Justice League #1: A New Era Has... Yet to Begin, Actually

Because I have friends who think DC's New 52 might be their gateway into comics, I've decided to try and review each of the #1s (in weekly batches) and see if I can't recommend something. The universe was relaunched this week with a single book, Justice League #1 and it's... underwhelming.

It could be said that at this point, NOTHING could have met expectations. But I didn't hype the event. DC did. Hype there is, and we've been sold two ideas. 1) That the DCU as it stood was unfriendly to new readers and had run its course. And 2) that the New52 initiative would attract new readers, refresh the DCU and revolutionize comics. I didn't buy the premise of (1), but if they delivered on (2), then all could be forgiven. Did Justice League achieve that goal? Not in the slightest. It's not that it's bad or good, it's that it isn't what it needed to be. It needed to be Fantastic Four #1. It needed to be The Dark Knight Returns...

It needed to say "AND COMICS WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!"

But it doesn't. It's a perfectly ordinary superhero story, with a lot of glossy art and not a lot of substance. It doesn't say anything new about the characters or the team, and is surprisingly low on substance for a Johns book. It could be any "re-origin" book of the 90s or 00s . It's NOT a revolution in the way superheroes are written or drawn, and worse, there's no sense that it tries to be. In no way does it justify the relaunch or the DC team's bold hype.

That's not to say other books in the line won't be surprising, fresh and innovative. And I have to question the decision to use Justice League as THE book to bring the new era into being. DC missed a neat trick by not relaunching with either Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #1 (and the former MIGHT have been a better poster child for a strong new vision). Instead, it just looks like the two architects of the event gave themselves the prime spot. It smells of hubris.
If I get into the issue itself, I can't say I like the art all that much. I was never an Image fan, dropping most of the original titles I tried after a couple of issues, so I have no brand loyalty to Jim Lee. No need to talk about the costumes - there's been enough said about them - except to say how absurd it is that they all have similar designs though they've never met. That's just bad storytelling and another sign that as with the early Image, art is more important than story. Not that the art is all that good. Lee's wealth of details coupled with colorist Alex Sinclair's special effects (including Green Lantern's constructs) make the comic so busy, I don't always know what I'm looking at. Lee sometimes "crosses the line" (as in the copter sequence) or overdraws the book into confusion. For example, I can't help seeing Batman punching rocks in the splash above.

As for the story, it amounts to some fairly fun banter between testy Batman and dumb-as-rocks Green Lantern. They fight the law, and then an overdesigned Parademon that suicide bombs itself "for Darkseid!", so I'm at least glad the Fourth World will show up sooner than later in this new DCU. I've missed those characters. (I may come to regret those words, redesign pending.) Cyborg gets a few pre-Cyborged pages, with a whole page devoted to football action. Yeah, this thing is slow and decompressed. And then Superman shows up at the end to fight Bats and GL. Looks like the authorities will always be after them, and they'll fight one another, so the big DC revolution is to turn it into the Marvel Universe. There's a reason I don't read very many of THOSE. Hopefully, this won't be a trend. DC should offer an ALTERNATIVE to Marvel, not the same product dressed in different clothes.

(And Superman? He totally still has underwear over his clothes. They're just not a different color. Which is the kind of change that may turn out to be a metaphor for the entire Relaunch.)

Don't call it a reboot: It's totally a reboot.
Upgrade? I wasn't reading Robinson's Justice League of America, so I can't tell (maybe you can). I do think the title is better off using the classic line-up than an Avengers-like combination of big guns, sidekicks and obscure heroes.
Will read? I'll probably see it through to its first contemporary story, but I can't make any promises. But given the writing talent involved, it's a big disappointment (but at least, no dismemberments!).
Recommended? So decompressed, it reads like it's written for the trade. If you wait for that trade, the hype will be gone and you'll probably be able to resist the urge to do so. I'm not sure you'll be missing out on anything special.

26 comments:

Colin Smith said...

Head in hands, it's as if the content of the new DC JL book was determined by asking a gaggle of already committed adolescent die-hard fans what they'd want to see.

It's, as you say, a run of the mill superhero book. But a satisfying story, a compact and dense and imaginative reading experience?

You wrote that "hubris" came to mind. I fear that you may be right ...

Colin Smith said...

By which I mean, because I've expressed myself poorly, the research undertaken for this reboot - there WAS a massive programme of research before such an undertaking, wasn't there - should surely have considered more than a youthful audience already committed to modern-era books. The industry needs so many different demographic groups to be catered too, and that includes the absolutely key groups of adolescents who AREN'T already in love with deconstructed superhero books.

You know, DC. The folks who AREN'T buying your books already ...

Siskoid said...

And if one of the stated goals was to attract new readers...

I don't know how much research was actually conducted give that the decision to relaunch seemed to have been made at the eleventh hour and most of DC's creators not informed until the last minute. I'm sure the truth will come out later and will be very interesting indeed.

hiikeeba said...

Completely underwhelming, I agree. While I liked the relationship between Green Lantern and Batman, the plot was numbingly slow. I thought the helicopter sequence was too long. The whole idea that Superman, being an alien, was responsible for the Parademon is such an obvious plot contrivance just to get the three to meet.

I like your comment about the costumes being too similar. I'm sorry, Not costumes, armor, according to the three pages of sketches that should have been story pages. There must be only one armor designer in the DC universe and he really likes collars.

Siskoid said...

Ah yes, the costume sketches pages that tout "Not your father's Justice League". Well, my father's JLA would have been the one from the Silver Age. All younger and meeting for the first time.

Not at all like this one.

De said...

A former co-worker told me that he'd start picking up comics again if it meant he could read a one-and-done story. Looks like Justice League ain't it. Maybe the rest of the relaunch will offer stuff along those lines.

