“Justice” was originally published as a 12-issue limited series between August 2005 and June 2007. I was busy with college at the time and had taken a break from comics so when I received a copy of “Justice” last week it was my first encounter with the story. I was immediately excited because I loved Alex Ross’ artwork in “Kingdom Come” and I was hoping that this would look as good if not better. I flipped through it and sure enough “Justice” is absolutely beautiful. Now all I had to do was read the thing and find out if it had substance as well as style.

Content

“Justice” has an exciting and original premise. It hooked me immediately and when I started reading it last Thursday night with the intention of finishing one chapter before going to bed I found myself unable to put the book down! I had made it to chapter 3 by the time I worked up the willpower to catch some Zs.

The premise is that several of the world’s worst super villains all share the same nightmare one hot summer evening. The vivid dream is of the Justice League failing at every turn as an apocalypse wipes out all of mankind. All of the world. When the villains wake they get the overwhelming sensation that this was no dream but a premonition and once they learn that they are not alone in this vision they are all the more certain that the dream was prophecy. These criminals band together believing that it is their duty to set aside their evil intentions and use their powers for good. Can the Injustice League make the world a better place?

I’ve always been irritated with how little the super heroes actually do to better mankind. If the Superman comics were actually about a modern day messiah coming to terms with his responsibility to lead the world into a new golden age I would read it, but Superman just occasionally punches a monster in the street or throws an asteroid back into space. He works as a reporter when he should be wafting rain clouds to drought ridden areas. If the Green Lantern comics were actually about a guy shepherding an entire section of THE UNIVERSE then I would read that too, but he’s a part-time pilot who spends most of his time on Earth. That’s why I’ve always been more attracted to Batman stories: he’s a hero who is doing the best he can with what he has. So when I was reading “Justice” and saw a villain like Captain Cold creating instant-freshwater in the middle of a desert I was ecstatic.

The first 2/3 of this book is incredibly surprising and exciting. It’s one of the best and most original Justice League stories I had ever read (“Tower of Babel” is still a personal favorite). But there’s a real problem with Justice League stories and team-up adventures in general. Heroes often get watered down a bit so that others can shine or some heroes get little to no attention and feel unnecessary. In “Justice” the heroes never felt like they were being misused so someone else would look better, but the tale is a bit bloated. It’s too ambitious. It’s not just a Justice League story, it’s a DC UNIVERSE STORY. Just about everybody is crammed into this thing. The Joker has never felt more superfluous, Hawkman and Hakwgirl are boring and unnecessary, Plastic Man adds nothing to the story, there are some cool visuals with Wonder Woman but its her lasso that does all the work in the main scheme of things, and then there’s a laundry list of C-list heroes who show up and I don’t even know most of their names. There’s an entire two-page spread at the end of the book where I have no idea who anyone is but I’m also not sure if I was supposed to. So basically, I’m saying that if you don’t already have a fairly good knowledge of the DC universe, this book won’t be very accessible to you. Here’s a list of a few of  the more esoteric heroes that show up and play an important role. You’ll need to know who they are in order to get the most out of the story: The metal men (I had no idea who they were), Mary Marvel, Doom Patrol, The Phantom Stranger, Toyman, and Cheetah are all pretty big players in here that many might be unfamiliar with. If you don’t know much about Zatanna, Martian Manhunter, Captain Marvel, or Red Tornado then you definitely need to do your homework before you start reading.

There are simply too many characters in here and Jim Krueger and Alex Ross should be commended for how well they manage them all, but even though they do a good job of giving most of the characters the right amount of face-time there are still far too many moments in which I found myself stopping mid-page and asking “What happened to Flash?” or “What happened to Captain Marvel?”. There are also instances in which the passage of time gets a bit muddled. A fight between Wonder Woman and Cheetah stretches across 2 chapters, but occurs in the same night and in the same room BUT during that time the Martian Manhunter, Captain Marvel, and Superman all manage to have a chat, search for Aquaman and the flash, fly into space, and travel the world. By incorporating this many characters into one story it’s almost impossible to budget time appropriately and still make an interesting story. And it is a BIG story. We’re talking about the end of the world here. But rather than just going the Justice League route and only involving a handful of heroes or incapacitating a few of the unnecessary ones to make for a more reasonable cast, Krueger and Ross throw everyone at the page. It makes for some stunning artwork that’ll make fans giddy, but it makes for cluttered storytelling and a less thrilling adventure as well. I should say it wouldn’t have been as cluttered if the story was longer– it’s already almost 400 pages which is quite big for a 12-part book but there are so many heroes and so many villains and so much happening at one time that the third act becomes a mess. The panels get smaller and smaller, the fight scenes get more and more crowded, and the thought boxes multiply. The final chapter has Aquaman explaining his entire adventure for the first time which may have been an nice refresher for readers of the monthly issues, but for someone like me reading the book all in one week it felt very redundant.

