Thursday, 21 February 2013

Justice League of America #1

After months of waiting, the much anticipated Justice League of America by Geoff Johns and David Finch has finally arrived. Bringing with it a colorful cast of characters, as well as 52 different variant covers, this will technically be the 4th title with the Justice League moniker, after the regular Justice League (also by Johns), Justice League International (now cancelled), and Justice League Dark (ironically the only good Justice League book until now).

Now I, personally, was not particularly hyped for this book. Why? Well, several reasons. First, as much as I like Johns's work, his Justice League has, for the first 14 issues, been mediocre, and other than the entertaining Shazam backup have been a waste of money and talent. Second, the cast of JLA isn't all that interesting to me. Martian Manhunter and Hawkman are cool, I guess, and Simon Baz isn't a terrible character, but why is Katana there? Why Catwoman? Who the hell is Vibe? Why is Johns forcing his 'favorite character', Stargirl, into a politically charged book like this?

Luckily, this book delivers, to put it simply. I'm not sure if it has lived up to the hype for a lot of people, because it takes a rather different approach than what one might have expected after reading Johns's Justice League by Michael Bay, but the approach works. Instead of bombarding readers with a slew of rushed introductions and then forcing some random action sequence, the entire book is actually one long conversation between Amanda Waller (or as I like to call her, Amanda Fencer. Cause she's more of a fence than a wall now) and Steve Trevor, who for some reason has still not gotten over the fact that the daughter of Zeus has turned him down in favor of Superman. In fact, there's quite a few references to his past relationship with Diana, and it often feels forced. Johns realizes that there's more to Steve than just Wonder Woman, right? Because I swear he was more interesting in that one issue of Legion Lost, which is actually saying a lot...

Hawkman's a badass, something I didn't think was possible after Liefeld's run...
Anyway, that's one of the few complaints I had. The other one is the art. While Finch's work is pretty good, for the most part, some of the character contortions leave something to be desired. Overall, however, the art is top notch. Finch does have a tendency to use dark colors and juxtapose with heavy black lines, but the entire spectrum is easily distinguished in every relevant panel, and you'll never have any trouble telling who's who. Shadows are expressed as big, bold black lines, but unlike a lot of artists who fall into this particular pitfall, Finch never seems to have trouble locating his light source, and the result is a consistent, realistic lighting, even if it is a bit dark. Coupled with his impeccable attention to detail, the artwork is, in my opinion, some of the best 'grounded' work I've recently seen from DC. Also, I'm not sure if Amanda's gotten a new hairstyle, since I haven't been following Suicide Squad for a while, but I'm not a fan of the way he draws her. With that said, it could very well be an editorial decision, so I'll let it slide.

The art, in its austerity and seriousness of tone, fits perfectly with the story. As I said earlier, this isn't some big, dumb action book, which Justice League has unfortunately been for a large part. From the get go, Johns builds intrigue, introducing both Ivo and another, mysterious villain. Interspersed with the dialogue and flashbacks are scenes of a black garbed, masked individual running for dear life, which adds a sense of tension and buildup to the otherwise steady-paced story. The story itself is rather simple; Amanda Waller is the control freak who wants to build her own Justice League, in case the regular ones goes bad, and Steve, being the hardened, rebellious soldier, is against it. Waller spends the large part introducing the team and convincing Trevor of their place.

Stargirl discovers Satanism
The roster is, for the most part, explained rather well. All of the heroes are given motivations as well as uses. I wish Stargirl was embellished on a bit more; my main experience with her is, believe it or not, from Smallville, and from the few JLU episodes she was in. They do a decent job of telling you who she is, but you don't really get a sense of her characterization, and Johns also pushes in some strange mystery behind her, which I thought was a bit unnecessary and overwhelming. Her role and motivation are also not too clear; all I got was that she's great with the public, something Waller has been pushing, and that her Cosmic Staff thingamajig is pretty damn powerful. Also, she has braces. Even I admit that that's adorable.

Catwoman is given a lot of attention, which is to be expected. I still don't really get why she joined (maybe I'm missing something because I haven't caught up with the current Catwoman run), but her role makes sense. Martian Manhunter and Baz are the typical powerhouses and kinda skimped over, which is fine, since we've already well acquainted with them. The others are given okay motivations and roles, and I still question parts of the lineup, but overall I came out more impressed with this issue than I had expected. The approach worked, and the characterization was, for the most part, top notch. It's true, nothing really happened, but I expect the series to start taking off in the next issue. I think the build-up was necessary, not only to introduce the characters but also introduce what exactly the book was about. Its clear from the get-go that this isn't your regular superhero team-up book. There's a patriotic/political aspect to it that's far more intriguing than anything the New 52 Justice League International could cook up, and all this talk about the 'Secret Society' being rebuilt has definitely got me hooked. There's also the whole deal with the regular Justice League, and there's some foreshadowing that the JLA might need to take them down. The rudimentary match-ups are certainly interesting.

Good luck Katana
Overall, I was quite impressed with this issue. I'm pleased with the direction Johns took it, and he certainly convinced me why he chose the lineup that he did and how it could all work out. I'm very excited and intrigued by where this book goes, and suddenly the Trinity War is looking a lot less daunting.

Writing and Dialogue: 4/5 - An excellent direction and format of storytelling, and some good characterization, make this a fun, exciting read that'll make you want more.

Art: 4/5 - An excellent, realistic take that ties in perfectly with the politically charged nature of the book, with equal amounts of dark and color.

Fan service: 3/5 - Though it's probably not everyone's favorite cast of characters, there's enough backstory and characterization to keep you interested. Also, Martian Manhunter. Nuff said.

Overall: 4/5 - An excellent start to a promising new series that creates a solid foundation for the team and has just enough of a hook to get you to wanting more.

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