Monday, September 5, 2011

52 Pick Up for 08/31/11

With all the new titles DC is releasing for their line-wide September revamp, it can be hard to know what is and what isn't worth buying.  Therefore, we here at the Weekly Crisis would like to help you navigate the DCnU, so we are taking it upon ourselves to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.  Every week, another edition of 52 Pick Up will go live, providing you with our thoughts on the most recent crop of titles.

As DC has decided to launch their entire effort with but a single title, this week we're looking at Justice League.  Hit the jump to see whether or not Geoff Johns and Jim Lee have started the relaunch on the right foot!

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jim Lee

Grant: The Justice League is perhaps one of DC's best known properties.  It is home to DC's greatest heroes.  It is one of DC's most historic and celebrated titles (even if the quality of various Justice League books has varied over the decades).  Already, it is a daunting task to write the next iteration of the team, but Geoff Johns and Jim Lee were given the additional, and unenviable, challenge of knowing their efforts would be kicking off DC's line-wide relaunch.

Most titles simply need to concern themselves with finding an audience and sell enough issues to continue being published.  This one needed to sell an entire line of comics.  It needed to prove that DC's decision to cancel all of its books for a bunch of brand-new (or somewhat new) ones was a good idea.  It needed to appeal to old fans, but it also needed to bring in tons of new ones.  On top of that, if DC's numbers are accurate, it was also going to be one of the most read comics of the year, if not years.  Maybe it's going a little far, but in a lot of ways, DC placed a lot of their future on this book's success.

Talk about colossal expectations, eh?

Unsurprisingly, the book doesn't live up to these impossible hopes.  And as good as Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are, there's no way it ever could have.  No comic book could have.  No matter what DC might have claimed or secretly hoped, they will need a lot more than a single perfect comic book issue to turn things around.  They'll need a lot more than that.  But that is another conversation entirely.

Is Justice League the greatest comic book I have ever read?  Definitely not.  But is it a good comic book?  I would say it is.  It attempts to do what the relaunch is purportedly trying to do, giving a story that can be appreciated by old and new readers alike.  Some of the dialogue is a little heavy handed, but I was generally impressed with it.  While some lines were perhaps a bit much, I never felt like it devolved into outright exposition, and there were even a number of moments that made me smile (and maybe even a few that made me laugh).

Setting the narrative 5 years before the present day gives readers the opportunity to learn about the DCnU at the same time as the heroes within the story.  Like the reader, all the characters in the book are relatively new to the world around them.  Batman is still mostly thought of as a myth, Green Lantern is so new he still speaks in the third person sometimes (I actually really liked that touch), and Vic Stone isn't even a hero yet!  They all act as proxies for the reader, and everyone is learning about everyone else, and the dangers they face, together.  There are some bumps along the road, but it's still a worthwhile ride.

So much action.
The opening sequence with Batman and the Green Lantern had a lot of action.  In that is was pretty much purely action.  It's unfortunate that some of the cooler moments (like the Parademon getting hit by a construct-firetruck) were in the previews for the book, but it doesn't mean that the moment isn't still cool.  The book moves fast, and maybe makes some logical leaps that don't quite hold water, but that could easily be ascribed to the inexperience of the characters.  Perhaps my favourite part of all this is that the book didn't insist on taking itself too seriously.  Yes, it is positioned squarely on the dramatic side of things, but that doesn't stop Batman and Green Lantern from bickering with each other, offering some decent witticisms in the process.  I appreciate that Johns and Lee are trying to include some moments of levity among their many moments of gravity.  Just because the world might be in danger, doesn't mean that people aren't allowed to crack wise.

I've been going back and forth in my mind about how I feel about the fact that only half the team (Vic counts as .5 because he isn't a hero yet) show up in a book that has seven different characters on the cover.  It might not be the wisest decision that could have been made, but it doesn't ruin things for me.  While the plot moves quickly enough, withholding those characters does slow things down a bit.  But I'm not wholeheartedly against it, because I still enjoyed the experience.  As I said above, this issue is not going to convince the entire world to suddenly start reading comics books, but I think it could definitely convince some.  In my mind, it offers a good read, and it gives me enough reason to come back for the next issue.

Verdict - Check It.  As much as anything, Justice League is a victim of expectations.  It isn't the best thing to ever happen to comics.  It doesn't have the entire team in the issue.  It offers some characterizations that might not immediately sit well with established fans.  But it is trying to tell new stories.  To do things a little differently.  It's not ground breaking, but it is fun.  And in a time when so many comics are insistent on being grim and dour ad nauseum, that's enough for me to recommend giving it a look.

Ken: I admit I was a bit bummed about the DC relaunch/reboot, because I didn't see anything that needed such a drastic action as starting (mostly) over. But the one thing I did want more than anything was for Justice League to be this great book that just puts Avengers to shame, and really made Marvel sweat in fear when it would hit every week and just draw attention back to DC. Geoff JohnsJim Lee. That's as strong a creative team you can get these days. But this crucial first issue, however, did not fill me with confidence.

