Posted by: erikmona | September 7, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 1: Justice League #1

Up front: I haven’t bought comics regularly since I left Wizards of the Coast in 2003 and abandoned my pull box at the old comic shop in Renton. Before that I’d read on and off—mostly on—since the early 1980s. My preferences started with Marvel, moved to Image when that imprint launched, and eventually settled on DC as my favorite publisher. Some of my earliest comics were DC, and I’ve always sort of felt “at home” in that universe.

That said, any time I found myself tempted to jump back into comics in the last 7 years I’ve been dissuaded by mega-crossovers like Blackest Night. Every time I looked at a DC comic, or a DC action figure, or whatever, it seemed like they were completely screwing the universe with resurrections of every dead character ever, a Green Lantern Corps for every color, and other self-referential bullshit that just seemed… stupid.

Oh, and there was this one lauded mega-series with an awesome scene where Deathstroke takes out the entire JLA single-handedly and then later Doctor Light turns into a rapist and the Atom’s ex-wife murders Elongated Man’s wife, who was raped by Doctor Light. So yeah, that happened.

So I’ve been out of touch. And not really all that interested in getting back into comics.

Then along comes a brilliant/desperate marketing campaign from DC, and a major editorial shift to basically start over their entire universe from scratch. Every single title would be canceled, to be replaced in September by a completely new slate of number ones.

Co-Publisher Jim Lee’s Wildstorm universe (which I semi-followed for years) would be smooshed into the proper DCU a la the Fawcett and Charlton characters back in 1985. No big deal. Kind of exciting, actually.

Rob Liefeld on Hawk & Dove?!?! Someone wanted that? Wow, ok. Could be interesting in a train wreck sort of way.

New non-superhero comics? That really piqued my interest.

So I decided to check out all 52 of the new comics, and I’ll post my thoughts here as I make my way through them. I have a pile of the first 14 comics right next to me, and I’ve got that old comics feeling again.

Don’t tell anyone, but I even set up a new pull box…

So here we go.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Jim Lee

The “New 52” lineup actually started last week with JUSTICE LEAGUE, the “flagship” title of the entire DC imprint and a showcase for their two most important creators–Co-Publisher Jim Lee and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns.

Lee’s work speaks for itself going back to Uncanny X-Men in the early 90s. Marvel created an entire X-Men comic basically just for him, and he created Image (and the Wildstorm universe) at the height of his popularity. Now he’s essentially in charge of the DCU, and he’s contributing tight pencils to what might be the most important of the 52 new titles.

Geoff Johns made a name for himself on DC’s Justice Society, on which he established an early reputation for excellence and care for the dark corners of DCU continuity. He eventually went on to write Flash and a bunch of other stuff for DC. It was way TOO much other stuff, and his work on JSA really suffered for it. Eventually, I confess, I just got sick of his stuff. A lot of the mega-crossovers that looked completely uninteresting (and a bit embarrassing) during my comics hiatus had his name on the cover, and I must say I eventually came to expect to see it on stuff that turned me off.

I’m not sure that’s fair of me, and like I said, I really enjoyed his early stuff. So I was more than willing to give him another chance. And I’ve always liked Jim Lee, so creatively, so I considered this team an asset to the book.

As for the actual “team” in this incarnation of the Justice League, well, there have been some changes.

Six of the “big seven” are still present: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman are (apparently) more or less the same characters. But the poor cousin of the JLA, the guy who never gets any endorsement deals and who never gets on TV, is gone. This is one of the rare JLA teams with no Martian Manhunter.

Instead we’ve got Cyborg, previously of Teen Titans fame. Well, at least we’ve got him on the cover. He appears briefly in the story itself, but the accident that will eventually require him to be RoboCopped has not yet occured, so he’s not quite around yet.

Actually, about half of the team does not actually appear in the book at all. The story mostly concerns a long conversation between Batman and Green Lantern while they chase down a mysterious alien creature as it rampages through Gotham City. At the end, for not particularly clear reasons, they decide to track down Superman, and he shows up for a few panels at the end.

There’s some nice dialogue between Green Lantern and Batman, freshened up considerably by the editorial contrivance that allows Johns to write this as if it is the characters’ very first encounter. “Hold on a second…” an incredulous Green Lantern says to Batman, “you’re not just some guy in a bat costume, are you? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?”

It works, and it’s pretty amusing. Johns writes Green Lantern as the brash, over-confident young hero that fits him well, and Batman is Batman. They’re obviously not going to go with major changes in his personality.

Vic Stone appears uninjured, reminding us that the first page says “FIVE YEARS AGO!” There’s also a reference to Darkseid (neither Green Lantern or Batman has heard of him), hinting at a larger story.

Lee’s pencils are tight, Alex Sinclair’s colors are better than adequate, and Johns’s unambitious script works, even if the whole comic would have fit on six pages 20 years ago.

That’s really my single criticism of the comic. There’s a couple of fights between heroes who don’t know they’re buddies yet, an exploding Apokolyptian suicide bomber, some neat Green Lantern ring effects, and a few bits of zingy dialogue, but nothing really _happens_ in the comic.

I think part of the problem with comics these days is that you pay three bucks for 1/12th of a story, so individual issues lack a sense of narrative. Which kind of sucks. In the 1960s, by the end of issue #1, the JLA had introduced every member of the team and already kicked Starro’s ass.

Here three of them meet, watch an alien blow up, punch each other, and talk a lot.

And you know what? I’m ok with it. It was fun to look at, and a decent—if a bit incremental—introduction to the new DCU.

So, he said, looking at the pile. What’s next?

Status: Safe.

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Responses

  1. Your timing is impeccable. I just started a course at the Uni, called “Superhero Comics: Form, Culture, History”, and one of the things we discussed and will likely be touching upon in the future is continuity and especially the DC reboot.

  2. It’s clear to me that this is DC’s last ditch effort to save individual issue sales. When you have nothing left to lose like this, it can be very intriguing to see what form the creative energy takes at a place with many modern comic book greats.

    I’m a DC fan moreso than Marvel, although I too have grown tired of most of the recent mega-crossovers (although 52 was excellent). With some exceptions, I’ve mostly retreated to the realm of fantasy-themed (Fables, Conan) or soft sci-fi comics (DMZ, Y the Last Man) over the past few years. But the potential with what DC’s doing has me nervously excited.

    The annoying piece of this new puzzle, to me, is that it’s not exactly clear who’s the audience for the reboot. New customers? Casual readers? Lapsed? For my part, I love the idea of the buckets they’ve put the comics into – the grouping of the Batman family of titles, etc. Let’s hope that they keep story arcs contained within the groupings. I feel DC hasn’t done a good enough job on their web portal with introductions to each series. The idea of the Dark Justice League and bringing back JLI seems fun, but I really wanted a landing page with a brief summary for each comic.

    And, ultimately, that’s why I’m happy that you’re doing reviews of all 52. 🙂

  3. […] Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’s Action Comics #1 gets my vote for the Book of the Week. It’s also the most audacious in that it shows us a Superman we haven’t really seen before, with a new vulnerability and a youthful enthusiasm. I’m not sure Superman has ever seemed as fresh in the whole of the Modern Age of comics, which is quite a trick in 22 pages. It’s also the perfect way to launch the New 52 reboot, and would have been a much better choice for the launch title and “flagship” than the plodding Justice League #1. […]


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