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Division Problems

  JLA: Divided We Fall

 

Mark Waid and Various Artists

DC, 2002

Rating: 4.2

 

 

Posted: February 15, 2002

By The Gentleman

It's safe to assume that veteran comics scribe Mark Waid felt some trepidation in taking the reins of the hugely popular JLA from Grant Morrison. Waid's long since established himself as a comics writer of distinction and merit, most especially during his long run on DC's Flash. But Morrison's take on the re-vamped superteam set a disturbingly high standard, as the writer best known previously for The Invisibles and Doom Patrol applied his wickedly fertile imagination to the DC universe's most iconic properties. Waid would be forgiven for wondering whether or not he was in Morrison's league (pun intended).

Divided We Fall, the most recent collection to anthologize Waid's run on the book, proves that he's more than up to the task. Following the events of his previous collection, Tower of Babel, Divided steadily builds on themes of distrust, betrayal and the division between a hero and his or her secret identity.

In Babel, you may recall, the members of the Justice League were shocked to discover that Batman had secretly been compiling data on his teammates, including information on how to neutralize them should they ever become a threat due to mind control or other reasons. (Readers recognizing similarities to Waid's JLA: Year One miniseries will be relieved to know that this storyline is no mere rehash of that tale.) They learn this in the most alarming way, when Batman's cataloged methods are employed by his longtime foe Ra's Al Ghul. It's not giving too much away to say that heroes eventually overcome their individual adversities, and find themselves shocked and deeply divided over the issue of what to do about Batman, who is voted out of the league.

As Divided begins, the seeds of dissent are sprouting into full-blown alienation and antipathy. Batman's stubbornly Machiavellian method of helping the team defeat the Queen of Fables (the wicked Queen of Snow White come back to real life) only undermines those tensions. A subsequent battle against the reality-warping Dr. Destiny further erodes the team's trust, even as Superman takes comfort in the fact that the members' subconscious selves, not yet hardened against one another, eventually act as a unit to save the day.

At this point, the DCU's most popular duo, Superman and Batman, reluctantly agree that the only way to restore the Leaguers' faith in each other is for Batman to take the drastic, trusting step of revealing his alter ego. Superman also decides to reveal his other self, and the assembled members (most of them, anyway) follow suit. It's at this pivotal moment that the League finds itself "divided" yet again, as all but Wonder Woman and Aquaman find themselves facing their alter egos. In effect, most of the heroes have been somehow split in two.

It's in this final arc of Divided that Waid masterfully asserts himself as a gifted storyteller and strategist in his own right, as both the alter egos and the heroes from whom they've split begin to feel the detrimental effects of the separation.

The artwork teams on display here each do a more than capable job of investing Waid's story with the requisite grandeur and grittiness. While the Morrison-era dynamic duo of penciler Howard Porter and inker John Dell is still missed, the overall quality of the art remains high. Particular praise must go to the Queen of Fables arc, in which we're treated to some of the most beautiful depictions of Wonder Woman yet committed to paper.

With Divided We Fall, Waid hits his stride with this powerful assemblage, ably examining the issue of the deep commitment and confidence such beings must display toward, and have in, each other. Although it's a story in which politics trumps all-out action, the book is none the poorer for it.

 
Waid-ing Through
JLA: Tower of Babel is an engaging tale in its own right, although not essential to enjoying Divided. For more flashes of Waid's writing, check out his run on Flash (many issues of which are collected in their own paperbacks) and -- for a further taste of his treatment of the DCU's icons -- the Kingdom Come miniseries, painted by Alex Ross.

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 Ratings Key:
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 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
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