Dave: It’s very difficult to get worked up enough about an average book to give it a passionate critique, and Justice League is about as average a superhero book as it gets. Still, I’ll try and find it within me to articulate why I think this is the case.
Jamil: As the hero count grows, Justice League gets a little bit better. The coming together of Batman, Green Latern, Superman and Flash came off awkward and forced, but when you throw thousand of flying demon robots into the picture the arrival of a sword-swinging brunette feels a tad more organic.
Dave: The first ish of the title had a fair few problems — mostly with the writing, but occasionally with the art, too — but this seemed to be more than offset for most readers by the novelty of it being our first glimpse into DC’s new universe. And the second issue was a marked improvement, with a couple of stylistic flourishes and a capable handling of the book’s large cast which made me thing that I’d judged the first chapter too harshly.
Jamil: Both Johns and Lee improve in the on-time installment of the core DC comic. The stories of Darkseid’s invasion of Earth and Vic Stone’s transformation are finally coming to together and by issue’s end we are given the full cast of heroes. Bringing the big guns together into one sensible arsenal isn’t easy even if it has been done many times before.
Dave: This latest issue feels like a step backwards, in that it’s about as conventional a “getting the gang together” issue of a team book as I’ve ever read, and doesn’t contain any of the flashes of originality or innovation that might make it stand out as special.
Ray: The story begins with an introduction to Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. Diana has been staying with the U.S. government, but this issue, she decides to take a walk — through the wall.
Dave: The problems start with the characterization of Wonder Woman. I imagine that writer Geoff Johns might be trying to trade on the novelty of seeing Diana when she’s a naïve newcomer to wider society, but the way he handles it feels like a shallow attempt to tick off all the clichés that we’ve seen in a million stories involving aliens/robots/men-out-of-time becoming acclimatized to the modern world.
Ray: Reports of a harpy in Washington D.C. instigated Wonder Woman’s sojourn, and as she searches, she encounters Raquel, a little girl with ice cream. This incarnation of Wonder Woman is a much earlier version. While not as thankfully naive as she was in the post-Crisis George Perez run, she’s still not as savvy as her future self in Brian Azarello’s new Wonder Woman series.
Dave: There’s even a sequence in which she discovers just how great ice cream is, which is pretty indicative of the depth of characterization that Johns provides for Diana throughout the issue.
Ray: The scene with Raquel could have easily been too precious, but Geoff Johns and Jim Lee give it just the right balance to be genuinely charming. Raquel is simply a little girl. She’s neither precocious nor unpolished. She accepts Wonder Woman as she is — badass Amazon warrior. Wonder Woman treats her with dignity.
Dave: I’m not reading Wonder Woman’s solo title at the moment, but I’m guessing that “Ice Cream Is Wonderful” isn’t meant to be her new catch phrase. (But if it was, just think of the licensing opportunities!)
Ray: The exploration of new flavors turns out to be short lived.
Dave: For no discernible reason other than the fact that they show up in the same place at the same time, Wonder Woman ends up fighting the same hordes of Darkseid’s minions that have been plaguing the proto-Justice-League for the last couple of issues.
Ray: Wonder Woman soon connects with the Justice League. Geoff Johns and Jim Lee reestablish Wonder Woman as a powerful warrior, and like the Bruce Timm avatar, her forte lies in simultaneously tackling multiple enemies. Furthermore, there’s no fluctuation in her strengths and abilities. This is the definitive Wonder Woman, not a redefinition.
Jamil: I don’t know if people will be upset with Geoff John’s depiction of Princess Diana, but I am a fan of her being the most aggressive member of the yet-formed team.
Ray: During the battle, Johns and Lee reintroduce an aspect of Batman often overlooked. He’s a teacher. He has been a teacher ever since Robin’s debut in 1940. Since then, he taught Superman the art of disguise, the rudiments of detection and martial arts. Superman’s cousin admired Batman. She attempted to learn anything Batman imparted. According to the New 52 continuity, Batman tutored Batgirl. This frequently forgotten aspect works especially well with the friendlier Dark Knight.
Jamil: The pos
itioning of the character’s roles is simple but effective. Superman is the quiet, capable powerhouse; Batman is a calculating underdog; Wonder Woman serves as the adolescent-like instigator. The two other members, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, are only shades apart with the Flash being a tad more noble than his ring-wearing friend. The rapid teaming of the cast in the midst of battle is somewhat hurried, but for heroes who are the pinnacle of gallant it does feel natural for them to help first and question later.
Dave: Which gives Johns another opportunity to show off his sparkling dialogue.
Dave: Yep, that’s Green Lantern calling “dibs” on Wonder Woman, whilst Superman tells her that she’s strong. Which, of course, she knows. Shakespeare this ain’t. But presumably Johns thinks that he can go easy on the writing because Jim Lee’s intricately detailed art will carry the book.
