Justice League #1 (Comic Review)

Justice League #1 coverYesterday, I explained why I was disappointed with the Flashpoint event that ended the current DC Comics universe. Fortunately, though, the new universe kicked off on the same day with Justice League #1, and it makes me more optimistic. This is far from a perfect comic, but it’s fun.

It’s written by Geoff Johns, the same person who weighed down Flashpoint with an unfocused mess of fan-pleasing ideas. Here, he finds a more appropriate avenue for some of the guilty pleasures of superheroes: By starting over in a new timeline, he gets to introduce popular characters and have them spar as they learn to trust each other. The conceit of this reboot is that superheroes have been around for only five years, and the world was very suspicious of them when they first appeared. So this shows Batman and Green Lantern running from cops, and the heroes get to be edgy while also being perfectly good.

This issue focuses on Batman and Green Lantern’s first meeting, with Superman appearing at the end. (Relatively low-profile Cyborg also gets a few pages, but the other three founders of the Justice League are not in the story yet.) Johns’ glee at letting these heroes bicker with each other is palpable.

Of course, this is what he does best. The characters are witty and iconic, the plot is simple but smoothly paced, and it feels appropriate to the heroes. Unlike most of Johns’ writing, though, it actually doesn’t require any knowledge of previous comics. This is a very important sign for this DC initiative, of course, as it needs to be accessible. (Well-versed readers will recognize the name of the big villain that is hinted at, but that’s in no way necessary to enjoy it. It’s amazing how rarely comics get that balance right.)

Jim Lee’s presence as an artist really sells this as an event. Not just because of his art, but because he works in comics so rarely now. One of the superstars of the 90’s, his art contains everything that was wrong with 90’s comics but generally does it right. Yes, the characters are all hyper-muscled, grit their square jaws, and make every pose dramatic, but Lee can make the scenes dynamic without just reusing a few poses over and over. He isn’t known for subtlety or expressive figure drawing, but in a book like this, it’s good that even the dialog-driven scenes are fraught with tension. The one flaw that comes through here is that the pages tend to be a little too busy and packed with action. Most comic fans won’t even notice, but that may be an issue for any new readers who decide to try this out.

Really, that’s the problem in general. Johns and Lee do everything right for their established fanbase, giving them a new story in a familiar world. They make the right motions towards writing a story for the rest of the world, as well, but only get halfway there. It will make sense to anyone with a passing knowledge of the major heroes, but I don’t know if it will feel compelling enough to bring them back next month. It’s a partial story, ending on a cliffhanger, and it’s only a satisfying read in itself if you share Johns’ love of these characters and can find their interactions interesting.

It’s dangerous to read too much info a single issue of a comic, so I’ll just say this: Justice League #1 resolves many (though not all) of my cynical concerns about DC’s relaunch and shows that at least some of the creators are taking it seriously, but it doesn’t resolve my concerns about whether DC can actually bring in new readers to stop its slow decline. If you were a fan of superhero comics at pretty much any point in the past, this is probably going to be worth checking out for you. If not, then hopefully next week’s Action release will be a better place to start.

Grade: B-

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  1. It will be interesting to see if the roster will remain fixed, or if they will expand, or rotate. I suppose the Atom is confined to teh dustbin of history. Oh well — that character never could pick up much attention.

    • I’m sure it will change. While they’re trying to attract new readers, I think it’s already becoming clear that the writers still want to do all the traditional things that are “cool” in comics. And one of those things is roster shake-ups. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team stays the same through the first year (since it will probably take six months just to establish it), but I bet they’ll start changing members around the second year.

  1. February 29th, 2012

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