When I read the New 52 “Justice League” I thought it was okay. It was mindless, big popcorn/summer movie action. The characters felt a bit OUT of character and it really seemed to drag on and on as months passed, but the larger than life artwork of Jim Lee was something I could always look forward to. I consistently awarded it 7s and 8s out of 10 because it was an enjoyable escape and pretty to look at…but a bit over priced and the pacing was far too slow. The first 3 month’s worth of issues didn’t even feature the full Justice League and the very first issue only had Batman and Green Lantern! It just felt kind of clunky. Well, I’m happy to say that many of the complaints I had about the series get tossed out the window in graphic novel form.
You may have noticed that I’ve been doing an issue-by-issue breakdown for each of these graphic novels and so far I think everyone’s liked that– nobody’s complained, anyway. But that system isn’t going to work here because “Justice League” doesn’t read the same way as the other graphic novels I have reviewed.
This is a book that you read in one sitting. No chapter ever ends on a satisfying break like say “Batman Vol.1: The Court of Owls” or “Batman & Robin: Dark Knight vs. White Knight“. That kind of “too big for one issue” storytelling can be a terrible weakness for a monthly comic, but it’s a major strength as a graphic novel. When “Justice League: Origins” is broken into 6 parts and scattered across half a year at $3.99 an issue it’s not that thrilling, but when it’s all in one lovely hardback it’s a fantastic read–IF you go into it with the right mindset. Since we are on a Batman website and I’m the Batman comic book review guy, let me just come right out and say that I don’t like how Batman is portrayed here. If you’re picking this up just because you like Batman then don’t. And if you’re looking for a rich character study with a complex plot that will give you something to ponder and your friends something to debate about then this isn’t what you want either. “Justice League” is all about one-liners and massive explosions.
You have your superhero comic books that are about taking the fantastical and using it to tell a deeper, more profound story and then you have the superhero books that are the equivalent of bashing your action figures together when you were 5 years old. This is the latter filled with splash pages, two-page spreads, and more BOOOOOOOOM, SKREEEEE, and CHOOOOOOOM sound effects than you can shake a stick at. Both types can be good and I think that “Justice League: Origins” is a fine example of the Hollywood Blockbuster variety of superhero comic.
Parts 1-6 As a Whole
Taking place 5 years in the past, “Justice League: Origins” is an attempt at world-building in the New 52 by showing us exactly how the DC Universe’s greatest heroes met for the first time–and that makes it important. Good or bad, this is a book that’s going to be referenced from here on out or at least until there’s another reboot a decade or two from now. So right there is one reason to give this book a read: it’s an important chapter in fictional history. And although we rewind the clocks five years, the only hero whose individual origin gets real focus is Cyborg. His scenes function far better in this hardback than they did in the floppies. When the book came out month to month, Cyborg felt like a distraction, but now his subplot actually weaves in and out of the main narrative comfortably and I was able to appreciate it more. It’s just a shame that more of the characters weren’t given the same amount of attention.
One of the book’s greatest weaknesses for me was the odd choice of characterization. This isn’t an altruistic league. Writer Geoff Johns seems hellbent on making each of the team members egotistical and even annoying at times in an effort to show that even our heroes are flawed but ultimately that they can put aside their differences for the greater good. It works alright for some characters, but not others and in the end the whole team feels like it’s made up of a bunch of unlikable high schoolers. Even the books main villain didn’t feel right, not that he was turned into an arrogant teen like the heroes but because he was dumbed down to be an almost monosyllabic Godzilla figure that simply stomps around and blasts things without any greater motive than being evil. By having a bad guy this one-dimensional, I think the story would’ve worked better had at least one of the heroes been more mature and likable. Instead, I found myself liking the heroes simply because they would deliver amazing looking smack-downs.
Every single hero gets their jaw-dropping moment of badassery that shows readers just how cool these characters are and even though its kind of fun to see that. But I do remember when it was first published those moments were distracting. I wanted the story to move along because we only get 28 pages or so before we have to wait another 30 days for the rest of the story and the book was slipping away to 2-page spreads and splash pages. The monthly floppies felt more like a catalog for new readers to flip through and see the kinds of neat-o action that these characters can deliver. It wasn’t so much a book in its own right as much as it was an ad for readers to go out and buy “Batman” or “Wonder Woman” or “The Flash”, etc. etc. Thankfully that feeling doesn’t come across as strongly in the graphic novel format. It just feels like a larger than life read. And none of that could have been possible without the artwork by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair. Here is a book that totally plays to the strengths of its artist and more importantly, a book that would have been an utter failure had the art been anything less than colossal. Big muscles, bigger destruction, severed limbs, and did I mention rubble? Rubble everywhere! Each chapter has at least one iconic shot that looks like it was drawn just so it could be turned into a collectible statue or slapped on a lunchbox or T-shirt. Heroic posing and chaotic battles make up 90% of what “Justice League: Origins” is and that’s Jim Lee’s bread and butter.
The end result is a book that might not have such a greater story beyond “Bad guys are coming, let’s fight them” OR character development beyond “I’ll stop being a jerk and accept teamwork”, but it all looks very, very cool. I had a good time reading it. It’s relaxing to look at something this over-the-top from time to time.
Plot Seems Kinda Familiar
If you’ve finished reading the book, then by all means go ahead and read this little blurb I’m doing because it gets a bit spoilerish. Same goes for folks who haven’t seen the Avengers movie yet, don’t read the spoiler thing I’m about to do. Okay, good.
For an Even More Thorough Look…
If some of you still want to read my monthly reviews of each of the 6 issues collected in this book, here are the links:
You know what they say, “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” and that’s exactly the case with this graphic novel. Most of the bonus content featured here is taken from the back of the monthlies. S.T.A.R. Labs documents, an excerpt from David Graves’ book on Atlantis, character designs by Jim Lee, and all the numerous variant covers that came out for this series. If you never bought or flipped through the monthly issues (and I think that’s the case with many of you thinking of buying this book) then this bonus material will knock your socks off.
These first 6 issues cost $3.99 a pop when they hit comic shops and when you add all that up it comes to $23.94 (not including tax). This graphic novel costs $24.99 and the bonus material, while being new to readers who didn’t pick up the monthlies, was very much included in the original floppy format. So you’re really not getting that much of a leg up on the monthly crowd when it comes to savings, but luckily Amazon offers the book for $15.98 brand new and $15.98 for $23.94 worth of comics is a good deal, especially when the content is as stunning to look at and entertaining to flip through as this.
“Justice League Vol. 1: Origin” is the perfect example of a monthly title that reads better as a hard copy or trade paper back– I know I sure as heck enjoyed it far more. If you’re looking for a pleasant diversion from darker and much heavier books then it doesn’t get much better than watching your favorite heroes beat the living crap out of alien invaders.