Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Justice League of America 1, originally released February 22nd, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: Sometimes I’m a tough customer to please. When it comes to storytelling, I like to get my bearings on the landscape and characters, but I don’t want to be spoon-fed all of the important details. With regards to Justice League of America 1 it nails some subtle world-building but is less successful when handling the stars of the book.
Justice League of America 1 is just like Justice League of America Rebirth 1 — remember the Rebirth one-shots? — but it advances the plot a little more. We get introduced to our cast of characters: Vixen, Black Canary, The Atom, Ray, Killer Frost, Lobo and Batman — who explains why this Justice League is unlike any other Justice League that has ever Justice Leagued. This League exists to show the world that heroes can be humans, as well as gods. It’s a touching sentiment, but one that kind of crashes and burns upon inception. The obvious argument to make here is that Lobo is not human… but I love Lobo and assume everyone else does too, so I won’t focus on that one.
More important than the Lobo argument is the fact that, while human, all of the members of the JLA are super-powered besides Batman. Batman serves as the resident non-powered hero of the team… which is the exact same role that he held on the other Justice League. So unless you are a metahuman, gifted a magic totem or have a genius level intellect you can’t be the kind of hero that the Justice League of America has.
My criticisms of this JLA’s raison d’etre might be petty or severe, but I’m only playing by the rules that Steve Orlando laid out for me. It’s the first issue, meaning that we are getting to know the characters and they are getting to know one another. That being said, some of the dialogue is pretty stiff and expository. Ryan Choi has an entire page where he provides a brief origin story to no one in particular while they are mid-battle. While I’m not fond of the words on that page I do like the imagery that Ivan Reis lays out. One of the Atom’s signature moves is shrinking down and moving between molecules. Reis expresses that action as if The Atom has shrunk down through the gutters and emerged on the other side of the image.
I’m being a Scrooge here with my critiques of a first chapter being “too expository” but the way these characters talk to one another feels unnatural and takes me out of the story. On the surface it’s a pretty by-the-numbers plot: team assembles, not prepared but fights villain, leader falls on his sword for the team. Batman handing himself over felt ham-fisted and unnecessary.
Justice League of America 1 is not all gloom and doom for me, however, as Lobo did not disappoint. I will be honest: Lobo is the number one thing that intrigued me about this book. There is a character that Orlando nails throughout the issue. Every other word that The Main Man says is patented Lobo space-biker slang. He even went so far as to include Lobo’s trademark love and admiration for all dolphins, which was a nice touch.
The main event of Justice League of America 1 is an in-your-face overt classic superhero team origin. Beneath the surface however, there is a subtler plot that expands well-beyond the pages of this book. Initially, I thought that the villain of this book — Lord Havok — was just another run-of-the-mill cosmic conqueror. If you’ve read Multiversity however you eventually recognize him as the Doctor Doom analogue from an alternate Earth.
Along with the recent “Multiplicity” arc of Superman this is the second time we’ve had Multiversity characters cross over into the main continuity of the DCU. Lord Havok’s plan is not that different from Multiplicity’s villain Prophecy: they want to conquer/destroy New Earth because of the threat that looms over the entire Multiverse. Though he’s not named explicitly, DC folks will know that this all has to do with the mysterious machinations of “Mr. Oz” and the overall intersection of Watchmen with the main DCU continuity.
There’s a weird marriage of in-story continuity and in-house marketing going on here. The DC Rebirth Watchmen connection was and continues to be a controversial notion. On the other hand I think it’s awesome that DC is using the vast amount of characters and ideas from Multiversity as a bridge to whatever DC Rebirth ends up being. The fact that it’s not billed as a “DC Rebirth tie-in” makes me respect it all the more. It’s hard to say how much of the Lord Havok stuff is Orlando and how much is DC editorial, but it’s written with a great deal more subtlety than the rest of the book.
I can’t tell where I stand on Ivan Reis’ Batman. He does this peculiar thing with the shadows over Batman’s cowl that makes his pupils these glowing orbs of judgement. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do that before. I think I like it? It certainly makes him stand out.
Patrick! Am I being too hard on the whole of Justice League of America 1? How do you feel about the team thus far? Am I correct in saying that everyone loves Lobo? Could you make out any more Marvel analogues from the “Extremists”? I think the purple guy in the cape is Magneto and there’s another guy that’s basically Doctor Octopus except his tentacles are his hair…
Patrick: I mean, is it possible that they’re mostly Spider-Man villain analogues? There’s a goblin-y looking guy that rides around on a flying bat, a bare chested hunter and wizardy guy with an amorphous head that could basically be Green Goblin, Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio. And that big dumb yellow guy could be Abomination or something (which I recognize is a Hulk villain, and kind of ruins my Spider-Man analogy, but who cares?).
