New 52 – Justice League #1 review

Better Late than Never
This book came out on August 31st and it’s now October. Still, folks want to hear a Justice League review so I wrote one…

Out with the Pessimism
I’ve never been a fan of team-ups. Whether it’s Justice League or Avengers, the concept always seemed like the story came second. An excuse to get everybody’s favorite characters together for a greater chance at selling a book. Justice League isn’t even a well-rounded team in which everyone has a specific role, instead it’s a team made up of the popular kids. This is especially true in Batman’s case. When you look at the Justice League with a critical eye, it’s clear that Batman is in the group not because the Justice League needs funding or his keen skills of observation or his strategic mind. It’s because Batman is the highest selling character from DC. That’s why we see Batman and his side-kicks shoehorned into so many different titles. Not because they belong, but because they sell. It’s that simple.

All too often in these Justice League stories the other characters have their abilities toned down to make the team feel more balanced and give Batman a chance at proving himself. And that’s not fair to those characters. And it’s a bit patronizing to us Batman fans. In a universe where there’s a Green Lantern Corps, there’s no reason to fly Aquaman to Korugar. On a planet where there is a Superman, there’s no need for… well, Superman should really be doing a lot more than he is, but that’s another rant altogether.

In with the Positive
But that’s an awfully cynical way of looking at things, isn’t it? Instead, I’ve learned that it’s best to not take these team-up books so seriously. Finding flaws in a story where a super fast guy, an Amazonian and a cyborg work with a billionaire dressed as a bat is too easy. And it’s a waste of your life, really. “You will never be as young as you are right now” is a good mantra to have when you find yourself getting worked up about these things. I mean, sure, a good Batman story has a set of criteria. It’s grounded and it has detective work and 3 dimensional characters and action, but is it so bad to have ONE book where we see him hang out with the big players of our other favorite comics? Heck no! If you don’t like seeing Batman in overwhelmingly fantastical situations, then no—Justice League is not for you. It will never be for you (Well, maybe, Tower of Babel was a story that didn’t seem to contrived and it gave Batman something to do). But if you can let go for a moment and accept that Justice League is about having fun…well then you’re in for a pretty good read.

The Actual Justice League #1 Review
Here it is. The first book of The New 52. DC went big on this one, bringing out the big guns: Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. And of all the folks that came together for this comic, it’s Alex Sinclair who deserves a tip-o-the hat. This is one of the most vibrant books you’ll find. Batman and Gotham are the only dark things you’ll see on these pages. Fire, aliens, and Green Lantern’s light are all blindingly colorful and I know some folks complained about it, but I liked it. It gives the sort of energetic life that a book like this needs. And as far as the actual illustrations go, Jim Lee never disappoints. Jim Lee is one of the best artists in comics. If it’s square jaws and rubble that you need, then yeah, Jim Lee’s your man. Geoff Johns who is a bit weak here. But you can’t blame him. The guy is spread awfully thin at the moment between writing Justice League, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. It’s Aquaman that was his best work of the month, by the way. He seems to really be taking his time with this book, but for anyone expecting to see the full Justice League in issue #1, you’re going to be a bit disappointed.

Batman & Green Lantern Hang Out #1
The New 52’s Justice League is made up for Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, Wonderwoman, and…Cyborg. And three of those characters do not even make an appearance in the book’s debut issue.

Unlike Batman and Green Lantern’s other (numerous) books Justice League is a true reboot for the characters in the new 52. See, the events of JL #1 take place 5 years in the past. Naturally, this raises a bunch of questions about how Batman went through so many Robins in 5 years and had Damien who is now 10 years old, etc. And if you dwell on that it’ll make your brain explode. You’ll never be this young again, remember? The accepted theory at the moment is that Batman has operated in secret as an urban legend long before he ever joined the Justice League. Feel better? Yeah, me neither.

