Justice League of America #21 – Steve Orlando, Writer; Stephen Byrne, Artist
Ray – 8/10
Corrina: Ray Plus a New Hero
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
Ray: Steve Orlando takes a break from the main plotlines of the series for a done-in-one focusing on Ray as he returns to the place he left behind – the corrupt, crime-riddled Vanity City. The issue opens with Ray and his boyfriend/ally Xenos having a tense conversation where their conflicting obligations and personal lives lead to them breaking up, for now at least. This doesn’t feel like the end for these two, though – Orlando is great at showing these messy relationships that have a lot of bumps along the way like he did with Midnighter and Apollo. However, when he returns to his hometown, he quickly finds himself under attack from a fellow hero – the all-new Aztek, who thinks he’s abandoned the city. Aztek was one of those cult-favorite heroes from the 90s whose legacy outstripped their sales – and was created by Grant Morrison, to boot. But this new version, who is both a woman and non-white, is a complete original who inherits the legacy.
Aztek was a complex hero, and so reintroducing them a good twenty years after they first debuted requires a decent bit of exposition. Fortunately, Orlando is able to do that in a fairly smooth fashion through the main villains of the issue – a cult tied to Aztek’s ancient God arch-nemesis. They take several people hostage in Vanity, including a police captain – who happens to be the father of the ringleader of the gang. I’m not sure about the new Aztek yet – we learn very little about her personally, and she’s mainly a companion to call Ray out on his abandoning of the city and motivate him. But there’s promise there. Most of the other Leaguers are completely absent, but Ryan Choi and Killer Frost get an interesting subplot that leads to Frost falling prey to the Might Beyond the Mirror – in a lead-in to the next big arc. Stephen Byrne’s guest art is strong, and this is a satisfying one-off issue in between major mythology arcs.
Corrina: Orlando’s concentration in this run has been more with Ryan and Killer Frost than the other characters, and that includes the Ray, who hasn’t been that fleshed out since his one-shot issue. I could buy Ray’s wanting to quit more if his discontent had been established better before Prometheus’s words caused him to run off on his teammates. On the other hand, this is a person who was raised in isolation so the social dynamics of community and the fact that people can do contradictory things may be beyond him his emotional intelligence. He still tends to view the world in black and white, with little shades because of his inexperience as a hero and as a person.
I have no idea how to feel about Aztek, especially since I’m completely unfamiliar with the character. I’m glad to see another hero of color and yet I’m frustrated that she is joining a crowded cast, where we’ve yet to see the spotlight on, Vixen or Black Canary or even Ray himself, even if she is used as a foil for him.
All that pondering aside, this series remains a solid read with a terrific cast of characters.
Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.