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Justice #1

Posted: Saturday, August 6, 2005
By: Ray Tate



Writers: Jim Krueger & Alex Ross
Artists: Doug Braithwaite & Alex Ross
Publisher: DC

From the opening pages, you may infer that Alex Ross has finally succumbed to the Brain Slugs tossed out by Dan DiDio. Afterall Superman could have easily stopped the missile speeding toward Metropolis, and you do not expect Alex Ross depicting Superman floating over wreckage like so many hacks do in the so-called continuity books. Alex Ross, unlike the writers responsible for Intelligent Design Countdown to Irritable Bowel Syndome, reveres super-heroes. He's one of us.

I'm going to spoil something. I don't usually spoil anything in my reviews, but I feel I must because the people who would normally jump at the chance to buy a new Alex Ross project or a project that celebrates super-heroes may leave Justice on the racks because it opens like the craptastic projects currently being offered in DC's alleged continuity books. Just drawn better.

What you see isn't what you get.

What instead you see as heroes fail one by one are the nightmares of their arch villains. That is why Superman is so ineffectual. That is why Wonder Woman and particularly the aliens Hawkman and Hawkwoman are decimated by a disaster they should have been able to remedy.

You do not see Superman fail. You do not see Wonder Woman fail. You do not see Hawkman and Hawkwoman die, and telling you this doesn't in anyway eliminate the enjoyment one receives from this magnificent testament to how great and sophisticated comic books used to be.

Filled with drama, characters for about whom the reader cares, sensual and action packed, Justice is a throwback to the comic books of the Bronze Age before DC screwed everything up with The Crisis of Infinite Earths.

This is as mature as comic books get, and by mature, I do not mean sexploitation, ultraviolence or the absence of tights. This is a comic book written for an adult audience who happens to exalt the super-hero; twelve-year olds of the right mindset will also get a kick out of this book.

The double-page spread tells it like it was. Banding together for "Truth, Justice and Peace for All Mankind" the Justice League look as though they burst from a museum gallery run by Mensa. What gives Alex Ross the exception to the Scott McCloud theory of comic book art is that his love and passion for these mythical men and women are evident in the reimagined photography that he imbues to the pages.

Bullets bounce off of Superman, the Martian Manhunter and Diana's bracelets. Of course they do, we wouldn't expect anything less. The Hawks defy gravity and use mace and flail to battle offscreen foes. Batman swoops in as if he too were bulletproof while the Flash blurs to the rescue and Black Canary unleashes her devastating sonic scream. This is how the heroes should behave. This is how they should look. You shouldn't fear them. You should be in awe of them. Evolved with abilities beyond mere mortals, gifted with science that seems like magic, driven to be the world's greatest detective, they do not squander these talents and skills for personal gain. Rather they use these elements for one purpose and one purpose alone to save humanity. They are what we could all become. That is what Dan DiDio and his loyal minions have destroyed.

Is there a story here? There really doesn't have to be, but yes, there's a story here. From the nightmares, Krueger, Braithwaite and Ross focus on a character who has been the butt of jokes for years, but the creative team remembers that Aquaman used to be drawn by Nick Cardy, Don Newton and the late, great Jim Aparo. His adventures were just as exciting as Superman's and Batman's adventures. He was a bona-fide super-hero who fought piracy on the high seas, polluters and the same kind of evil the rest of the League individually fought. The only problem with Aquaman is a lack of imagination on the part of those who consider him a joke.

Krueger, Braithwaite and Ross illustrate Aquaman as a family man, devoted to Mera and Arthur Jr., dedicated to Atlantis and to humanity. Batman indicates in three character portraits included at the end of the book that Aquaman has "divided loyalties." You hear the pain in Batman's words as he states "We can't afford to have families....We can't afford to have sons who can lose their fathers." Batman is of course biased because of his personal experience. The creative team behind Justice shows that Aquaman is not divided, he is whole to all things.

It is in these scenes that the maturity of the book becomes evident, not just in general but in terms of artwork. Fine art has always depicted the eroticism of the human form. Why should comic books be any different? However, there is a huge difference between painting Mera in a diaphanous gown that flows, as does her coppery hair, with the currents and altering the laws of proportion for the sole purpose of jutting out a badly drawn woman's breasts. There is majesty in Justice. I don't recall ever seeing Aquaman--post-Crisis--riding a giant sea-horse, but here Braithwaite and Ross illustrates the pose as naturally as a master may paint a knight astride his horse. Violence also had its place in fine art, and here we see a judicious spilling of blood in a battle that evokes the substance and depth of such heroic paintings by Antonio Pollaiuolo depicting the labors of Hercules.

In short Justice is the series that DC should have been promoting. This is the series that should have "changed everything." This is the series that could have fixed everything.



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