SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Justice League #1

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
Comics superstars Geoff Johns and Jim Lee make history! In a universe where super heroes are strange and new, Batman has discovered a dark evil that requires him to unite the World Greatest Heroes!

Kyle Garret:
Chris Kiser:
Jason Sacks:
Ray Tate:
Dave Wallace:

Kyle Garret:

And so it begins.

Perhaps the possibilities of the new DCU have filled me with so much hope that I've gone soft. But regardless of its flaws, I enjoyed this first issue of the Justice League, and I honestly can't remember the last time I really enjoyed a book written by Geoff Johns. But like I said, the book definitely has flaws.

I've read some complaints online that this is more of an issue of the Brave and the Bold than of the Justice League, because it deals almost entirely with only Batman and Green Lantern. But, come one, did we really want the team forming in a single issue? And while the Cyborg interlude might be a stretch, Johns is only introducing characters in relationship with the main narrative, which is actually kind of nice, as opposed to a series of seemingly unrelated sub-plots to introduce all seven of them in the first issue.

Along those lines, though, the story for Vic Stone going forward is painfully obvious. He's going to get blown to near bits by a parademon or some other creature associated with Darkseid, then he'll become Cyborg and either save the day or save the team.

I'm also not a fan of Vic being in high school (presumably a senior). I think that's too young for a member of the JL. I suppose, however, it's to make it so he can branch off to some iteration of the Teen Titans that happened in the five years since superheroes made their appearance.

Speaking of which, that could be my favorite aspect of this issue: that superheroes are new, and that the general public doesn't know what to make of them. I'm really interested to see more of this, to the point where it actually makes me disappointed that DC isn't starting all of their books from scratch. The only reason for this seems to be to keep the Batman and GL continuity more or less intact, but I'd be okay with letting those go at this point.

The Batman and GL aspect of the story gives it kind of a meta touch. They are the only two franchises that are maintaining their histories and they're currently the two DC characters with the most public exposure in the mainstream media. If the idea is for DC to reset the universe so that all of their other franchises will do as well as the Batman and GL books, then starting the first issue of the relaunch with those two characters is a nice little nod to that plan. In this new DCU market, everything must stem from the two characters that don't have the stink of failure on them (well, aside from GL's movie, but that doesn't count here).

I said to Matt from the excellent ComicPanelist blog that the relaunch is a good chance for DC to get me to care at all about Barry Allen. The same could also be said for Hal Jordan. Johns does a nice job of at least getting me interested in Hal, if for no other reason than I think he's an ass, which I believe is the point. I also really enjoyed the back and forth between Bruce and Hal, from the "You're real??" to Hal asking Bruce what powers he has, only to be shocked when he learns that Bruce has none.

The "let's ask Superman because I hear he's an alien" bit was fairly bad. I half expect them to ask Cyborg for tickets to see Kanye at some point in the future. A simple scene with Hal using his ring to locate any other extraterrestrials would have worked, and not made them both sound so stupid about it.

Overall, the tone of the book won me over. The art is nice, but it's nothing we haven't seen from Jim Lee before. If the goal of a first issue is to get me to come back next month, then Justice League succeeded.

Chris Kiser:

Since he first began as a writer, Geoff Johns has built a career at DC Comics by referencing decades of the publisher's past stories and reinvigorating them to create brand new material that casts a nostalgic eye to the past. From his early work on Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and JSA to his fabled runs on Green Lantern and Action Comics, continuity mining has been Johns' MO almost exclusively. For all intents and purposes, he has become a master at it.

Those talents, however, don't exactly qualify Johns to be a prime candidate to write Justice League, the relaunched series that debuts this week and introduces a whole host of (presumably) new readers to the revamped DC Universe. It's a book backed by a marketing effort that lauds itself for its freedom from the past, not bogged down by a century's worth of weighty fictional histories. In other words, there's no room for a final page reveal of a surprise character unseen since the 1980s and no place for a revisionist retelling of what "really happened" during an event comic from the 1990s.

Separated from those pet tricks of his, Johns seems sorrowfully limited. The tale he spins in Justice League #1 is, in fact, quite accessible to new readers, but it does far too little in building a convincing case for them to stick around. The entire plot involves Batman and Green Lantern tossing some less-witty-than-it-should-be banter back and forth while investigating a token half-mystery about an unidentified alien menace. Neither character gets a particularly strong moment in which he is proven to be someone the audience should care about, and the story has no real hook that'll have you thinking about it more than seconds after you put the book down.

Jim Lee does a little bit more to sell the product to the masses, drawing a whole bunch of pretty pictures as he is wont to do. Having seen and enjoyed much of his art in the past, I'm inclined to think that his efforts on Justice League err a bit on the side of being too detailed for their own good. Nearly every character, from the cops to Batman to the aforementioned alien, has more going on with it visually than can be reasonably translated to a real-life object. Of course, that's an observation coming from someone who writes comic book reviews every week, and it's unlikely that the teenaged readers to whom this book is largely targeted will have similar issues.