I don’t think you’re being too hard on this issue, Michael. If anything, I think you’re being too forgiving of the thing’s obvious flaws. Don’t get me wrong — I can see why. Orlando is laying out some breadcrumbs that trace back to the fundamental questions about this new DC Universe. And if there’s one thing I know about fundamental questions about the universe, it’s that we badly want answers to them. This is one of those mythology-first issues that places the uber-narrative above any moment-to-moment storytelling. Y’know, it’s that criticism we throw at universe-architects like Jonathan Hickman or Grant Morrison. The difference being that both Hickman and Morrison have emotional or psychological or psychedelic spices to add to their mythology stew. By comparison, Orlando’s stew is expository to the point of being statistical.
Michael already pointed out that lumpy Atom sequence, but I’d argue that attempts to shade any of these characters also fall flat. Like, what’s up with Don’t-Call-Me-Killer Frost’s arc in this issue? She reminds Ryan that she’s still a scientist and then does some science, all without threat of failure or even any real pushback from Choi.
Vixen, Ray and Black Canary don’t get any room to develop in this issue, which is totally fine. It’s a team book and not everyone is going to be featured in a meaningful way. But that does mean that we have to find our emotional anchors somewhere and it’s obviously not in Frost or Atom. So what are we hanging on to? Lobo? Orlando is effectively borrowing on our affinity for notoriously annoying 90s pastiche, which in and of itself is not a crime. The bigger bummer is that the way forward through Rebirth’s mythology-heavy JLA series needs to be guided by “our affinity for annoying 90s pastiche.” The future of DC is its past. So even on a mythological level, this ends up being a pretty big disappointment for me.
Oh and there is some crazy shit happening in the lettering in this issue. Sometimes the different colored speech balloons add a little bit of character to the page — such as Frost’s lightly blue-tinted balloons or Havoc’s black balloons with red outlines — but the rules are not super consistent. There’s one scene where JLA are all connected via whatever ear-piece communication all superheroes are always equipped with, and a whole new set of rules is introduced. Over the radio — but only over the radio — Batman’s balloons are gray, Ray’s are black with yellow letters, and Vixen’s are orange.
At least… I’m assuming that orange balloon is Vixen’s… Ryan responds to that ballon by addressing the speaker as “Vixen,” so I’m not even sure why it’d need to be color-coded in the first place. Plus, this is the only page that uses this technique on this scale. There are two other times where Ray’s dialogue appears in this color scheme — once earlier in the issue, which is presented just like this with the tail-less radio balloons, and a second time later when it’s a narration box. Come to think of it, Ray’s “I can do that” is the only narration in the issue, which leads me to believe that it was a mistake, and should have been a radio balloon in the first place.
Regardless, the page above is a perfect representation of what I find so frustrating in this series. That page layout may put all the heroes on display, but it’s shit at communicating any information about the story they’re involved in. Maybe that’s enough for the fans that just want to see Vixen and Lobo and Batman and Atom on a team together, but a reader like me needs a goddamn story.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?
What is everyone’s opinion about the Watchmen stuff, now that it seems like DC is about to really start developing the Watchmen crossover stuff? For all my problems with the original DC Rebirth stuff, I did approve of the Watchmen metaphor. It was a metaphor built on false premises and lies, but as a metaphor it worked.
But actually developing the Watchmen stuff sounds like a really, really bad idea, even by current DC standards. Other than the fact that, after everything with Alan Moore, it is an astonishingly dickish thing to do, is it really a good idea to actually cross these characters over? To actually have Superman meet Doctor Manhattan? Watchmen was never supposed to be the sort of thing that existed in the real DC Universe, the whole point of Watchmen was that it was superheroes in a universe that lacked all the assumptions required to make a superhero universe work.
If you were going to do more Watchmen (and I think that is a very, very big if. Watchmen is a singular amsterpiece that doesn’t need sequels/ prequels etc), surely something like Before Watchmen works better? Something that actually uses the characters in a way that they were designed for (if you want a new twist, modern day update on Watchmen, built around addressing today’s modern problems instead of the Cold War)
As uses of Watchmen go, using them for a single issue to make a metaphor before going off and writing comics would have worked. But does anyone really think the inevitable Doctor Manhattan story is going to work? That anyone in the industry has the ability to pull off the story to the point that it justifies taking one of comics’ masterpieces and having it cross over into the DC Universe? Because there is a reason that DC is currently publishing crossovers with things like Power Rangers and TMNT, but not shows like Breaking Bad
I take an aggressively non-puritanical view of Watchmen, which I recognize is not particularly punk rock of me. Moore achieved something great with those characters, and that series is a singular masterpiece. I do not believe that Before Watchmen has done anything to diminish the original run, even though there are a few HARD CLUNKERS in there. Just in the same way that I don’t think the movie (which I hated) has done anything to change my read of the original. It’s not really that hard to compartmentalize that a Moore / Gibbons comic is one thing, a Snyder movie is another thing and a Wein / Azzarello / JMS / Cooke / Connor mini-series is something else. Hell, I can even separate the individual BW minis in my head and heart to fully welcome Silk Spectre, Minutemen, Rorschach and Comedian while rejecting the rest.
