With "Justice League" #5, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and the all-star cast of inkers bring Darkseid front and center to the new DC Universe, and the end result? Well, it's a little messy, both within the story and for us as readers.
First, the good news: Darkseid here is a nasty character, and I think Johns plays him just right. He's not a chatty super-villain, or even one to laugh maniacally. Instead he comes across more as a force of nature, something impossible to reason with. It's a good tactic for Darkseid's first re-booted appearance, and while there's room down the line for Darkseid to give his motivations and lay on the charm, for now it works.
Some of the characters also get a good spotlight here. The young, brash Hal Jordan is just that, and it's a good contrast between this flashback story and what we're getting in the present-day "Green Lantern." He, Batman and the Flash dominate this issue; we get some good interplay between Green Lantern and Batman, and I love that the Flash doesn't just use his speed to escape destruction, but rather out-thinks the problem using his mind.
On the down side, "Justice League" #5 feels like we're stepping back a place or two in the progress that was made since the slightly lackluster first issue. Half of the cast has no function in this issue, and we're only at the new core group of seven, not the expanded team that's around the corner. Aquaman gets all of four words here, with Wonder Woman not much more. Even Cyborg, once you remove the obligatory "befuddled with new abilities" scene, contributes nothing to the issue. As an issue of "Batman and Green Lantern Team-Up" this wouldn't be a problem but, as "Justice League" issue, the sidelining of so much of the cast in their big introductory story is a bad sign. Even ignoring that plotting problem, some of the story doesn't make sense the more you think about it. Flash's solution on how to escape from the Omega Effect doesn't hold up to scrutiny when you consider that the beams were able to twist and turn just panels earlier, and the big surprise moment between Batman and Green Lantern feels like it's aimed more at shocking the reader than a real story moment.
The art this month feels a little messy, too. Ignoring that the book shipped a week late, it visually feels like something was running behind schedule here; the four inkers do a good job of trying to all look like it was just Scott Williams inking Lee's pencils, but in general the pages feel cluttered and indistinct. When the Flash and Superman first confront Darkseid, both of them look more like dashed-off sketches than fully realized pages. There's a lot of sameness going on, too; the Flash's open-mouthed gasp/scream keeps appearing, and the Flash's "You're moving fast, Barry" move feels remarkably not-fast, but rather posed. There's more life in him looking up on the next page and saying, "Superman?" than his running away from the Omega Effect, and that feels like a bad sense of priority.
That said, if there's one page where I feel like Lee nails it, it's the final one. There's something about the art and colors here that made me think, "Wow" as soon as I saw it. Hopefully next issue will have much more of that; it felt energized and with a sense of purpose to the art, and hopefully the change of scenery will be more inspiring to Lee.
"Justice League" in general has had an extremely up-and-down first storyline, and this one is further proof of that. Fortunately we've still got another issue in which to see everything click back into place. I think Johns and Lee can do it, but for now this feels like an unfortunate step backwards.