[NOTE: This post from 2011 was the first post on this blog, back when it was intended to be a gathering point for a New 52 reading group with an emphasis on political and literary readings. That group went defunct, but I'm leaving this post with my review here as a marker. I think I was a little too excited about reading Justice League #1, though.]
Justice League is the first issue of the relaunched New 52, telling the story of how superheroes team up to work together. If you’re around the same age as me, you might remember first encountering this concept as the Super Friends in the 70s and early 80s. It was always an oddly appealing idea, but one that started to feel forced in the 90s and beyond — why is Batman working with Superman? Do they get along? Can’t Superman just take care of everything by himself? What are these second-stringers like Aquaman and Hawkman doing here? (Insert joke about talking to fish here.) Still, it’s a huge touchstone for comic fans, it offers fun possibilities for personality conflicts in an ensemble cast of larger-than-life characters, and we may be re-entering a mass-market age of superhero teams with The Avengers coming out next May. So I’m reading it while thinking about how accessible and friendly it is to someone who’s not very familiar with comic book universes and storylines. I’m sure DC would love to turn this idea into a movie a few years from now.
It IS kind of nice that these characters don’t have decades of backstory sitting on their shoulders. They’re new to the scene, rather than knowing far, far more than any average reader would about what’s going on in their world. Batman and Green Lantern are the focus of this book, and I can guess why: these are the two characters that have had major motion pictures recently with huge marketing campaigns pushing them. It seems like the “existing backstory” that happened before Issue #1 mostly consists of what you would know if you watched these films, or even saw some trailers! That’s a fairly smart baseline for “accessible backstory,” I gotta say.
This incarnation of Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) seems to have the personality of Ryan Reynolds, who played him in the recent (and widely panned) blockbuster film: obnoxious, arrogant, and getting in way over his head. Hal Jordan has been around as a character for decades; he briefly became a supervillain who tried to destroy the world, was reedemed by throwing himself into the sun to restart it and save the world, then became a ghost of divine revenge and then finally went back to being Green Lantern again. Thank GOD all that tortured character backstory has been wiped out — after decades of trust issues, regret and guilt there wasn’t really anywhere else for the guy to go other than retiring! (Or maybe a superhero John Updike novel…) Instead, this is more like a sequel to the movie. The basics of Green Lantern are explained in some expository dialogue that probably made fans yawn: he can concentrate and his ring makes whatever he can think of out of light! He’s a spacecop of this sector the galaxy, and he’s an arrogant jerk. Mix with ensemble and watch the sparks!
It might be hard for new readers to see how the huge difference in power level (between say, Batman and Superman) and snarky hero personalities can make for interesting situations, especially if you’re used to Batman’s super-grim solo adventures. I have to say, though, that the best moment in this book comes when Batman just blatantly steals Green Lantern’s ring off his finger while Green Lantern isn’t paying attention and then is like “yeah and I’ll do it again because you’re stupid, stupid.” That’s what’s great about having Batman with high-powered superheroes — he has an enormous chip on his shoulder, he’s always playing “Who Watches the Watchmen?” and he gives the reader an “ordinary mortal” to root for and sympathize with. (Sort of…) Again, we know everything we need to about his backstory from the movies — he’s brooding, dark, and like Green Lantern also says, he’s an ordinary guy in a bat costume. The surprise is that the cops are after him, although it’s worth noting that’s also what happens at the end of Batman’s most recent film foray!
My guess is that the bickering between the two leads in this issue, and the throwdown that starts with Superman near the end, is all there to try to sell readers on the idea that “Justice League is not as silly and happy as Superfriends.” There’s tension and conflict, but you’re gonna get to see how friendships emerge and characters develop. Hopefully they can deliver that.
The first villain appears to be Darkseid, which is interesting since they saved him as the “big bad boss” for the very end of the Justice League animated series in 2006. I’ll be curious to see how they resolve all the weirdness with Darkseid’s home-world, Apokolips, actually being a planet in another dimension, or a plane of reality, or something metaphysical like that. I don’t even understand it. Maybe they won’t try to explain it at a all — it could a little bit soon to be jumping the shark from “there are aliens on a bunch of planets running around the galaxy” to “and then there are these guys from another… plane of reality…” for new readers!
- Apparently this is the “dawn of superheroes” in a time period when the public’s started to become aware that there are crazy people with powers running and flying around, but still don’t trust them. Kind of similar to the concept of “Heroes” in some ways, eh?
- The Gotham City Police Department are the ones in the helicopters hunting down Batman. No playing buddy-buddy with Commissioner Gordon yet, it seems! Also, they have sniper rifles and gatling guns. To shoot Batman, who is an ordinary guy. Police brutality concerns are clearly escalated once super-powers show up, huh?
- The main bad guy in the first issue seems to be a Parademon, the closest thing the DC Universe has to bumbling stormtroopers who are cannon fodder for heroes. They’ve clearly tried to make it more like a creepy combination of bandage-wrapped zombie, transforming insectile robot, and bizzarely golden angelic-looking wings. The mish-mash of style might be appropriate for a latter-day version of beings originally created in the gonzo art style of Jack Kirby, the late King of Comics. The style sort of reminds me of a few different Miyazaki creatures as well.
- Green Lantern powers are always the most fun when writers and artists have the rings create all sorts of different things — a firetruck, a techno-caliper, bats, riot guards, a safe, a plane — rather than endless processions of green fists, bubbles, and big guns.
- Did Batman probably make five or six of Green Lantern’s firefighting constructs vanish when he stole that green ring. Oops, you let a bunch of people burn to death, Batman!
- Vic Stone is playing for a football team called the Titans because of the superhero team he’s most closely been associated with in the past. Giant, exaggerated nod nod, wink wink.
- Why is Superman hanging out in a building that has a huge hole in its side? Did he just get knocked in there by someone he’s fighting, but we just didn’t see it? Weird.
- We’re seeing Cyborg (Vic Stone) first as a football player, putting him squarely into one of the three “things that 90% of all black guys do in the media” categories (athletes, entertainers, and gangsters).
- This is interesting — and maybe kind of disturbing — given that one of Cyborg’s standout character traits has been that he’s one of the superheroes with a genius-level intellect, especially for technology, and is constantly tinkering with and upgrading his cybernetic body.
- However, he doesn’t have the cybernetics yet in this issue. His father apparently doesn’t support his love for football, which I think was part of Cyborg’s backstory in the past. So it’ll be interesting to see how the “this kid is a natural football-loving athlete that we gotta recruit” Blind Side story lines up with the science-genius stuff.
- The other black guy headlining the DC comics relaunch is Mr. Terrific, who it should be noted is also a studly, athletic, technological genius. Wow, black guys in the DC Universe have to be good at everything! I’m not surprised at all.
- This is a 99.9% bro-tastic issue. Seriously, there’s one redheaded cheerleader girl who has gets to say “Look! It’s one of them!” There’s one other blonde cheerleader standing around. Everyone else in the entire issue is either a guy, a demonic robot from another dimension, an unidentified voice on the radio or a cop in bulky SWAT gear who’s probably intended to be a guy. Practically everyone in the football scenes is a guy, etc. Wonder Woman is on the cover, but not in the issue, etc. I have no idea if this was intentional for the FIRST issue of a whole new “era” of comics where they’ve promised greater inclusivity, but it’s kind of hilarious, and sends a message. Even without changing the script at all, it wouldn’t have been that hard to add a female cop, innocent bystander, football fans, or heck, even a sports agent. It’s not unheard of. Instead… JUST CHEERLEADERS!