This may sound strange, but reading “Justice League of America” #43 made me feel bad for James Robinson. Previous writer Dwayne McDuffie’s problems with storylines and roster changes getting changed left and right are well-documented, and it’s starting to feel like Robinson is now getting pulled into that same particular nightmare. I’m not sure there’s any other way to describe how a book can build a roster and then already start losing members two issues later.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that “Justice League of America” is getting dragged into the “Rise and Fall” story with Green Arrow. For people who weren’t fans of it or “Justice League: Cry for Justice,” this will no doubt be a turn-off. It certainly makes this title feel like a tangled mess, shuffling between Robinson’s first big story regarding stolen technology and the after-effects of Green Arrow going after Prometheus. It would have made sense if the “Rise and Fall” one-shot had contained the story, but instead it keeps showing up, over and over again. We also see one member quit, with mentions of other ones having gone away for a while, their permanent status unknown. It’s a strange storytelling choice after creating this team just over the previous two issues, to already see it getting dismantled. It’s also hard to not look at these departures as something that might not have been in Robinson’s control.
Mark Bagley’s art is a little disorienting in place, something I’d never felt about his recent work on books like “Trinity” and “Batman.” The opening fight sequence can only charitably referred to as a mess, one where you might just be better to just read the captions and dialogue and ignore the visuals. Characters are all over the place, and there are some spots where I could not tell what had just happened. The bright side, though, is once that’s done things calm down immensely. The second half of the book is much stronger in terms of both storytelling and individual character designs, and that’s a huge step in the right direction. I’m still not sure why Bagley’s been so variable on this title, but the fact that it ends stronger than it begins gives me hope.
Another sign of hope is that Robinson is having the characters notice some of the problems with the make-up of the book and comment on them. Between Dick Grayson musing that the Justice League isn’t working as a team, and Green Arrow’s wondering (non-ironically) how things all got so much darker, one hopes it’s writing on the wall that things are going to change. Robinson has stated in interviews that he wants a more heroic, happy group of characters in the title and I’m crossing my fingers that this is the first step along those lines. “Justice League of America” is a book that is still going to merit monitoring; if things continue to improve it will be worth sticking around. In the book’s present precarious state, though, I certainly couldn’t encourage blindly staying on board. There just isn’t enough of a track record to merit that.