Justice League of America #5 kicks off the series’ second arc with “Heart of a Bastich” part one. Is it good?
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Andy MacDonald
Publisher: DC Comics
This issue introduces the League’s latest adversary, Aegeus, and his army of warriors decked out in ancient Grecian-esque armor. So far it is unclear if this is the same Aegeus who appeared as an adversary of Wonder Woman back in the New 52, or a new character assuming the mantle. Either way, he is a welcome replacement for the boring Extremists that the JLA fought in the last arc. While Aegeus has yet to receive any deep character analysis, what we see of him here is intriguing enough to generate interest in how the rest of this arc will go. As common of a trope as it is, I’m a sucker for villains who wax poetic about their warped world views and conquests to come. On this front, Aegeus delivers. His army’s themed aesthetic is just plain cool, as are their weapons, which mix relatively modern inventions (i.e. rifles) with mythological themes.
So, the villain is cool, but how are our heroes? Batman continues to act suspiciously in ways that provide evidence for AiPT! contributor Matthew Theriault’s theory that this Batman may be an imposter. On the downside, the writing doesn’t seem to trust the reader enough to reach their own conclusions. While the characters sometimes call out Batman’s strange behavior believably, we also get treated to a scene where one of the Leaguers mutters to themselves about how Batman is hiding something. Rather than coming off as a character talking to themselves, it almost feels like the character is speaking directly to the reader. The moment feels clunky and forced; more subtle handling of this plot point may have proven more effective.
Things don’t fare much better on the artistic front. This series has had three different pencillers across five issues. This lack of artistic stability further hinders a comic that was already struggling to establish itself effectively due to its mixed narrative quality. While penciller Andy MacDonald delivers some really cool two-page spreads, architecture, and action scenes (his renderings of Aegeus’ army are the strongest parts of the issue), a lot of his work on facial expressions feels rushed and unbalanced. The art has a lot of plus sides, but it gets hampered down by its negative qualities as well as the fact that no one artist has stayed on long enough to give the series a consistent enough aesthetic.
Asides from the good aspects of MacDonald’s artwork, this issue’s quality is also boosted by some of writer Steve Orlando’s narrative choices. My favorite scene in the issue was a press conference in which Vixen speaks with reporters about how the League exists to serve the public, and will conduct its missions with an increased degree of transparency. Vixen fields questions about Killer Frost and Lobo’s criminal backgrounds, which helps to make the scene feel believable. MacDonald’s art for this scene is some of the best in the issue, as he manages to fit the entire press conference into one two-page spread without making it feel overly cramped. This ability to pack a lot of information into small amounts of space is important; comics cost a lot nowadays.
Overall, this isn’t a bad issue. The art has a lot of plus sides, we get some much-needed attention on the plot point of this JLA trying to appeal to the public, and Aegeus is a much cooler villain that the last arc’s Extremists. On the other hand, some of the dialogue is clunky, a lot of the characters’ facial expressions look off, and the series’ lack of artistic consistency is a bummer. Nonetheless, this issue is enjoyable; it’s just not a must-read.