DC – The New52 Reviews: Justice League #1 (Holland’s Take)

Posted: September 1, 2011 in comic books, Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
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So what did I think of Handsome Geoff Johns’ and Jazzy Jim Lee’s opening outing with the Justice League?

I’d love to tell you…in another five months, once the story’s actually over.

That should probably give you some indication right out of the gate, but let’s talk about WHY. WHY I lacked the impulse control to wait for the trade – or at LEAST, until I could get to Comics & More to buy a print edition?

There were a few reasons:

1. I fully intended to buy this as part of a month-long series of reviews of the DC relaunch expect to buy tomorrow). Not every book, mind you, but there’s about 15 of which I’d definitely try out the first issue at least, and hey, despite my misgivings, the whole event’s certainly been enough to get me curious

2. I’m EXACTLY the lapsed reader they’re hoping to bring back in with this. It’s been years since I’ve picked up a DC book, for reasons I’ve outlined, but if at the end of this month there’s even a few books that make me think, “Yeah, I’d pick up the collected edition of that in a few months,” then this initiative has to count as a partial success, at least, and

3. Having never downloaded one before, I wanted to know what a digital comic really looked like. While I plan on buying the collections of what I like, a big part of this whole experiment is figuring out if digital comics really are the way of the future – and if not, what needs to happen for them to become that.

So let’s start with Justice League #1, break it down to its good parts, its iffy bits, its outright questionable bits, and see what we can find. 

The Good

Jim Lee’s Art: I know he’s not for all tastes, but as a guy who grew up on comics in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Lee does epitomize Supercharged Superhero Adventure to me, and on that front, it delivers. There are very few “still” moments here – it opens with Batman hauling ass on a rooftop, and keeps moving, even as Batman and Green Lantern stand still for one of several pissing matches with each other on their way to investigate a possible alien threat.

It’s not exactly action-packed, because the action doesn’t really LEAD to anything except the issue-ending cliffhanger, but Jim Lee makes sure everything feels like it’s moving even when it’s not.

The Introduction: This issue is pretty much just “Batman and Hal Jordan take an immediate dislike to each other,” and I am fine with that. Batman’s a guy who hangs in the shadows and uses man-made weapons; Green Lantern is a bright glowy fella who makes ridiculous constructs with his ring. Batman’s a cautious guy; Green Lantern is ludicrously cocky. This is a good pairing/rivalry for a first issue that wants to clarify, “These guys have never met each other, and just because they’re gonna be on the team you see on the cover doesn’t mean they’ll immediately be buddies.”

The Lack of Narration: Oh, how happy I was not to see internal narration in Blue and Green boxes about how these two react to each other in their own heads. Johns is clearly confident enough that the action will speak for itself, and that hopefully means this overused trope will go away for a while, at least in Justice League.

PARADEMONS! That this is a Parademon, but the characters don’t KNOW it’s a Parademon even though the familiar audience does (once they got done guessing it was a Daemonite floated over from the Wildstorm universe), is great. And if the new audience doesn’t know, they’re in for a treat. Because if you’re gonna start a Justice League story, you should go big or go home. And having your first big bad guy be Darkseid…well, that’s just fine by me. (Though Starro is a world-class creepy concept. Que serra.)

THE IFFY

This is a Terrible Way To Start a New Series. As a new reader – a guy who, say for the sake of argument, has no idea where this is going – here is what I got for my four dollars:

–  Batman is interrogating some weird alien soldier while trying to dodge the Gotham Police
– Green Lantern intervenes because he was given the heads-up that there was an alien in Gotham
– The alien escapes and Batman and Green Lantern argue about it
– There’s a completely unrelated thing about some high school football player whose parents apparently study superhumans
– Batman and Green Lantern go to Metropolis to ask this “Superman” guy what he might know about it, and
– Superman punches Green Lantern.

That’s not a story. That’s BARELY the first act of a story. That I just paid $4 for.

Let me couch this in different terms. I go into a video store (I know, I know, “What’s a video store?” Oh, you kids), and grab a movie off the shelf. I pay $5, and two hours later, I’ve seen a complete story.

OR: I go to Red Box, pay a BUCK and the same result plays out (and that’s why we ask “What’s a video store?”).

OR: I turn on ABC, and I watch 45 minutes of a program that tells me part narrative that will play out…at no cost. (Or I watch Hulu or what have you.)

OR: I open up Netflix, and I watch whatever the hell’s on Instant Play – and while I’m paying between $8 to $20 for the privilege, I have a massive set of choices at my whim.

