Trinity War, DC Comics’ much hyped event, has taken two years to arrive. With a brief prologue in the new series Trinity of Sin: Pandora last week, it starts in earnest in Justice League. Does it live up to the two year hype? Or does it fall flat like a lead Invisible Jet? There has been plenty of build up for this. Starting in last year’s Free Comic Book Day offering and expanded upon in Pandora, DC teased at the major conflict that was at hand as Pandora confronted ARGUS, the dying wizard Shazam, and others in her quest at redemption and saving the world. Having stolen back the box that she’s forever tied to in myth, Pandora now sets out to find the pure soul to thrust the Seven Deadly Sins back into the box; and she’s settled on Superman as that soul. In the main Justice League title, the romance between Superman and Wonder Woman has created a conflict where Batman points out that one misstep due to this relationship could lead the world to turn on the Justice League. In Justice League of America, Amanda Waller has put together a team of heroes with the hidden intent of them being able to bring down the Justice League should the world, or she, demand it. In Justice League Dark, John Constantine has conned or blackmailed a group of magic users to unite against immense darkness. Of course, a quick summary of events leading into this by Johns himself can be found on Youtube. With this two year build up, is the first chapter a proper payoff, or does it fizzle instead of sizzle.
A young woman takes a trip to Greenwich Village to consult with Madame Xanadu (a JLD member) about dreams of a coming war and supernatural occurrences in her life. As Madame Xanadu consults her tarot cards, we see that this special deck contains familiar faces. The first one is Shazam, aka Billy Batson, who she claims was wrongfully chosen to be the Champion of Magic. Billy Batson, in the meanwhile, wants to take the ashes of Black Adam to Kahndaq so he can have some eternal rest. Of course, given Superman and Wonder Woman’s actions there a couple issues back, the US has issued a ban on any Americans traveling there and the Kahndaq government wouldn’t be pleased to see another hero there. While Billy heads off, Superman and Wonder Woman are having a chat about their personal points of view when Pandora interrupts and thrusts the infamous box into Superman’s hands. However, he is possessed by the box and it takes the actions of Wonder Woman to snap him out of the box’s control while Pandora and the box vanishes. At the same time, Batman and other members of the League are salvaging the remains of the Watchtower in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island (a reference to Mount Justice, the JLA’s hideout in the Silver Age, as well as Young Justice headquarters in the comics and the TV series); where we get hints of who the JLA’s spy amongst the main Justice League is. The entire Justice League then heads off to Kahndaq to talk sense into Shazam. At the same time, Amanda Waller presses the newly dubbed Doctor Light into service with the JLA. The Khandaqi army gets to Shazam first as he prepares to bury Black Adam, and he attacks them in self defense. Superman then intervenes and then we have a classic Superman vs Shazam (formerly Captain Marvel) brawl which is stopped by both the Justice League and the JLA. Tempers flare, people are tricked, the spy reveals themselves, and a hero dies at the hands of Superman himself, albeit by trickery. As the Question tries to figure out who is setting up Superman for the fall, the Phantom Stranger plans to become a more active hero, and Madame Xanadu is attacked; the man behind all this, the leader of the Secret Society of Villains, the Outsider smiles…..
Storywise, Johns is cooking. Everything works, including the chosen sacrificial lamb (who I won’t spoil for you) which comes totally out of left field. The frame tale of Madame Xanadu consulting her tarot cards is a picturesque and magical way to help start a tale where magic will come into play a lot. The interchanges between the various heroes works well; even in bitter argument and ultimately conflict. Shazam/Billy is no longer the annoying selfish brat, and you can’t help but grin at his realization that he just sent Superman flying; it’s a nice touch of the old “gee whiz” Big Red Cheese. The interchange between Superman and Wonder Woman about how they respectively deal with their enemies is intense and shows that deep down there will be a major conflict between how they fight injustice and crime that might break them up (which unfortunately we know will not happen due to the announced Superman/Wonder Woman title). The more measured conversations of the Justice League is wonderfully played opposite the bickering between members of the JLA just as the tension is ramped up to an extreme. Johns knows how to write strong event stories, and for now it seems that story wise, Trinity War is off to a tense and marvelous start.
Reis’ art is top notch. His tarot cards for Madame Xanadu, while small, are lavish bits that help compliment the action scenes that are big, bombastic and beautiful. Smaller moments are also well done; of note is Madame Xanadu’s homey shop on Chryste Street in the Village and the Question’s seedy apartment. He has a wonderful use of shadow (helped by Rod Reis’ colors) that makes you see flames flicker in the shop, the Question’s larger than life presence looming over the blackboard, and the Outsider smiling wickedly gives you chills. His faces are also wonderfully expressive; Shazam’s joy at punching Superman is matched with the Atom’s tears and Superman’s possessed rage.
Like all good stories, it makes you want more. What consequences will there be to the actions of the two Justice Leagues? What role does Shazam play in the big picture? Where has the Question been all this time (looking for more flavors of ice cream?)? What connection will there be to the upcoming Villain’s Month and Forever Evil mini-event/series? More will be revealed in the next weeks and months. I will say that DC is playing it smart by keeping it to 3 main titles and 3 optional titles. But with the promise of ramifications, it’s up to DC to not fall short of its promises or its intentions.