Celestial energy pulsates throughout Cyborg’s body, vibrating every synapse and circuit. Despite Starfire’s frenzied pleas to let go, he plunges further into the Machine World’s Mother Box. In the desperate pursuit for any sliver of information the team can use to stop Darkseid, Cyborg is engulfed by the Programmer’s personal living computer. Reacting quickly, Azrael leaps onto his teammate with the dire hope of severing this malicious connection. The former assassin clings to Cyborg, his words muffled the crackle of otherworldly electricity:
“…You need to have faith in yourself.”
One of the coolest things that Josh Williamson has attempted with Justice League Odyssey’s first five issues is to highlight a specific character while also driving the narrative forward. An excellent idea in theory, this is met with some mixed success in previous issues due to quick pacing and the need to move from one set piece to the next. With Justice League Odyssey #5, Williamson sets a majority of the action on the Machine World while also providing Azrael with some time to shine. As a result, it is not a surprise that this issue provides us with the tightest and strongest narrative since the series’ premiere.
In addition to some of the greater mysteries swirling around Justice League Odyssey, one of the largest questions that I’ve had since the first issue has surrounded Azrael’s inclusion on the team. This was addressed briefly during the first issue when Cyborg mentions that he stowed away on their ship. However, beyond serving as the role of stowaway, and obligatory Bat-character on the team, Azrael’s inclusion had not been completely justified. As a result, the character had always felt a little, but not completely, out of his depth when standing next to characters with more cosmic connections.
Justice League Odyssey #5 does a great job of explaining Jean-Paul Valley’s purpose on the team without explicitly spelling it out for the reader. Some of my favorite elements from this series are tethered to concepts surrounding religion. Beyond establishing that there will be a holy war of the worlds within the Ghost Sector to determine old god supremacy, Williamson does a great job exploring familiar religious tropes. Azrael’s origin is inextricably linked to holy wars, cults and the Order of St. Dumas. As a result, Azrael’s experience makes him an expert in this arena. Through imparting his experience with the Order of St. Dumas, Azrael is able to draw Cyborg back from the brink of destruction. Additionally, Jean-Paul’s rebuke of Rapture’s murderous tactics illustrate a character growth that will enable him to provide a much needed sense of ethos for the team during times of war. It is this experience that makes him a perfect fit for this team. Additionally, it was an excellent choice to frame this issue with Azrael’s backstory as it helped to clearly solidify the concepts.
“If you believed what I believe in, you never would have slaughtered the innocent. You would have tried to teach them. To show them the light.”
Williamson uses Justice League Odyssey #5 to unpack a ton of concepts surrounding religion. For anyone who has studied any facet of religion, lines such as, “This is how we program ourselves to be closer to you,” should sound eerily familiar. Additionally, the process of converting someone over to “our way of thinking” should draw some real world connections. This helps to ground characters like the Programmer into concepts with which we can understand. He believes his actions are holy and designed to make him more like his god. Additionally, Williamson continues to explore the notion that a well-meaning message can be twisted to suit our own desires much in the same way that religious teachings have been used in the past to accomplish both good and bad things. He accomplishes this through the use of interactions between the Programmer, Cyborg, Rapture and Azrael. Both the Programmer and Rapture’s understanding of their old gods’ values are flawed and do not represent the entirety of their beliefs.
“This Ghost Sector, as you call it, is a ticking clock to doom.”
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art with Ivan Pilascencia’s colors perfectly convey the frenetic battle between our heroes and the Machine World warriors. Di Giandomenico’s pencils do a great job conveying character emotion throughout the entire battle. Additionally, Pilascencia’s colors expertly give Jessica Cruz’s constructs some weight while also conveying that they are constructs of her will without making them appear translucent. Pilascencia gives the constructs a different texture that allows them to standout from their surroundings. The panel layout here which juxtaposes our heroes’ methods with Darkseid’s is really effective.
Honestly, the only complaint that I have after reading the issue is the name Darkseid gives to the item he was searching for on Tamaran: “The Other Box.” I like that they made it rhyme with Mother Box, but it feels a little uninspired. Maybe they should have hired Cisco to give this thing a better name.
Ultimately, Justice League Odyssey #5 is the best installment in this series since the first issue. Williamson provides the tightest narrative yet by setting a majority of the action on the Machine World while making the conflict relatable by thematically grounding it in religion. Additionally, this provides some much needed justification for Azrael’s purpose on the team. Moreover, Carmine Di Giandomenico’s beautiful art with Ivan Pilascencia’s colors perfectly tells the story.