But! I do think it’s unfair to play the “buck stops here” game with Watchmen, when it obviously owes a lot of its own success to decades of comic history before it. It’s building on the shoulders of all super comics, but specifically on the Charleston characters – it’s kinda bogus to declare that it is the absolute end of its character’s story (or even their publishing history). The business of making comics – or creating and distributing any kind of fiction – is always going to be filled with stories of creators’ rights being trampled by the money guys. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make Watchmen not unique in that regard.
So if DC wants to bring Watchmen into their current continuity, and they’ve actually got something to say with them? Yeah, man – let’s see it. If they’re just bringing them in because they can? Well, I’m always going to be less excited about someone doing something just because they can.
Also, I’d totally read Watchmen Babies in V for Vacation.
The original Watchmen is a masterpiece, and no amount of Before Watchmen or anything will change that. I’m not going to argue that Doctor Manhattan’s appearance was the sole, successful moment of DC Rebirth. The rest of the comic was a disaster of racism, sexism and bad writing (oh god, was there some bad writing. Wally’s story makes no sense at all, when you think about it (why could Barry get Wally out, but not Linda? If love is the thing that always got Wally out of these situations, then sorry, there is no chance in hell Barry could do what Linda couldn’t) and that Green Arrow/Black Canary scene was truly awful). But yeah, Doctor Manhattan as a metaphor worked, except for the fact that it was the payoff to a false premise. But that isn’t a problem with Manhattan himself.
But I think it is worth challenging the idea. Leaving aside the fact that DC have proven that they can’t even write the DC Universe characters properly, there is a reason I made that Breaking Bad point at the end. Yeah, Breaking Bad is a story about a man reinventing himself as a supervillain, but the very fabric that makes Breaking Bad work isn’t the sort of thing designed to crossover with Batman.
What is the point of Watchmen, if you take away the key idea of Watchmen (what is the effect of superheroes in the real world?). Because while Watchmen owes a lot of its success to the decades of comic history before it, I could say that about any piece of art (especially masterpieces). And yeah, many books have been successful because of how they built their success on top of Watchmen. But there is a difference between saying that stories should do that, and that Watchmen needs to be crossed over.
The way we built on top of Citizen Kane is wasn’t to tell sequels and crossovers, it is to use the many film techniques it popularised (like the idea of a set having a ceiling, believe it or not!) to create the sorts of stories we couldn’t before. I don’t think it is an insult to superhero comics to say that Watchmen should not be treated like a traditional superhero comic. And I say this not because Watchmen is a masterpiece, but it was designed with a very different set of parameters to Batman.
Instead of treating every comic the same, as something that can be crossed over or infinitely serialised, should we attempt to be broadening our scope, realising the many different types of comics that can be created and that different types should be treated differently?
What is the argument for having DC crossover with Watchmen, other than ‘it could be good?’. Because I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest there should be a better argument than that. One rooted not is vague hopes, but in story itself.
Ah, you are going to coax out the purist in me after all! I have always bristled against the idea that Watchmen is somehow immune from the rest of the garbage surrounding comics. People usual point to the quality of the narrative and the storytelling as evidence that it is somehow “more than” a comic. I know people mean that to elevate the work, but I only read it as a knock against the medium. The reason there’s no DC vs. Breaking Bad is because Breaking Bad isn’t a comic book – it’s a function of media and not a function of the quality or sanctity of the story.
And I don’t think we can make the argument for or against the Watchmen characters coming into the DC Universe until we see it. I’d argue that “it could be good” is a fine reason to attempt to tell any story, but that’s besides the point. Anything we say right now about how or why they’re using the characters is rooted in our fears about them executing on it poorly. And yeah: DC does have a history on executing on ideas poorly, we should maybe be putting our money on “they’re going to fuck this up” but neither of us would be comfortable defining “this” as “the Watchmen crossover” exclusively, right? I do think the content mill in an inextricable and vital part of the comic industry – the big two crank out SO MUCH CONTENT that by necessity, some of it is going to be awful and some of it is going to be legitimately brilliant, and some is going to be weirdly pretty cool.
