JLA: Riddle of the Beast
by Alan Grant,
Michael William Kaluta
(DC Comics, 2001)

This easygoing sword-and-sorcery epic is a fun read, and not just because the multitudinous artists involved in the project create some eye-poppingly great artwork. The story itself, while rather simple, is a neat little offering in the style of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

The by-now familiar tale of a great evil plaguing a once peaceful land is resurrected here, to good effect. The hero of the tale, Robin of Haven, must make the usual journey across the usual fantasy landscape, brought to breathtaking life by all the artists involved. His female companion/love interest, Zatanna, is charming and convincing in her role as the typical female warrior fighting side by side with Robin as he tries to gather the heroes of the planet together for one last battle before the Beast's shadow darkens their nameless world forever.

It's a common fantasy tale that's very lovingly told. Fans of Zatanna will be pleased at the depth of her starring role, as well as the sensitivity with which her character is handled. Robin emerges as a hero in his own right, more of a leader than a follower. Grant goes out of his way to give a starring role to some of DC's most overlooked characters and showcases them quite beautifully. Green Arrow especially comes to life in a role he seems born to fill as a bounty hunter with a conscience.

Only one minor blemish on an otherwise finely wrought tale: the romantic chestnut of a Superman/Wonder Woman romance is once again brought out, though to what purpose is bewildering. It seems to exist only in name, as do most WW/Superman Elseworlds "romances," most of which, like this one, are told more than shown. With the romance between the lead characters providing most of the chemistry in the story, it's hard to avoid the feeling of something contrived in the old WW/Superman scenario.

Apart from this minor drag, the story is an excellent one and a good if quick read. With so many artists on board it would have been easy to lose the story in the middle of such a challenging project. The abrupt change in styles from chapter to chapter can make things a bit confusing, but the tightly focused story holds up well and manages to act as a binding force strong enough to keep the variegated artwork moving along one straight narrative line. It's definitely worth a read.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 1 March 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.