Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Justice League #1 Team Review

Almost a month since it's release date we're finally ready to talk about Justice League. I remember posting a story about a Jim Lee/Geoff Johns JL title all the way back in 2009 so suffice to say this has been a long time coming. To review the book in as varied a way as possible I've enlisted the help of former co-hosts on the podcast, Jason Utes and Paul Shirley. Let's get to it.

What worked:

Seth: For me, the highlight of a good team book has always been about the interplay between the characters. Sure it's fun to see them crush massive enemies but I want to see some pithy banter exchanged between leads in between all that. In this first issue we get almost nothing but interplay. When it works, it's fantastic. By focusing on only two characters (Green Lantern and Batman), with a small section featuring Vic Stone (Cyborg) in the first issue, Johns was able to focus on setting up the world these characters inhabit and craft some really fun exchanges between Bats and GL.

The characters in this book are younger, less polished, and not necessarily the ones we know and love. Batman seems like more of a rookie than we've seen him in a long time. More the Year One Batman than the Hush version. Johns' portrayal of Green Lantern/Hal has drawn a lot of flack for being a cocky piece of crap. Frankly, I loved it. Especially after reading Green Lantern #1 and getting an idea of the character arc Hal is in for. Some times it's good to see a character evolve and I'm going to thoroughly enjoy that aspect of this book.

Jim Lee has helped to set the tone of the New DCU with this issue. Though a bit scratchier than some of his more recent work, it's still hyper detailed and beautifully rendered. Lee has always been one of the great action storytellers and he doesn't disappoint here. The opening shoot out on the roofs of Gotham was perfectly choreographed and even exciting. Alex Sinclair on colors does a fantastic job of adding atmosphere to the book as well.

Jason: I came to the DC game extremely late, so this entire relaunch business can, for me, be just as much of a “jumping off” point as it is a “jumping on” point for others.  It is a little bit frustrating for me that I was recently establishing a real feel for the context of the DCU and now I need to discard a lot of that.  Nonetheless, as a relatively new reader now being rendered a newcomer once again, I was entertained by this issue and remain interested enough to stay onboard for now.  This book has been pushed as DC’s “flagship” title for this relaunch, and thankfully, they seem intent on treating it as such- Lee’s pencils alone make this feel like an event.

Now, I’m known in some circles (and by some circles, I mean Seth) for having canned responses for everything.  I’m busy, and I don’t have time to saunter into your realm and bicker with you cretins about your funny books.  So in that spirit and in an attempt to not flat-out repeat everything Seth said (yet essentially repeat what I said in that paragraph up there…..I’m just intentionally wasting time and space here….). 

Paul: Did this issue work? Was it good? Did it meet expectations?... With all the "Dream Team" flak going on in pop culture this past year, trust me when I say this is the One team that I expect to meet expectations (unlike the Miami Heat who couldn't get the win, and the not-so-dreamy Philadelphia Eagles. And yes, I'm aware this is a comic blog). Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are a perfect fit for the Justice League. This first issue focused on easily two of the best characters in comics, Green Lantern (Hal) and Batman. I have no doubt that by the time Johns and Lee step off the book, there will plenty of critics complaining about this thing and that thing. If they didn't, what would they write about? But the fact is, we have a rare jewel in this creative team. Fans have been asking for this for AGES, and while I'm sure it won't be perfect in a nice little bow, it will undoubtedly be one of the most talked about, loved/hated series of the decade.

As for what works about this particular issue, I'll keep it short and sweet. I'm sending a digital high five to Seth for his points, for which I unanimously agree. As for Lee's art, let me say I loved it (wow, bet you didn't see that coming). I love his art anyway, but I was a little afraid I'd see Bats from Hush and Supes from For Tomorrow in here, and I didn't really want to. This is supposed to be new, fresh- the flagship for the new 52. I felt like everything about the art was just that: Jim Lee perfection meets subtle innovation. I mean come on, tell me you didn't love that last page with Superman's new "Kryptonian Armor"?

Johns conducted a fantastic story. He managed to do what many authors (with a few exceptions) have failed to do with this soft reboot: invite new readers with little previous knowledge. The GL/Bats banter is spot on, and I can already tell from issue one that these characters have so much more to show, with real personality and true depth. One more little thing I really enjoyed was the last line, Superman questioning Batman, "So... what can you do?" Heck yes, I can't wait to read Superman v/s Batman.