In the same vein, it is possible that my status as comic book junkie completely disqualifies me from properly assessing how likely Justice League stands to appeal to the uninitiated. Personally, I don't see folks who are used to immediately arresting serial fiction on television like Lost and The Walking Dead getting much of a kick out of this, but I haven't been what you could call a "new reader" since I was four. I suppose only the sales numbers for Justice League #2 stand to confirm or deny my suspicions.

Jason Sacks:

I have this rule about what makes a great first issue. I think it's a pretty simple and logical rule, but not very many comics live up to the rule. You'll probably agree with me, I think.

I want a first issue to excite me from page one and not let go. I want a first issue to be intriguing and cool and exciting, and, most of all, I want that first issue to motivate me to read future issues of the series.

This is especially important for comics that are the first issue of a full new line of comics. A comic like Justice League has to be a tentpole, a rallying point, the spark from which a blazing inferno of excitement can burn brightly. It needs to grab the reader at page one, get our hearts beating faster, get us to call and text and tweet and tumblr our love for this book to all our friends and have us sitting outside the comics shop, panting with excitement, at 10:55 on new comics Wednesday.

Most of all it has to live up to the hype. It has to be one of the great comics of the year, the kind of comic that is not just great for what it is but for what it implies, for what it portends for the 51 comics that will follow in its wake and share its slipstream.

I'm sorry to report that this comic falls far short of those standards in my mind.

Oh, it's a perfectly fine and competent comic book. Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are proficient enough to produce a thoroughly capable first issue of a comic. Both of them have been down the road of the Big Event Comic enough times in their career to know about the stakes of a book like this. But I fear that the team didn't do it big enough. This book is good but it had to be great.

The problem for me is that it's just not enough of a world-builder of a comic.

There's a nice beginning segment featuring Batman, and of course everyone loves Batman and enjoys seeing him at the center of an event. Batman has actually been pretty much absent from events like Blackest Night and Flashpoint, so it's slightly refreshing to have ol' pointy ears be right in the middle of the action.

He then runs into Green Lantern, who surprisingly isn't given the rock star treatment by Geoff Johns. Instead GL is treated much closer to his depiction in Jim Lee's notorious All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. GL uses some clever creations as part of the battle that happens, and a quick run into the sewers does a nice job of revealing that Darkseid will be the main villain in this series, if not the whole line.

At this point the book is kind of cooking. It's got some momentum and despite some moments of real dumbness, the comic has a feeling of being a world builder.

Then it all kind of falls apart for me. The book takes a tangent to explore the origin of Cyborg, with some really poorly done football scenes. All the momentum of the book kind of collapses as we suddenly are confronted with some emotional psychodrama for Vic Stone, moments that seem to be intended to bring some emotional depth to the character but instead just kill the momentum of this story.

I found myself completely taken out of the story by the confusingly-depicted football action. I had a lot of trouble parsing the football action on the field that Lee presents, but, worse than that, I was distracted by the confusing way that Johns presents college recruiters going crazy about Vic. Anyone who spends more than a little bit of time watching SportsCenter knows that recruitment just doesn't work the way that Johns presents it, and that unreality was distracting.

Yeah, I know I'm complaining about a lack of reality in a comic about a guy with a goddamn power ring that can create anything, but a big point of the Vic Stone scenes is that they are supposed to seem real, are supposed to reflect the real world. If they feel unreal, it puts the comic into a difficult and strange state.

The last few pages see Green Lantern humbled and Superman introduced. I'm sure other reviewers will have things to say about Superman's new and ugly costume, so I'll just say: gawd, it's fucking hideous.

I've never been a big fan of Jim Lee's artwork and found myself continually distracted by the ugly way that he draws people. That said, Lee really is the perfect artist for a comic like this. His work feels like it's perfect for the Big Event Comic, and he does draw a great Batman. He doesn't skimp on the backgrounds and, aside from the football scenes, does a reasonably competent job with the art. But that doesn't mean I have to like the art.

More than anything to me, this comic just needs to be longer. It feels truncated at 22 pages. As the kickoff for a new line – and at the $3.99 price tag – the story feels too short by half. There's just not enough world building in this book to have it be the tentpole for a whole new set of series. There's just not enough of a spark for me to make me breathless with anticipation for the rest of the New 51. Justice League is a decent comic, but it really needed to be spectacular.

