JLA, vol. 4: Strength in Numbers
Collects: JLA #16-23, New Year's Evil: Prometheus #1, JLA Secret Files #2
By Doran Murphy
If you're a fan of DC Comics, you're a fan of the Justice League. After all, given its membership, how could you not? With its core members of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, J'onn J'onnz, Aquaman, the Flash, and the Green Lantern; you have the seven most popular characters in DC. That's why I wasn't really surprised when the Justice League of American (JLA) reformed, in JLA: Strength in Numbers. However, those wacky kids at DC decided to spice things up a bit, and added some new characters to the JLA mix. They are: Zauriel, Plastic Man, Steel, The Huntress, Orion, Big Barda, and Oracle (Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl) . I believe the new members serve a valuable three-fold purpose. First off, it changes things; the JLA has been around forever in several different forms, and it's good for a shakeup — but you have to maintain some of the core group at the same time. Secondly, JLA is now a much more powerful team — which means they can take down much more powerful villains. Third, a lot of the new characters aren't mainstream, so hopefully this brings them some attention.
Now, JLA: Strength in Numbers is not one continuous story, it's four storyarcs combined in one volume. It's a good way of introducing people to the new members — as it would get a little complicated for all 14 characters to be major players in every story. In some stories, you won't see hide nor hair of some — and that includes the core members.
Our first foray into JLA: Strength in Numbers sees the heroes getting back together and recruiting the newest members. After the team is back together, the JLA is beset by their most deadly foe yet — Prometheus. Wielding the Cosmic Key, he takes out all of the heroes one by one on the Watchtower (conveniently located on the moon) and at times, even sets the JLA against each other. The worst part of the whole matter is that there are about 100 representatives of Earth's media there to meet the new members of the JLA, and their air supply is running out quickly. The JLA is in a high-stakes race against time to put a stop to Prometheus before they all die.
Next up, we have "The Strange Case of Dr. Julian September". In this tale, all sorts of unlikely events start happening, and no one knows why. Seven passenger airplanes are set on intersecting flight paths, seven of Tokyo's tallest buildings burst into flames, and seven supervillains decide to abduct the President — all at the same time. Yet, no one is able to figure out why the unlikely is happening, and then happening in sevens. Also, JLA members seem to be disappearing as the universe seems to be collapsing inwards. As time passes, the universe collapses at greater speed — so once again, the JLA is in a race against time to save the Earth from total annihilation.
Then we have "Mystery in Space". The JLA are going about their business, hamming it up in the Watchtower, when suddenly they are all abducted by their one-time ally Adam Strange. Of course, Adam Strange is normally the defender of the planet Rann, which is far, far away from Earth. Even more odd, Strange has allied himself with the En' Tarans, a group of telepathic brains on whips. So, if any JLA member even thinks of escaping, they all get beaten. Adam Strange eventually uses them to rebuilding his homeworld — getting it ready for the homecoming of his dead wife. Obviously, he's gone 'round the bend. Meanwhile, the JLA has to defeat the En' Tarans without even thinking about it, and discover why their friend has betrayed them.
In "Return of the Conqueror" we have an attack by the giant brain-sucking starfish. This one is pretty straightforward. Other than the fact they have to defeat the giant starfish in their dreams, with the aid of the King of Dreams (the Sandman). In a pseudo-Peter Pan twist, a little boy is the hero of this little adventure.
The art is very good, although it's missing a lot of the full paged dramatic splashes I love. The one thing that initially caught my eye is how well the overlapping panels were done. It's made to look very cool, particularly in "Return of the Conqueror" — which is the best story, art-wise. However, that could be just because Sandman is in it. Story-wise, " Mystery in Space" barely beats out "The Strange Case of Julian September". It's really a good story once we figure out Strange's motivations.
Overall, if you're a fan of DC Comics, I'd recommend this book. In fact, the cover price is $13 (American), so if you don't pick it up, I think you're insane. Crazy, crazy-insane.