Thursday, September 8, 2011

COMICS: Justice League International #1

Team books are always hard to start. It's not an enviable task. You've got to convincingly introduce a host of characters, give them all some sense of identity and then give them something to fight, and you've got to do it all in less than 30 pages.

Justice League International #1 comes a week after Geoff Johns and Jim Lee led into DC's "New 52" with a mediocre Justice League #1 that groaned under the weight of high expectations and too much ambition crammed into a very small space. Dan Jurgens - the DC Comics veteran most famous for writing and drawing the Death of Superman story - and fellow veteran artist Aaron Lopresti, manage to get their book off the ground with a little less trouble, but they do it by sacrificing their opening pages to exposition hell.

In response to the rise of the Justice League of America as an independent organization of superheroes, the United Nations decides it needs its own team of heroes, one that it can control both from a public relations and tactical standpoint. Andre Briggs, the U.N.'s Intelligence Director, brings his superhero team proposal before the U.N. Global Security Group, who will make the final decision. He proposes a number of intriguing choices (among them Plastic Man, Green Arrow and Blue Beetle) for the team's lineup that are shot down for various reasons. His proposal that Batman come on board is also shot down, but the rest of his prospective superhero squad is approved. The new Justice League International will be led by the image conscious, cocky Booster Gold, and will include Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Rocket Red (Gavril Ivanovich), Fire, Ice, Godiva and August General in Iron (because, you know, every superhero team worth its salt needs a Chinese superhero with iron skin).

The team sets up in the Hall of Justice amid public protest, and is almost immediately handed their first mission: find a missing U.N. Research Team that's gone missing in South America. Despite U. N. objections, Batman stows away for the trip (because he's Batman, and he can sneak in anywhere he wants) and pilots the jet into the jungle while Booster Gold begins to cope with the pressures of being a leader.

The biggest problem with this book is that the first five pages are basically a board meeting. Briggs has a teleconference with Global Security Group members, and the images of each of the JLI heroes flash on screen like a high school yearbook. When the team is finally picked, the reader knows their faces (the point of the whole exercise), but might be too bored to want to carry on.

If you do make it past the brief slogging introduction, Justice League International #1 turns into a solid first issue, and sees the JLI taking on monsters in the jungle as they try to figure out what's happened to the missing scientists. It's a set up for an adventure book, but Jurgens is also weaving in bigger elements. Batman is poking his nose in, probably just as much to screw with authority as to mentor any of the JLI members. Booster Gold is trying to balance his own ego and his need to keep control of his team. The team itself is experiencing a number of language barriers (most of them quite funny, actually), and the political implications of a superhero team sanctioned by the governments of the world are already beginning to rumble in the background.

Jurgens strikes a fun tone for the first issue, hitting enough strong comic notes to overshadow some heavy handed, rushed plotting. He's also clearly aware of the fertile ground this book has beneath it, and the issue ends with the promise of something bigger up ahead. Lopresti's art also strikes the right tone. His work is bright, clean, classic superhero pencilling, just what you want from a straight-up hero team title.

Justice League International has a lot going for it, even if it does get off to a bit of a rocky start. It's got a few cracks showing, but it's also got the promise to turn into something bigger.

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