It was around the halfway point, in chapter 6 where things started to get a bit choppy. There’s a terrible deus ex machina involving The Phantom Stranger that sucked all the drama right out of the book for me. A certain character is in a seemingly inescapable situation for most of the book and it was very well done, so much so that I didn’t have any problem with it being a sub-plot in a much bigger story, but then The Phantom Stranger shows up out of the blue and essentially says “Enough of this, here’s all the stuff you need to be okay again, now let’s head back and save the day.” And that’s not the only instance in the book where the gods intervene and undo a travesty. If unseen supreme beings can just hop into the story at anytime and ensure the good guys win, the story becomes far less interesting. The latter half of the book was also dampened by unintentionally funny Aqua-cleavage.

Setting aside those problems, the actual content here is good and I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s just that I LOVED the first act, things got a bit bumpy in the middle, and then the 3rd act felt rushed and like the ending of any other Justice League adventure–a very epic Justice League adventure, but business as usual all the same. Still, I’d give the story and artwork of “Justice” an 8.5 or 9/10 easily. It’s a great comic.

Presentation

Here’s where I docked points. I thought the story and the artwork were very entertaining and a must-have for any fan of the DC Universe and the Justice League, but it’s the tightly bound trade paperback format that really hurts this book. Sure it’s going to be a bit cheaper for you to buy a TPB but for a book as lovely to look at as “Justice” you really should pay the extra money to get a version that lets you appreciate the art. This isn’t it.

Anything that is spread across 2 pages looks terrible. Imagery and quite a bit of text is lost to the tightly glued spine of this book.

I’m pushing VERY hard on those two pages and it’s still impossible to see the speaker behind the podium.

Supplemental Material

There isn’t any. I was very disappointed by this. It’s such an epic story with some of the most impressive artwork I’ve seen in ages and yet there’s no bonus material to speak of.

Value

It’s a superb book, but $30 bucks is a bit much for a softcover. Get it on Amazon for $17.93 or spend a little extra on a hardcover edition that you can really show off. Like I said, the binding is crap so I would recommend finding a version that’s not so tightly bound like the Absolute Edition, which I haven’t seen yet but at $75+ it better open properly.

Overall

It’s a book that deserved better. I enjoyed the story and I loved the realistic, painted art. “Justice” is a must have for anyone who loves the Golden Age of comics and who prides themselves on their knowledge of DC’s cast of colorful characters. It’s also one of the best Justice League stories I have ever read. Could it have been better? Yes. The cast was too large and in the end the bold and interesting premise devolved into the typical heroes vs. villains brawl we’ve seen countless times, only we’ve never seen it as gloriously depicted as it is here. But even though the more treacherous obstacles are overcome too easily in the latter half of the book, “Justice” is a wonderful comic that I know I will share with my friends and not just because of the art. This is both style and substance. The only problem is that the TPB presentation is terrible. It’s too big and too beautiful of a book for this. It’s a book that deserves better and luckily there are better versions out there, but you’ll have to spend a little extra for them. I recommend buying the hardback instead, or better yet the ABSOLUTE EDITION. The Absolute edition will run you around $75 bucks which is an outrageous price of a comic, but it’s definitely going to be the best way to read a story like this. Those who don’t mind losing a bit of imagery and prose to the spine won’t mind the TPB, but for me I would rather spend the extra cash on a version that delivers “Justice” at its full potential.

SCORE: 6.5/10