Ray Tate:

I must admit that I considered giving Justice League five bullets. Given that it's the first of the new 52 and establishes the new universe's rules, it certainly merited the historical criterion. What's more, I kept enjoying what I read. I know. I'm as surprised as you are. However, at a certain point, the plot came to a complete stop, and that's the sole reason why the book misses the perfect mark. I'll get to that, later, but right now, I'd like to discuss what Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair do right.

The story opens with Gotham police copters hunting down Batman as he attempts to apprehend a Parademon from Apokolips. If that scenario sounds familiar, you're not experiencing deja vu. The reduced circumstances first appeared in Jim Starlin's and Mike Mignola's Cosmic Odyssey in which Batman stalks a Parademon left behind during a raid thwarted by Superman and Lightray. However, Johns and the creative team expand upon this situation, and they take some twists that will raise the eyebrows of the faithful and returning DC readers.

Novelty is important. Batman being considered a vigilante and actively pursued by the GCPD is interesting, but what struck me the most is that Geoff Johns really nailed Batman's characterization. I very rarely picked up a Batman book during or after No Man's Land. Batman rarely acted or sounded like the Batman I knew. While reading Justice League, I was astonished to discover that Batman not only sounded like Batman, he also behaved like Batman. Johns' and Lee's Batman is in fact not just a brooding, angst-ridden character. He smiles in Justice League. He takes pleasure in Lantern's reaction when he finally dopes out Batman's "power." Batman enjoys delivering Lantern's comeuppance. He's ten steps ahead of his opponents. He may be outgunned by the police copters, but he's got something prepared to stymie them without causing them harm. Green Lantern who introduces himself to Batman in Justice League may have a fancy ring, but Batman defeats him simply through observation, deduction and exploiting the Lantern's weakness. It's not yellow.

Best of all, Batman possesses a full range of emotions. Batman should never have been a one-note character--especially when you had Michael Keaton's and Kevin Conroy's masterful interpretations as models, yet that's how he seemed to me whenever I perused his books before my inevitable boycott of the previous DC Universe. That's what initially kept me away from a character I loved the most.

Hal Jordan on the other hand is a pompous ass, but he's a different kind of pompous ass than tradition demands. This Green Lantern is younger and grew up in the sixties or seventies not the forties. He's overall arrogant. He reminds me of Kyle Rayner when he first started out, only with an unbridled ego: "Green Lantern's Got This!" This version of Green Lantern is actually easier to take because his self-centered nature isn't gender-targeted, and that overbearing personality is tempered by stupidity and naivete. I expect this presentation is similar to the portrayal Ryan Reynolds gave. Lantern will likely be the team jackass, which suits me fine.

Lantern takes a massive leap without a single shred of evidence. He concludes that since the creature he and Batman hunt is alien, then, it must be connected with this "new" Superman in Metropolis. Batman doesn't accept such a rash hypothesis, but the Lantern assumes that Batman agrees and absorbs him into the light for travel.

It turns out the new Superman reflects the cartoon Superman with maybe a little Tom Welling thrown into the visuals. He takes names, and seeing him put the Lantern down really made me grin. That's the most action Superman has performed in decades, and I will admit to a pang of nostalgia. I have always wanted to see this happen.

Jim Lee draws these super-heroes as larger than life. I've never been a Jim Lee fan, and yet I find his work here extraordinarily appropriate. It reminds me of the way Howard Porter presented these characters. They have to be big. They have to be resonant, and that's what we get. On a personal note, Batman's ear-length is finally correct. He doesn't appear to be wearing a helmet. His new costume actually works well, and inker Scott Williams doesn't just play up the shadows on the suit. We actually get to see Batman.

When Lee turns his attention to Green Lantern, the Lantern's manifestation of emerald plasma exhibits imagination that Hal Jordan seldom expressed. No, that's a fair comment. Again, I'm reminded of Kyle Rayner's technique with the ring. The Lantern creates glowing green firemen, policemen with shields, a fire engine, giant jade bats and a green jet. When Superman makes his cliffhanger appearance, I didn't question who he was. I said to myself. Yes, that's Superman. He may be wearing a different costume, but oh, yeah, that's Superman. The badass protector of our fragile world. Again, I'm thinking Tom Welling.

The only point at which Justice League loses momentum occurs when Victor Stone, the artist soon to be called Cyborg, takes the stage. Johns and Lee present him as an earnest jock with Daddy issues. Nothing he does in the book makes me want to care about him. The only thing about him that interests mildly is the fact that he's going straight to the Justice League like he did in The Super-Friends and not first joining the Teen Titans, but you would have to know his history in order to be aware of the alteration. Even the colors appear off in this section of the tale. They're all pastel. Whereas, in the superhero vignettes, the shades are all bold and rich. This may have been done deliberately to display a contrast between the mundane and the fantastic, but it was a mistake in my opinion.

