So, going into the eighth issue, we've established that Steve Trevor is the best thing about Justice League, and while bully for Steve, that is not as much as a compliment as it should be. Because Steve Trevor is the good thing about Justice League. Last issue, we hoped Trevor would be our point man through the sea of idiocy all the other players had merged to become, and in Justice League #8, we get little more than a hint of that possibility.
Also, Billy Batson is still a dick. But we'll get to that.
We get a little Trevor at the beginning, in a sinful bit of 'tell, don't show' from writer Geoff Johns, in which he's resisting the idea of letting the government plant somebody "professional and well-respected" on the Justice League team. "As professional and well-respected as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman?" Trevor responds. "Does anyone like that even exist?" It would've helped if we'd seen any trace of professionalism or respect in the first seven issues. However, it's thus established that the Justice League has been the original seven and only the original seven for the past five years since that first story we waded through with the Fart of Darkness and all. Gone are the days of a massive, sprawling team of heroes, when you could call the League and never know who you're going to get.
Yeah, okay, there's a point to be made that when you call the Justice League, the Crimson Avenger isn't going to cut it. Speaking of Ollie Queen, though, the entire A-story of Justice League #8 is his audition to be their first new member ever. The League seems pretty insular and unwelcoming, doing their best to discourage him, but Green Arrow keeps pestering them throughout the New 52's various events, from the Court of Owls business to whatever's up in Justice League Dark. They keep shooting him down for various reasons, not the least of which is that he's apparently got an ugly history with Aquaman. If this was the O.G. Queen, we might offer the conjecture that he likely hit on Mera at some point, but hey, we don't know these characters anymore. It's the New 52.
Anyway, Trevor shows up at the end, revealing that Queen really needs the validation that being in the League would give him after his history of criminal activity, and he offers G.A. a slot on ANOTHER team that needs a "social conscience." Which one might that be? Will there be a resurgence of the Justice League Elite, or does he have some connection to Stormwatch? Or the Justice League International? We'll see.
In the epilogue, we get a much more interesting reveal – that the reason the League is so insular and closed off is because they actually DID try to add a new member once, and it ended very badly. Cue a huge Jim Lee splash page of the entire team fighting the Martian Manhunter. That's right, the guy who once boasted the credentials of having been on absolutely every incarnation of the Justice League is now the poster boy for not letting anyone else on the team at all. The last page is J'onn J'onzz (if that's still his name anymore – I haven't bothered reading Stormwatch beyond #1) still reading their minds from a long distance and grousing that "They're not prepared." What's that all about? Will J'onn play a larger role in the League's near future? White Martian invasion in the offing? We don't know yet, but dammit if this book hasn't become like Heroes. Every episode was mostly a chore to sit through, but there'd be one cool thing that happened that made you feel reluctantly compelled to check out the next installment.
And you would, too, if Billy Batson wasn't a dick.
The back-up story is Part 2 of the new origin of Shazam, wherein 15-year-old Billy Batson goes to meet his new foster family. It was revealed last issue that he acts sweet to get what he wants, but in actuality, he's an insufferable snot, and that was a huge kick in the junk to longtime Captain Marvel fans. Here, he bickers hatefully with the orphanage caretaker before meeting the new foster siblings – including Mary and her pet bunny Hoppy, Freddy Freeman, a kid named Pedro, a kid named Eugene and a loving little girl named Darla. All of whom he instantly either pisses off or makes cry by being nasty. Then the scene happens that you see heading up this page.
There's a moment shortly after that where he's alone and he quietly admits he didn't mean to make little Darla cry, and that's when an angry storm cloud with an old wizard's face on it glares at him through the window. It sets up the character arc that Billy's going to go through – yes, he's crappy now, but he'll learn to be better. Yeah, if you're a teenager who has to live in an orphanage or a subway, chances are you're not going to be a pleasant person in the real world. Realism, New 52, Change Is Good, yadda yadda.
But what was always so compelling about Billy Batson, when done right, is that he found a way to be exempt from the need to be edgy and dark and in-your-face. So many other characters, that works well for, and there's certainly a place for it. But not Billy.
Not this kid.
The kid who's inherently altruistic and manages to hold to that in the face of the unrelenting nightmare of this world – THAT story is a hell of a lot more unique and interesting than one more jerk-makes-good story on the pile. We've seen Johns' jerks, and they never stop being as annoying as Hal Jordan even when they've ostensibly grown up and seen the light. So there's little hope for poor Billy.
Making Billy Batson a dick is a stunningly instantaneous way to kill hope and interest in the story. The New 52 is not without its success stories, but it's also alarmingly full of apathy towards characters we once found compelling. Sure, there was likely a lot of that before the reboot, too, but now we've got disappointment on top of the apathy. It's just makes things more depressing than they need to be.
And let's hope they're not really going to rehash the Voltron/Captain Planet six-kid Shazam-merge from Flashpoint as the official new origin. Please. If this is all a big swerve, and Mary or Darla is going to be the new Captain… er, Shazam, there might be a glimmer of some kind of hope for the story – but again, slim to none for formerly sweet little Billy B.