In "Justice League of America" #5, Geoff Johns tidies things up enough to set the table for "Trinity War," but that tidying becomes the comic book equivalent of sweeping things under the rug and hiding the dirty dishes in the oven. The secret society of evildoers killed Catwoman in the previous issue, but as already seen in preview pages, her demise is less than permanent. More than a few readers hypothesized the outcome, which makes the plot point seem tired and unsurprising when it does actually happen.
Add to that undoing the continuously spirally expanding cast on both sides of the battle and this book becomes aimless, treading water until it is either rescued or goes over the edge of the proverbial falls, which come up in just a few weeks as this title weaves together with the other books under the "Justice League" brand. The best thing that happens in this issue, storywise, is that Hawkman gets to be brutal and savage -- not unlike the character Johns wrote a decade ago in "JSA" and "Hawkman." Johns gives other characters a moment to twirl through the spotlight, reminding readers of their existence, but little more. Simon Baz finally joins the team, Stargirl rolls her sleeves up and Green Arrow, uh, well, shoots arrows.
Johns' story doesn't get much of a boost from artist Brett Booth. The scenes all jump around, the focal characters shift and the storytelling doesn't help much, especially when huge chunks of pages are dead and could be filled with stronger, more detailed panels. Booth really dabbles in the art of sameface in this issue, with only subtle nostril flares or lip shapes distinguishing characters beyond the coloring from Andrew Dalhouse. Booth came onto this title late and was brought in to pinch hit, but he doesn't deliver a homerun. He does get on base, though. The roll call rundown, carried over from the previous issue, but refreshed with new expressions and detail, is fun and serves as a nice callback to Justice League stories gone by. Booth's work is energetic and fun to look at; it just needs some more honing.
Oddly, with all of the massive and overly fussy designs the New 52 has implemented, there are still characters that look as goofily Silver Age as Signalman and Chronos. It is almost as though this book is conveniently regressing to pre-2011 conditions for some characters -- either in appearance, characterization or both. That's not entirely true for all characters as the mysterious off-brand Joker-wannabe leader of the villains is shown to have a connection to the Martian Manhunter.
Truly, Martian Manhunter is this issue's saving grace. The "Justice League" line is becoming more interesting to me for the high quality backup tales than for the lead stories featuring the collection of the greatest (theoretical) heroes in the DC Universe. Writer Matt Kindt has a firm grasp on how a Martian Manhunter should read and delivers action, suspense and information as he continues to sculpt the new Manhunter into a character worthy of story space. Kindt gives the Manhunter a new archenemy and Manuel Garcia provides a stunning visual for Thoth. I've enjoyed Kindt's work with the Manhunter and this issue contains a dynamic example of why that is.
Johns and Booth cleared the decks for "Trinity War," but someone still has to take care of those dirty dishes and that big lump under the carpet. "Justice League of America" #5 has some big-name talent attached to recognizable characters, but ultimately becomes a mostly forgettable set-up to something that will hopefully be more memorable.