“Justice League” #45’s credits page bill this comic as the first chapter of the second act of “The Darkseid War.” Considering last issue’s climax with the death of Darkseid, that’s understandable. As Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul begin to pick up the pieces of that momentous event, they’re also building on an idea Grant Morrison had posited in his “JLA” run many years ago: that these characters are a pantheon in their own right.
“Justice League” #45 examines the transformations of several of its characters (Batman, Superman, Flash) into various deities, even as Johns starts to identify others within the League on a similar plateau. While Morrison’s idea of the Justice League as a modern Olympus never went to this extreme, there is a certain parallel between the two takes on this group of iconic characters. It makes sense, in that these are the mightiest of the mighty within the DC Universe, and Johns takes that to a literal level. After all, one character was already a god before this story began (Wonder Woman) and a second is directly powered by six gods (Shazam), so what’s a little more godhood among friends?
It’s also hard to not note that “Justice League” is slightly out of step from the other titles — Bruce Wayne is still Batman, Superman is still fully powered, the Green Lantern Corps still exists — though that makes more sense now as these characters ascend to various states of godhood. While it almost certainly means that at least a partial (if not complete) reset button is in the works for this storyline’s conclusion, it now gives Johns free reign to do what he wants with a certain level of impunity. This is more than just Batman in the Mobius Chair; it’s a series of wholesale shifts and transformations from the mightiest to the weakest on the team. The downside is that it robs the book of any feeling of consequence, at least for now. While that could change down the line, the promise of a reset button means you can’t worry too much about the big, nasty changes to characters like Lex Luthor or the Flash. It’s the newest character, Power Ring, who I feel stands to lose the most here. Johns has done a nice job of showing her slowly gain confidence throughout this story; hopefully, if anyone can keep their transformation intact, it’s her stronger backbone and belief in herself.
Manapul’s art is the proverbial mixed bag this month. There are some panels and pages in “Justice League” #45 that look great, like the four-panel assemblage of Batman, Superman, Darkseid and Wonder Woman. It’s the same amount of face for each character, but their expressions are varied and each evoke a different emotion. On the other hand, it’s also hard to not get slightly thrown out by the sheer number of panels that are missing backgrounds — the scenes on Apokolips in particular — and how characters can look detailed and expressive one panel but flat and overly simplistic the next. There are also remarkably few of his signature ink washes, ones that fans would expect Manapul and Buccellato to color in a way that evokes a sense of wonder. That’s all the more a pity, because it’s something he normally captures so perfectly. I’m a big fan of Manapul’s art, but this isn’t the best example of his talents.
“Justice League” #45 leads into multiple one-shots over the next few weeks, serving as much as a launching point as it does the next stage of this storyline. There are some good ideas in here, but — as the changes and shifts to the characters continue to grow on an exponential level — it’s unfortunately also robbed the book of any real sense of drama. Hopefully, Johns will find a way to bring that back before long. In the end, it’s above average, but no longer reaching heights of excellence. That reset button just off to the right is far too hard to ignore.