First: an introduction.
Anyone who’s talked to me about comics knows that when it comes to superheroes, I’m a Marvel boy. Marvel comics were what got me into comics, and they have been a constant presence in my life since I was 7 years old. That said, when I was around 16, I was buying largely out of force of habit. X-Men, so long my bread and butter, had hit a creative slump (I was reading the British reprints, so there was no sign of New X-Men and the revitalisation it would bring yet) and I was considering giving the whole comics thing a rest. Then, at our city library, I came across three very important titles: Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Warren Ellis’ The Authority and Grant Morrison’s JLA. All three spoke in a much more mature voice, and showed me the potential that comics had as a storytelling medium. Watchmen and The Authority led me to more adult titles – Vertigo and Wildstorm, and eventually on to independent and small press comics. Morrison’s JLA showed me that even an all-ages, continuity bound tale of superheroes could feel fresh and exciting. Now, DC is once again relaunching in an attempt to revitalise their stories and attract new readers, but it’s not just one title – it’s 52. And because I’m a sucker for big formalist exercises, I’m joining with my friends Alex and Bret, and (potentially) some exciting guest stars to review the whole stinking lot.
So…Justice League #1.
As a statement of intent, Justice League does the job just fine. Interestingly, it’s set five years ago, which I guess allows for the sort of continuity wrangling that this reboot requires, and establishes a world where superheroes are a new, unknown quantity, hunted by the police and not yet used to working together. The opening narration, “There was a time when the world didn’t call them its greatest super-heroes”, suggests that eventually we will move forward to a timeframe when the Justice League are respected and even beloved by the public, which to me should be the status in the DCU. More than Marvel, the heroes of DC are iconic, larger than life, and placing them in a more grounded*, cynical world suggests “darkness” for the sake of it.
The story is a fairly standard tale of superheroes (in this case Batman and Green Lantern) meeting for the first time, resulting in a clash of personalities that almost comes to blows, before they team up to investigate a threat that leads them to Metropolis, and the still new-to-the-world Superman. Batman’s characterisation is fairly well set now, and Green Lantern, seemingly informed by the recent movie, is presented as a cocksure, arrogant figure who occasionally refers to himself in the third person (ugh). Jim Lee even seems to be drawing him as something of a pretty boy (after all, Ryan Reynolds is a very handsome man).
As far as the rest of the art goes, Lee’s Batman feels a little clumsy – not the urban ninja figure I think of him as, and the action feels a little stilted. That said, he does some nice work with the layout during the detour to the soon-to-be Cyborg, and his splash page of Superman at the end feels suitably grand. I’m not sure how I feel about the new costume for Supes – costume design has never been Lee’s strong suit, so getting him to redesign DC’s most iconic, profitable heroes feels like a poor decision.
Overall, it’s a fine enough start for the new DC universe. Were I a more regular DC reader, I’d be interested as to how the Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman will be portrayed in this new paradigm, but as it is, this first issue wasn’t enough to make me want to carry on reading the title. One can only guess what the next month will bring.
*As grounded as a universe containing gods, mutants, aliens, robots, Atlantis and people in tights beating each other up can be…