"Justice League" #19 kicks off a new storyline courtesy Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, and so far it's off to a promising, if slow, start. It's a mixture of old and new, both figuratively and literally, and the end result is nice but familiar.
"Justice League" #19 heads down a path seen several times before (most notably in Mark Waid and Howard Porter's "Tower of Babel" storyline in "JLA" back in 2000), where readers learn about Batman's contingency plans in case the rest of the Justice League needs to be taken down. It's not a strict retelling of the story, as Johns opens the question as to whom is behind the break-in at the Batcave, even while at least one clue is left behind. With two other stories to juggle, though, it's perhaps understandable that this story doesn't gain any real traction. Ultimately, that's a hallmark of this issue.
With Johns also tackling knowledge of the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship starting to seep out (and mixed in with that, the ongoing question of who or what represents the League) and the addition of new members Firestorm and the Atom, there's just not a lot of room for much to happen on any front. It's a hard tightrope to walk, because all three stories have potential. But right now they're all just inching forward. Add in a certain level of déjà vu that keeps popping into this story (the Atom and Firestorm section is amusing but awfully familiar even as some of the smaller details change), and this feels less like a brand-new comic and more like a Greatest Hits Remixed CD instead.
Reis's pencils look good here; he's given a few scenes to cut loose (like the first one for the Atom, or the contents of the Batcave) to just pile in the detail. The figures are well formed, although I think in a few instances Rod Reis's colors end up making the page look a bit too muddy to make out some of those finer lines from Reis and his legion of inkers. Reis's one weakness here is when it comes to the scene between Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman; I get that it's four pages of talking heads and Reis is trying to find a way to make it exciting, but the random tilting of the panel contents to one side or the other gets old pretty quickly.
Far more successful is the "Shazam" back-up, where Johns and Gary Frank continue to set up future "Shazam" stories by bringing in the other kids to the main narrative, even as we also get some of Black Adam's origin. This story feels like it moves at a much more brisk pace (despite having less pages), and it's been fun to watch Billy's transformation from smart-ass to hero. It's best typified here with Billy's reaction to the origin of Black Adam; it's a refreshing decision that he makes, and it gives me hope not only for the future of "Shazam" but also the character of Black Adam as well. There's a lot of potential here.
"Justice League" #19 ultimately lands smack in the middle on the good-to-bad scale. We've seen a lot of this before, but there are nice moments even as it begins to play out again. The art is good, but could use a little punching up in places. And ultimately, it's the back-up feature that ends up winning the day. Hopefully next month's issue will have less set-up and more forward movement, but for now it's a good enough opening chapter.