Justice League Odyssey seemed an unlikely title, but Joshua Williamson pulls off something pretty great. This book is, to some extent, more "Titans" than Titans right now, and having even greater claim to the name. In broad strokes, Justice League Odyssey Vol. 1: The Ghost Sector starts to be about how people react to a certain kind of fame, and Williamson positions these characters such that conflicts, when they come, are both unexpected and feel wholly in-character. There's a lot of directions Williamson could go with this book, including graduating to a kind of Game of Thrones-type scope, and I'm more eager than I expected for the next volume.
[Review contains spoilers]
In scant glances at upcoming solicitations, I had seen that Odyssey involved in some way a planet or two that worshipped one or more of these heroes. It was still a surprise, however, to find that when Cyborg, Starfire, and Azrael find themselves trapped in the cosmic Ghost Sector, they're already considered gods — that there is some element of reality-bending or time travel here, such that the people of the Ghost Sector know a lot more about the heroes than the heroes do about them. That's very engaging, and Williamson gets a lot of credit for a conceit that builds a big world with a lot of stakes while requiring very low overhead from the characters or audience to get to that point.
I thought Williamson wrote a particularly clever scene toward the book's end in which Starfire lashes out at one of Azrael's "followers" because that follower, Rapture, murdered a planet-full of Starfire's followers, and Azrael protects him. None of these are particularly prideful characters nor given to despotism, and their taking sides unfolds in very natural ways — Starfire feels the genocide deeply (perhaps due to some mental persuasion) and lashes out in a very Starfire way; Azrael defends Rapture mainly to preserve their chance at answers about the Ghost Sector, but it still becomes on the face of it Starfire and Azrael's "houses" warring, each with partially just causes.
Williamson doesn't take it too far — Rapture himself ultimately breaks with Azrael — but we see here how easily previously "normal" heroes suddenly become invested in the plight of people they didn't know days before as soon as those people bow in worship. The book's scope seems relatively small going into the second book — the team, including Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, heads to Tamaran where Starfire's sister Blackfire waits, suggesting a revisiting of a conflict we've seen many times before — but equally there's the potential for Cyborg, Starfire, and Azrael all to become planetary leaders, warring and allying with one another in a kind of cosmic superhero battle campaign.
In pairing Cyborg, Starfire, Jessica, and Azrael, Williamson creates a small twenty-something team that feels very Titans-esque; obviously Cyborg and Starfire are the only "original" members, depending on your continuity, but there's precedent for a Green Lantern being a Titan and also an unrelated "Azrael." Dan Abnett's post-Justice League: No Justice Titans are also questionably Titans, though maybe that mix of young and old makes Abnett's Titans like Arsenal's post-Zero Hour Titans, whereas the Justice League Odyssey team is more like a space-fairing Outsiders (though their semi-divine status arguably makes them "Titans" proper). Darkseid is not really a fifth member of this team, being more an outside antagonist, and it feels like the book could stand one more character, Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes or the Ray, reintroduce Ferrin Colos or borrow Zatanna from Justice League Dark. A crossover with Marc Andreyko's Supergirl, also out traveling the cosmos, seems a must.
Williamson hints at a romance between Cyborg and Starfire here, which I don't "ship," if you will. For one thing, given Starfire's relationships now with both Nightwing and Arsenal, it would be nice if there was a member of Starfire's inaugural team with whom she was still "just friends." Second, as one of only two leading women in the book, to immediately shunt Starfire off into a relationship makes one question if she was included in the book to be anything more than a romantic foil at all. I'd just as soon Williamson not go there, though it does seem somewhat inevitable (a match made between the Bat- and Green Lantern families, however, I'd welcome with more interest).
Artist Stjepan Sejic's first two issues on this book are impressive, filled with meticulously drawn space dragons and sweeping, arcane alien tombs. It's another credit to Williamson that with the switch from a more fanciful artist like Sejic to artists with more common style, the story suffers none at all; I think that says a lot about the strength of the story. Philippe Briones does fine, but Williamson's Flash collaborator Carmine Di Giandomenico brings a visual difference that, if not like Sejic, still gives the book some extra character (and a helping of grit); I'd be happy to see Di Giandomenico continue on the title.
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I have had issues with Joshua Williamson's Flash, to be sure, though I liked his Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, and his work on Justice League Odyssey Vol. 1: The Ghost Sector suggests to me that, on a title for which I have fewer expectations, Williamson might be more my speed after all. Exactly how long a Justice League title can last starring a team not even recognized as a League and far removed from the day-to-day DC Universe is up in the air — we've seen plenty "removed" League spin-offs come and go over the years — but I'm interested to spend more time in this corner of the universe while it's there.
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