The third chapter of “The Darkseid War” is a gripping and tension-driven installment, raising the stakes and escalating the action on a grand cosmic scale. Writer Geoff Johns has been building to this story since the first issue of this volume and the writer delivers action and drama at a level befitting of that. Jason Fabok’s pencils answer the call, combining the dynamic power of Jim Lee with the detail and character acting of Gary Frank. Through it all, Johns weaves interpersonal character drama and themes of nature vs. nurture as Diana faces off against the daughter of Darkseid. After touching on Superman and Lex Luthor’s plot in the previous issue, that thread is pulled back to the front with a cliffhanger that delivers enough storytelling impact that it has the potential to be a favorite design of the Man of Steel for many years to come.
What’s incredible about this issue is how much Johns packs into the pages on both a macro and micro scale. The writer uses first person point of view and moments between major players to reflect the larger dangers and action surrounding them all. It’s not just that Darkseid and Anti-Monitor are facing off with Earth caught in the middle; it’s the view through Diana’s eyes as she realizes there’s no escape. Her perspective on gods and grand warfare is key to escalating the action as Fabok renders both gods larger than life, their armies straining against themselves to unleash hell on one another. It’s not just Batman controlling the Moebius Chair; it’s allowing Green Lantern to drive the conversation that gives the scene its poignancy. Hal Jordan isn’t wrong in his fear of Batman finally biting off more than he can chew, but Batman’s dismissive nature plays right into Lantern’s cocksure and know-it-all attitude, going back to their meeting in issue one.
The thread that follows Superman and Lex Luthor across the ghettos of Apokolips is the highlight of the issue, as it allows both characters to bounce off of one another in antagonistic ways even as they must rely on each other for survival. Superman’s mistrust of Luthor, which is well-founded, leads him to decisions that aren’t completely steeped in logic, which allow Luthor to gain the upper hand in their exchanges. The best moment of the book comes from the two discussing the Man of Tomorrow’s loss of power, as Clark says he will soon be human, to which Luthor snaps back, “You’ll be powerless. You’ll NEVER be human.” Fabok illustrates Luthor with pure disgust and revelry in the moment, isolating it in its own close-up for maximum impact.
The artist is a seemingly perfect choice for Johns, as he is able to combine the macro with the micro as well. The opening scene — which introduces Kalibak as a player — is a perfect example, with the artist focusing tight panels on the mad god murdering one of his “pets” and licking the blood from his mace, before turning into a full splash reveal on the next page that gives him a commanding and dangerous presence.
Fabok, already very capable before taking over this book, has grown as a storyteller by leaps and bounds in his work with Johns. The writer, meanwhile, continues to find ways to present far-reaching ideas in a relatable and human way that draws in the reader until they are gripping the pages tighter and tighter. If this storyline sticks the landing — and Johns is known for great follow through on his more ambitious stories — this creative run on “Justice League” could be one for the ages.