In comics there's a genre of story comprised of the five or six issues written by a guest team between two major teams' runs. Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's Batman: Broken City is an example, coming between Jeph Loeb and Judd Winick; more recently we saw Shea Fontana's Wonder Woman Vol. 5: Heart of the Amazon, being five issues between Greg Rucka's and James Robinson's runs.
Christopher Priest's Justice League Vol. 6: The People vs. the Justice League is another one of these, filling the space where Justice League might otherwise just not be published between Bryan Hitch's Rebirth run and Scott Snyder's post-Dark Nights: Metal No Justice and Justice League series. At the same time, Priest gets 10 issues, what we might actually charitably call a "run" these days, and it's enough room that Priest even ducks the "one arc and done" format for something harder to quantify.
Priest's guest-stint on Justice League brings much of what one would expect. Akin with his Deathstroke, Priest's League has a breeziness, ease of dialogue, and overall coolness that this title sometimes lacks. At the same time, being a guest, Priest's characterizations vary widely, and he plays fast and loose with what we might believe about the League in order to tell his story. This is one of those where the concluding volume will tell a lot about how we're to perceive Priest's League story overall.
[Review contains spoilers]
As mentioned, Priest's People vs. is not so tidy as other stories of this genre. Again like his Deathstroke "arcs," Priest's People vs. does not end so much as screech to a halt, and with barely any resolution to the story. And while this book does encompass the entirety of the "People vs. Justice League"-named five-parter (to be followed by the five-part "Justice Lost"), Priest's "conclusion" for instance is mostly a Flash spotlight issue, bucking to an extent this idea of arcs or trades.
I found that a letdown. It's one thing on Priest's Deathstroke where we know there's plenty more on the way, but for "ten and done," I'd as soon have it all in one book (or have waited to start reading till the second book came out) than to read five issues that stop in medias res. I don't demand writers write for the trade, but I'd as soon unconnected stories or a whole arc, not a piece of arc that's devoutly unfinished. Some years ago I didn't like when DC was publishing twelve-issue miniseries as two trades for much the same reason.
What we get in People vs. is the inciting incident of Batman's groggy leadership causing the death of a nun, and then a crazed fan of the League murdering people who speak out about it afterward. Neither of these stories are resolved by the end; the League neither catches "the Fan" nor do they discern the cause of Batman's problems -- if such a cause is to be found. Yes, there's some of Batman bowing out in the last issue, but Priest devotes the brunt of the issue to this odd solo Flash story; if there's thematic ties, there's also enough waving threads that the issue feels far from conclusive.
A good amount of how we regard this story will indeed rest on the final five issues. Priest is either writing a story where some villain has affected Batman's mind to cause him to make a mistake, or where Batman actually is so tired that he makes a mistake and a nun gets killed. There's a catalog of ways Batman could commit an error in-story, but being too tired seems the root of un-Batman-like, the kind of thing that really one could only propose in a guest-stint like this. Supernatural influence is not unprecedented (Dr. Destiny, for instance, or the machinations of one of Priest's Deathstroke characters whom I believe are visiting next time), but given the realism of the story, that might seem a cop-out, so in a sense Priest has no great options. Given that, if the conclusion impresses, that'll mean a lot.
From the top, Priest's Justice League has a cool aesthetic -- Green Lantern Simon Baz taking his salah time during an off-planet excursion, Batman mix-and-matching the Leaguer's positions, a lot of slang and shorthand. But Priest also demonstrates a League where errors are de rigueur -- Batman's mistake, but also the Fan is a Lexcorp employee who helped design the League's most recent Watchtower and has been watching them since, including learning all the heroes' identities. In and of itself that's an astounding blunder, also really unbelievable for anything but a guest-stint story.
That's in addition to Priest positing Wonder Woman's growing dissatisfaction with the League, having the Flash (whom he writes like Justice League Unlimited's Wally West, not comics' Barry Allen) severely mess up a rescue mission in space, and sparking a romance between Green Lantern Jessica Cruz and Batman -- all of which reads as wrong for the Justice League title, even if Priest writes it all with flair. Perhaps the power of a guest-writer story like this is the writer can take the title places that a main-series writer couldn't, but at the same time, when a guest writer's work doesn't ring true for a title, that often takes me out of the story (like when Fontana writes Wonder Woman still having trouble with idioms).
It was a joy to see Pete Woods drawing this title. It feels like it's been a while -- certainly more recently than Superman: New Krypton or Robin, but a while -- and while Woods' work is still nicely large and animated, it seems less rounded and more mature than what I recall. I don't think it's a coincidence that the final two issues of this book, not drawn by Woods, are among the less strong, with art that's more crowded and confusing than what came before.
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In all I'm eager for Justice League: No Justice. My enthusiasm for Justice League Vol. 6: The People vs. the Justice League stemmed entirely from my great enjoyment of Christopher Priest's Deathstroke, but whereas there's a good patter to the dialogue in the beginning, the story does seem to fall apart the wider the conflict swings. I'm curious to see if Priest can reel it back, but moreover, People vs. demonstrates itself more as a placeholder than I might have liked, and in that case I'm ready to move on to the next era.
[Includes original and variant covers, Pete Woods' cover and interior sketches]
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