Build a Better Justice League 1: The Problem

Posted: May 17, 2011 in comic books, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

So you wanna write a good Justice League comic, do you? Well son, it’s easier said than done. You’re gonna need three things:

  1. A clear vision of the kind of stories you want to tell
  2. An editorial regime willing to get out of your way and let you tell it, and
  3. A roster of characters that will make those stories sing.

Unfortunately, after reading a recent Justice League collection, it looks like James Robinson has none of those things.

While I’d heard his return to comics had been pretty shaky, I have a deep and abiding love of his Starman series (Jack Knight had a real impact on my teenage self). So I really wanted him back to form.

But…yeesh. There’s no real way to defend this. A ridiculous plot, shallow characterization…it is, in fact, so crappy that it got bad art out of Mark “Dependability is my middle name” Bagley.

This may not entirely be his fault. This JLA iteration started with Brad Meltzer’s annoying Red Tornado-centric pilot story. Then editorial interference destroyed the late, great Dwayne McDuffie’s efforts. So, maybe the current climate at DC just makes it impossible to write a decent League.

But Robinson also shot himself in the foot with his lineup. I have no problem with Dick Grayson as the League’s Batman (he’s earned the spot), but do we really need Donna Troy taking Wonder Woman’s place? And while it sure is a novelty having Congorilla and the Mikaal Tomas Starman on the team…what, exactly, are they contributing, here (beyond “This guy is really strong, and this one has a chest-laser”)?

Robinson’s League was already kneecapped by the patchwork of characters that were available to him.

While the easy-fix response – the one that reinvigorated the title after the post-JLI wilderness years – was Grant Morrison’s “Big Seven” roster that basically lasted a solid six years before falling apart, Robinson doesn’t even have that option.

Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and the Hawks have all been occupied in Brightest Day, the Green Lanterns are all embroiled in yet another “war of the guys who use their superpowerful wishing rings to shoot beams at each other in space” mega-story, Bruce Wayne’s awfully busy, and Superman apparently needs some space to sort some things out and get his head together.

But while I’m sure we’ll see the “classic” lineup again, Justice League Unlimited proved the DC Universe is filled to the brim with odd-duck characters (say, Vigilante) that just need a chance to show off what they can really do (which, again, is why I was a bit baffled that Congorilla doesn’t fill any role outside of “The Strong Guy” on Robinson’s team).

So, next post, we’re gonna use creativity and logic to put together a JLA roster without having to fall back on the Magnificent Seven paradigm.

  1. braak says:

    Oh, good, this is good. Science. Science!

    It brings up an interesting point about a lot of “team” stories — like The Avengers, for instance: what the hell are all of these guys FOR?

    I mean, why do you need Hulk, and Thor, and Iron Man? What problem could be so big that you need not just one person to smash it, but three? Sure, Iron Man is also a scientist, but so is the Hulk. And so is Giant Man, who’s also a back up smashing-guy, when it comes down to it.

    And then look at your secondary guys: your Captain America and your Black Widow and your Hawkeye (I’m leaving Wasp out of this lineup because she’s not in the movie, and I suspect her inclusion on the initial roster was “Oh, huh, we should probably have a chick on this team”). They all do the same thing. What can Hawkeye do by shooting an arrow that the Black Widow couldn’t do by shooting a gun, or those wristband things she has? Or throwing something? Or shooting an arrow?

    This does suggest a division that Warren Ellis used with Stormwatch: Stormwatch regular and Stormwatch Black, where one was specifically a low-key, black ops/espionage Stormwatch.

    Of course, once you start doing this, the teams start looking like World of Warcraft groups: healer, tank, DPS, control.

    The other important question, obviously, is what the hell are these guys actually doing on a team? The X-Men all worked for Professor X (did he pay them, though? Was the X-Men their JOB, or did they just get a free pass to the Mansion? [like Playboy, but with killer mutants]); the Avengers is just Tony Stark’s superhero club.

    What the hell is the point of the JLA? Why are they a team, and not a bunch of guys just going around and doing their business? Or why isn’t it like Mask or Mission Impossible, where Martian Manhunter assesses the threat, and then just calls up whoever he thinks would be best-suited to solving it?

    The level of strategy and organization on JLU actually brings up some interesting moral/political points, too — was Batman basically just building an army of superhumans? That’s what JLU was, essentially, right?

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    What bums me out is they actually did consider this, in the mid-90’s, with the “Justice League Task Force” book. They CONSIDERED it, but the team was split between Regular JLA, EXTREEEEEME Justice, all the editors who wouldn’t let them play with Batman or Superman, and so JLTF ended up getting, like, Gypsy and Triumph.

    The next post here is going to attempt to explain a method of choosing, and one of them is a 12-member limit, with some revolving-chair options, because otherwise, you get the JLU Army – which is awesome, but a bit unwieldy.

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