Justice League #34
Written by Christopher Priest
Art and Colors by Pete Woods
Letters by Willie Schu
Published by DC Comics
For one of the most iconic titles in comics, Justice League has endured a creative slump for quite some time. But a glimmer of hope for the world’s greatest superheroes emerged earlier this fall when DC Comics announced that Eisner-Award nominated writer Christopher Priest and artist Pete Woods would take over as Justice League’s ongoing creative team, beginning with this week’s #34. Admittedly, expectations were high. Priest’s name connotes a higher caliber of storytelling, while Wood’s suggests a clean artistic break from the photo-realistic house style that DC has subjugated on the Justice League since the New 52 initiative began in 2011. Thankfully, the team delivers on jus that. Justice League #34 presents a fresh and dynamic new direction for DC’s A-listers, all while laying the foundations of a fascinating new story.
Priest is generally known as a writer capable of bringing humanity to his subjects. He executes that skill perfectly in Justice League#34, bringing some of the most god-like heroes in comics back down to Earth, then supplanting them with feet of clay. Priest eschews the wide-screen action spectacles in favor of startlingly intimate glimpses into a few Leaguer’s personal lives. Take the issue’s opening scene for instance, where Green Lantern Simon Baaz, a practicing Muslim, performs his daily prayers on a distant alien planet. This scene is immediately followed by a visit to Wayne Manor, where Batman is found asleep on the master staircase, too fatigued to find his bed. These small moments paint each character as human and relatable, despite being some of the most powerful men in the galaxy. They also help the reader understand each character on a more personal level, so that when the action finally does hit, we actually understand the hero charging into battle. These moments may not seem like much at face value, but compared the stale and derivative sci-fi action spectacles that drove every page of Justice League for over the past five years, it’s welcomed change of pace.
This grounded positioning of the Justice League is taken a step further when Priest dives into his main plot. As he make it painfully clear, coordinating the Justice League is a logistical nightmare rife with opportunities to fail. Attempting to solve all of the world’s ailments—both local and extraterrestrial—is a tall order for only eight people, even if they have superpowers. By picking at the minutiae of the League’s stratagems and team dynamics, they no longer seem like god-like beings, but an imperfect group of women and men trying to keep pace with the world’s troubles. Of course, this all-too-human team that Priest establishes is bound to make errors at some point. And when the mistakes hit the League, we see them in a position that we rarely ever do—that of defeat. This scenario opens the door to some very revealing looks inside each League members head, as we see how each one deals with loss. One scene in particular perfectly exemplifies this, as Superman and Batman informally re-cap the issue’s events. While Superman stacks the League’s wins against their losses and walks away satisfied–ever the optimist–Batman can’t help but obsess over the one failure he committed, underscoring his obsessive and driven nature.
Quiet moments like these say so much about the characters in a subtle and efficient manner, which is an extremely important feat to accomplish when juggling a cast this extensive. But these moments only speak to Priest’s ability as a character-driven writer who can mine wonderfully personal moments out of the most epic backdrops. It’s disappointing that not every League member received the same introspection–the Flash, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman stand out as side-lined characters–but it’s safe to assume that Priest will tackle them in future issues.
This approach to the Justice League wouldn’t be quite as effective, however, without the work of Pete Woods. Woods, who pencils and colors the entire issue, is the perfect choice for Priest’s humble vantage point. His figures are certainly heroic, but nearly a statuesque and god-like as we’ve seen before. Woods’ talent for facial acting is another massive boon to the story, as his animated figures bring every emotion in Priest’s script to life in the most believable way possible. But Woods packs more than just facial expressions into these pages. His entire art style is crisp and spritely, making each page pop with an old-school superhero energy—thanks in large part to his pastel color palette—that the Justice League has not seem in some time.
While Justice League #34 is only the first chapter in a much larger narrative, Priest and Woods have already made ample progress in getting the series back on track. Priest has proven that he can dive deep into the League’s head while spinning a thought-provoking storyline that also entertains. The real beauty however, comes when the team dynamics and plot threads begin to intersect at the issue’s end, promising afar more interesting story for those who come back. Add in the vibrant artwork of Pete Woods, who truly brings Priest’s script to life, and you have the makings of one of the best Justice League stories of the decade.