Justice League of America #8: Paradise Lost
(This review includes spoilers for Issue #8 of Justice League of America)
Forever Evil continues across the DC universe, and it appears that balance might soon return to the DC universe – the Justice League of America could be about to rise from whatever fate they met at the hands of the Crime Syndicate. Essential character developments are tied into the major plot point of this issue – the reveal about what happened to the Justice League at the end of Trinity war.
Readers concerned about the fate of the Justice League will receive answers – after a brief recount of Forever Evil, an artwork spanning two pages shows the defeat of the Justice League. Lying unconcions over rubble and shattered cement are Aquaman, Wonder Womna, Superman, Captain Marvel, Stargirl, The Flash, and Green Lantern. Pencil and ink efforts that have gone into this page are apparent – it’s powerful artwork. Detail work is used heavily on Aquaman’s scaled shirt, which draws in the reader’s eye.
Colour choices capture the energy of the heroes costumes despite the brute force that created this image – no doubt the Crime Syndicate fought the League down without holding back, aiming to hurt. Pain, in characters faces and their body language, repeats consistently throughout the comics’ art. Other key examples of strong art are Wonder Woman standing in the middle of a war between soldiers and amazons, Superman lost and alone in space, and the Flash sitting still, unable to move, trapped in his own head, and imagining the things he could do if he had freedom. These scenes show-off the most affecting art of the comic.
What gives an insight into the Justice League characters is the fact that they are trapped within a prison that adapts. Each cell expands it’s dimensions to suit the user, and provides a tailor made experience, which paralyses and incapacitates the prisoner. An emotional element is key to each of these traps. The Flash’s prison is one where he is forced to sit still, and resembles depression. Superman experiences expanding guilt and loneliness. Wonder Woman suffers anxiety and indecisiveness from watching her home country and adopted country stay perpetually at war. Green Lantern is subjected racism. Shazam – Captain Marvel – is also in a unique prison, one that is a contrast to the others. Shazam is trapped in a world where he is free to destroy a city to his hearts content. The metropolis rebuilds itself instantly, and offers new objects to destroy whenever the Captain becomes bored.
Each of these prison cells gives an insight into the character. Shazam is a younger hero, and the prison takes advantage of his clear desire to use his powers for fun. Superman agonies over the mistakes and terrible events that have happened to him, and his cell forces these events to the front of his mind. Wonder Woman is trapped in an endless conflict between the mundane, human world, and her mythological one. Her desire for peace is thwarted repeatedly. We also see Green Lantern’s fears and anxieties about the racism he has experienced in his life. Martian Manhunter does his best to save him.
Early conversations between Stargirl and Martian Manhunter show some problems with exposition and repetition: for example “And it may be that I understand him maybe better than the rest…” This makes the narration sequences somewhat difficult to read. Aquaman is also nowhere to be found. The journey Martian Manhunter takes the reader on as he descends into the hellish prison, however, stays tense throughout the comics.
Themes, Ethics, Values.
Justice League of America provides a story that has themes of abuse, and depression. The journey that Martian Manhunter takes is similar to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Inferno section in particular. Descending through each Justice League member’s prison resembles the journey down through Dante’s underworld strata. The theme of a descent to structure this story is a good choice. The comic’s title – Paradise Lost – is a religious reference consistent with the structure, despite Paradise Lost being written by John Milton.
The Flash’s experiences are demonstrate symptoms of depression. The World Health Organisation (WHO) outlines depression symptoms as including sadness combined with a loss of self worth, loss of interest, and a sense of guilt. Superman also seems to be caught in a guilt and depression trap. He re-lives, over and over, what he did to Doctor Light, unaware that it was not his fault.
From this point of view, the Crime Syndicate has created a depression inducing machine. This is certainly criminal, and the syndicate are living up to their name – to summarise of Martian Manhunter’s observations, threats to the mind are more lethal than physical threats. Abuse becomes a key theme of the comic as the Manhunter descends into the prison, using his psychic powers to protect himself and try and save his team mates. Physical activity is recommended as treatment for depression by the WHO – there is some irony that The Flash cannot use his running ability to free himself from the trap, and improve his mood.
A bit more on Justice League of America #8
There is a feeling that more story is going to play out, but not yet. Justice League of America appears to be holding back more of the current story until a future issues. Cliffhanger endings aside, the comic does give an insight into the Justice League of America characters at their lowest moments. The next segment of the story will no doubt show how the Justice League characters pick themselves up and continue.
Two key questions might emmerge from reading Justice League of America #8: if the villains stole Superman’s cape, why is he wearing it in the comic? And what happened to The Batman? The cape given to the villains could be a fabrication – it has been established that Clark’s cape is indestructible, and the cape the villains fought over was covered in rips and tears. As for where Batman is, Forever Evil #2 and #3 contains answers.