A quick rehash for those of you who have not been following this particular story: this issue is continued from Aquaman #15. Orm, a.k.a. Ocean Master, the brother of Arthur, is now the king of Atlantis and someone (land side) has just fired a few nuclear missiles at Atlantis. The land dwellers say it was a mistake and that they do not know how it happened. Orm does not believe that and has launched a full-scale attack on the great coastal cities. In turn, his brother Arthur is trying to convince him that things have escalated out of control.
Justice League #16 picks up with Arthur still trying to reason with Orm to stand down and not sink Boston to the bottom on the ocean. Cyborg is also trying to save Dr. Shin, the man who knows more about the residents of Atlantis than any other man on the planet. We are brought back to the confrontation between Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Orm, the latter of which was under the impression that Arthur was on the surface ruling it. Back to Dr. Shin, Cyborg gets to it and picks the doctor up via Boom Tube, retreating to the safety of the Watchtower.
In Boston the negotiations have come to a screeching halt and the fight has begun in earnest. Orm sends Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Batman to the dark waters with a flick of his trident. Fortunately, Cyborg has already made his way to STAR Labs where he is preparing to have a procedure to remove his human lungs so he can function under water and save the other members of the League. Before the surgery he sends out a signal to Element Woman, Green Arrow, Black Lightning, Shazam, Hawkman, Zatanna, Goldrush, Vixen, Black Canary, and Firestorm asking for their assistance and welcoming them to the league.
What a whirlwind! Like most Justice League issues there are a lot of characters in this issue. Almost too many to keep up with. But it works well to help the main action with Arthur and company feel “big”. This is a full-scale army invasion and both the tone and the art let you know that this is a real threat. Superman. Batman and Wonder Woman believe enough time has been given for Arthur to talk reason to his brother. However, reading through it, you get the feeling that they are jumping the gun when they arrive. The conversation is really just getting started. Arthur’s primary goal is being accomplished – the army is still in the water and not invading the city of Boston. Not only do they come into the middle of a negotiation but then they absolutely refuse to follow Arthur’s lead on how to deal with his brother. It is very clear that they do not understand how Atlantean society works, but more than that, they simply do not seem to care.
Batman’s attack on Ocean Master is mystifying and out of character in that he is acting first and thinking later. Admittedly, an argument can be made that Gotham City has been attacked and he is not thinking clearly, but when is Gotham not in peril? Batman’s motto could be, ‘think with your head when it matters the most’ and this grace under pressure approach has always served him well. The fight scene flows very well, though once it gets started.
Superman trying to order the Atlantean army around comes off as absurd, but in the best possible way. The Justice League is out of their depth here. The fact that Orm deals with them all at one time and with very little effort has made him a formidable villain. The situation feels dire to our world in both ability and intent. By the end you get the impression that Arthur is really in a bad place but is trying to do the right thing and save as many lives as he can on both sides of the conflict. The tension is palpable and makes me regret not having read more of Aquaman over the years.
The other storyline with Cyborg is slower paced to be sure, but builds to quite a wonderful ending. While I understand that Dr. Shin is important to the story, his death would not really have moved me much and his rescue is the definition of ho-hum. Vulko who we were introduced to last issue is an Alantean who is an advisor to Arthur and is in the Watchtower under what I could best describe as protective custody. Not really that interesting. Regardless, the rescue does what it is supposed to do even if those are pages you are not likely to revisit. I am sure that we are building to something with both of these characters.
The last few pages on this thread are simply amazing. The conversation between Cyborg and his father is riveting. He never thinks twice about giving up his remaining human lung so that he can go and rescue the rest of the league. I was doubtful of his strengths when he was revealed to be one of the central characters of the Justice League, but he has really won me over and I can’t imagine the Justice League without him now.
The final page which is the call to action to the new members of the league is exciting and overdue. One of the great things about Justice League titles has always been the large roster and infinite combinations of heroes working together. For a while I have felt that the current team has been too pared down. The additions, however short or long term they end up being, are very welcome.
Bonus! There is another installment of the long running Shazam backup in this issue. The confrontation between Shazam and Black Adam is featured here as the two of them battle through the streets at Christmastime. Black Adam quickly gains the upper hand and Billy is forced to return to his own form so that he can hide from his adversary. If you are new to this story then you have been missing out. This part of the story really has been one of the highlights of Justice League title over the past nine issues. Billy really has no idea about the larger world he has been thrown into or how to use his powers effectively. The characterization is right on mark here and may be one of the few times that you find yourself in total agreement that a hero running away and hiding is the best thing he can do. Since Shazam is one of the guys getting the call at the end of the main story, I do wonder when the timeline of the backup will align with what is going on in the rest of the book. In any case, it is nice to see an origin story to such a major character not feel rushed. It’s much more epic.
The art in the title was been great as I am sure it will continue to be with the current team in place. Ivan Reis has been a favored artist of mine for a long time now and puts out great work month after month. The large splash page featuring Ocean Master and his army rising from the ocean may be my favorite piece of art this month. This two page spread lets us know just how big a threat this army is to the League or to anything else that happens to get in its way. The backup artwork by Gary Frank is in a different style which I think works well. By simply glancing at a page you know if you are in the backup or the main story. This title shipped with a total of five covers but there is really only two covers when you take the Combo Pack, the Blank Variant and the Sketch Variant out of it. I prefer the Reis cover to the Foss cover. Foss’s cartoony style is just not for me.
Some quick notes for those of you that are following the Throne of Atlantis storyline, the next issue to read will be Aquaman #16. And of course, the Shazam backup will be picked back up in Justice League #17.
Justice League #16:
Reviewed by Ed Grause