War tends to bring out the bad in good people and the worst in bad people. Circumstances and situations tend to get simplified in a very callous sort of way. If Randolph Bourne is right and war truly is the health of the state, then it’s the kind of health that can only be maintained by powerful medications. And as with many medications, the side-effects are sometimes worse than the disease. Darkseid is by far one of the DCU’s worst cancers. However, it’s often the side-effects he incurs that do the most damage.
Darkseid isn’t just bad in terms of the Justice League’s many enemies. He’s a force of nature. He sees himself as the embodiment of entropy. He doesn’t trigger war. War itself follows him. He’s like the Joker, but without a sense of humor. There’s nothing funny about what he does and nobody’s laughing when he does it. That’s what makes him such a daunting foe. He’s the kind of force that few are equipped to fight. In the same way one person can’t fix a broken dam with a shovel, no one person can fight him. That makes him an ideal adversary for the Justice League, as shown in the very first arc with the New 52. Now that Convergence has passed, there’s a new brand to refine. And just like before, Darkseid is the catalyst for it.
This is what unfolds Justice League #41, laying the foundation for the Darkseid War and building an impressive structure on that foundation. The prologue established Darkseid’s new target in the Anti-Monitor. Between these two characters, it’s like throwing a universe-sized cherry bomb into the DCU. But unlike Darkseid’s first battle with the Justice League, this battle has more layers of complexity.
Like any good sequel that’s not directed by Joel Shumacher, there are new paths to explore. The Justice League has undergone numerous developments and changes. Two of its members have hooked up. One of their greatest enemies has joined the team. They even found time to clash with the Justice League of America the way. They’re not overly vulnerable, but they have more to exploit this time around. And it isn’t just Darkseid who exploits them.
Like the inaugural arc of Justice League, the conflict in the Darkseid War starts with a mystery. Someone has decided to blatantly rip off the first Terminator movie and kill every woman named Myrina Black. It’s not exactly the same as John Smith, but it does ensure plenty of innocent women whose parents thought the name was completely innocuous face an untimely end. There isn’t an obvious link to Darkseid at first, but there are plenty of connections forming behind the scenes.
In addition to this mystery, there are several other sub-plots that effectively tie into this mystery, giving that added complexity that no parademons invasion can match. These ties include a nasty confrontation between Darkseid and Mr. Miracle, as well as few terse exchanges between Superman and Lex Luthor. They all have their unique appeal. There will always be an appeal to seeing Superman goad Lex Luthor into doing something crazy like curing cancer on a dare. But what makes the appeal more relevant is how each sub-plot converges on the main conflict.
These plots don’t converge completely like the final season of the Wire, but they come very close. The spark that turns the catalyst for the Darkseid War into a full-blown firestorm is the arrival of Grail, the daughter of Darkseid. She’s a new character with next to no history, but she’s akin to a top five pick in the NBA draft. And when she enters the conflict, she carries herself like Michael Jordan in his prime.
Grail does the kind of damage to the Justice League that might actually make Darkseid crack a smile. She takes down their heaviest hitters and does it with a creepy smile every step of the way. And unlike Darkseid, she does it with a lot more personality. Whereas Darkseid voice comes off as a less polite version of Robocop, Grail has some genuine charisma. She even finds a way to reveal her connection to the Amazons, which makes her defeat of Wonder Woman even more satisfying. And the artwork of Jason Fabrok helps makes it appropriately visceral.
In some respects, Grail is more imposing than Darkseid and not just because she’s more emotive than a tortoise shell. She has Amazon-type skill to go along with Apokolips-level brutality. That’s like putting Peyton Manning’s skill inside Cam Newton’s body with Michael Vick’s legs. It’s entirely believable that she could take down the Justice League single-handedly, something her father failed at the first time around. He’s either very proud or incredibly bemused.
Grail steals the show, but she doesn’t derail the plot. The complexity formed by the various sub-plots don’t get incoherent either, a testament to Geoff Johns’ attention to detail. It offers additional twists along the way. They don’t feel too forced, but some components feel like a last minute reshoot. It still doesn’t mitigate the impact. Each conflict and twist help ignite the spark that kicks off the Darkseid War. Like kickoff at the Super Bowl, it begins the spectacle in all the right ways.
The plot surrounding the first shots of Darkseid War is pretty dense, full of meaningful character interactions and heart-stopping action. The sheer density and complexity can be overwhelming at times, but it never gets convoluted. There’s never a point where the reader has to scratch their head and take notes to make sense of what’s going on. Everything is neatly organized and perfectly laid out for those willing to appreciate the detail and don’t just want to see a beautiful woman beat up the Justice League.
Few spectacles outside Breaking Bad can say they accomplished what Justice League #41 accomplished. It succeeded in kick-starting the Darkseid War. Anyone who is a fan of big summer blockbusters or volatile stories with the flare of illegal fireworks is going to want to get some popcorn.
Final Score: 9 out of 10