No matter the media, I have a much greater return on investment than I would buying this 36-page comic for $4.

(I know, I know: “But the Justice League cartoon was a three-parter where the first part was only Superman and Batman!” Yeah, but it premiered as a 90-minute movie event, and for that matter, even if it hadn’t, it still would’ve only been a three-parter viewers would’ve only had to wait three weeks to complete.)

Also keep in mind: I don’t even OWN this comic. It’s not on my hard drive, as it would be if I’d downloaded an album from Amazon. I have downloaded this comic onto a viewer that keeps it handy for me, for however long it pleases them.

Downloading an album is probably the closest analogy here: By buying Justice League #1, it’s like I’m in 2001, and I’ve just bought the first track off The Strokes’ first album. And I have NO IDEA if the rest of the album will be any good. Not even, “Will it be as good as ‘This is It’?” Just, any good at all. And I have to wait month after month to find out. One. Track. At. A. Time.

I Didn’t Get What The Cover Promised. Now, granted, the cover promised all those heroes I pretty much recognize charging heroically into (what I assume is) battle. What I get, in these pages, is two heroes bickering with each other, one hero who shows up for a splash page, and one guy who I can only assume is the guy on the cover even though he’s not that guy yet and has nothing to do with the plot.

Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman make no appearances here. Not even a prologue-panel to show that they’re also, in some tangential way that would tie in later, interested in this alien business.

That there is something of a bait and switch.

The “Next Issue” caption doesn’t even give us a hint that they might show up then, either. It’s “Batman vs. Superman.” And as a lapsed reader, I’m well-versed in these things, I know Jim Lee, and I know that’ll probably take up at least half of the next issue.

The Downright Questionable

THIS Little Easter Egg. As a veteran comics reader, I’m  going to stare at that, relate it back to that big event comic that supposedly created a whole new reality that overlaps the one I knew, and wonder, “Oh crap, what’s Johns really playing at here?”

As a novice reader who just bought his first comic for $4 damn dollars, I’m (ideally) pouring through the art on this book just to make the purchase worth it, notice this, and wonder, “Who’s that chick in the hood, is she part of the story?” And MAYBE I’ll hit the internet for answers…and I am probably not going to like those answers.

Either way…come ON.

New Rule for the New 52: Don’t make the new audience have to hit Wikipedia.

The Digital Download Experience

I was of two minds here.

I SURE liked the convenience. Ease of access absolutely trumped my knowledge of what’s in my bank account, so here we are. And I didn’t mind the functionality. There was a way of clicking through the panels – then enlarging the panels once I’d gotten through the dialogue – that felt just interactive enough.

And Jim Lee is, I think, drawing for the digital comic, as much as a guy who’s not really willing to change his style can. He uses primarily long and medium shots that fit the format, and they’re easy to read even if you opt for the “whole page” setting. From this limited experience, I can say that digital comics are easily readable…

Even though the size still throws me off. I have a pretty big monitor on my laptop – large enough to approximate what a tablet must look like – but it’s still about two inches shorter than what a physical comic looks like. The squatter Manga format is clearly the size for this endeavor, but it’s gonna take a lot of stylistic adaptation and publisher cooperation to make the digital and print editions jibe.

So, final verdict:

I can’t view this as a new reader, because I have way too much experience with comics to do so. The best I can do is put myself in a new consumer’s shoes and ask if this comic was worth the $4, and was enough incentive for me to come back for the next issue.

My answer: Probably not. There was simply too little content for too much money.

I gotta stress, this was not a Bad Comic. I’ve READ bad comics. This was just fine…if I were trade-waiting. (Trade-waiting, for those new readers who came across this column, is when you wait for an initial comics story to end and get collected into a paperback before buying.) As a “Chapter one,” this was enough for me to say, “Yeah, I’ll maybe catch it when it’s a paperback on Amazon for $18.”

But if you were to ask me if I’d buy the next issue, solely on the basis of what I’d just read?

Probably no chance. Because by not telling a complete Justice League story in Justice League #1, Johns and Lee went for the now-outmoded model of decompressed storytelling, when supercompressed was crucial to bringing readers back for a second helping.

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Comments
  1. […] than that, though, I disagree with Holland’s assertion that this immediately establishes the characters of Batman and Green Lantern.  I mean, it kind of […]

  2. […] far, it looks like our initial impressions of Justice League were spot-on, unfortunately. It is big, loud and dumb: six issues of […]

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