy gets punched in the nose being slightly off-kilter and rough around the edges compared to the rest of the page, or the billowing smoke from the Rock of Eternity breaking the panel barriers to billow around the bottom of its page. It all looks good, and it’s a reminder that Frank’s one of today’s great superhero comic artists.
“Justice League” #11 feels like it’s fallen victim to some uneven pacing, for both writing and art. The back-up feature by Johns and Frank ultimately eclipses the main story from Johns and Lee, and it makes me wish for a full “Shazam!” series drawn by Frank down the line. For now, though, this issue has some rough patches that need to be sanded down.