We’ve seen Batman have bad days before. Sometimes, even someone as brilliant and well-trained as Bruce Wayne makes errors in judgment and pays the price. But what if the bill comes due for someone else, instead? And what kind of mistakes will the world tolerate from the Justice League? Whether you’re new to this book, or you’ve been waiting for a change in the creative team, now is the time to jump in and see what Justice League has to offer.
A very promising start to a new run
To say that Rebirth’s Justice League was a disappointment would be an understatement. Poor plotting, poor dialogue, and poorly-rendered artwork took DC’s once-flagship title and turned it into a byword. After calling for a change month-after-month, I was relieved, intrigued, and cautiously optimistic to learn that Priest and Woods would be taking over. And I’m delighted to say that their first swing is a solid hit.
Justice League #34 opens on a mysterious scene, as a man in a metal mask has his prayers interrupted by an excited little alien named Buzzy. The praying man is soon revealed as none other than Green Lantern Simon Baz, and as he takes off into the sky and screeches to a halt on the double-page credits spread, he comes face-to-face with a formidable armada headed towards Earth.
I can’t overstate how perfect an introduction this scene is. After a run that featured bizarre and convoluted stories, and a month of tie-ins to a bizarre and convoluted story (sorry, Metal-heads), it’s so refreshing to see Priest kick things off with a straightforward, heart-racing opener. There’s some entertaining dialogue between Simon and Buzzy, and then Simon and his partner, Jessica, but Priest’s true success is in keeping the conversations simple and punchy, while leaving plenty of space for Woods to do his thing. The sense of the scene is clear from the artwork, and we’re treated to exotic vistas and some mighty heroic-looking shots of Baz in flight. Simon’s words may fill us in on the particulars, but it is clear from the art that he is a man of action and courage, willing to square up to an enormous threat.
Big, bold cartooning
My prior experience with Woods was his work on Detective Comics shortly before The New 52, and I didn’t like it. But he has since reinvented himself, and I’m enjoying his new style quite a bit. Whereas he used to aim for a more realistic character aesthetic, he now renders much more cartoonish (in the best way) proportions. His (excessive) ink-fill shadows have been replaced with a more color-based approach to light, applied to fairly skeletal line work—not unlike Barnaby Bagenda’s approach to pencils on Omega Men. I confess that I do prefer the dramatic effect of ink fills in general, but for what Woods is aiming for, this works well. After the frequent, failed realism of the last run, it’s refreshing to get a style that knows its own limits and embraces—rather than spurns—them.
After the opening scene, we get to the meat of the issue, the foundation on which this arc will be built: a mission gone wrong. Bruce has been burning the candle at both ends, and as the cover implies, someone pays the ultimate price (some of you will no doubt look at the cover and conclude that it was Bruce’s face that paid the ultimate price…). But in between Alfred’s admonition and Batman’s failure, Priest takes us on a fairly linear path through the mission, and I find it incredibly entertaining. Eventual screw-up aside, Batman’s field commander persona is excellent, as Priest writes him with believable authority, and his soldiers with respectful obedience. Other than a line at the end, in fact, I think the dialogue is excellent throughout. Some folks might not like the subtle differences between Priest’s Lanterns and what Sam Humphries did with them, but the characters are new enough that I think we should be flexible. And in my mind, Jessica’s increased sarcasm strikes me as a sign of her increased familiarity with Simon, so I’m cool with it.
Also, Aquaman goes undercover as a bus driver, so nothing else matters.
Any port in a storm? Or something more?
I won’t deceive myself: there’s definitely a chance that I’m seeing Justice League #34 through rose-colored glasses. I did not enjoy the prior run, and so maybe I’m so desperate for something—anything—different, that it’s hard for me to be critical. Anything’s possible. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I’ve read this a few times now, and I haven’t stopped enjoying it. I’ll temper my enthusiasm, because I’ve been hurt before, but I actually have hope that Priest, Woods, and Schu will deliver an awesome arc.
A word about the new trade dress
I absolutely love it. It’s a lot less intrusive, so you get more of the cover image, but more than that, it’s just well-designed. Now if we could just get the actual title graphic on the cover to follow suit and embrace the same aesthetic (the logo is, after all, one of the neatest things about the Justice League film), I’d be even happier. Also, it’s not on the cover, but I was delighted to see the character strip on the right hand side of the credits spread.
- You’ve been waiting for a change.
- You can tolerate Priest’s “title card” shtick because of his other (more useful) qualities.
- You prefer stylized, exaggerated characters over more realistically-proportioned ones.
An excellent kickoff to a new run, Justice League #34 delivers the goods with an exciting caper, great dialogue, and plenty of big, bold superheroes courtesy of Pete Woods. We’ve waited a long time for this, but it seems like Justice League might at last be in good hands.