(p) Ivan Reis
(i) Joe Prado
Last fall, a number of DC creators, editors, and executives started talking about how 2013 was going to be a year full of changes for the 'New 52'. Geoff Johns' epic "Throne of Atlantis" could have been a simple crossover between Justice League and Aquaman -- a natural move since Johns writes both series -- but it's slowly transforming into a turning point for the entire DCnU.
Justice League #16 sets up the final pieces for the inevitable war between Atlantis and the surface world. The issue is thick with anticipation -- the difference between war and peace lies with Aquaman's ability to temper the Justice League's justifiable anger over the tidal wave that decimated the eastern seaboard against his brother Orm's anger over the perceived attack on Atlantis. At some points, Aquaman is literally standing between the League and Orm, stopping all hell from breaking loose. Aquaman's ethical quandary over how to proceed -- standing with the League and demanding justice from Orm, or adhering to Atlantean tradition by forsaking the entire surface world -- is a central theme for the entire sequence. The one unfortunate element of this situation is that all the character behave in cliche superhero fashion of punching first and asking questions later. Batman, in particular, acts particularly out of character for a hero who understands the intricacies of how fear compels people to do unspeakable things. But traditional superhero tropes aren't enough to detract too much from this stellar issue.
But there's a lot more to Justice League #16 than just the beachhead confrontation between the League and Ocean Master. For one, Dr. Shin has been an important and central character in Aquaman since the first issue, so it comes as no surprise that he's a target of a team of Atlantean assassins who believe Shin is a key figure in turning the tide of the coming war. Being the foremost human expert on Atlantean physiology puts the Doctor in the unique position of finding a weakness to exploit. Johns also properly introduces Dr. T.O. Morrow into the 'New 52' with his suggestion that S.T.A.R. Labs employ his nameless "android" to take control of the weather from Orm, who has used his mystical staff to conjure up a series of deadly storms. It's just a passing remark, and the idea gets shot down by Cyborg's dad pretty quickly, but not before a certain Dr. Magnus and his Metal Men are also mentioned. Being the Chief Creative Officer for DC, Johns has a lot of freedom to include little nuggets of foreshadowing. Of course, the biggest "holy sh*t" moment comes with the final splash page that points to a bold new direction not only for Justice League, but also the DCnU at-large.
Justice League #16 is a fun issue full of intense action, plot-advancing story, and an ending that will get most any DC fan excited for the future of the series and the 'New 52'. Already, a tidal wave has destroyed the east coast of the United States. That's going to last for a while, and a war with Atlantis is going to change the landscape even more. Since last Free Comic Book Day, we've known that 2013 would bring "Trinity War", the first major 'New 52' crossover that would effect the entire line. "Throne of Atlantis" may or may not be a prelude to this massive event, but it's setting the standard for 2013 being about big ideas and big changes.