Cheers feverishly crescendo throughout the arena, jolting the crowd’s favored combatant, Cyborg, back to consciousness. Commanding a trio of mechanical velociraptors and brandishing a flaming sword, Azrael awaits combat with his new teammate. In this battle of the “old gods,” Cyborg must prove that he is this world’s mechanical messiah through victory or face a false prophet’s unceremonious dismantling.
“Welcome… to the test!”
Between a team-up of some of my favorite characters, the mystery surrounding the “old gods,” Darkseid’s unknown plans, and a potential war between the Ghost Sector’s worlds, Justice League Odyssey has a lot of elements that continue to draw me into the narrative maelstrom from one issue to the next. With issue number 4, Joshua Williamson continues to play with the notion of these characters as gods as he takes us to see Cyborg’s worshipers on the “more civilized” machine world.
One of the best things that this series has going for it at this point in time are the ideas that establish its foundation. With these first four issues, Williamson has been faced with the difficult task of not only building believable worlds that worship our heroes of deities, but also pushing the narrative forward in an engaging manner. I think he has achieved this goal with mixed results.
The machine worlds that worship Cyborg certainly feel the most fleshed out as they have either not been destroyed by unseen forces or yet to be visited. There is certainly a statement that Williamson is making about society as a whole when it looks so beautiful and technologically advanced yet requires gladiatorial combat to verify its gods. Williamson doesn’t necessarily beat you over the head with this statement, but it is hard to miss the irony here. Additionally, this trip to the machine world helps drive the narrative forward by showing the reader what the machine worshipers have built. It’s not hard to understand how such an item might lead to future conflict within the series.
I love all of Williamsons’ narrative ideas. However, there is so much going on within each issue that I don’t always love the payoff for these ideas. A lot of the resolution to the battle between Cyborg and Azrael falls flat. I think a lot of this is because we haven’t truly had the time to build toward an inner conflict between Cyborg and Azrael.
This is a missed opportunity, because Williamson could have given this battle some emotional depth by exploring clashing ideologies. Instead, we’re essentially given a dick-measuring contest surrounding the technological capabilities of the two combatants. Although this works at a surface level, I struggle with this justification for conflict. We are only ever told that Azrael brags about technological capabilities of his suit. It is never shown to us and as a result the conflict feels hollow.
At the end of the issue, Williamson makes a statement about religion to which I think everyone can relate. When asked, the Programmer touts that he is spreading Cyborg’s message that being a machine is better. Cyborg attempts to try to deny this before being distracted by the machine world’s creation. Although he may have never directly said this, he did proclaim his technological superiority during his battle with Azrael. In essence, his words have been misinterpreted to mean something different than originally intended.
“Damn. This one is on me, isn’t it?”
Philippe Briones art does an excellent job conveying the action presented within the issue. One of my favorite pages features Cyborg enjoying his victory over Azrael. Cyborg’s upper torso is surrounded by panels featuring his fallen opponents, the crowd, and cheers with his name. This page is perfectly punctuated by him shouting, “Booyah!” It fondly reminds me of the Teen Titans cartoon without feeling over the top.
Overall, Justice League Odyssey #4 features a lot of intriguing ideas without necessarily revealing too any answers. The machine world feels fleshed out and provides the reader with commentary on society and religion. Unfortunately, the payoff falls flat because not enough time has been devoted to showing inner conflict between Cyborg and Azrael. However, the reveal of the machine world’s creation is more than enough to bring me back for the next issue.