The mystery of what happened to Power Ring bookends the origin of Darkseid’s daughter Grail in “Justice League: Darkseid War Special” #1, an interlude of sorts to Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok’s ongoing storyline in “Justice League.” While the issue feels a bit like a filler piece, it nonetheless ties in nicely to the main story and tells the story of Grail and her parallels to Wonder Woman’s own origin. Alongside artists Ivan Reis, Oscar Jimenez, Paul Pelletier, Joe Prado and Tony Kordos, Johns manages to advance Jessica Cruz’s ongoing struggle to control her ring and even delivers a surprise at the end of the issue; however, the main focus stays on Grail and her conflict-laden relationship with her mother Myrina, who Johns also uses to further the story, albeit to a lesser extent.
The first four pages — which focus on Jessica’s soul being trapped within her ring — abruptly give way to the far lengthier story of Grail’s birth and upbringing, and the switch between artists indicates this issue was cobbled together. Aside from those most notable misgivings, though, the disjointedness is relatively unobtrusive. Johns establishes a distant connection between the two plotlines near the end of the issue, and the transitions between artists are remarkably consistent. This “special” passes inspection just fine as a regular issue of the comic, although a disclaimer on the first story page would have benefitted readers unsure of where this issue falls within the storyline.
Johns nicely establishes the conflict within Grail, who clearly takes after her father Darkseid despite being raised as an Amazon by her mother. Myrina’s positive influence on her fades as the child gets older and her heritage as a child of Apokolips emerges, and the inevitable conflict between the two escalates to a near-breaking point. This causes a sense of ever-rising tension throughout the story, and — while there’s also a sense of predictability due to the story’s flashback nature — Johns keeps readers engaged. The art team captures a consistent sense of darkness throughout the character’s origin, as they travel the world through times of war and conflict. Grail is alternatingly rendered as innocent and evil as her own conflict rages, which the artists capture well with this back-and-forth maneuvering.
Jessica’s segment evokes darkness of a different nature as haunting images of dead souls trapped within the power ring torment her, all enhanced with darker shades of green from colorist Alex Sinclair. The constant trepidation of the fear-fraught Harold Jordan, the original Power Ring, is perfectly captured by way of his pained facial expressions, although his constant whining gets old quickly. Jessica’s character grows as she faces her own fear, trying to escape from within the ring and reclaim it as her own.
“Justice League: Darkseid War Special” #1 comes across as a weaker chapter in Johns’ “Darkseid War” event, but that’s largely because previous chapters have been so strong. The issue is more-than-capable on its own, and — although it isn’t intended to be read as a standalone — it holds up pretty well thanks to remarkably consistent art and well-constructed characterization.