Thursday, September 1, 2011

COMICS: Justice League #1

Let's clear the air, kids. The New 52 is happening. Pull your heads out of the sand. We're still here. The world didn't end, the multiverse didn't collapse all over our nerdy little skulls and comics are still alive and well (well...surviving, anyway). I've held off talking or writing about DC's companywide reboot for most of the last three months simply because I didn't understand why there was such a big debate to be had. It's not like such things haven't happened before (on some scale or another). And yes, they're renumbering and that's a little odd to think about for characters that have been around for more than 70 years, but come on...we know where things stand.

DC is trying something in an effort to reinvigorate their business, and many comics fans are crying foul. They're saying "This is just a stunt. Why don't you guys just try telling good stories?" For many DC fans (myself included), the good stories were already there, but DC wanted to push in another direction and wrap up a few new readers, and that's fine. This is comics, after all. We can always just pretend it didn't happen later.

But now it's over. The first issue of The New 52 is here, 51 more will follow in the next four weeks, we will read them, discuss them and get on with our lives. The reboot is upon us. All that's left is to talk about the work.

And the work.

Justice League #1 is the center of this New 52 universe DC is rolling out. It's a logical place for it to stand. All of the DC blockbuster characters are gathered in its pages, giving its creative more opportunities for storytelling on a grand scale. It's the All-Star squad, and in an effort to further project a blockbuster image on it, DC put it in the hands of two of their creative superstars. Jim Lee, possibly the most famous comics artist of the last 20 years, not only drew the issue, but also redesigned the costumes of each of the League's members. Geoff Johns, who revived Green Lantern and The Flash for DC and has a played a major editorial role in most of the company's recent major event books, helms the book from the scripting side. It's a Dream Team of sorts, they've got the world's biggest heroes and a massive battleground to work with. This is what they're pitching:

It begins "Five Years Ago." So, we're starting the first issue of a supposedly new universe with a flashback? It's not explained, but hopefully it'll merit something more than just a tedious timeline issue. Batman is fighting a bizarre alien threat in Gotham City when Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) shows up to help. The two have never met, and spend much of the issue debating who should handle the situation and discussing the overall situation with superheroes in this new universe.

In the universe Lee and Johns are introducing us to, the world still lives in fear and misunderstanding of superheroes. The heroes themselves haven't yet crossed over into each other's territory (Lantern wasn't even sure Batman was real) and they know next to nothing about each other's powers and abilities at this point. It's essentially a blank slate fully populated with demigods. Not a bad start.

The problem is the issue basically goes almost nowhere. Apart from what amounts to a cameo appearance (that will pay off next issue, to be fair) by Superman at the end, it's just Batman and Lantern chasing down aliens and arguing with each other. This wouldn't really be a problem, except that the cover also includes Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. So, we don't get to see a big, cool Ocean's 11 style roundup of the powers that be. We're starting off slower. Fine.

Most of the book is action, fight scene after fight scene, flights and hurdles across the cityscape and alien threats wreaking havoc. That's cool, but this is where we come to the problem of Jim Lee drawing it. He's a legendary artist, but his panels just feel too crowded. I'm not talking just about the number of people walking through them, either, or their size. It seems crowded with too many pencil lines, too many strokes, too many needless overdetails. This is thanks in part to the costume redesigns. Superman and Batman both seem to have a number of odd lines running through their suits. Whether these are for aerodynamic purposes or for armor or what, we don't know (though why Superman would need armor is a mystery). They're just there, these weird little crevices that seem to serve little purpose. It's just too busy, and it makes some of Lee's more elegant art (like his work in Batman: Hush, for example) seem like a distant memory.

Yet despite all of this, despite everything that feels overly hyped and underwhelming about this comic, I came away with a sense of deep anticipation for what's next. Johns and Lee have set the right tone, against all odds, and if only because the issue is too short (this is a massive reboot; we couldn't have added a few pages?). It makes you want to keep reading, and that is, after all, the point. The New 52 is here, and it's rolling forward now. All that's left is to get on board.

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