Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wednesday Comics: Justice League #1-9 Review.

As stated in last week's Wednesday Comics article, DC Comics boldly rebooted their entire lineup, starting over with #1 issues for everything. The flagship title to kick everything off was the ensemble book: Justice League.

Since this was the title that could make or break the entire company, DC put its two superstars to work on it: Artist Jim Lee and writer Geoff Johns.

The plot for the first arc is fairly straightforward: 5 years ago (comic continuity-wise), a great threat from out of this world hits Earth and an eclectic group of super-powered individuals must form an alliance, despite their personality differences, in order to save the day. If that plot sounds a lot like the hit film The Avengers, don't think that DC is simply copying Marvel, since this comic was published first.

And the comparisons don't stop there. Visually, the book is stunning. Jim Lee has always been in my top 10 of favorite comic book artists, and it is so much fun to see him unleashed in the the giant spectacle that is Justice League. And the dialogue is as crisp and witty as anything in The Avengers.

Batman: His name is Aquaman.
Green Lantern: I thought Aquaman was a Conan O'Brien sketch.


Green Lantern: Batman doesn't have any powers-
Flash: (shocked) WHAT? It thought he was a vampire or something.


Green Lantern: (to Green Arrow) Hey, we've already got one ordinary, non-powered guy on the team. We'll call you if Batman sprains his ankle or something. (whispering to Batman) I'm totally kidding. We won't call him.
Batman: (grimacing) Thanks.

I don't think I'm doing justice (pun intended) to the fun that is had by watching these different characters interact with each other. The roster begins with Hal Jordan Green Lantern, who sets out to prove that he is the best hero around, constantly rushing headlong into battle shouting: “I got this!” Next, is Batman who is normally defined as the brains of the group, but who acts not just with brains, but boldness. Superman is still a mystery to most people at this point in the story and comes off more like an alien outsider than a leader. The Flash (Barry Allen) acts as the groups heart and moral center, always quick to trust and quicker to help out. Wonder Woman is the Thor of the group: a mythical warrior quick to jump into battle. Aquaman makes such a fantastic first impression that you can see him easily as king of the seas. And finally the roster is rounded out by Victor Stone, Cyborg, whose origin is told in the first story arc.

If that sounds like a lot of characters, it is. Johns does a very good job introducing only a few characters at a time. 90% of book 1 is only Green Lantern and Batman. But it is still a little too much.

There are 2 deficits with this book, but they can be overcome in the next few issues. And I think the problems are more editorial than writing-related.

I hate going back to an Avengers movie comparison, but one of the reasons that movie works so well is that we had a 5-movie set up along with an hour of character introductions before all hell broke loose. In Justice League, the action starts heavy and does not let up. While this makes it so much fun to look at, you lose the slow connections that make the action work emotionally. I don't fault Johns for this too much. With every book in DC's wheelhouse being relaunched, he cannot tell the origin story for everyone. Nor can he use those comics as introductions to Justice League, since this is the first issue written. Right now in the Justice League series , there are short back-up stories about SHAZAM. But we are on the 3rd part of that story and the superhero has not made an appearance because Johns' focus is on developing the character before giving the power. Justice League does not have that luxury.

The second problem is distance. This is usually not a problem for Johns, but rather than getting into the minds and hearts of the characters, we fell like we are on the outside looking in. I was struck by how none of the main characters have an internal monologue. Everything we learn about them is through dialogue. That is very unusual for John's style, whose work on The Flash and Green Lantern made us see thing through the eyes of all of the main and supporting characters. Again, I think Johns' hands were a little tied as the authors of the other books wanted to define the inner character of their heroes in their own way. This problem is getting better. In the last issue, we connect to the characters much better by visually getting into their heads through flashbacks. My favorite was where Clark Kent was ignored by Lois Lane and the rest of the staff and they go to lunch without him. Clark then flashes back to getting picked last in gym class. What I loved about that was here is a man who is “hiding his light under a bushel basket” in order to protect himself and those he cares about, but the man of steel can't help but sometimes have a thin skin. When Batman calls and asks him for help with a villain by saying, “Do you have any lunch plans?” you can see how happy Superman is that he has found some friends who truly understand and accept him.

Overall, I think this is a great book that will only improve over time. I would pick up the first 7 issues when you can or buy the trade paperback. Even if you are only a casual reader, you will have fun reading this book.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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