Originally Published December 23, 2011
DC Comics recently relaunched their entire series, giving curious but uninitiated nerds a convenient entry point. Fellow blogger Patrick Ehlers and I are two such nerds, and we’ve decided to jump in with a handful of monthly titles. We really wanted to pull out all the nerd stops, so we’re also going to be writing about them here and on Patrick’s Blog (which you should all be reading anyway) every Friday. This week, I’m hosting the discussion of Justice League, while Patrick is hosting the discussion of Batman.
Drew: When we wrote about Justice League last month, my main point was that, while I saw a lot of potential for the title, I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I would like. This month’s issue reaches the tipping point, delivering just enough on that potential to get me genuinely excited for next month’s issue. For me, his kind of delayed satisfaction has become the defining characteristic of Geoff Johns’ titles — I’m perpetually convinced the next issue is going to be awesome. I mean part of that in a good way: Johns is pretty masterful with a good cliffhanger (though he seems to be relying pretty heavily on introducing a new character right at the end of an issue); and partly in a bad way: sometimes his stories seem to spin their wheels just so he can save the action for the next issue. In a way, waiting until the end of issue four to introduce Darkseid builds up his entrance, but in another way (like, in the way that acknowledges the existence of dramatic irony), the fact that Darkseid’s involvement was made clear in the first issue robs his arrival of any actual impact.
My biggest issue with this title (and most origin stories, honestly) is how overstuffed it is. This issue alone requires one exposition dump (detailing Cyborg’s abilities) just to justify another (where Cyborg uses his abilities to learn Darkseid’s motive and goals). While this verges on “Harry Potter can inexplicably read Voldemort’s mind at random moments” level laziness in terms of detailing what the villain is up to, I’m kind of happy to have all of this exposition out of the way, just because it means we don’t have to spend the next two issues going over it (at least, that’s what I’m hoping…). Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The issue opens at S.T.A.R. Labs, where Victor is waking up with his new robot parts. He does some cool tricks and his dad explains that his robo-body is on auto-pilot or something. Victor is mad at his dad for SAVING HIS LIFE, and runs away, accidentally Vulcan mind-melding with one of those robot things as he makes his escape. Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, Aquaman demonstrates that he’s cool with the help of some huge motherfucking sharks. Superman continues to act a little bratty, Flash continues to reluctantly help out, and Batman and GL continue to bicker flirtatiously. Victor shows up just in time to not quite warn the team that Darkseid is coming. Darkseid finally shows up, announcing to anyone who slept through the first three and a half issues that he is, in fact, Darkseid.
My synopses seem to keep coming out snarkily, and while there is plenty to make fun of in this issue, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I complained (perhaps unfairly) last month that the heroes were largely ill-defined, but it’s clear now that Johns has a solid grasp on the voices of each character. Many of the heroes get nice character moments in between all of the action. I like that Flash really doesn’t want to be involved in all of this, but kind of has to help out anyway, but my favorite moment has to be when cocksure Hal inadvertently touches Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth (possibly while trying to cop a feel), which causes him to admit that he’s generally motivated by trying to impress people (though I suppose I would get a kick out of that). Unfortunately, these genuinely fun moments are pushed to the margins to make room for flashy, shark-filled set-pieces and crazy exposition. I would cite this as a fault, but after our discussion last month, I think I really just need to adjust what I expect out of this title. These are versions of the characters I’m interested in reading, even if their personalities aren’t showcased on every page.
Speaking of things being showcased on every page, Jim Lee’s art in this issue really reaches another level. I tend to pigeonhole Lee as a draftsman; he renders very clean, clear images with a special aptitude for detail, but I’ve never thought of him as a particularly inventive artist. His work on this title has made incremental steps to change those assumptions, but this issue in particular stood out to me for a level of drama I’ve never really associated with his art. He still has a tendency to draw everyone with clenched teeth, his attention to Wonder Woman’s anatomy verges on cheesecake, and his layouts are merely workmanlike, but Christ Almighty is that final double-page spread awesome. It would make a good poster, which is maybe the most succinct way for me to express my feelings about Jim Lee’s work.
Overall, I enjoyed this issue more than the previous three, and I anticipate liking next month’s even more. I still have my grievances about the road we took to get to the end of this issue, but I think I’m happy with where things are now. I also think I’ve been able to successfully re-calibrate my expectations for a title with an ensemble cast and an emphasis on action (something neither of us were really used to). How’s that adjustment going for you, Patrick?
