Mild Mannered Reviews - JLA Comics

JLA #52

JLA #52

Scheduled to arrive in stores: March 28, 2001

Cover date: May 2001

Writer: Mark Waid
Penciller: Bryan Hitch
Inker: Paul Neary

"Element of Surprise"

Reviewed by: Jason Czernich (

The JLA members are still split from their alter egos and we see throughout the issue how their personalities change because of it. The issue opens at a mansion with a little boy sadly wishing his father was still around so that his mother and grandfather would stop arguing all the time and then it cuts to a two page spread of Superman making a huge upgrade of the JLA Watchtower as Aquaman looks on. The next sequence occurs in the monitor womb where Plastic Man's humor is flaring ever higher and Green Lantern has a coat of power ring produced armor. The League rushes off to face a shapeshifting destructive force in Los Angeles while Aquaman goes to Denver to visit Martian Manhunter's split off alter ego, John Jones, in the hospital.

The next two pages show Kyle Rayner in his New York apartment exhausting his art supplies and scribbling images of the JLA all over his walls. He himself is haggard from all the drawing he's done. In Gotham City Bruce Wayne goes psycho when two punks vandalize his $65,000 car, freaking out his date in the process.

Over in Los Angeles, most of the JLA tries to tackle the destructive force that has chosen to take on a tidal wave as its latest form. Green Lantern, now in even bulkier armor, takes an unusually militant approach to the threat. The shapeshifting force avoids the assault as if it's actually alive. The wave then transforms into a hurricane.

Next, the scene shifts to the streets of New York where Plastic Man's separated secret identity, Eel O'Brian narrowly escapes security guards after he made a half-hearted attempt at robbery. Back in L.A. we find out that the JLA are being observed by extra dimensional beings...

Meanwhile, in Denver, a hospitalized John Jones receives visits from Flash, who is redesigning himself in a direction that visually moves away from Barry Allen's Flash, and Aquaman. We find that John Jones is happier being separated from Martian Manhunter and begs Aquaman to let him remain that way. We also see a page of Wonder Woman and Clark Kent chatting on a Metropolis rooftop, the height of which makes Kent nervous.

Back on the case of the shape shifting force, Martian Manhunter at last finds out where the threat came from and where it's going to. It's Metamorpho, the dead father of the little boy from page one. This resurrected DC hero tries to reunite with his family but the intervention of the JLA and the otherworldly beings know as the Cathexis, send the raging Metamorpho back to the grave with a little help from Joey, Metamorpho's son. The last page has the Cathexis revealing that their creation of the sentergy "ID" is what's responsible for the strange phenomena that's been happening across the globe, including the JLA identity split.

3Story - 3: Waid comes up with some silly concepts; Silver Age event, the other dimensional Flash, and now the JLA being physically separated from their plain clothes identities, but I do see an improvement over last issue. This time around we get to see even more of the civilian identities and see how they change as a result of the alter ego split.

Waid might not be the most consistent at plotting, or even overall story concept, but he can put some nice human touches in his story. When John Jones begs Aquaman to let him stay separated from his alter ego so he can at last lead a happy and guilt free life that's touching. When Metamorpho's last word, his son Joey's name, is hidden from his widow by Wonder Woman it's a great way to show how compassionate this iconic female character can be. If the Amazon Princess let Sapphire Stagg know what came out in Rex Mason's final breath that would have made Sapphire even more distraught. All these and more bits are nice tweaks that have become a trademark of Mark Waid's writing but after a while it seems like that's all he can do. Humanity is a nice thing for characters to show but a story needs to be well paced too.

Speaking of pacing a story's development, the idea of the Cathexis seemed to come out of left field this issue. Why not hint at them or even introduce them earlier in the storyline? For them to encounter the JLA at the end of the issue and explain everything seems to lack build up. In short, Cathexis, I'm digging the concept of them and "ID" but where's the build up?

5Art - 5: The art in this issue has pumped up a sketchy concept from silly to passable. Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary are back doing a full issue and what a return it is. A sharp art team for a not-so-sharp plot.

Hitch shows us that size does matter on pages two and three by his very fine double page spread. The intricate details and design of the Watchtower addition alone is a worthwhile thing to feast the eyes on. Such precision and care must have went into this spread right down to the minuscule Superman and minuscule Aquaman. Putting these two figures in the picture was a fantastic way to show just how massive the Watchtower upgrade was. A huge structure dwarfing two powerful icons... What a way to create effect!

Hitch also showed off his skill of character and costume design in this issue. From Green Lantern's ever increasing armor to the fashionable jacket Aquaman wears during the hospital scene on pages thirteen and fourteen, we see Hitch making even old characters look brand new. Add Neary's inks and it all comes off nicely. They even subtly elongate Martian Manhunter's head throughout the story to signify his shift into pure Martian as yet another result of the identity split. Nice way to let the art tell the story.

Hitch and Neary also set appropriate mood through the art just by the way they can compose a figure. Metamorpho's creepy splash page appearance on page seventeen is a visual not easily forgotten. The melting, dripping, and sagging flesh along with the exposed teeth give this resurrected DC Universe character a chilling countenance that not too many other art teams could establish on a book like JLA.

5Cover Art - 5: It doesn't let text obscure any important parts of the art, it represents the situation inside in a visually interesting way (having the JLA members reflected in their opposition's face and being), and all the textures and figures are well composed. Good stuff and would definitely make me notice it on the racks.

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Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic was on sale.

January 2001

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