The makings of compelling cosmic storytelling lie not just in the fantastic celestial setting, but also in its characters’ humanity (or lack thereof.) The appeal of Dan Abnett’s cosmic storytelling in particular is his mastery of this balance. Throughout his and Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova runs, characters were grounded in realistic motivations, showcasing the broken psyches of those affected by constant war. With the advent of his work on Justice League Odyssey, Abnett has continued to lay the groundwork for the personalities of his heroes, the foundational element to his grand story. With Darkseid gaining power and the structure of the universe itself in the balance, the not-so-merry band of misfits aboard the starcraft Astrorunner are compelled to contend with forces they cannot possibly match.
Structurally, Justice League Odyssey #15 feels sparse. A sizeable portion of the issue is dedicated to a fight sequence between the Eskaton, cosmic demons hellbent on destroying the last vestiges of the Fourth World, and the Astrorunner’s crew. While this does lead to interesting developments (namely the Eskaton joining forces with the crew to oppose Darkseid), it causes the storyline to feel decompressed.
This is the third issue since Darkseid’s gambit to destroy Jessica Cruz and the Justice League Odyssey, and Abnett’s soft reboot of the team is still gaining its legs. While the characterizations of each member are strong, the plot progression so far has felt almost stagnant. Characters spend a considerable amount of time telling each other information that the reader already knows and have spent multiple issues working up the resolve to face Darkseid and his army. This is in sharp contrast with early issues from Abnett’s JLO run, where every moment felt efficient and every plot beat felt intentional. By Justice League Odyssey #8, Abnett’s third issue overall, there was a war brewing between Blackfire’s forces and the Justice League. This sense of progression feels lost, as the book frustratingly captivates on the formation of the new team.
That’s not to say the book isn’t fun. While the moments are slower, the new team’s chemistry is realized in incredibly interesting ways. Okkult’s personal ties to the story are fascinating, made even more so by the danger imposed by the Eskaton. Abnett’s usage of DC’s cosmic history is breathtaking, simultaneously showcasing and revamping old and often forgotten concepts for a modern era. Between his inspired additions to Fourth World lore, his new treatment of the Zamarons, and the revelation of new character Gamma Knife’s origins, it is exciting to think of what will come next in Abnett’s exploration of DC’s science fiction and cosmic history. The best part of the issue, the centerpiece of the conflict with the Eskaton, revels in the pure and unabashed fun Abnett is having with these characters. In an entirely unexpected turn of events, we see Red Lantern Dex-Starr saunter up to the imposing cosmic demon and begin negotiating, a situation reminiscent of the dynamic of previous Abnett creation Cosmo the telepathic space dog.
This sense of joy and the strong characterizations Abnett has established only make the reader crave more from Justice League Odyssey. It is, put simply, a good book. The rising tension of Abnett’s first arc left an indelible print on the landscape of DC’s cosmic story. This unfortunately makes the stagnation sting all the more. The story does seem to be moving forward in upcoming chapters, but #15 feels like a bit of a holding pattern until then. Hopefully, given the introduction of Gamma Knife and the incoming conflict with Darkseid’s forces, the book can re-attain the levels of engagement and pure excitement that it held during Abnett’s first arc.
With the book relying on atmosphere more and more as the story slows, the art and visual atmosphere are more important than ever. Series regular Will Conrad and colorists Rain Beredo and Pete Pantazis match that expectation and exceed it. While Conrad is not the strongest character artist, with his faces a bit harsh and heavily shadowed, his backgrounds and cosmic designs are incredible. The digital medium in which he works lends itself well to intricate detail, showing off every facet of the Astrorunner’s sleek design. His cosmic effects are well-formed but take on a true life with the color work of Beredo and Pantazis. Though their general aesthetic can tend toward muted in the issue, their effects are bright and demand focus on the page. The care given to every aspect of the design sense of the issue is remarkable and, while not the best showing of art the series has had, still serves as an incredibly competent atmosphere builder.
The biggest complaint from reading Justice League Odyssey #15 is that there just isn’t enough. In a series that has built itself up as a fairly compressed and tightly written story, there is a bit of a lull that is hard to swallow. Everything about the book is well written and promises excellent storytelling in the future, but looking at this issue in a vacuum, the pacing just doesn’t measure up to the standards readers have come to expect from Abnett’s first (and with any luck, not final) foray into the rich tapestry of DC’s cosmic storytelling.