Last month’s Len Wein-written interlude turns out not to have mattered one bit to this Milestone-meets-JLA storyline, even though “Starbreaker” teamed up with the Shadow Thief at the end of that issue. The Shadow Thief is here — it even says so on the cover, as if the words “vs. Shadow Thief!” will pull the sweet lucre from the hands of hesitant readers. “Oh, yes, Shadow Thief!” the ideal reader would shout in the hallowed halls of the comic shop. “I’ve been waiting for him to fight the Justice League ever since all those other times when he kind of lamely appeared in various DC comics!”
So the Shadow Thief is the threat here — powered up with the ability to create shadow duplicates of the heroes. When Shadow Thief says stuff like, “the lord demands a sacrifice,” he’s presumably talking about Starbreaker, but it doesn’t really matter. He’s just a shadowy bad guy for the good guys to punch here. He’s a reason for the Shadow Cabinet (no relation) to team up with the Justice League instead of just bickering with them.
If this Milestone crossover arc was meant to introduce the characters to the readers of the DCU, it’s not very successful. McDuffie gives black Superman analogue Icon a few lines of dialogue and a little bit more characterization than the others, but the rest of the Milestone characters leave no impression at all. Except the dude made out of clouds and sky — Twilight, I believe he’s called. He has a strong visual presence at least. The rest of the Milestone characters look like little more than rejects from the 1990s school of ugly costume design. When Icon’s partner, Rocket appears, her dramatic entrance is diminished by her ridiculous appearance. I’m sure the hoop earring, headgear, metal leg straps, plus jacket-over-the-costume look was pretty cool in 1993 — actually, I remember 1993, and it wasn’t even cool back then — but it’s 2009, and next to the classic costumes of the JLA, it just doesn’t work. Her costume makes Zatanna look classy by comparison.
McDuffie does end this three-part storyline well, giving Superman an epic superhero moment as he stops a giant shadow globe from destroying the Earth. And the Milestone characters sneak away at the end, having taken what they need from the JLA and promising more ominous deeds in the future. There might be some story potential there.
It’s certainly not a good-looking comic — artists Jose Luis and JP Mayer do little more than a second-rate Ed Benes riff (and the emotional center of the issue, the scene in which Icon and Superman have their sit down chat, is completely undermined by Luis’s inability to draw anything other than the same facial expression over and over), and the clashing colors of all the costumes don’t evoke visual harmony of any kind. But all of that is pretty consistent with the DC house style over the past few years, so it is what it is.
Even though McDuffie has been on this series for years, it still doesn’t feel like he’s had a chance to tell a real story. It’s been all event tie-ins or character introductions — the Tangent characters! Milestone! — and nothing in terms of small stories that matter or larger stories that have a chance to evolve. If “Justice League of America” is supposed to be the flagship superhero team book of the DC Universe, then it’s not living up to its responsibility. At this point, it’s little more than a “JLA Classified” comic. One mediocre story after another.