JUSTICE LEAGUE #23.4: SECRET SOCIETY
Written by Geoff Johns and Sterling Gates
Art by Szymon Kudranski
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: September 25, 2013
It’s been an interesting month for DC Comics, with a wide range of types of stories being laid out for their Villains event. Mostly (new) origin stories of villains we’ve come to know and love over the years, we haven’t been faced with too many curve balls as far as characters go. And in that sense, Justice League #23.4: Secret Society stands apart from the crowd.
What is ostensibly a (kind of) origin story told for a character we (kind of) only just met, Secret Society leads us into a key moment in the development of the man known as the Outsider and his relationship with Owlman on Earth 3. Gates and Johns certainly know how to deliver the goods here when it comes to characterization — not just of the human personae present, but also of the world itself. Immediately we are made to understand how deeply corrupt Earth 3 is, right down to its core, going so far as to take two of the most incorruptible cops in Gotham, Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya, and putting them in service of the Owlman’s evil empire. Sure, Gotham on any world is a dark and dangerous place, but you get the sense right away that this one is far worse than any other, that is, if you aren’t a bad guy already. Thomas Wayne’s dialogue is measured, of course, as any Dark Knight’s should be, but the real treasure is Alfred’s internal monologue and description of events throughout — full of enough allusion and foreshadowing to fuel the next year’s worth of revelations. This, of course, is something Johns is nearly famous for.
What this issue doesn’t provide, however, is much of a complete story, existing more like a prelude to action coming in the months ahead than actually laying out a full history or vignette of its own. The interaction with Wayne and Pennyworth’s key adversary is clever, if not a bit confusing (If he’s evil here, shouldn’t he be good over there? Or isn’t that how it works?), but it really doesn’t provide much in the way of a compelling tale all by itself. That said, the details Gates and Johns do pour out — red skies, the particular interest the Syndicate has in Dick Grayson, and more — are certainly worth the price of admission alone.
Kudranski too provides a reason to grab this book off the shelf as fast as you can, as he delivers a perfectly dark and moody rendition of Owlman and his “Owl-Family” that convinces me immediately we should be petitioning for a Crime Syndicate ongoing series with him on pencils. His liberal use of shadow, silhouette, and in particular, close-up shots of faces create an almost cinematic feel to the book, and definitely serve to intensify the action. Everything from panel border choices to extreme camera angles reinforce a serious tone without losing any sense of dynamism from page to page. There’s one weird single page spread that feels a bit rushed and out of place, but otherwise, this issue is a visual delight from beginning to end.
Ultimately, what probably dented my reading of this story was simply its inclusion in this month’s event, as it doesn’t seem to fit the structure of every other book on DC’s racks at the moment. But as a prelude for learning more about the lost world of Earth 3 and a little a what drives its refugees (not to mention supplying a ton of clues and hints for what’s to come in Forever Evil), you could not do better.
The Verdict: 8.5/10