Having Zander Cannon do layouts for three different pencilers and inkers gives Justice League #20 an uneven quality to its art, but the story sets up the table for “Trinity War” and connects the Justice League and Justice League of America. Geoff Johns also gets to spend time developing some of the new Justice League members, like Atom and Element Woman as well as dealing with the fallout from last issue’s revelation that Batman has cases with all the Justice League’s weaknesses. The plot and fight against Despero may seem a bit cliched, but Johns and his host of artists have the long term in mind and plant seeds for conflict between the several Justice Leagues that could shake up the DC Universe.
One thing that Geoff Johns excels at is writing unique voices for his characters. Their speech may occasionally be heavy handed, or they might tell the occasional lame joke; but I could tell the difference between Element Woman and the new Atom (Rhonda Pineda). He also knows how his characters can use their powers creatively in fight scenes. For example, the Atom has one of the most criminally underrated power sets in comics. (Ray Palmer took down Darkseid in JLA 14 by Grant Morrison) Her ability to manipulate body mass is useful for spying on characters, avoiding telepathy, and taking down larger foes. Johns uses Atom’s ability to craft a complex character for her. She has studied the Justice League’s foes strengths and weaknesses and is confident that she can take down the powerful psychic Despero, but Atom is also harboring a secret which keeps her on edge for most of the book. Element Woman is just on edge period. She is slightly loony in the brainpan and has trouble keeping her powers under control, but wants to be a good member of the Justice League even buying the whole team milkshakes. Johns takes time away from the heavy hitters to flesh out the team’s new members (who are new to the DC Universe as well) that could have major roles in the upcoming Trinity War.
Even though his focus is on the lesser characters, Johns give Superman and Batman some great moments. He doesn’t rip off, but riffs on Mark Waid’s “Tower of Babel” JLA storyline by making Batman more trusting. Batman shows Superman the boxes with the various Justice League members’ weaknesses and then hands him a box with his own weakness. Johns’ portrays a more mature Batman that trusts Superman even though the Bat Cave has just been broken in. Superman is still an idealist, but understands the need for drastic measures following the break in.
The art on this book falls well short of the high standard set for it by previous pencilers Jim Lee and Ivan Reis. The character models seem rushed with Firestorm and even Superman looking like they are made of the same fragile material as Element Woman. The coloring is splotchy in places, like when Firestorm uses his snowflake effect. The facial emotions of the characters are a little off. Wonder Woman looks constipated in the scene where Batman shows Superman his kryptonite ring. The characters’ faces change from panel to panel as well. However, whoever drew and colored Martian Manhunter and Despero’s psychic duel is doing something right. J’onn was genuinely horrifying in his Martian form with his face swirling in the red sand of Mars. The coloring in the scene contrasted with Martian Manhunter’s “normal” appearance. A powerful monologue written by Geoff Johns increases the power of this scene.
Geoff Johns manages to balance both character development and big reveals in Justice League #20. He uses a bit of a deus ex machina to take out Despero easily, but it is a cool looking deus ex machina. The best thing that this issue did is to bridge Justice League and Justice League of America in a logical manner while setting the stage for future conflict between these teams that goes beyond punching psychic aliens from the Silver Age.