Look out folks, here comes Bryan Hitch, and Jesus Merino, and Andy Owens, and Neil Edwards, and Daniel Henriques, OH MY!  This forest is all full of scary animals that’ll eat a Scarecrow’s straw.  It’s November, 2016, and it's time for DC Comics to get going and make things darker before it gets light.

TO QUOTE my Mom: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Or alternatively, TO QUOTE David Andrews: “Hey, Keath! What gives? The Great Wall of China was built quicker than you reviewing the next two issues of the Justice League.”

First off, let’s just say that I’m glad The Extinction Machine story-line is way behind us.  The occasional moments of interesting character spotlights in a sea of “what if Memetic took place in a world with super heroes but without any interesting reflections on human nature?” have passed, Phew! Plus the initial awkwardness of Barry Allen's uninvited advances and bad-touch contact is behind us.  We now know that Jessica Cruz has an actual interest in him so we can reframe his prior creepiness as somewhat reasonable flirting. We did a little two-step dance through the two part story-arc, State of Fear, with the moderately interesting “what if all the superheroes were overcome with fear?”, which thankfully was the first post-Rebirth Justice League adventure worth spending time and money on.  I knew it was coming!

Granted, we lost a team member along the way. But that said, taking the character that was at the center of State of Fear and sending her off, so to speak, while Outbreak seems to still be pretty closely tied in to it, seems like it’s either a terrible idea or a none-too-subtle creation of drama through sheer character omission.  I’m hoping for the latter, despite it still feeling like a very weak and telegraphed resolution.

For the most part, though, State of Fear was a decent pair of issues.  The ambiguous “bad influence” villain that was seemingly defeated in part 1 rears it’s ugly head more subtly in part 2, amplifying all the fears and insecurities lurking in the minds of the members of the Justice League.  Which is great, by the way, save for feeling painfully redundant when it comes to Cyborg.  I don’t know that we’ve had anything in either series that definitively indicates which came first, but, well, we can do better with Vic than constantly making him question his humanity.  Contrariwise (continued Tweedledee), a high point was the distinction in which characters recognized they were not in their right mind versus those that just got lost in their rage -- such as Kal-El trashing the Batcave in frustration, as it left a beautiful unspoken comparison to the Superman that came before, while Barry, on the other hand, didn’t so much have the presence of mind to break through, but mysteriously was able to hear the bad influence voice that was plaguing Jessica and break through to her via their personal connection and his unwavering faith in her strength.  What was once a creepy case of newbie flirting crossed with savior worship has gracefully evolved in to one of the best superhero love stories we’ll likely never see fully fleshed out.

When we finally push past the mysterious bad mojo cloud and revisit our Justice Leaguers as the world recovers from the Kindred, things take a turn for the weird.  Hitch finally starts to build mysteries that actually give the reader a sense that there’s something worth trying to figure out.  Admittedly, some of it might not have been intended a mystery, but it’s fun nonetheless.  Yes, I’m talking about the sole civilian victim of the Kindred attack -- the one who the opening to Outbreak is ensnared to.  Who was she?  And more importantly, who is her husband that we’ve awkwardly not seen or heard mentioned by name? 

The casual fan might lean towards Ray Palmer, who, last we know, was trapped in the microverse and sent a distress message to Ryan, casually mentioning that Jean Palmer / Loring is alive and divorced.  So did he remarry?  Does he have a sibling or cousin?  Is he still an Agent of S.H.A.D.E.?

Or better yet, are we somehow invoking The Ghost Who Walks into the DC Universe?  As far as I know, the Phantom license currently belongs to Dynamite. But if I recall correctly, the current shared King Features continuity that launched with Jeff Parker’s Kings Watch has made no mention of Diana Palmer, and since then the stories have focused on Kit’s legacy rather than his ancestry.  Yes, it’s a different name, but when Diane’s daughter is named Lily, the same name as Diana’s mother in The Phantom, it can’t help but feel intentional.  But why?

As for the other big mystery, Batman’s voice command authorization code: MARTHAWAYNE1940; this makes no sense at all.  1940 is way too early to be Martha Wayne’s birth year in current continuity.  And it’s a year too late to be a clever meta reference to her first appearance as a character.  So what’s the reference?  If memory serves, we haven’t really gotten much post-Flashpoint Wayne or Kane family history between Alan Wayne’s 1880s exploits and the generation that relates to Bruce’s parents, save for a throwaway tidbit about one of Kate’s great-grandfathers (likely the Kane) being a bootlegger, presumably during prohibition.  There’s been nothing to contradict Kenneth, Laura, Patrick, and Silas as established pre-Flashpoint, but with the new timeline there’s likely more than two generations between Alan and Thomas.  So what’s up with tying Martha to 1940?  Is there another Martha Wayne to be learned of?  Is it just a random sequence of characters thrown in to the comic to make me think there’s something interesting to be learned in this story?  Is it Bruce actually getting his own authorization code wrong and not a result of the hack that preceded it’s use?