What we have here isn’t a straight-up Justice League story. This is the very beginning. Batman is still on bad terms with the corrupt Gotham police and they are hunting him while he chases down a hooded figure who turns out to be…an alien. Upon that reveal, Batman is no longer shut off in his own mythology and the whole DC universe merges together. All of these guys haven’t met each other before and what you get in issue #1 is Batman and Green Lantern introducing themselves to each other for the first time. This leads to some pretty funny dialogue and some awesome visuals of Hal Jordan’s ring constructs. We also find out pretty quick that it’s not just Batman that the police hate—it’s all super heroes. Interesting…

So Hal has been alerted of an unauthorized alien presence in Gotham, he saves Batman from getting blown away by chopper fire and the two of them set off to find the E.T. This is where we get all the witty banter that makes the book enjoyable. We see how Hal Jordan is an arrogant show-off who’s more concerned with making fun of Batman and showing off than stopping the bad guy proving yet again that Batman would’ve saved the world from everything if he had the ring instead (You’re on a Batman website, there will be bias).

Spoilers ahead (the book came out over a month ago): The alien triggers a suicide bomb and cries out “For Darkseid” as the explosion kills him, but ultimately misses its intended target: Batman and GL thanks to Green Lanterns power ring which can do anything…not a lot of suspense there. So we now know who the Justice League will face down the line: Darkseid. Villains don’t get much bigger than that in the DC universe so yeah, they’re bringing out the big-guns indeed for the Justice League series.

The alien planted a cube behind that Batman deduces is an alien computer…I dunno how he jumped to that conclusion since it just looks like a bedazzled box, but hey, he’s Batman. Immediately following the word “alien” Hal suggests that Superman might know something about it because he’s alien, too. Again, it’s a pretty big leap, but it’s a Justice League comic and we’ve only seen 2 of the main players so far so Geoff Johns needed to get this show on the road. So Batman, the guy Hal’s been putting down for the bulk of the comic says “This cube might be an alien computer”, Hal says “Alien? Superman’s an alien!” and we’re off to Metropolis to meet the Man of Steel!

Or I thought we were. The next page is a high school football game where we meet Vic Stone, rreceiver for the Ford Titans and future Cyborg, member of the Justice League. Looks like we’ll get an origin story here, too.  Geoff Johns illustrates how physically fit and ready to be a superhero Vic is by giving us 2 pages of him being an amazing football player. But, to make comic book fans give a crap about a handsome football player he gives him a father who never shows up to his games…awww. Now we’re supposed to feel sorry for him I guess. Anyway, it’s casually mentioned that Vic’s often absent father studies superheroes or something. It’ll come into play in the future.

Back to Green Lantern and Batman! They land in Metropolis, lead to Superman’s exact location by the power ring.  Note that there is still no real reason for Green Lantern to bring Batman along. His job is to protect section 2814 and Batman hasn’t contributed anything to the mission so far other than guess “Alien computer?” to the mystery box left by the Darkseid minion. Green Lantern says he’s going to walk in, grab Superman and ask him a few questions. Batman, aware that with a minimum of 5 minutes prep-time he can take on anything advises Hal to hold up a second. He doesn’t. Superman comes out of nowhere and knocks Hal out and then challenges Batman to a fight that won’t happen until issue #2.

So is this book a buy? Definitely. It’s a fun read. Like I said in the first half of this article, what you want out of a Justice League book is some good interaction between the heroes of all your favorite books. Sadly, only 2 of those heroes actually get any face-time. Lucky for us, Batman is one of those heroes. What you get here is a lot of wise cracks while Batman plays the straight man. Which is entertaining and the book hints at a future in which Darkseid will be starting some trouble and that can only lead to some epic battles. I don’t know anything about this character Cyborg, but he seems really unnecessary. With a cyborg you’re going to get a lot of technology and gadgetry and…well…that’s pretty much what Batman was bringing to the table, wasn’t it? If you’re going to add anyone to the team, why not add a magic person? That’s what the team is missing. Someone who can handle the supernatural stuff that slips by Superman and the others. Who was that guy with the green helmet from Justice League unlimited? You know? The guy who would turn into the Prince symbol when he was summoning his power. That guy seemed pretty powerful. And there’s always Captain Marvel. Hell, why don’t we have a comic that’s just Superman and Captain Marvel and they’re like buddy-cops or—DR. FATE! That’s his name! Come on DC, you could’ve chosen between the sorcerer or the high school football player with bionic arms and legs. You chose poorly.

But those nitpicks aside, I’d say go pick this book up…well, if you can still find it anywhere. I’m sure it’s on like a 3rd or 4th printing at this point. The 2nd printing cover was my favorite. Issue #2 will be on shelves this week.

SCORE: 7/10