Review: Justice League #1

The future of comic books is here! Or at least that’s what DC Comics would like you to believe. So far, I’m not convinced.

Justice League #1

Today marked the release of Justice League #1, their launching point for a whole line-wide revamp of their most popular characters. This comic has been hyped up the wazoo all Summer long. It’s reportedly had more than 200,000 orders. Justice League was the only comic book that DC put out this week (sort of) in order to ensure that every comic fan worth their collection would get in on the ground floor of their exciting and bombastic new stories!

The comic fails. Not terribly so. But this is a real stumble out of the starting gate.

Justice League #1 feels like one of those extended house ads they staple into the middle of normal comics. Where Superman and/or Green Lantern help some kids wearing Subway brand T-shirts defeat some bad guys with the power of Subway sandwiches. It looks like Green Lantern. It acts like Green Lantern. But it doesn’t feel like Green Lantern.

Instead it feels like a rushed, overly thought-out promotional piece. What’s supposed to be the iconic first meeting of Batman and Green Lantern speeds through its dialogue and its team-up, with the two of them trading not-so-snappy banter as they try and fight some random, monstrous-looking villain. But the writer, Geoff Johns, seems to think that the banter is very snappy. That’s why it feels overly thought-out.

Justice League #1 doesn’t feel new or special. It’s just another comic about Batman and Green Lantern.

At least this first issue of Justice League has some cool action, some strong characterization and some fantastic art. When I say this comic fails, I mostly mean that it fails as the kick-off to the new DC Comics Universe. I was looking forward to reading a clean, complication-free introduction to the Justice League kicking ass and taking names. What I got instead was a comic where Batman and Green Lantern hang out and trade forced dialogue about the ‘newness’ of this world. Barely anyone else appears in the comic, despite the cover featuring seven heroes. No sign of Wonder Woman, Aquaman or Flash. And Batman and Green Lantern are an odd – yet obvious – choice to introduce us to the new DC Universe.

This was not what I was expecting and I am disappointed. Though I’ll keep buying, because it looks like they’re going to try and build up to greatness instead of wowing us from the start – which is what they should have done.

Some call it bickering, some call it bantering; I call it forced

Justice League #1 takes place towards the dawn of the superhero age, which occurred ‘5 Years Ago’ in comic book time. None of the heroes have met one another. They don’t know each other’s secret identities. So this first storyline in Justice League is going to let us tag along as they meet each other and start to work together against a greater threat. There are several scenes in this issue where the ‘newness’ of it all is thrown at us. For example, Green Lantern is shocked when he finds out that Batman is just a man in a costume and doesn’t have any bat-powers. The cops are also openly trying to shoot the heroes, placing them firmly on the opposite side of the law for now.

But for all this freshness, no one seems bothered at all that the villain suddenly transforms into a giant, mechanical, alien-looking spider monster. It’s just business as usual.

And that, I think, is my main complaint about this comic, one that is felt in both the writing and the art: this doesn’t feel new.

The costumes, powers and personalities remain the same for Batman and Green Lantern. So what if the cops are shooting at them? That’s not a big enough change. Why couldn’t this comic work as the first meeting between these heroes in the old DC Univers? There’s nothing that makes it feel like it’s this new world with new histories and background. Heck, for Batman and Green Lantern, they don’t even have new histories or background. More on that later. The heroes look and act the same as they always have. They’re fighting a similar villain to what they’ve always fought.

The art reinforces this idea.

Jim Lee is, without a doubt, one of the most popular artists in comic books. His characters are dynamic and detailed, his action scenes are exciting and he draws some pretty awesome Green Lantern ring-constructs. His Batman is one of the reasons I started reading DC comics back in college. I was reading a few Robin issues, and Batman was right in the middle of a big storyline entitled Hush, about a new villain. Jim Lee was drawing every issue for a whole year. The art was beautiful.

