Heads up! The following contains SPOILERS about the on-going Darkseid War storyline. Consider yourself warned.

One of the biggest comic book related surprises for me this year has been my renewed excitement and enthusiasm for Geoff JohnsJustice League. In the past few months, Justice League went from a title I had virtually zero interest in reading to my most anticipated book each week it comes out. Part of that, obviously, is that the current ‘Darkseid War’ storyline heavily features the New Gods, the Jack Kirby created characters and mythology that I am particularly. While the inclusion of Darkseid –still the biggest baddie in DC as far as I am concerned– is what initially intrigued me, I remained invested in the story due to the way it unfolded issue to issue.

Yes, it is a predictably Geoff Johns-ian “event” comic where the story beats are obvious, but that predictability is oddly comforting since it offers the sort of big, action-packed superhero comic that’d been missing from my pull list. It also struck me a seemingly “commitment-free” sort of comic book event, which perhaps hints at the way DC will handle these types of stories in the future. Since the latest chapter of the story arrives in Justice League number 46 this week, it’s worth looking at why this current story is an ideal modern superhero “event” comic.

Since it’s a legacy title that showcases the publisher’s most popular (and most profitable) characters, Justice League should obviously be DC’s flagship book, and with the New 52 reboot, it seemed as though DC was once again making it the focus of the DC Universe. The opening arc of that reboot had Geoff Johns, arguably the company’s most popular writer, pairing with the legendary Jim Lee; a creative team that cemented the importance of the title. However, the title never clicked for me: Johns and Lee seemed to rush through the “getting the band together” premise, and Darkseid, who the League united to fight, didn’t feel like the menacing villain he should be as he was easily dispatched. Despite the pedigree of the creative team, the title seemed to be lacking the scope and action that a Justice League book should have.

Despite dropping the title after that opening arc, I decided to give the opening chapter of the ‘Darkseid War’ a shot. I’m glad I did because it was exactly the kind of Justice League book I wanted: DC’s biggest and strongest characters coming together to stop an existence-ending threat. Again, it’s a simple formula, but an effective one, and one that Geoff Johns knows quite well. Much like his Blackest Night event from 2009, the ‘Darkseid War’ takes parts of some deep DC Universe continuity while giving them a unique twist. The main focus for the first part of the story is a showdown between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor, the big bad guy from the very first “event” comic, Crisis on Infinite Earths. Interestingly though, the battle seems to end quickly and without much interference from the League. Instead, the aftermath of the battle –which ends with Darkseid’s death, although we all know how permanent deaths are in comic books– is what is driving the story.

Mister Miracle – art by Jason Fabok

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Batman sits upon the all-knowing Mobius Chair – art by Jason Fabok

In order to build up to the battle between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor, Johns draws on the mythology of Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” comics of the early 1970s. Since I am a huge fan of Kirby and those characters in particular, I was glad to see Johns focus on them, especially Metron and Mister Miracle. Metron serves as the narrator for the prologue in issue 40, giving readers a “CliffsNotes” version of the New Gods and their place in DC continuity, while Mister Miracle is the focus of the first part of the story, narrating the events as they unfold.

It’s an interesting choice to have characters who are not Justice League members drive the story as well as narrate it, but that does make the story “feel” bigger and more important. Even though they are drawn into this massive showdown, the Justice League are outgunned and the group is split up among various locations. Obviously, the team will need to reunite in order to defeat the Anti-Monitor, but Johns is taking time to explore how the events of the story affect the League members before that happens.

After the apparent death of Darkseid, Superman, Batman, the Flash, Shazam, and Lex Luthor are all changed by the presence of the New Gods. Batman, for example,  sits upon Metron’s Mobius chair, giving him access to all of the collected knowledge in the universe –something obviously appealing to the World’s Greatest Detective. The Flash, on the other hand, becomes the Black Racer, a sort of cosmic Grim Reaper. This twist of having the Justice League basically become the New Gods is one that was originally rumored to be the aftermath of the 2008 Final Crisis crossover written by Grant Morrison, so having Johns tackle it here is interesting, especially since the prologue in issue 40 doesn’t mention that story when recapping the other “crises” in DC history.

Whether that is an intentional slight at Morrison or not, the twist allows Johns to build up dramatic tension since the League is splintered and these members are fundamentally changed. It also raises the stakes of the story quite a bit by suggesting there is something even more powerful than Darkseid at work.

