Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Review: Justice League #1

Justice League #1, with story by Geoff Johns and art by Jim Lee, is the flagship book in DC Comics' "New 52, " a reimaging and rebooting of the DC superhero universe.

The enterprise ostensibly aimed at attracting new readers by offering up series that are easier to hop aboard than the steeped-in-continuity works most modern superhero comics of become. If you didn't know years of history and at least a little bit about all the inhabitants of the DC universe, you were often out of luck when it came to figuring out what was going on in a comic you happened to pick off a stand.

So, DC has stopped the clock and started over again. In this first comic, we see a Batman and Green Lantern who have never met before, who ultimately encounter a Superman that they haven't met, either. These heroes are new in the world -- the public has just become aware of their presence, too.

I'm on board with making comics more accessible to new readers, and if that means starting fresh, I don't have any great problem with that, either.

Continuity offers opportunities in telling stories, but many of today's superhero stories are about nothing but continuity. Too often for today's writers, putting a story together is nothing more than playing with pieces of the past, with very little that's new or original added to the mix.

So, for that reason, I think this new beginning is great. Sure, writers can add in elements of the previous incarnations of these heroes, but they are forced to evaluate and reevaluate those elements and be more creative. The past is a tool instead of a crutch.

So, great. We're starting over and that makes me curious about where we're going -- good reasons to pick up and read new comics. That aspect of the New 52 is certainly a success. But ultimate success will depend on execution.

As a guy who's read comics for more years than I'd like to admit, it's hard for me to gauge what Justice League #1 is like for a reader coming in completely fresh. Jaded as I am, I thought the first issue was a little slow and dull. I've also never been a fan of Jim Lee's over-rendered, over-muscled art, although I know that many comics fans think he's the greatest.

But not much happens in this issue. Batman and Green Lantern meet, spar, realize they need to work together. Then they meet Superman, spar, issue ends. We can see where this is going: They need to meet and spar with a few more heroes and we've got ourselves a Justice League. Wordy as he was, Gardner Fox could've done all that in two or three pages -- the first "chapter" in a single-issue comic.

I think the issue would've been more exciting had the entire League been assembled in the first issue. I've read that DC is reevaluated "writing for the trade," but it seems like that's precisely what Johns is doing here. Things seem padded out. For an issue that's so important to DC's future, I expected a lot more fireworks.



Other lost opportunities in this issue are the lack of any cover copy that says "hey, it all starts here! New readers, this is your chance to get in on the ground floor!" Putting the phrase "New 52" on the cover is a waste of space. The phrase means nothing to people who haven't been reading the "old" DC Comics. A text page inside welcoming new readers and explaining what this is all about would've been smart, too.

That said, the story includes some nice interchanges between Batman and Green Lantern that reveal their personalities. And, despite being a continued story and somewhat slow, it hits some good marks dramatically and ends with a good cliffhanger. I'll certainly give it a chance, at least for this introductory arc, to see where it all goes.