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Superman is dead. The Justice League lives, but how can it go on without its brightest, most hopeful hero? Can they turn to the new Superman on the scene? Can they trust him? Will he even help?

Something is clearly missing.

As yet another force seeks to destroy or enslave the people of Earth, the remnant of the Justice League stands as the first and last line of defense. But with the team put to its limits and still coming up wanting, there is a growing sense that the loss of Superman may have been a fatal blow to the League. Meanwhile, the new Superman from an old world struggles with his responsibility to his family in the face of a threat that will likely prevail without his intervention.

It’s all Hitch again…but that’s okay.

Fans of Bryan Hitch’s deadline-indifferent Justice League of America should be thrilled to see the author at the helm of DC’s rebirthed Justice League book. If you don’t obsessively follow industry news, however, you might be alarmed to pick up this issue and see that Hitch is once again the penciller. As incredible as the stories and—for the most part—the art were on JLA, it is universally acknowledged that the artwork bottlenecked the release of the book. When we finally got copies in our hands, the story and characterizations were superb, and Hitch’s cinematic establishing shots and skillful framing looked like it could have been stills from a film. But delays take the steam out of even the best titles, and JLA is probably best known for its inability to ship on time.

Fear not! As revealed back in March, the artists for the new Justice League are Tony Daniel and Fernando Pasarin. For whatever reason, Hitch is on pencils this time around, but he will not be responsible for them during the series proper. That doesn’t rule out an occasional contribution or backups or something like that, but dont expect to see him as a regular anything—except writer—on this book.

Since we’re already talking about the art, I’ll start there. All of the best things about Hitch’s style are here: breathtaking, widescreen cityscapes, great character body language, and epic battle sequences. The opening two pages almost make me wish that he was going to stay on as primary artist, because he sets a stage like nobody else in the business.

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The usual flaws are also present. There are lots of strange faces, including the Batnose incosistency that was a staple in JLA. In fact, Hitch seems to struggle with Batman quite a bit. Some of this is personal preference, and I know that each artist has a unique take on the Batsuit design of the day, but I flat-out hate the way he typically draws the Bat-symbol, and his close-ups on the Dark Knight look a lot more like the cinematic Batman Begins Batman than they do anything else—pay close attention to the ears and the mouth cut-out. It’s a good tribute to the film, but it doesn’t fit in with other current comic books.

Overall, though, the good outweighs the bad considerably, and it was for me a special treat to have one last Hitch hurrah (future installments of his JLA run notwithstanding) before he turns the pencils over to Daniel and Pasarin.

Big stakes, small details

As much as I appreciate his artistic merits, Hitch-as-writer is who hooked me into JLA, and he continues to do so here with Justice League. Set against the backdrop of the pre-52 Superman’s conflicting responsibilities, the narrative is actually quite short, its events likely taking place in less than an hour (maybe much less). Hitch’s greatest strength on JLA was his ability to zero in on the small, human component of a massive conflict. The delays on that book sometimes made the story feel slow, like there wasn’t enough happening issue to issue, but I still enjoyed his focus, particularly how this approach was in such stark contrast to what Geoff Johns was doing in Justice League.

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The biggest character study in Justice League: Rebirth #1 centers on Superman and Lois, as the former tries his best to stay out of the conflict of the week, and the latter tries to convince him that his priorities are perhaps much more complementary than he realizes. There’s some deft dialogical maneuvering by Hitch, and the most satisfying explanation I’ve read for why Clark can’t remain in the shadows any longer. This is probably my favorite writing in the book.

The other closeup looks at the remaining members of the New 52 Justice League some time earlier. As they deal with the loss of their Superman, Batman suggests that they include the new one, if for nothing other than understanding him better (while not a direct comparison, I couldn’t help but think of the team inviting Lex Luthor to join them in Johns’ run—but I suspect we’ll have a better outcome this time around). It’s a decent setup for stories to come, but it felt a bit cliché. Fans of the Clark/Diana romance from the New 52 may be touched to see Wonder Woman grieving, but I suspect we could have done without this scene and been just fine.

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The Earth-threatening calamity itself is nothing super-special, and Hitch delightfully acknowledges this by way of a reporter. It really just sets up the need for Superman (and the two rookie Lanterns) to join the team, and I’m fine with that. Maybe we’ll see more of this particular threat at a later time, which would be great, but I’ll be just as satisfied if I never hear about them again.

What else?

  • I really like the dynamic between Baz and Jess. It’s being done pretty well in Green Lanterns, but I give Hitch the advantage based on his work here. It probably helps that the Lanterns aren’t the primary focus, their insecurities acting as short, punchy interruptions in the confidence of the veteran members of the team.
  • I really like that Supeman uses brains—as well as brawn—when swooping in to help the team. It’s easy to forget that there’s more to Clark than heart and muscle.
  • This is so Batman it ain’t funny (except it is, and I love it): image

Recommended if…

  • You want to get in at the ground floor of the new Justice League.
  • You love JLA for Hitch’s writing, and wouldn’t mind having him draw just one more.
  • You have been enjoying the various Rebirth character titles and want to see how they play on a team.

Overall

Justice League is in good hands with Bryan Hitch. As sad as it is to see the end of the Johns run, rest assured that there are bright things on the horizon. Hitch’s understanding of these characters clearly runs deep, and he is able to put that understanding to use in a way that few other writers can. His last hurrah on pencils is a nice treat, but even if you don’t like his style, you’ll continue to get the same quality writing with the visual stylings of Tony Daniel in two weeks with Justice League #1.  June was a good month to be a DC Comics fan, and if this Rebirth one-shot is any indication, July is set to be a second helping of great comics.

SCORE: 8/10