The stories in the Injustice League collection do something important for the Justice League series that launched DC’s New 52 era.

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They make the book interesting.

The problem with Justice League over much of the past few years was that it just wasn’t that memorable. The series featured most of DC’s heavy hitter characters. Key writer Geoff Johns helmed it. A-list artists like Jim Lee and Ivan Reis kept the book looking great. But other than the Trinity War and Throne of Atlantis crossovers, most fans would be hard-pressed to tell you what actually happened in those first couple years.

The team was mostly absent from its own series for months during the Forever Evil event. But that series planted the seeds that made the arcs collected in Injustice League the best of the current series to date. And it was such a simple idea: after saving the world in Forever Evil, Lex Luthor joins the Justice League.

Luthor has always been one of the comic book world’s most complex villains. Concluding that the potential threats facing Earth are more important than his personal antipathy toward super-powered beings, Luthor systematically goes about convincing the skeptical League to induct him. Injustice League also brings aboard several other new cast members who add some welcome spark to the mix. Shazam finally joins after several appearances as a back-up feature. Captain Cold, another quasi-reformed villain, doesn’t quite join the League, but as Luthor’s new right hand gets involved in their adventures.

Image provided by DC Comics

The first arc in Injustice League introduces another important new addition. The ring that belonged to the villainous Power Ring seeks out the fear-crippled Jessica Cruz and forces itself on her. The League intervenes when Jessica can’t control the ring, coming into conflict with the Doom Patrol (the original line-up plus erstwhile Leaguer Element Woman). Jessica becomes a League associate by arc’s end, working with the team to contain the ring’s power.

That flows into the next arc, “The Amazo Virus.” The press conference announcing Luthor’s League membership is interrupted by an assassination attempt that unleashes a virus Lex had created and shelved a few years earlier. The Amazo Virus shuts down the powers of most super beings (except Superman and Wonder Woman), but also gives normal humans temporary powers (before killing them). With most of the League stricken, Luthor, Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Cold wind up in an uneasy alliance to stop a deadly pandemic.

Freed from the macro-concerns of DC’s publishing initiatives, Johns finally gets to focus on the personalities of the team in Injustice League. Bringing Luthor and Captain Cold aboard adds a lot to the book’s dynamic and Johns uses both characters quite effectively. While Superman and Lex get a good spotlight, Johns also explores fascinating interactions between Luthor and other members, especially Batman. That clash of intellects is one of the arc’s chief attractions. The new Power Ring is also a great creation and adds some interesting drama to the character mix. Shazam is still developing as a League member, but Johns zeroes in on a Shazam/Cyborg friendship that shows real potential. And Captain Cold is a great wild card.

The “Amazo Virus” arc mixes things up quite nicely. It spotlights Luthor’s strengths and weaknesses in dramatic fashion (and Johns makes sure fans know that Luthor is no Boy Scout). Cold gets some great moments in this arc, especially an interaction with Wonder Woman that could have been a throwaway, but instead winds up revealing a lot about both characters in only a couple panels. Injustice League is the best work Johns has done on the series since its re-launch and is a nice reminder of what the writer can do when not burdened by extraneous concerns.

Image provided by DC Comics

Veteran artist Doug Mahnke handles most of the first few issues collected in Injustice League (with assists from Ivan Reis and Scott Kolins). He does his usual widescreen, classic work. Mahnke makes the most of the large canvas that a book like Justice League provides and his style is clean and reader-friendly. He’s been a “go to” artist for DC for years for good reason. But more exciting is the emergence of Jason Fabok as the title’s regular artist in the “Amazo Virus” arc. Fabok had developed a good rep on several Batman family projects before landing on Justice League. His detailed, dynamic pages recall some of the best of star artists like Lee, Byrne and Perez. He does some really nice character work and is deft at some of the arc’s more complex action sequences. It’s a strong step forward for Fabok that is cementing his place on the comic book creator A-list.

Injustice League is a good jumping on point for new readers. The creators provide all the info necessary to pick up the action fairly easily. As the most consistently entertaining stretch this volume of the series has produced, it’s worth your time and money.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on July 14, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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