In conclusion, it's remarkable how Justice League synchs up to Flashpoint. It appears that the creative team's vow to "not screw this up," is an honest one. The Flash that ran the gauntlet in Flashpoint is the Flash of the new DCU. It's the new DCU, not the discard, that was altered into the Flashpoint worlds. We can discern this from Batman's reaction to the Flash in the Batcave. They call each other by their first names. They exhibit camaraderie and friendship. This is the Flash that will become part of the new DCU Justice League, and more importantly this is the one true Batman who will still be human enough to respond to his father's last words. The future for Batman in the Justice League looks to be a little brighter. So does the new DCU.

Dave Wallace:

Unlike many online commentators over the last few days, I'm going to try and review Justice League #1 for what it is, rather than what it isn't.

What it isn't is a comprehensive primer for the new DC Universe--but who ever said it was going to be? It's also not a book that should necessarily be taken as indicative of the style or quality of the other fifty-one '#1' issues that comprise the rest of the company's reboot line-up: surely only a fool would write off an entire line-wide relaunch on the strength of a single issue.

For some readers, there might be a sense of frustration that Justice League doesn't immediately bring us up to speed on the entire DC overhaul, but I actually think the book takes a sensible approach to rebuilding the DCU by starting out slowly and steadily with a straightforward superhero story that introduces the universe's key players in a recognisable and accessible form.

It's just a shame that it's so derivative and almost entirely unoriginal as to be instantly-forgettable.

My overriding impression of the issue is that of a by-numbers superhero adventure that coasts on the promise of telling an origin story for the Justice League and on the novelty of DC's new superhero universe whilst at the same time providing very little that's actually new or original.

Batman and Green Lantern team-up to fight a Parademon who represents a nebulous threat from Darkseid, before the pair visit Metropolis and run into Superman. And aside from a brief interlude that functions as a setup for one of the book's secondary characters, that's really all that happens.

This wouldn't be so bad if there was some flair or style to the writing, but Geoff Johns' trademark clunky dialogue saps the energy of what are presumably intended to be Brian Michael Bendis-esque snappy back-and-forths between Bruce Wayne and Hal Jordan as they meet for the first time.

Whether it's unnecessary and unnatural expository dialogue like Batman asking Green Lantern if he just flew them both to Metropolis in a green jet plane (which is an odd question for Batman to ask after the journey) or mangled expressions like Hal's “Note to self, Batman”, it's just not an issue that reads smoothly. And the tone of the issue is pretty odd, almost pushing the Batman/Green Lantern interactions into sitcom territory with a knockabout comedy approach to what we're supposed to believe is a tense, dangerous situation.

The closest thing that I can think of that DC has published recently is Frank Miller's All-Star version of the caped crusader--and in fact, this issue seems to lift an entire scene from that book, with Batman playfully sneaking Hal's ring out from under his nose.

The All-Star Batman impression is only reinforced by the presence of Jim Lee as artist. I'm not Lee's biggest fan, but I do appreciate his craftsmanship and can't help but be attracted to his flashy, dynamic style.

And his art looks pretty good here, even if it's not quite as detailed or as controlled as his work on the likes of Batman: Hush or All-Star Batman and Robin. However, the combination of over-designed costumes, posed characters and light plotting brings to mind the style-over-substance spectre of the 1990s that seems to be creeping back into mainstream comics lately.

(There also seem to already be problems with some of the relaunch's redesigned costumes: notably, the solid ridges on the back of Batman's neck seem to disappear in places depending on whether Lee can work them into the image alongside the character's flowing cape.)

That said, Lee's work is otherwise pretty consistent, and there's still pretty a high level of detailed rendering and intricate linework that should go down well with his fans. It's also clear that Lee can still pull off exciting action, such as the opening chase sequence or this penultimate page which gives us our first glimpse of Superman.

Surprisingly for such experienced creators, however, there are occasional moments that demonstrate a poor grasp of the mechanics of comics. Characters frequently break panel edges distractingly, for no good reason, often drawing the audience's attention to subsequent panels before readers have had a chance to read the one that they're currently looking at.

There's also an occasional mismatch between the briskness of the action that's depicted by Lee's art and the quantity of dialogue provided by Johns--such as this panel that captures a snapshot of Green Lantern flying and Batman swinging through the air, whilst apparently conducting quite a long-winded exchange in the space of this single moment.

However, I don't expect these mechanical problems to undermine the enthusiasm of those readers who are excited by the very fact that this is a new JLA origin story, in a 'new' DC universe, written by one of the company's most popular writers and illustrated by one of the industry's flashiest talents.

For me, however, Justice League is is a book that makes you appreciate those writers and artists who can inject a sense of freshness and newness into superhero comics--because Geoff Johns and Jim Lee almost seem to go entirely out of their way to avoid doing that here.

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