By the third issue of a series, chances are the set-up phase should be over and there should be a strong feeling of the book's overall goals and direction. Any more than that and you risk losing your audience in this small-attention-span world. So with that in mind, "Justice League of America" #3 from Geoff Johns and David Finch has hit stores, and aside from "a dark version of the Justice League," I'm not seeing anything that makes this title have a larger purpose.
First, the good points: I like Stargirl's role in the series; having her as the shining beacon that the general public believes fits well with the pre-relaunch version of her character, and it's also important to have at least one or two characters that the readers can have to cheer on. She and Vibe both end up coming out on top here; they definitely want to be heroes and you get the impression that they've got the best of intentions. They're where Johns' script works, easily.
Otherwise, though, "Justice League of America" #3 feels like a bit of a slog. The hunt for the Secret Society of Super-Villains isn't a bad idea, but this feels akin to having corrupt cops taking down even-more corrupt cops. The overall leadership is unappealing, and the rest of the characters don't seem to have much of a hook. Martian Manhunter in the main feature is an enigma, Katana feels very one-dimensional, and Catwoman is on autopilot. Whatever the hook for these characters is supposed to be, I can't find it.
A lot of "Justice League of America" #3 is also the flipside of "Catwoman" #19, and as it turns out "Catwoman" offered up the more interesting half of that scene. It at least serves to integrate one more character into the team (and who could hopefully lift up the book a bit), but even then it's still not that exciting. The end of that storyline also completely and utterly fails to mesh with "Catwoman" #19, which is a bit of an artistic hiccup for the collected edition.
The art here feels much more muddled and dark than I normally see from Finch. Some very stiff positions, and the detail that we normally get is often replaced with blobs of darkness. The fight in the forest is probably where the book is at its lowest in that regard; it's lackluster and visually unappealing. When the fight to capture Catwoman happens later on, there's a bit more energy and it feels like Finch's enthusiasm is starting to return to the title. But still, all in all, this is probably Finch's weakest comic art in a long time, and not at all what I expected.
The backup story by Matt Kindt and Manuel Garcia sounded promising, with the Martian Manhunter probing Catwoman's mind only to get the tables turned on him. The problem is that it feels more like an exposition dump than something enthralling or exciting. Kindt is normally better about that sort of thing -- his way of delivering backstory in his ongoing series "Mind MGMT" is a prime example of that -- but it doesn't quite come together. Garcia turns out a few nice pages, especially the overlays of Catwoman and Martain Manhunter's face, but it's not enough to give it any sort of extra spark.
Wherever "Justice League of America" #3 is headed, I feel like it's going to start doing so with less readers before long. That overall hook isn't there, and that's a shame. I'm not afraid of books with dark characters or themes, but this one feels a bit pointless other than being a dark reflection of "Justice League." As a draw to read more, I'm afraid that it's just not enough for me. I suspect that I won't be alone in that assessment, either.