Now that we're completely free of "Forever Evil" (and before it "Trinity War"), it's a relief to see "Justice League" #32 moving forward free of crossovers and just trying to tell a good story. That's what we get thanks to Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, and Keith Champagne, as we learn more about Element Woman's membership with the Doom Patrol, even as the new Power Ring is trying to break free of the parasitic ring.
Seeing Element Woman being recruited by the Chief to join the Doom Patrol tells us a lot about this incarnation of the character. Similar to Grant Morrison's interpretation of the character from the early '90s, this Chief is a manipulative creep, even as he helps the various members of his team. Every word he uses is a weapon, pushing into the cracks and instabilities of their psyches so that he can work his way in and control them. It's a little too thick at times -- there are a few moments where it makes you wonder just how insecure the rest of the Doom Patrol is to stick with this guy -- but overall it works. I also like the revamp of Rita Starr, aka Elasti-Girl. She always seemed like the member of the team that never fit the "freak" nature of the group in the past, and this new emotionally damaged interpretation with her perpetual plastic smile both is slightly more in line, and also is ripe for the control of the Chief.
As one of the lynchpin books of the company, Johns still uses "Justice League" #32 to lead into future big storylines, but free of being part of an actual crossover it works much better here. The ring's plans for this planet, as well as more of a back story on what happened to the Crime Syndicate's universe, are revealed and we're given another glimpse into Superwoman's role in all of this. It's being slowly spooled out to us as readers, but it is still treated like this is a "Justice League" plot rather than something that reaches into 23 other titles. It's central to "Justice League" #32 but also doesn't ever feel overwhelming; the big plot is, really, seeing both the Doom Patrol and Lex Luthor in action. Johns makes you pity poor Jessica as she's forced into the role of Power Ring, and Element Woman's interactions with her makes it also clear why Element Woman is an essential part of the new Doom Patrol.
Mahnke is a great choice to draw this issue, having worked with Johns on an extensive "Green Lantern" run back in the day. The cascade of green-light monsters that pour out from Power Ring are eye-catching and dangerous looking, a perfect contrast to the terrified look on Power Ring's face as the ring continues to manipulate her body. With one of the tenants of being a Green Lantern being someone who knows no fear, that perpetual look of fear on Jessica's face is a strong visual contrast to what we're used to; Mahnke sells that idea perfectly. And that final page, with Lex and Niles looking at one another? It's gold; you can just see the loathing in their eyes (to say nothing of their faces or the rest of their bodies), and it brings together all the elements of this comic into a single visual.
There's a lot of ground covered in "Justice League" #32; Lex Luthor bringing a friendly face into the fold as he works his way into the League, Cyborg's plugging into the ring to pull all the information out of it, and the hints of what's still to come. This was a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to more next month. "Justice League," it's nice to see you back to your previous form.