Justice League: Gods and Monsters #1: “Genesis”
Story by J. M. DeMatteis and Bruce Timm
Written by J. M. DeMatteis
Illustrated by Thony Silas
Colored by Tony Aviña
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
Before jumping into the review of the book, here’s a mini primer of sorts for the Wonder Woman and Superman installments.
Wonder Woman: This book revolves around Bekka, an outcast from Apokolips who finds herself stranded on Earth, as she tries to integrate herself into society and live in peace amongst mankind. At first she hides her abilities and identity, living almost anonymously and in semi-seclusion, until she determines her powers are better served helping the downtrodden. In 1964, she falls in with a communal group called the Hairies living in New York. There she discovers that psychological and biological experiments are being performed by a Dr. Psycho. Of the three minis, this is the one with the most ties to the plot of the main series. (As a side note, this was my favorite of the books, including this one)
Superman: The most character-oriented of the three, Zod’s son is sent to Earth instead of Kal-El. Growing up with a poor family of immigrant workers, the harsh treatment of his family and those around him gives Hernan a cynical, critical view of humanity. He grows up resentful towards almost everyone, seeing himself as greater than mankind. While he fights for the downtrodden, it’s out of arrogance and pride rather than sympathy and love. The picture it paints is a little different than his debut in the Chronicles short a few months back, but it’s much more in line with his portrayal later on.
What’s most interesting about the Gods and Monsters book is that it’s narrated by Lois Lane after the fact. Instead of a Lois who is in love with Superman and in awe of his powers and goodness, she’s a leading voice of dissension towards the Justice League. That unease and reluctance to trust these so called “heroes” sets the tone for the book, and it’s not a light one.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We open in Switzerland, where Jackson Alpert, head of the Eternity Institute, is set to make a revolutionary announcement. It’s a scene with pretenses of hope, but the snowy terrain and cold narrative from Lois make it drip with dread.
Alpert, a reclusive scientific mastermind, has finally unlocked the secret to the aging process, and as such claims he has been able to cure it. With that, he debuts his Forever People, a group of formerly elderly and infirm individuals who are once again young, along with the added benefit of superpowers.
The scene shifts to Gotham, where we are reintroduced to Kirk Langstrom, alias the vampiric Batman of this universe. He saves a young girl who had been abducted and held captive by a predator he’d been on the trail of. The narration really sets the tone here, with Lois drawing parallels between Adrian Jacobs, the criminal Batman took care of, and Batman himself. There is nothing to excuse what Jacobs had done, Lois says, just as there’s nothing to excuse what the Batman does to him. Such reluctance to acknowledge any sort of good done by these characters and instead focusing on their negative aspects makes it kind of difficult to cheer for them, even if Lois is just trying to be cautious and wary.
Next, Wonder Woman is introduced in the modern day in a scene that is actually kind of fun. She’s sitting in a cafe when a helicopter starts spinning out of control. She springs into action and stops the descent, which is reminiscent of the traditional “first good deed” of Superman rescuing the passengers of a plummeting airplane.
Instead of sticking around to be thanked by the public, though, Bekka immediately disappears as she has done so many times over the years. I enjoyed this particular trait of hers, not wanting to revel in glory and just doing what’s right because it’s right.
Then Superman shows up, and man… man oh man, is he a jerk. First, here tries to bed Wonder Woman who immediately rebuffs him, and when he stops a group of gunmen Lois’ words are at their harshest. “Unlike Wonder Woman, the alien had no reticence about the spotlight. He wanted the eyes of the world on him.”
Needless to say, this Lois Lane is not a fan.
But it’s not just her words. The way Thony Silas draws his facial features, you can tell he’s reveling in the attention being given him.
As a contrast to the Justice League we’re used to, the heroes of this world are greeted more cautiously, and that may be with good reason. Batman is a vampire who may only feed on bad guys, but he’s still murdering people; Wonder Woman is willing to do what’s right, but runs so as to appear ashamed to even be doing it in the first place; and Superman knows that he’s superior to humanity, which makes him all the more dangerous.
Luckily, a larger threat looms, as Alpert’s deeds are met with, at best, apprehension amongst the three protagonists. Superman sees it as nothing more than a chance to enhance his own power, while Bekka finds his methods to be a little too reminiscent of the same experiments performed by Dr. Psycho back in the Sixties. Batman, ever the detective, takes it upon himself to investigate Alpert’s past and see what he can uncover.
Everything you need for a nice miniseries is set up here, but it feels like it takes way too long to get there. There’s not a single point in this issue where all three members of the yet to be christened Justice League are together, and as such the story feels a little disjointed. Add onto that the references to past exploits between the characters that are never explained, such as Superman saving Batman’s life, and this feels like a story in a universe that we should be much more familiar with than we are.
It’s not all bad, though. As dodgy as the pacing is, it is still involving enough that you want to know what comes next. These characters are miles apart from the “normal” superheroes that we’re used to reading, and that’s a great thing. If this were Clark, Diana, and Bruce it would almost feel contrived how different they are, but taking the heroic names and applying them to a completely different person helps with what Timm and DeMatteis are trying to do.
It’s nice to see Thony Silas’ pencils again, too. His style, which I loved on the Beyond books, lends itself well to this animated-adaptation style. There isn’t a whole lot going on here in terms of action, but what there is is well staged and he at least picks some dynamic angles to make dialogue-heavy scenes move faster.
In all it’s flawed, and definitely the weakest of the Gods and Monsters books, but it’s still worth a read. Knowing where it goes makes it a little easier, as it does get better, but as an issue by itself it offers some great ideas and not much else.
- You’ve read and watched the other Gods and Monsters installments.
- You like Elseworlds-esque takes on characters.
- You like your superhero stories a little darker and a little more cynical.
Overall: Intriguing but disjointed, this issue is a decent enough beginning that could have been paced a little better. With so many other books and shorts this world is taking shape fairly well, but there’s so much more that could be dug into.