Justice League of America #11 - "Walls"
2008 Eisner Award Winner for Best Single Issue
Written by Brad Meltzer; Art by Gene Ha
I read the first issue of Brad Meltzer's revamp of Justice League of America and immediately wished I hadn't. It was terrible. I mean really terrible. I mean the kind of thing that makes me want to not read comics at all any more. So I didn't read this issue when it came out. The fact that I got the issue rather than investing in the entire trade paperback that contains this story says something about my low expectations.
Justice League of America #11 (titled "Walls") to my surprise wasn't completely terrible. It's a simple story, that with one major exception is written as generically as possible so I can't call it good. On the other hand it has some spectacular work on the part of Gene Ha.
During a rescue two superheroes were trapped in a building that collapsed into a river. They're buried alive, underwater, and have little hope of rescue. They have to remain calm long enough to find a way to escape.
One small problem I had with the story was that its structure required one character to be the cool headed thinker and the other to be panicking. You can't use the obvious plot points unless you have the obvious characterizations after all. It struck me that the character who remained calm was the man and the panicking character was the woman. In a genre with a long history of creepy misogyny it made me pause for a moment.
Still that should give you an idea of how generic the plotting was. There's a bit of a twist toward the end but in terms of characterization and the rest of the story "Walls" could have popped out of the Plot-o-Matic 3000 ready to go. It's as though Meltzer decided, "I'll do something different this month," but then went to a different generic plot instead of actually coming up with something different.
The flip side to that is Gene Ha's artwork. Just take a look at how he uses negative space on the page:
All of the pages in "Walls" are like that; black empty spaces with some jagged illuminated holes for the story. That does create a very claustrophobic feeling for the comic. The way Ha captures their confinement is terrific.
Also Ha's design is incredibly consistent throughout the book. I know that's a strange thing to praise but an artist who wasn't really paying attention would let the background drift and shift from page to page. Ha keeps the layout of their cramped prison the same from beginning to end and that's takes a subtle kind of skill that is too often missing.
So the story itself is just okay; I couldn't bring myself to care about the characters or their reasons for living. The ending is clever but a clever ending is not an interesting story. Gene Ha's artwork is great but I can't bring myself to recommend the book on its basis.