I’ve largely stayed away from DC’s New 52 output lately, but sometimes I’m in the mood for a trashy superhero comic, and this series just popped out on the racks as the clear winner of that title. So far this book has given me exactly what I’ve expected, which I’ll admit wasn’t much at all.
Justice League of America #1 is the typical first issue of a super-team book. You know how these work by now. We’ve got Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor talking over action scenes featuring cool action posing from the potential team members. I guess where Justice League of America is trying to hook us is that these action figures are being assembled as a response to the cool A-list, country-less Justice League, just in case they one day go mad with power and just up and decide that America can’t sell donut hamburgers or whatever. There are some interesting bits, so it’s not all lost. I enjoyed the take on Hawkman as violent thug with a clever cover story, and I also liked the cheery Star-Girl who may have some sort of satanic connection, but as a first issue it’s typical, it’s what expected, and it’s more of the same but just different enough to distinguish it from its sister title Justice League, which is what keeps these sorts of books going forever.
Justice League of America #2 is where things start movin’. We get a good chunk of the team together and get to see the sparks fly (i.e. they stand around in the same room and quip at each other instead of, I don’t know, doing anything else), as well as get a glimpse of the reasons for why they’re on this team in the first place. There’s a bit in this issue where Catwoman takes a look through Steve Trevor’s wallet and finds a picture of him and Wonder Woman from back when he and she were going out or dating or whatever it is that happens between superheroes and mere mortals (who knows, maybe they just don’t need to, you know, put a label on themselves or anything like that), and we’re treated to a flashback of when Wonder Woman dumped Steve Trevor set right next to another flashback of Batman dumping Catwoman.
They’re kindred spirits, you see, because they’ve both been dumped by Justice Leaguers! There’s another reason for the JLA to be at odds with the Justice League! I can only hope that future issues reveal that everyone on the JLA at some point got dumped by Justice Leaguers.
The biggest culprit of that sledgehammer storytelling style in this issue is the lengths to which Geoff Johns will go to try to make Steve Trevor an interesting character. Trevor calls out Waller for being a heartless commander, telling her that she used to care about the people that she fought alongside until she joined the rest of these know-nothing-ivory-tower bureaucrats, and now it’s all about the bottom line, getting the job done, etc. But here’s where this run-of-the-mill argument with Amanda Waller turns into something special: Later, Steve Trevor is telling Green Arrow that there’s no room for him on the new JLA, so Green Arrow gets all indignant and calls out Steve for taking orders from the higher-ups and lining up with the government and bureaucracy, and then this happens:
Never mind that Green Arrow’s problem with Steve Trevor isn’t an exact parallel of Steve’s problem with Amanda Waller, despite Geoff Johns trying so hard to set it up to look like that. Just take a second to admire how wonderful it is to have a comic book like this on the stands. A comic book that perhaps isn’t worried that its audience won’t get it, but seems to be unable to express itself in anything but unsubtle means. I mean, the only thing that would make it more ham-fisted is if Jim Lee were drawing it, and he couldn’t be because he’s doing Justice League and being a big wig over at DC comics, so it’s fallen to David Finch because maybe at some point he got dumped by Jim Lee? (Okay, I’ll admit that one was kind of a reach, but I still very much enjoy the idea of a Justice League of Spurned Ex-lovers, so why not extend that to its creative team?)
By the time we get to issue #3 the team is mostly together (minus the new Green Lantern, who’s still off in space or something, Green Arrow, who was never let on the team despite being on all the covers of every issue so far, and Stargirl, whose role on the team is apparently that of official spokesperson because she is apparently too pretty and beloved by key American demographics to be sent into battle) and mostly ready for some action. That is to say, they get ambushed by robot versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and they seem to do pretty well for themselves, despite a sloppy use of Vibe’s powers to dismantle the robots. The rest of this issue is dedicated to the team chasing Catwoman across big city rooftops in an effort to get her noticed and eventually picked up by this Society of Villains we’ve been hearing about.
It’s an action-packed issue, which is definitely welcome after the first two issues’ moody scowling and stage-setting, but ultimately issue #3 feels a bit flat, and I think that falls mostly on the shoulders of the art. David Finch is very good at making characters look tough and imposing, but when it comes to movement and fight choreography his figures look static and posed. In the first fight scene against the robot-Justice League Finch doesn’t really depict the sort of speed and impact that you would hope to see from a fight where entire trees are being uprooted and robot heads and limbs are being torn off. It all comes off as characters just sort of frozen in a fight tableau.
The second action/fight scene on the rooftops is better as this time we get a more confident sense of place, so characters aren’t just sort of floating in place, and each moment feels more weighty, but on an action heavy book like this one out of two isn’t acceptable. It’s disappointing because while I don’t expect much out of David Finch’s storytelling abilities, I thought that at least he could be counted on for some heavy-looking fight scenes. The problem is that action scenes and fight scenes rely so much on movement, and Finch still draws these characters like they’re posing and waiting rather than being caught in a particular moment.
While I’m not a big David Finch fan, I do like the idea of him on this book. He’s got plenty of faults, sure. There are some
issues with continuity and faces/haircuts looking consistent (just check out how quick Amanda Waller grows out her hair in between the first two issues), but the biggest misfire is on his storytelling and timing. There’s a particular scene between Hawkman and Vibe in issue #2 that’s supposed to be pretty funny, but Finch just doesn’t quite get the timing right. The problem is that Finch doesn’t do funny comics. You get Finch to draw a superhero comic because you want muscles and fights and explosions and action poses, not for comedic timing. Which is a shame because Geoff Johns can actually do some funny bits, but it’s not an entire waste of Finch because we get enough of what he can do right in these issues (mostly superheroes looking moody).
What I like about Finch on art is that it gives this book the feel of the comics I liked when I was 13, which is to say, artists from that Image school of questionable anatomy and “dark” superheroes. Comics from a time before I knew any better. A book that certainly seemed adult, but in the way a thirteen year old raised on summer blockbuster thrills would think adults behave. To them it’s adult more because it’s moody and ‘”serious” rather than thoughtful or complex. Both of these issues read like something that, I don’t know, Top Cow would’ve published around 1999, and Finch on art just completes the look.
It’s not the greatest book, it’s not doing anything new, and it doesn’t even look like something new, but I do very much like the idea of this book, maybe more than the actual book itself, and I think it’s because I’m just glad that there are still comics out there that are being made for easily excitable 13-year-old boys. From what I’ve read online, the response to this book hasn’t exactly been glowing, but that’s because it’s not written for critics with such discerning tastes, and I’m not saying that as a “turn your brain off and just learn to enjoy things,” or even a “Oh, I only read Graphic Novels” sort of thing. I’m saying it as a matter of fact — it’s a comic for kids, featuring big action and some healthy rebellion, and it may not be for us (i.e. adults), but that’s fine because — and I know this is hard to accept — it’s long been time to move over and let the next generation of kids have something to get self-righteous about in about ten or fifteen years. This comic is a mess, but that’s okay. Kids do fine in messes. It’s time to move on to something new, and to let the kids have their fun and make their own mistakes. Why, I remember a time when my favorite comics were Fathom and Battle Chasers. I moved on and I found better comics to enjoy, but I’m thankful for making and learning from those mistakes, and I’m glad that Justice League of America can be that kind of mistake for a whole new generation of budding comics readers. Let them have this one. They’ll figure their own way out of it. It gets better.
Geoffrey Lapid lives in Brooklyn where he writes about comics and gets older every day. You can follow him on twitter at @gwarrenl, and check out some comics he’s made at strongconqueror.com. He’s thinking about getting a bike.