The blame falls mostly on myself. I’ve made impulsive purchases before, and ought to have learned my lesson by now. Not only so, but all the resources to inform me of my impending purchase were a single click away. But, instead of taking the time to confirm the name of the issue’s writer and artist, to check out the three preview page (all of which would have told me that this issue of Justice League of America was not written and drawn by Bryan Hitch, nor was it part of his arc about the Kryptonian god Rao), I decided to click “Buy Now” on the Comixology app, eager to read the next installment of the series and storyline I’d been greatly enjoying thus far.
But DC is not totally without fault. Filler issues such as these are an outdated relic of a bygone age when comics were created less as a means of artistic expressions and more as an exploit to part kids from their quarters. A filler issue has no place whatsoever in modern comics. No other medium would tolerate a similar practice. The idea of a novel randomly include in the middle of the book a chapter written by a different author, possibly but not necessarily related to the main plot, seems preposterous, but that is the equivalent of what has happened here.
I always go back to the example of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Overture, but that is because it is the clearest case in which filler issues or fill-in artists would have harmed the final product far more so than severe delays, despite the fact that the fifth issue released nearly three years after the first. The wait might have been frustrating in the moment, but in hindsight comic fans can now point to one of the crowning achievements of the medium, offering it accolades without qualification, and recommending it to others without reservation.
I am at the very least thankful that, given the different creative team on this issue, an altogether different story is told, unrelated to that of Hitch. When I go back to re-read the arc in full, issue #5 will have been deleted from my iPad, and Hitch’s work as an auteur will remain undefiled save for the inconsequential matter of numbering.
None of which to say Justice League of America #5 by Matt Kindt, Bob Williams, and Philip Tan is in any way a bad comic, per se. While I’m unfamiliar with Williams, Kindt has risen to become one of the biggest names of the past several years. I’m most familiar with his work on Ninjak, which is arguably 2015’s most underrated title. But whether it’s due to his unfamiliarity with the character of J’onn J’onzz (who remains a fairly minor character despite being a founding member of the Justice League) or the fact that Martian Manhunter is so difficult to write (being even more powerful than Superman while far less relatable), this issue captures none of the magic as his half-Bond/half-Batman hybrid that is Ninjak.
Furthermore, despite the title of the book being Justice League of America, after the first several pages this become a Martian Manhunter story through and through. It is not even successful as a standalone story, with much of the intrigue related to revelations from the ongoing Martian Manhunter series.
The villain, a psychic serial killer who jumps from body to body, is the most interesting aspect of this issue and most clearly bears Kindt’s signature; such an adversary would not be far out of place for the Shadow Seven rogue gallery Kindt created for Ninjak. This foe, named The UnNamed, is all too quickly dispensed at the issue’s end, however; the fight scene between he and J’onn needed a few more panels or pages to properly play out. As it stand, J’onn’s sudden revelation as to how to defeat him and the execution of that plan elapse almost immediately.
Like Kindt, Philip Tan is also off from his game. In the past I’ve bought issues of books I wasn’t reading simply because he was the guest artist, and I check in weekly on the gorgeous sketches and pre-inked pencils he releases. While many other pencillers’ work look better on the printed page, at that first stage in the process Tan’s work is as good as any artist in the entire industry. Unfortunately, as is often the case for Tan, mush of his subtly is lost after the inks and colors. The art here is merely serviceable, as opposed to being the selling point like Tan’s work is more than capable of being.
If you’re following the ongoing Martian Manhunter series, this issue may prove of interest to you. But if you’re looking for the next installment of the ongoing arc, Bryan Hitch’s iconic art style, or just a decent story featuring the Justice League, save your money (and send DC a message that filler issues are no longer acceptable).