How does Geoff Johns keep finding ways to raise the stakes in “Darkseid War?” At the close of Act One, he blew a hole through Darkseid’s chest, handed Apokolips over to Lex Luthor and gave Batman the world’s smartest chair. Yet, he and Francis Manapul push this epic even further in “Justice League” #46, revealing the Anti-Monitor and Grail’s true aim while somehow squeezing in some important character moments that ground the story enough to keep it accessible. I was told I couldn’t have my cake and eat it too, but the creative team certainly seems to be doing that here.
These last two issues felt like aftershocks since the Anti-Monitor went H.A.M. on Darkseid, but Johns has kept everything moving forward, more so here. Diana keeps doing her best to clean up the war zone on Earth, even as her teammates run off with their poisoned power-ups. In fact, with Darkseid’s patriarchy toppled, this story has become a female-driven action piece. Big Barda makes a huge splash as she finally drops in on the story, saving her husband from a major beat down and handing out one of her own, dropping Kalibak’s troops and showing them all that her love is the one thing Mister Miracle will never escape. Manupal chooses low angles and lots of speed lines to give us a sense of her power and stature. There isn’t a whole lot of panel innovation that the artist was known for in his “Flash” and “Detective Comics” runs, which would be difficult given all the characters that are on any given page of this issue. He’s in full-on blockbuster mode, doing his best to display the scope of the action while still finding ways to push the characters to the fore.
That’s important, especially with the smaller subplot, which addresses the relationship between Diana and Steve Trevor. Now, I haven’t been a fan of Superman and Wonder Woman dating. There were one or two small moments for the characters, but their union mostly felt like a public relations stunt. Johns walks back Diana’s feelings faster and more succinctly than anything being done in the “Superman” books right now and it feels right. She and Steve have a moment in the heat of battle, speaking honestly about their relationship choices before Dark Clark shows up to wrap his coal hand around Trevor’s throat. I’ve read arguments that are reductive to Johns’ style of character distillation, but I think this is the right call. Regardless of the outcome, it also displays the writer’s strong grasp on his characters and their relationships with one another, even when Johns seems to be playing three different games of chess at once with this epic.
Next month drives the story into its final arc and sees regular artist Jason Fabok return. Manupal did a bang-up job with these last two issues, especially on colors. I love his pop art sensibility and minimalist style, which allows the color to build depth and texture rather than using inks to do so. His tonal shift refreshed the story after such huge, powerful action in the first act and will allow Fabok to swoop in and drop the hammer on this story in its conclusion. This is the most excited I’ve been about “Justice League” since Grant Morrison recruited every boy and girl on planet Earth into the League; I’m fascinated by the slow build Johns has created in this book from issue one and have loved the payoff. “Darkseid War” is like holding 22 pages of legal fireworks in your hands every month.