Patrick: On the subject of Jim Lee’s art: I actually have his two iconic images of Superman and Batman as posters. They’re up in my apartment. I am not ashamed of this. You know the images – everyone does, whether they realize it or not. I believe the drawings pop up when you go to Lee’s wikipedia page. I think part of what makes his art so perfect for posters is that obsession with anatomy you referred to. But check it out, it’s not just the ladies that get the extra attention – there’s just as much beefcake and there is cheesecake. I mean, I get it: they’re super heroes, so they stay fit. But good god damn, they are impossibly good looking people.
And while you’re right to point out that Lee doesn’t really innovate using the medium’s unique visual capabilities, the man can draw gigantic action set pieces. There’s a certain amount of gravity he’s able to give a scene wherein Aquaman summons sharks from the water to eat Darkseid’s minions that transform it from possibly silly to (I’ll admit) pretty exciting. Can we talk about that? Specifically, the bit where Hal essentially calls Aquaman a chump, and then Aquaman does what he always does when Geoff Johns tells him his honor is being insulted: he flexes nuts. Without explaining what he’s up to, Aquaman employs his various King-of-Atlantis-tricks and rescues the heroes from yet another onslaught of Darkseid drones. Okay, so 1 – Hal is being such as asshole here. Everyone else knows to dial it back a little bit in the name of the group, but apparently the Green Lantern is the only one who never learned team work (even though he’s the only one already on a team.) 2. Arthur always whips it out when provoked, right? You can’t challenge this dude on anything without him pulling out that fucking trident. 3. I’m ready for that to be the last time Aquaman is demonstrably cool unless it serves his character in some way beyond redeeming the common perception of the Aquaman.
That may be me unfairly applying my experience reading Aquaman to this book. I know that this is a new era for Aquaman, and I get that he’s tough and useful and all that, and when JL#4 decides to explicitly state this for the benefit of everyone that decided to skip out on the Aquaman series, I’m stuck reading something I rather feel like I’ve read before. You’ve mentioned that maybe we get too little of each character’s personality – is it possible we get too much?
Let’s rock a hypothetical scenario just for a second – because they’re fun: Justice League in the New 52 serves to introduce the Cyborg as a member of the group. It’s secondary mission is assuring the audience that the status quo has been restored after Flashpoint. We don’t need introductions to Hal and Barry and Bruce and Diana and Arthur and Clark – we know those assholes, and if we don’t there are a billion books that will tell us who they are and what their relationships with each other are like. What if JL focused more tightly on the Cyborg origin and then suddenly dropped him into the action? The heroes are still meeting up for the first time, but we just don’t see them measure dicks for four issues before uniting behind Cyborg to combat Darkseid. I was excited in JL#1 when it looked like Batman and Green Lantern’s relationship was going to be at the heart of the JL series, but that’s sort of gone away and now there’s no single unifying character or relationship. I think Cyborg could have been that character, but the team doesn’t really focus on him and he comes off as an afterthought. I mean, who’s reading this and saying “I didn’t think Cyborg was going to be so COOL!”
But that’s me playing wouldas and couldas, and what we’ve got isn’t actually bad. Like you said, it’s fun and pretty to look at and there’s always the sense that some kick ass shit is LIKE SO CLOSE TO HAPPENING SO SOON OMG! Maybe this series will end up being the successful introduction of Darkseid – giving this DC Mega-Villain all the pomp and circumstance he deserves. One of the things we’ve noted in the New 52 is the use of non-major (and usually invented) Rogues, and we’ve written that off because we like exploring the heroes so much. Darkseid is definitely a Big Bad that deserves some time in the spotlight, and since he’s one of those crossover villains that tends not to show up unless everyone cleared their calendars in advance, it makes sense that we’d get that spotlight in Justice League. Okay, we’re all about adjusting our expectations for this series – consider mine adjusted.
Here’s a list of what we’re reading. The list is Batman heavy, and we’re not going to write about everything. That being said, feedback and suggestions on what to read and discuss are welcome. Overlapping books in bold:
Action Comics, Aquaman, Animal Man, Batgirl, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League, Nightwing, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, Swamp Thing