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“The Justice League can take it from here,” Superman says as he, Hawkgirl, Aquaman, and Batman arrive on the scene in Justice League #59, DC Comics (2021). Image: Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez/DC Comics

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Justice League #59 has DC’s greatest heroes thinking about a reboot

Bendis’ first issue sows the seeds for greater change

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With the Snyder Cut of Justice League hitting HBO Max this week, there’s been a lot of debate about how to do right by DC’s biggest names as individuals while also finding an exciting way to portray their epic power. Snyder’s version spends much of its extra time focused on story and how it connects to the larger DC Universe — and Justice League #59 seems to be setting up something similar.

One of the Justice League’s greatest strengths is that its membership has always been fluid — expanding, contracting, and shifting based on the story that creators wanted to tell. Justice League #59 is an almost meta examination of the nature of the group and what it needs to stay relevant. But like Snyder’s Justice League, this issue suffers from spending a lot of time setting up a bigger conflict. Let’s dig in.

Who is making Justice League?

Justice League is written by Brian Michael Bendis, the Eisner-winning writer of House of M who moved from Marvel to DC in 2017. The art is by Bendis’ frequent collaborator David Marquez, who worked with him on Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and Age of Ultron, among other titles. Tamra Bonvillain does the colors.

DC is packing lots of backup stories into its comics this year, and Justice League #59 also features a Justice League Dark story by Ram V (Paradiso, Catwoman), who started working on that series last year. Xermanico, the pen name for Alejandro Germánico (Justice League, Green Lantern: Blackstars), provides the art, with colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr. and letters by Rob Leigh.

What is Justice League #59 about?

Bendis’ Justice League run has promised a new lineup for the team after Wonder Woman went missing in the aftermath of Dark Nights: Death Metal. The group will eventually include Shazam villain Black Adam, Wonder Woman’s mother Queen Hippolyta, and the very powerful teen superhero Naomi McDuffie. This issue features a lot of setup for how and why the group is going to come together.

The shakeup is inspired by a powerful new threat, which coincides with the heroes of the Justice League rethinking how they can do the most good. A debate between the Green Arrow and Black Canary about whether it’s better for the League to enjoy the cohesion and camaraderie they’ve built over the years or shake things up with some “new voices” feels like a nod to the fandom itself — a way of saying change can be scary, but it can be necessary.

Zatanna and John Constantine in the bed of a flatbed truck, traveling at speed. “So when are you going to tell me what we’re doing here, John?” she asks, in Justice League #59, DC Comics (2021). Image: Ram V, Xermanico/DC Comics

The Justice League Dark story features Zatanna and John Constantine going on a road trip/date to investigate the site of two prophecies about a coming war involving both heaven and hell. It sets up the huge conflict and brings back a classic Justice League Dark character to sit in the center of it all.

Why is Justice League #59 happening now?

Bendis recently completed a run on Superman and introduced a new character, Naomi McDuffie, and Justice League is building on both works. One of the main ways Bendis made his mark on Superman was to have him publicly admit to being Clark Kent. The question of whether superheroes can do more good with or without a secret identity is central to Justice League #59.

Naomi shares a pretty similar backstory to Superman, in that she was sent to the Justice League’s version of Earth from a parallel world that was destroyed by a mix of environmental calamity and superpowered conflict. As soon as she got her powers, she ran to Superman for mentorship, and he and Batman summarily declared she had what it takes to be a hero.

The character took off and is going to get her own CW series, so adding her to the Justice League provides an opportunity to further explore her backstory while also bringing some more race, gender, and age diversity to the team. She makes clear in this issue that she’s not going to have a secret identity herself.

And of course Black Adam believes he can do the most good by ruling his own country. That character’s also gotten a lot more attention recently and will be played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in his own movie. He also has the opportunity to provide some fun moral conflict within the Justice League. Mostly, this issue seems to show that Bendis is helping the set the stage for DC’s next huge conflict using seeds planted in Naomi.

Is there any required reading?

Naomi and her mom in Naomi #6, DC Comics (2019).
From Naomi: Season One.
Brian Michael Bendis, David F. Walker, Jamal Campbell/DC Comics

Both stories here are meant to be jumping-on points, so you should be able to catch up pretty quickly even if you haven’t read the lead-in stories. If you want to be up to date, you could check out Naomi: Season One and Superman: The Truth Revealed, which covers Superman ditching his secret identity.

It could also be worth reading Dark Nights: Death Metal, since Wonder Woman’s fate there is referenced in the Justice League Dark story and will play a role in the Justice League plot going forward. If you want a low-key way to learn more about that team, you could also watch the 2017 Justice League Dark animated film.

Is Justice League good?

Bendis’ story suffers from the heavy burden of setup. Aside from a pretty fun fight scene, much of the issue feels like an exposition dump for both the plot and themes that this run is going to explore. That said, it does put to rest one of the biggest concerns with Bendis handling the Justice League: His ability to give the characters unique voices.

There’s a lot of depth and consideration given to how the League’s members approach conflict, both physical and social. Bendis’ experience with Superman shines, whether it’s showing the heavy burden he carries as the League’s moral center and most powerful member, or his desire to always try diplomacy first, even if the conflict is doomed to devolve into fisticuffs.

Bendis also seems to have a solid grasp on the other members of the League, whether it’s a lab coat-wearing Barry Allen grilling Hawkgirl about Nth Metal, Batman yelling at Clark while running command on a mission, or Green Arrow stating that if Superman agrees with him, he doesn’t care about anyone else’s opinion. The new bad guy the League is facing seems pretty generic, but if the fundamentals of the team are strong, I’m willing to stick with it and see how things develop.

The Justice League Dark story is a lot more fun, providing some sweet chemistry between Zatanna and John. It’s also using a lot of exposition to set up a new big bad, but the mix of mythology, biblical apocalypse, comic book lore, and the occult weirdness is pure Justice League Dark, and it works. The backup feature drives its dramatic story by subverting expectations.

It also helps that Xermanico’s art is absolutely gorgeous, showing a mastery of dealing with wildly different influences, from Arthurian legend to German death metal. V and Bendis’ stories are surely going to intersect at some point, but for now I’m more interested in continuing the backup story than the primary one.

One panel that popped

A horned bad guy looks up in alarm as he realizes a giant wave is about to crash on him, and that wave is full of sharks. “Yeah, normally I’d never ‘wall of shark’ on a stranger but...” says Aquaman, in Justice League #59, DC Comics (2021). Image: Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez/DC Comics

Apparently Aquaman watched Sharknado and took some notes.

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