The universe just got a lot more dangerous, and the Justice League must change to face it. Following the cataclysmic events of Dark Nights: Metal and No Justice, Earth’s greatest champions have expanded their ranks. But evil, too, builds its army, and not all threats lie on the horizon. What new devilry lurks closer to home? Find out in Justice League #1. SPOILERS AHEAD.
A union of earnest and absurd
Scott Snyder at last takes the reins of Justice League, and his opening strike is true and strong. Joined by some of comics’ greatest champions—penciler Jim Cheung, inker Mark Morales, colorist Tomeu Morey, and letterer Tom Napolitano, Snyder has all of the right ingredients for success. And while I want to give those other creators their due—and I will—I feel it necessary to dwell on the writer for a little while.
It would be easy to contrast Snyder’s earliest DC writing with Justice League and conclude that he is suddenly reinventing himself, but the change has been gradual. In truth, the earnestness of his first two arcs on Batman never faded, but instead began to make room for levity—a disguised Bruce Wayne flipping off the Red Hood in Zero Year, for example. Eventually, the absurd began creeping in, with the post-Endgame status quo including Jim Gordon in a robobatbunny suit, and All-Star Batman giving a radically different flavor to Snyder’s perspective on the Dark Knight.
As the levity and absurdity have increased, I have most times felt as though they clashed with Snyder’s earnestness—not because such things are inherently at odds, but rather because Snyder had trouble passing them off as two parts of the same mind. It was often difficult for me to determine what the books were supposed to be, because they were making competing claims about themselves. This confusion was writ especially large in the pages of Metal, and I began to long for the days when Snyder “stuck to what he was good at.”
But practice makes perfect, as the saying goes, and last month’s No Justice showed convincingly that Snyder’s refusal to abandon these newer dimensions had paid off. Humor—and there was plenty—no longer seemed stapled on, instead arising organically from the characters and situations presented. When it was time to “get serious” and take on the big threats, the humor never undermined the gravity of the heroes’ plight—but neither did it entirely recede. Snyder succeeded in No Justice where he had come up short (arguably) since Superheavy.
And it all leads here, to a place where heroes of myth form a super team called The Justice League, and their murderous foes a Legion of Doom. Superheroes have ever been a union of the earnest and the absurd, even if we forgot that somewhere along the way. Snyder has recognized this in his work for several years, but now, at last, he has found his place in the heart of that union and given us this book to prove it.
The gods in the hall
The Hall of Justice is not a new thing, but it seems especially fitting that No Justice ended with its construction in progress, and Justice League #1 opens with an overview of it. This book unashamedly celebrates (and reintroduces) some of the crazy comic book concepts that made these heroes household names, bringing them down to earth, just as the Hall takes the League out of its exalted place in orbit above humanity and plops it down in humanity’s midst. Even the name “Hall of Justice” is decidedly less edgy than “The Watchtower”—a clear signal that, while these heroes take their responsibilities to the world seriously, they do not place that same weight on maintaining their own mystique and image.
This distinction is clear throughout Justice League #1. The team has no trouble ribbing Batman about some of his more predictable behaviors when a situation is under their control, but once things take a turn, they quickly focus and address the issue. The characters are all written incredibly well, and seem just as convincing imitating Batman’s voice and sayings as they do sitting in a “psychic boardroom”, effectively deciding the very fate of the Earth.
One key to this success is the variety of personalities present. Barry Allen can add some levity to almost any situation and feel very much in character, while J’onn J’onzz’s solemn outlook on things helps form an emotional core for us to latch onto. Life is richer for all of the different sorts of people we know, and Justice League is no different.
Another key is the balance of great fun and grave stakes. Cheung, Morales, and Morey play a huge role here. We have the requisite action-packed battle sequences, populated with Cheung’s friendly character aesthetics and popping with Morey’s bright color. But we also have floods of Morales’s inks in the cosmos, in the boardroom, encroaching on J’onn as he floats high above the earth, coordinating the battle. The great scope of this story is evident in Cheung’s layouts, for sure, but also in the visual drama of the contrast between color and black shadow—something the artists employ much more heavily in scenes that demand it.
Though the heroes and villains have yet to meet, it is the assembling of the latter—more than perhaps any other element in this issue—that has my attention. Lex Luthor as a hero was an interesting experiment, but Lex as an arrogant, charismatic leader of rogues seems so much more fitting. He is brutal, confident, and more than a little terrifying, and the arrival of his team at their new base is merely gravy.
This brings us to another important choice by Snyder. Though there are many heroes and villains in this story, he zeroes in on one of each. As hinted at the end of No Justice, this book is a struggle between J’onn and Lex just as much as it is between the League and the Legion. It is J’onn’s sorrow that we behold in flashback, J’onn’s failure that we inhabit near the end of this issue. And it is Lex’s words that echo most frequently in the Hall of Doom, his hand that delivers the savage blows on Vandal Savage’s head.
These close-ups give us something intimate to hold onto. They allow Snyder to find earnestness in the midst of something so flamboyant and potentially unwieldy. They are the beating heart of a complex organism: the humanity—for better or for worse—in the halls of the gods.
- You think it’s well past time we had a proper Justice League book again.
Justice League #1 is the triumphant return of what DC once hailed as its flagship title. It is intimate and enormous, inspiring, entertaining, and terrifying. This is how it’s done.