Speaking of the hack, I’m willing to forgive a lot of fantasy science in my comics.  But it needs to make a modicum of sense.  I’ll allow a Trojan horse somehow loaded into a new security software.  I’ll even allow for a man who’s more than half (alien) technology to get hacked via photon-encrypted code in a news broadcast.  But I draw the line with techno-babble about using an external drive to “pull the operating system out of the full network to hold it in a closed loop”, especially when dealing with what has traditionally been very overtly and intentionally terrestrial (though pre-bleeding edge) technology.  After all, Alfred tears all of the network cables out of the back of the rack servers.  And then… what?  Uploads some magic code from a cell phone to the Batmobile that disables everything?

Sigh! Give me strength!

As I'm on the subject of Alfred, Edwards’ depiction of him looks more like Tim Curry’s Rooster than any version we’ve seen in the last half decade, and it certainly didn’t help the Batcave scene stay in the moment.  Otherwise, though, the art has been incredibly fun to look at.  We’ve got a story that’s revolving primarily around Cyborg and Batman, but the fun of freefalling watchtowers, terrified citizenry, boom tubes, and every Bat-toy in the cave in murderbot mode, is more than enough eye candy to really bring some enjoyment back to the book when your mind starts getting frustrated at all the bad science shenanigans.  The only art gripe I need to throw out there (other than Easy Street Pennyworth) is what I’m assuming is a colorist issue with Cyborgs arms switching from flesh to metal between frames -- arguably an effect of his hack, but the lack of comment on the discrepancy makes it feel like an error.

It’s already been established that Batman was able to hack the tech in a Green Lantern ring to hijack it’s communications system, so I’ll allow the cliffhanger hack with no hesitation.  Plus, that’s the first engaging cliffhanger we’ve had in this series.  Let’s go buy issue 9!

But before we do, here's some honest questions: Can Cyborg breathe in space?  Does he actually need to breathe at all?  Does he have lungs?  Would a free fall not even have a frostbite effect on his fleshy bits?  I need some canon confirmation of the science behind this.

The theme song to this pair of issues is obviously the Stereo MCs mega-hit, Connected.  Something isn’t right, right? Yet they’re all connected. The mysterious magic hacking entity is making them sick with their dirty tricks, if the League neglects their mind then they might stumble and fall, and they are all terrified and such.  Plus that whole thing about the light that will hopefully not blind them next issue. Ka-Boom!

Making the heroes manifest their greatest fears and doubts in order to divide them and get up to some nefarious intent… hmmm… where have I seen that before?  Well, lots of places I suppose.  But the one that seems the most fun to use as a comparison is Barbas, the demon of fear; Billy Drago’s creepy ass character from Charmed

Granted, the mysterious fear entity from State of Fear didn’t have any clear nefarious intent beyond being a fear entity.  Unless, of course, the mysterious fear entity is in league with the magical hacking entity, which would imply that they’re also both in league with the Kindred, a.k.a. the nonsensical power-stealing-pile-of-people entities.  They’re like the Legion of Doom, except the Trinity of Mystery, Magic, and Nonsense doesn’t have the fancy sea-monster-themed swamp fortress-ship headquarters.  They probably float around in a transdimensional nondescript ethereal headquarters entity.

I may have gotten off point here.  To sum up, State of Fear = Barbas.  Right-o.

It was a long time getting here, but we finally have the beginnings of a Justice League story worth picking up comics for.

We’ve trashed the Batcave, fixed the Batcave, and trashed the Batcave again, including knocking down the damn dinosaur.  We’ve knocked the Watchtower out of orbit, boom tubed it back in to orbit, and were then promptly distracted so nobody could go check on it to make sure its, say, still in orbit with operational systems to keep it there.  Oh, and the mysterious magic hacking entity now has access to generate boom tubes -- plus that other thing.  One would assume there’s still the lingering doubts, fears, and resentment spread throughout the League members.  And I’m pretty sure there’s still a stack of submarines at a U.S. Naval base somewhere.

So what next, true believers?

  • We learn that Hephasteus’ forge has some technological element that can be hacked and suddenly have autonomous swords and lassos romping around San Francisco.
  • Oh, crap!  Armies rise from the oceans after the Atlantean military command is hacked!
  • Yup, the Speed Force can be hacked.  Aaaaand… that results in what?  Barry no longer having control over how fast (or slow) he’s going?  Pulling Jay Garrick and Johnny Quick out of whatever neck of the Speed Force they’re hiding in?
  • The Fortress of Solitude computers get hacked (yes, again) and it randomly starts releasing people from the Phantom Zone (again)?

I mean, obviously, they’re all happening, right?  It’s just a matter of the sequence of events, right?  I guess we might not get the ones that are happening (or have already happened) in other titles, but we’ve already sort of retreaded Cyborg’s recent psycho drama, so why not repeat a few other story themes as well?

And then Jessica will come back and save the day by concentrating really hard, driving the mystery hacking entity away, save for that little bit that remains behind in everyone’s … uh … systems. Maybe we can throw in a Phantom Ring as well and maybe have Jonathan, Damian, and Maya be the ones to save the day.  Because, obviously, Bobby Palmer is the mastermind behind this all.  And we can’t have a pre-teen taken down by the adult League.  Right?  Right.  Mark my words.  Mark them.

*** Just reading and writing and rambling in the back of the Joker's old Ho-Home-On-Wheels... Keath.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #7 & #8 JUSTICE LEAGUE #7 & #8 Reviewed by David Andrews on November 15, 2016 Rating: 5

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