Jamil: There is nothing spectacular about the DC heroes going against Darkseid for the umpteenth time, so concentrating on the group dynamic makes for a fun read. I just don’t know how long I can deal with all the pretended unfamiliarity. Hopefully whatever comes after this is set in the “contemporary” universe. If I wanted to see the first dozen missions of the team I’d rewatch the first two seasons of the Justice League cartoon.
Dave: The functional writing serves the book to the extent that it gives Lee something to draw, and provides nominal (if flimsy) reasons for events to happen — but doesn’t often attempt to do any more than that. And the sections that are slightly more ambitious — like the scenes dealing with the birth of Cyborg, and his relationship with his father — feel overly melodramatic and out-of-place amid the flashy, gung-ho superheroics of the rest of the book. (There’s also a slapdash attempt to emulate the epistolary backmatter found in the likes of Watchmen, but the academic book about Atlantis that we’re presented with here feels like a half-hearted, content-light attempt that lacks any real substance.)
Ray: The trouble with the issue continues to lie in the origins of Cyborg. The tale is visually arresting. It seems almost as if modern day special effects took a look at the past and tweaked it for a big budget remake, but I’m still finding it hard to care about Cyborg and find these breaks in the story proper to be intrusive. Cyborg’s origins should have been edited to make room for more Big Gun interaction because that’s what readers want to see.
Dave: To give Lee his dues, his art is still the best thing about the book. No matter what he’s depicting, there’s never a sense that he’s cutting corners or trying to simplify his style in order to get his pages drawn more quickly.
Jamil: He’s always at the top of the game, but this is my favorite art of the young series.
Dave: The action scenes are generally quite dynamic and cinematic and the level of detail is impressive — meaning that the book doesn’t just feel “widescreen” but also High-Definition.
Jamil: Jim Lee is an undeniable talent, and you can easily detect the passion for the rebooted title, but sometimes too much is too much. The pages are so intricate and busy I have trouble making out the keen details. While it raises the second read, the first one often involves me examining the pages the key for information. Is it a valid complaint to say an artist is too good? Chaotic or not, it’s still beautiful stuff.
Dave: For slightly more jaded readers like me, it’s impossible to overlook the occasional flaws in Lee’s artwork — namely, his tendency to make his figures appear stiff and posed during the “hero” shots. It’s understandable that he wants to capture each character looking their best, but that kind of approach seems more suited to covers than to a scene that’s meant to be depicting a chaotic, messy fight. Instead, it often feels more like a posing competition.
Dave: There are some slightly more inventive visuals on show here. Most notably, the montage page that mixes images of the injured Vic Stone with our first glimpse of Lee’s Darkseid (well, our first glimpse if you don’t count the cover images teased online by DC earlier this week) is a pretty impressive piece of work that feels curiously out-of-place in a book that’s otherwise so conventional.
Jamil: That is the best work thus far. Still, I can’t deny the book has a dreary pallette to it. Justice League is a celebration of comic heroes, it should be bright and wonderful. Rather, I feel like I’m stuck in something noir, with eerie neon the only thing breaking through the shadows and murk.
Dave: I don’t want to sound as though I’m ripping the book to shreds, because it’s doing a competent job of achieving the goal it has set itself: to tell an action-packed story in which the core members of the Justice League come together. The trouble is, that’s a pretty modest goal for a six-issue arc of a book that’s meant to be one of DC’s flagship titles.
Jamil: Not much is exposed in terms of the invasion plot, but let’s be real — we know what Darkseid is about. The opening arc of the title is about the merging of powerful personalities.
Dave: Nevertheless, by the end of this issue, almost everything is in place for the story to really get going. Whilst you might question whether readers should have had to wait for three issues to get to this point, there’s also a sense that Johns has laid out the building blocks of this new Justice League quite carefully and purposefully, and — as I said earlier — anyone who’s relatively new to comics will probably have hugely enjoyed the thrill of seeing all these A-list characters come together for the “first time,” especially under Lee’s pencil. In the grand scheme of superhero comics, however, it’s nothing special, and DC alone has put out plenty of better books over the last few months.
Jamil: Justice League is middle of the road, regular brand stuff. It’s good comics that provides fantastic art and quality charact
er banter, but it’s not blowing anyone’s socks off. I would say that it’s hard to grade the title based on the contents of the first arc, but I guess that’s a judgment in itself. People questioned the choice of opening this up “five years ago,” and I can’t help but wonder when we’re getting to the next step either. Bring on the Hooded Lady!
Dave: Any newcomers to comics who are attracted to pretty art and straightforward, undemanding storytelling are likely to love it.
A journalist and sometime comics reviewer, Dave Wallace was raised on a traditional European diet of Beano comics, Asterix collections and Tintin books before growing up and discovering that sequential art could — occasionally — be even better than that. He has an unashamed soft spot for time-travel stories, Spider-Man, and anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and has been known to spend far too much on luxurious hardcover editions of his favorite books when it’s something he really likes. Maybe one day he’ll get around to writing down his own stories that have been knocking around his head for a while now.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics fan and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, lover of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation.
Ray Tate’s first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, “Spider Without a Web,” published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he’s young at heart. Of course, we all know better.