I keep looping back around in my head to Multiversity, and how successful that was at tapping into DC’s obsession with its multiverse-continuity and connections between worlds and stories with no obvious connections. That’s a carefully produced Grant Morrison fever dream – the connective lunacy of someone who couldn’t stop thinking of all these characters and all these worlds. I’d hate to throw the breaks up on someone like that, who sees meaningful connections and has something to say (no matter how nutso it is). Will we probably end up seeing an Red Robin / Nite-Owl crossover series written by James Tynion IV? Yeah, maybe. But that’ll be as easy to ignore as ‘Tec is right now.
I mean, I think the real answer is that “it could be good?” isn’t nearly as important as “it could make money?” And, for me, the most compelling argument against Before Watchmen/the movie/whatever, is that the consideration was exactly that cynical. Nobody was arguing that these things were necessary — they just thought they could make money off of the damn thing. I can see not supporting something for being such a cynical cash-grab, but I guess I’m jaded enough to think that that attitude would leave me with literally no art to consume.
Except, Patrick, DC has crossed over with all sorts of other not-comics things, including Power Rangers, He-Man and, depending on how to define not-comics, Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles (which was originally a comic, but the versions that DC crossover are usually inspired heavily from TV, if not TV versions themselves). If DC are currently crossing Batman with TMNT, or Justice League with Power Rangers, why not Breaking Bad?
I’m not saying Watchmen is immune to the rest of the garbage in comics, or that it should be placed on a pedestal. But that we should treat it in the same space as we treat books like Saga, Deadly Class, Descender or East of West. That isn’t putting Watchmen on a pedestal – I don’t like one of those books, another constantly annoys me and another has a truly terrible story arc (Saga’s fantastic, though). It is just understanding that there are many different types of comics, and that treating them like they are all alike is a poor strategy. To use a movie example, James Gunn directed both Super and Guardians of the Galaxy, both superhero movies, but even if Marvel could sort out the rights, it wouldn’t be right for the Crimson Bolt to be a main character in Infinity War. That’s not saying that Super in some untouchable thing, just that Super is best treated as a movie similar to things like Colossal (possibly my most anticipated movie of the year) than Captain America. Let’s treat Watchmen like Super. That isn’t treating it as an untouchable masterpiece, just as a different sort of story built using a different set of parameters.
Because at the very least, we should be able to come up with a better reason than ‘it could be good’. I mean, what we are trying to do is reverse engineer a pitch, which isn’t hard. Why make Captain America a HYDRA operative? To show how fascism can destroy us by infecting the structures we trust to support us. To use a story that hasn’t come out , let’s use that Blade story of Seeley’s that never materialised. Why tell a story about Blade mentoring his daughter? To explore Blade from a new perspective, as a father and mentor instead of as a lone hunter, and to give the Marvel Universe a new, black woman lead.
Honestly, I feel using the argument of ‘it could be good’ or ‘it could make money’ are very cynical answers to the question. Ultimately, any story gets written for many reasons, including both of those. It is part of the negotiation of creating art. But the art comes from those other things. It comes from having a reason that isn’t about money or critical acclaim. Like how Snyder’s Zero Year was about what he wanted Batman to mean for his children, or how Waid’s Daredevil, as much as I hate the run’s poor execution, is about moving forward and learning to live with your pain instead of being ruled by it. DC and Marvel were still interested in using it to grab our money, but it wasn’t the only motive of the creators. Just one of them. We should not be so cynical as to expect no more than ‘it could be good’ or ‘it could sell’. We should expect DC to provide more than just that.
I mean, that’s what happened with Multiversity. It didn’t just present itself as a cynical cashgrab. From our first look, it was proud to show what is was. From the very beginning, with the look of the first few covers, Multiversity was proving there was more to it than a cynical cashgrab, or a random idea thrown out there because ‘it might be good’. It was obvious Grant Morrison had something he wanted to say. From our very first look, it was clear that there was a story to be told.
It isn’t limiting our ability to create stories to expect them to be able to sell us on the reason for its existence. To be able to justify itself for reasons other than ‘it could be good’. In fact, the stories that usually rely solely on that justification usually are the ones that actually aren’t good. So yeah, why can’t Rebirth’s Watchmen crossover be more like Mulitversity?
I loved this issue
Different strokes, I guess. What’d you like about it?
Great voices for all the characters and interesting dynamics. Very similar to Morrison’s first JLA arc. New characters come in and raise some points that are relevant to some politicians and movements currently. The JL is strongly against it, as it is against their views not necessarily politically, but more in terms of justice. It’s basically an answer to “politics don’t belong in fiction.” I also really like every one’s characterizations especially Batman’s.
It is a little cliche and repetive of Morrison’s run