Click to enlarge - It's worth it

But that’s the problem, I’m very familiar with Jim Lee’s artwork! As are most comic book fans. So when we draws these supposedly ‘new’ versions of Batman and Green Lantern, they look just like the old versions. Of course it makes perfect sense to put your most popular artist on this very important issue, but all it does is remind us of the old stories. This issue should be making us look to the future, not have us reminiscing about the past. Minor spoiler, the cliffhanger character appears on the cover. Surprise!

So Justice League #1 fails as an introductory issue to both the team and the new DC Universe. We get a nice, if incomplete, introduction to Green Lantern and Batman, but they could very well just be the same characters from the old DC Universe. Nothing in this issue screams new or exciting.

Hopefully issue #2 can make up for some of these shortcomings. The problem is that it won’t come out until October. Between now and then, there are 51 other brand new series coming out. All those new #1 issues, surely some of them are going to be more exciting and memorable than this issue.

Which shouldn’t be the case. Nothing should be bigger or more bombastic than the Justice League. Oh well.

The eventual full lineup of the new Justice League

That’s my review of the issue, but maybe you’re interested in a little background for any readers who have no idea what I’m talking about. What’s this revamp, you ask? I’m going to assume that you have a passing knowledge of the iconic superheroes: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, etc. They are all from DC Comics, one of the two main comic book companies. Their competitor, Marvel Comics, has Spider-Man, Captain America, and the X-Men in their stable of heroes. Both companies have been publishing comics about these heroes since at least the 60s, sometimes even longer. Batman and Superman have been around since the 30s!

But all those years of stories and all of that continuity add up! Comic fans want their heroes to learn lessons that carry over into the next issues, to grow and change. But new readers might be afraid to pick up a new comic because they think they have to know 30+ years of comic book history to understand what’s going on. Someone new to comics might not want to pick up Superman #662 because they haven’t read the 661 issues that came before.

Both publishers are aware of this problem and take steps to make comics more accessible. Well this Fall, DC Comics is taking an extreme step to make their comics more new reader friendly. They are doing a line-wide reboot of their titles, starting over with new #1 issues and stripping away all that cluttered up continuity. The characters are staying the same, for the most part. Superman will still be Superman. He just won’t have the same baggage that he’s had for the past few decades.

But DC isn’t going for a full clean slate. They’re not starting over from the ground floor. Some characters will have a few minor tweaks, some characters will be rebooted entirely, and some characters won’t change at all. Which brings us back to Batman and Green Lantern and why they are an odd -yet obvious – choice to be the stars of Justice League #1.

Their new 'first' meeting

In part, this reboot is due to low sales. DC has always trailed behind Marvel. DC’s two most popular comics are from the Batman and Green Lantern franchises. So it makes sense that the first issue of this reboot would star their most popular and profitable characters. However, Batman and Green Lantern have not been revamped at all. The stories and characters from before the revamp will be carrying over into the revamp. Nothing is changing. At least nothing major. So I find it odd that they will introduce us to the new DC Universe considering they will remain exactly as they were in the old DC Universe.

At least this new issue gives writer Geoff Johns a chance to flesh out their characterization.

Though their dialogue sucks and feels very forced, Green Lantern is charmingly cocky and Batman is quietly stoic. We can really get at the heart of their personalities, which should be fun as the series continues. Hal is supremely confident in his Green Lantern powers. Whereas Batman doesn’t give a shit about the fancy glowing hero, Batman just wants to get the job done. They’re both tracking a vaguely monstrous villain in Gotham City, one who works for the big bad guy, but we don’t see that super-villain yet.

To set the stage, DC’s revamp involves cramming all of their important continuity down to a 5 year span. In this new DC Universe, superheroes have only been around for five years. They’re fresh and exciting, but people aren’t sure they can trust them just yet.

That's Cyborg on the right, but he isn't a superhero yet

It’s an interesting take on superheroes and the public. Not new, but it could be a good read with such iconic heroes. Supposedly the new Superman is going to be more alien in nature, and he won’t be the beloved hero. We’ll see how that goes.

In the end, I’m excited for the reboot but disappointed in the first issue. But DC has plenty of chances to win me back!

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on August 31, 2011, in Batman, Comics, DC, Reviews, Superman. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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