What didn't work:

Seth: Too much exposition sort of clogged up the works. Yes, I know we're establishing a brand new status quo here but some of the dialogue made me feel like I was being hammered with explanations for things. I guess it's admirable Johns didn't resort to narration balloons for everything but still, the dialogue in this issue was a bit spotty.

The only other complaint I have is with Superman's costume. It looks okay when drawn by Lee, but in every other book I've seen him in it nearly makes me want to toss it across the room in fear. A very minor complaint I know, and in all honesty, one not necessarily aimed at this book.

Jason: My complaints here are really just gripes due to my inability to suspend disbelief for the interest of story and character development.  I stand firmly on the side of those who believe Hal Jordan is being portrayed as a glowing green phallus.  I find nothing endearing about this character whatsoever, but I’m well aware they’re building him up to the point where his heart will grow three sizes- Then he’ll pull Superman’s head out of a kryptonite toilet and really bring the team together.

Meanwhile, we have a grown man in a batsuit pantsing muggers and getting in karate fights with helicopters on the evening news, but he’s managed to remain a myth to GL and completely unknown to Superman.  All I’m trying to suggest here is that if I had a magic ring and I heard rumors about BATMAN, I’d think myself up a flying green sandwich and investigate much sooner, if even for amusement.

If I’m being serious, I felt that some of the dialogue was a little painful.  Specifically, I felt like the jokes were a little bit reaching (HA!  Says THIS guy).  For a man who has seen multiple worlds, Green Lantern speaks like an Autozone employee, and Batman just shouldn’t be that playful.   Oh, and I was bored during the football game.

Paul: In case you haven't noticed, Seth is the level headed critical view, Jason brings the witty cynical aspect, and I tend to... well, be the naive fanboy. That being said, I'm going to try to give some valid criticism here. For one, I can see how some of the more drastic changes may scare people away. I hear the complaints concerning Hal's attitude, and I can see their validity for people that are unfamiliar with the character. Since he's one of my favorite characters, I'm excited about where his development is going, but I can definitely recognize that he may put off some readers. As for the Superman costume, I love it. However, I am afraid it may alienate age-old fans of Sups. And trust me, I'm right there with you all. I guess I'm just more excited about what's ahead, and trying not to dwell on what may be lost in translation. After all, this is the comics world, and anything is possible.

The one off-hand complaint I have concerns Batman's character. As Jason commented, if Green Lantern heard of Bats, he'd surely find out if it was true, right? Perhaps. What is more difficult for me is the fact that Batman wasn't well-versed on Green Lantern. Well, maybe not that he wasn't "well versed," but rather that he was rather skeptical. I realize that this Batman is a bit "green behind the gills," but the Bruce Wayne I know makes it his business to have this kind of knowledge. I love the idea of these fresh-off-the-press heroes, but this felt a little strange to me.


Seth: This was the book that introduced us to the new 52 and I'd say it did it's job. It seems like a very workmanlike issue in a way. It's not interested in flashy action or a giant set piece. It introduces us to a couple of our leads, and sets about putting the band together. The art is wonderful, the action that is here is kinetic and fun and the interplay between the leads is interesting.

I've heard the book bashed for being decompressed but I don't think that's the case. It's setting things up and it does so in a way that seems reminiscent of Bendis' early work on Ultimate Spider-Man. I think that works and it doesn't throw too much out there that would overwhelm a new reader. I believe it's a great introductory issue and honestly believe it's only going to get better from here.

Jason: I liked this issue.

As far as keeping completely new readers for the long haul, I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to pan out.  Certainly, there was an explosion of new readers (and thanks to that the “New 52” has only been the “New 2” for me thus far, because I was too busy to update my pull list), but I’m fairly certain if you were just some gluehead who got caught up in the hype you won’t be sticking around.  This crap’s expensive.  If you were a Marvel fan with a sincere interest in checking out DC, this book should hold your interest at least through this arc.

Paul: I have looked forward to this issue for months, and even years before it was announced. This is the team we've always wanted, and now we have it. Was it the best single issue ever?... No. Was it great? Well, I thought so. This issue has spiked my interest in a way that I haven't felt since Morrison's run on Batman and Robin. I know one thing, when next month's releases roll around, I'll be rushing to my comic store for my pulls the morning JL #2 arrives. (By the way, did anyone else notice our Superman colors?)

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