Since the rest of the League is compromised or completely changed, Wonder Woman takes a central role in the story. Like Mister Miracle, she provides narration to explain the background of the story, which ties her homeland Themyscira to the New Gods: Darkseid had a daughter with an Amazonian who was born the same night as Wonder Woman. Again, this is an interesting twist on established continuity that makes Wonder Woman’s own history an important part of the story. Making her the key Justice League member for most of the story also reaffirms that Wonder Woman is equally important to the League and DCU as Superman and Batman, if not more so.

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Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor about to throw hands. – art by Jason Fabok

In addition to Johns’ story, the art by Jason Fabok gives the story an appropriate sort of “blockbuster” visual flair. Fabok’s pencils are both smooth and details; a sort of contemporary superhero look that fits the scope of the story without being overly stylized. The double page spread of Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor preparing to battle in issue 43 is an amazing moment, and a reminder that even though superheroes regularly appear on the big screen, no amount of CGI wizardry can match the power of a comic book page.

However, like the story itself, the artwork changes radically following the death of Darkseid as Francis Manapul takes over in issue 45. Manapul’s use of bright colors and unique layouts help suggest the strange cosmic power of the New Gods characters. The sequences that take place on Apokolips are fittingly brutal looking, and his use of “zipatone” patterns recall the visual energy of “Kirby dots”. The shift in art again elevates the importance of the story by implying that the characters are heading into some new, unfamiliar territories.

Darkseid is... - art by Francis Manapul

Darkseid is… – art by Francis Manapul

Along with the art and story, the actual structure of the ‘Darkseid War’ makes it feel like a unique comic book event. However, unlike other events Johns penned like Infinite Crisis, Flashpoint, or Forever Evil, it takes place solely in the pages of the monthly Justice League title. Instead of an 8-part miniseries that affects the rest of the DC publishing line, the story here stands on its own. That also means that it is not affected by the ongoing DC continuity: Bruce Wayne is still Batman here even though Jim Gordon has taken his place in main Batman series.

While that may bother continuity sticklers, it also makes the story feel a little more “timeless” in a way. For example, when Morrison was writing JLA he was mandated to include the short-lived “Electric Superman” in order to line up with current (no pun intended) continuity. Although he actually handled the character well, it does date his run a bit since it doesn’t include the “real” Superman. This current story also fits with DC’s current focus on “creators over continuity” by allowing Johns to use the versions of the characters that make the most sense for the story he is crafting.

Another advantage of having this story takes place in it’s own series as opposed to a mini is that it makes it part of the on-going Justice League canon. In a marketplace fueled by re-boots, re-numbering, and miniseries events, having a massive story take place in the monthly series feels different. A story like this, which seems more important and consequential than something like Forever Evil, seems perfectly suited for a miniseries, but this approach actually makes it feel more important since it is not separate from the ongoing Justice League saga. The best analogy may be ‘Batman: Year One’ by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, which was originally serialized in Batman issues 404 through 407. Appearing in the Batman title gave the story an importance and permanence: it is an official part of Batman’s history rather than the “alternate future” of The Dark Knight Returns.

In a way, ‘The Darkseid War’ is both an epic event comic and a stand alone story: it is invested in the continuity of the title without affecting the rest of the DCU. As a result, it is easy for a new, or lapsed in my case, reader to pick up and enjoy. It feels refreshingly “commitment free” in that way: it’s there if you want to read it, but it is not affecting other DC titles and there are few spin-offs of tie-ins to track down. Even the 6 one-shots that spun out of the events of issue 45 didn’t feel like they were necessary to enjoy the series. Those books focused on the changes to Batman, the Flash, Shazam, Superman, Green Lantern, and Lex Luthor, but didn’t directly affect the ongoing story. Instead, they offered fans of those characters or the respective creative teams a chance to see how they were changed by becoming New Gods; they were moments of reflection in the midst of the massive event without distracting from it.

For example, the Justice League: Darkseid War: Green Lantern one-shot by Tom King and Evan Shaner is one of the best Hal Jordan stories I’ve ever read. It used the premise of the ‘Darkseid War’ to explore the character in a unique way instead of just being a Green Lantern comic that was shoehorned into the event, and while it may not be essential to the overall story, but it was a great single issue.

The appeal of the ‘Darkseid War’ really has been its focus on crafting great, exciting single issues. In a marketplace that often feels overwhelmed by major events, Geoff Johns has been able to make another event feel unique and special. It may be a predictable story, but it has a formula that works: a blockbuster story that once again shows why comic books are the perfect medium for superheroes.

You can purchase Justice League #46, along with the previous chapters of the Darkseid War, at your Local Comic Shop and on Comixology.

About The Author

Paul R Jaissle is a philosopher, collage artist, and musician. In his free time, he enjoys reading comics (especially ones with Batman in them), listening to power pop, and watching wrestling.

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