So far, the only book I plan to pick up is the new JLI. If Dan Jurgens can deliver as much fun as he did with Booster Gold, then I'll be a happy camper.

snell said...

Not that this makes the actual comic any better (or worse), but apparently there IS a hidden meta-story underlying the nu52. The woman who narrated Flash's journey in the 2-page spread in Flashpoint appears in a crowd in JL , and apparently she's going to be appearing in all 52 #1s. (Hat tip to Rich Johnston for spotting/reporting this.)

Secret manipulator of events? Leading to a Big Event despite DC's demurrals? Someone who remembers things the way they used to be, so a back door back to the old DCU? Let the speculation begin.

snell said...

Oh, that reminds me--this was a very, very, VERY male comic. Not a female anywhere, except crowd shots at the football game. So, apparently the launching point of the nu52 is "no girls necessary to reach our demographic."

LiamKav said...

Any thoughts on doing a Flashpoint review/retrospective now that it's done? Either as a standalone story, or as a lead in to the DCnU?

Siskoid said...

I don't know... I read them all, and while I liked a couple of intimate moments in the finale, I was sorely disappointed that many of the minis deferred to that finale and were not really catered to. The exact moment of flushpoint fell flat (a lame montage while Flash was running).

I feel like it would be a very negative review and I like this blog to act as a booster rather than a downer. And when I do down something, I want it to be in the spirit of comedy. This particular post should represent the exception rather than the rule.

notintheface said...

This was distressingly by-the-numbers and formulaic. Good-looking but vacant. Even the sole fun part, the Batman-Hal interplay, gave me a strong sense of deja vu, although Johns really cranked Hal's dumbness up to 11. (Kind of explains why the DCnU has had 4 Earth GL's in lass than 5 years.)

Number 1 issues are supposed to be a jumping-on point for readers. They should STAND OUT from the crowd. Think Mark Waid's Daredevil. JL#1 was a perfect jumping-OFF point.

Siskoid said...

I'm glad you mentioned Daredevil, because YES that was a great first issue that redefined the character without any kind of "reboot". I hadn't been reading DD in more than a decade and I jumped ON very easily... and happily!

Austin Gorton said...

I'm waiting for the trade for this one, if ever - as notintheface said, it seemed like a perfect jumping off point from reading JLA as singles, and all the reviews I've seen make it pretty clear that, DC's protestations aside, this issue is far from earth shattering and merely the first chapter of a longer story and not a solid story in and of itself (which it should be, if it was truly friendly to new readers).

Definitely looking forward to your future reviews of the rest of the relaunch, though.

Jeff R. said...

A story about a team in which three of the team's memebrs don't appear at all, one shows up only on a single page, and one never interacts with anyone else in the story seems like a very poor introduction to that team. Especially for a company that's supposed to be all about the single issues now.

Siskoid said...

Though I don't mention it in the body of the review, I had the same thought, Jeff. The Justice League isn't in the book at all.

More absurd is that three of its members are introduced BEFORE their own books come out. So we don't even know who they are. A team book like this should have been published at the END.

Craig Oxbrow said...

You'd think a single issue action-heavy story that goes "hey look how cool these guys are" would be possible. Timm and Dini used to do it on a weekly basis in the cartoon...

SallyP said...

This book was stunningly...average. Not great, not terrible, it just WAS.

I wanted a giant starfish at the very least.

Siskoid said...

The Animated DC Universe is in fact my standard for loving reinvention. Everything they did between Batman and Justice League Unlimited was pretty much golden. The other stuff (Teen Titans, The Batman, etc.) wasn't bad either.

boosterrific said...

I agree with your review 100%, Siskoid, and I'm glad to find that someone else shares so many of my feelings about the book. I've been trying to think of something nice to say about the book, some way that I could endorse it as being a positive move for DC, and I just can't do it yet. I guess if anything, I can be pleased that this book doesn't include the phrase "I'm the G*dd@mn Superman!"

dave said...

Your view is very similar to mine, only I think I was a bit more negative. You can read my review at http://metcalfed.blogspot.com/ but the synopsis is it stank

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

this is a bummer. i hope this isn't also a bad omen for the Suicide Squad #1 debut in a couple weeks from now. i've already had a bit of skepticism about this to begin with as it is.

Siskoid said...

DavidH: If Flashpoint: Legion of Doom was anything to go by, SS will be an unsubtle piece of torture porn. But I'm keeping an open mind.

The question with SS is whether I'll care if a villain dies, when those villains won't actually be the ones I've read about over the course of the last 25 years on account of the reboot.

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

i was watching the reviews on this issue on Youtube last night and they were all pretty positive. there seems to be a disparity between what people are saying about it on Youtube and on blog sites. by the way i gave Siskoid's blog a plug in my latest video about the ROM licensing timeline mystery.

Glenn Greenberg said...

You can read my thoughts on the matter here:
http://glenngreenbergsgrumblings.blogspot.com/2011/09/breaking-points.html

Maki P said...

I don't really read comics (I used to follow Booster Gold religiously, but...), but I've always loved superheroes. Come to think of it I may be part of the reboot's intended audience; in that case the comic fails, I don't find it interesting, it's kinda boring and I wanted to see the whole League right now not having to wait six months for it

Siskoid said...

Glenn: Thanks for that. The whole DCU thing made me think of Star Wars too, in particular the moment where Simon Pegg's character on Spaced realizes after much rationalization that Episode 1 (and subsequent) ruined the franchise and he burned all his SW stuff. At least that's what I think about when I read comment that not only defend JL#1, but praise it highly. I know we WANT it to be good, but wishes aren't horses in this case.

Maki: I'll be curious to find out if another title captures the "non-comics-reader" imagination.

 

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