Artist Tony S. Daniel joins writer Geoff Johns for a special two-issue stint on “Justice League” #13-14; presumably to give incoming new series artist Ivan Reis time to build up a backlog before taking over next month. Wwhile it hasn’t been a bad story — one that in fact plays to a couple of strengths that “Justice League” has needed — it is a bit telling that it’s the back-up feature that will probably grab your attention a bit more.
“Justice League” #14 wraps up a story involving the Cheetah, an old foe of Wonder Woman’s — or rather, an old foe that we haven’t seen in the re-launched DC Universe until this story. That might not sound like a problem, but there is one: the story in part hinges on Wonder Woman’s trust in Barbara Minerva and their friendship prior to Minerva’s transformation into a super-villain. Instead of having seen this play out, though, we’re just told about it in a lump of exposition. As a result, when we start to learn more about the heritage of the Cheetah powers as well as Minerva’s past in this concluding issue, it lacks any real punch. If Johns had revealed that Minerva was really an alien from Saturn, it would be hard to even bat an eye because this new Cheetah isn’t a character we’ve grown to care about.
Where the main story in “Justice League” #14 does work is in showing the League work as a team. Teamwork has been somewhat lacking in more than a brief nod to the idea in the first year (once again being told rather than shown) so having the team cooperate as they move the Cheetah into a trap is a pleasant change. It’s not just working to capture a villain that is on display here either. There’s genuine caring among the team members of the League; you get the impression that they’re friends, and it makes them having stuck together for five years and not admitted any new members since then all the more believable.
Daniel’s art is somewhat variable here. Some moments are impressive, like Wonder Woman’s kicking Cheetah through the air with its beautiful Amazonian vista spread out behind them, or the moment when Cheetah is finally caught. Then a couple of pages later, you get strange moments like Superman’s, “This is why I’m Superman” where it looks like a department store mannequin, or the very strange angle in which we view the Cheetah and the Flash confronting one another. The inconsistency is a shame, because when Daniel’s good he’s very good, but it feels like these rough patches needed just a bit more time to get smoothed out.
It’s the “Shazam!” back-up feature that works well from start to finish, though. The primary focus this month is on the recently awakened Black Adam, and Johns’ take on him is similar to what we’d seen Johns do with the character in “JSA” years ago. Here he’s not so much a villain out to do bad things, as someone whose decisions on how to “fix” wrongs are out of touch with modern society and destructive. It’s an interesting balance for the end pages of the story, which promise a more menacing Black Adam, and I hope we see more of this dichotomy within the character. Shazam’s portions of the story are much more light-hearted and amusing, and it’s nice to see that now that Billy is going through his hero’s journey that he’s continued to get more likable. Add in some always-nice art from Gary Frank and we end up with a strong second feature.
“Justice League” #14 is a book that has its ups and downs, but ultimately evens out. The main feature has its issues but also its strengths, and the back-up is solid the whole way through. It feels like “Justice League” on the whole is on the right track, though; hopefully next month’s “Throne of Atlantis” crossover with “Aquaman” won’t derail that.