Too much of these two?
For a first issue, the idea to have the book be centered on only two characters is something that really doesn't work when the book is about the entire team. The Batman and Green Lantern talk is decent, if hitting you a bit too over the head to let everyone know Hal now has a personality, but a page or two showing the other heroes would have worked out much better. If the general idea is a Parademon appearing on Earth, have each hero be shown fighting one, and then somehow meeting all together through whatever plot device is necessary. If the key thing is to draw in new readers, I think they would feel a bit ripped off if they wanted to see Flash in this issue, but only get the chance to see him on the cover. He's not even shown in the supplemental stuff in the back about character sketches.

Another problem this issue had was that it was clearly written for the trade, as opposed to being written for the individual issue. You've no doubt got people reading this one issue, giving it a shot, and by not including the other heroes, what would make them want to pay another $4 for JL #2? The book is based on the assumption people will stick around for the second and third issue, but that is based primarily on the direct market readers. You want to attract new readers, you have to make every issue count on its own.

From a plot standpoint, the book works in the usual team-up/fight badguy/find the real badguy/ type scenario, but if this was the first issue of Mark Waid's Brave and the Bold series it would have felt the same way. Two heroes team up, only for a new hero to show up and tag out another in the second issue.

Artistically, this is the book's biggest quality. Jim Lee's art is very good, and the coloring is top notch, from the lighting produced by explosions to Green Lantern's constructs. There's a few pages during Vic's moment in the book that might have felt a bit rushed or even ghost penciled, but overall a strong fluid style works for the book. Everyone looks younger, and having Bruce still smile every now and then makes it so he isn't such a Grumpy Gus.

Verdict - Skip It. The book doesn't really do anything new, but it sure is pretty to look at. That can't be the only thing when a book of this importance is being released to the public, especially when you have the two biggest names in DC's stable at the helm. And since most of the biggest moments from the issue have made the rounds on the internet already, I just can't recommend it to any existing comic readers, or even non comic readers, who would be better inclined to wait and read the trade paperback.

Ron: This is DC's flagship book for The New 52 and the one they put most of their promotion and resources behind. If you haven't read a DC book before this one, you're in luck. This is the perfect place to start reading the new DC Universe.

One of the problems that I always had with DC was that it was so ingrained within it's own lore. Characters and story lines were based off of over 70 years of history that sometimes acted like an anchor around the neck of the books. As a kid, I always thought that DC was for older people and the characters were boring. I was interested in Superman when he got his lightning costume back in the 90s and split into Superman Red/Superman Blue. I was 8 or 9 years old when that storyline was hitting and it seemed like something new was being done with the character. Perhaps that's why I was so open to the idea of relaunching the entire DC Universe. I wasn't a huge DC fan growing up so I don't have the years of nostalgia to think back on.

Mistrusted heroes.
My favorite DC stories were the ones that existed outside of the main history and focused on the characters being human or superhuman. Superman: Red Son was one of the first DC books that actually made me care about Superman. Smallville made me care about Clark Kent, and it gave me a good glimpse into the "man" in Superman.

With all of that said, I was ready and willing to give Justice League a shot. Geoff Johns chooses to go with the slow-burn method of story-telling, and introduces Green Lantern, Batman, and Superman in the first issue instead of the whole team. I've read some complaints about this choice but I think it was a good decision. By not introducing the entire cast in one issue, Johns allows you to get familiar with Green Lantern and Batman while they also share some fun interactions. When Marvel first launched New Avengers in 2004, the entire team was not assembled in the first issue. Brian Bendis chose to make the initial assembling take longer than just one issue in order to form a more complete story and keep readers interested.

The dialog between Batman and Green Lantern is humorous and I enjoyed reading their first meeting. I like the idea that we're seeing them meet for the first time and it's not just a retelling of the Justice League's origin. This is a new story while also being a flashback tale to the early days of the New DCU. Green Lantern and Batman investigate some extraterrestrial activity while also being pursued by the authorities. This is a stark change from the old DC where it seemed that every superhero was on the same page as law enforcement and the general public was accepting of these super powered beings. This new DC universe is one where the heroes are still mysterious and scary to the general population of Earth and I think that's an interesting angle. I'm sure this will carry over into Action Comics, which will feature the early years of Superman in Metropolis.

The artwork by Jim Lee is exactly what you would expect from the artist behind Batman: Hush and Wildcats. Lee uses lots of lines and there's no lack of detail on any page. I actually read through this book twice just to admire the artwork once more. This is definitely the best kind of art to have on a flagship book meant to attract new readers.

Verdict - Buy It (if you can find it). If you're interested in seeing the origins of the new DC Universe or want to read the start of an interesting tale featuring Batman and Green Lantern, check this book out. Die-hard DC fans may find this issue a bit tedious as it covers ground that they're used to, but new fans should find plenty to like. We sold out of Justice League in three days at The Fallout Shelter, and the demand for the rest of the New 52 keeps increasing. If DC can keep up this momentum for the next few weeks and months, they are definitely headed in the right direction.

And so, we bring the first edition of 52 Pick Up to a close.  Now we once again turn things over to you.  What did you think of Justice League #1?  Has DC put their best foot forward?  Or is the title one misstep after another?  We'd love to hear what you thought!

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Anonymous said...

As a first issue I enjoyed it, read it 3 times, can't remember the last time I did that, but that could be due to Jim Lee, the guy is amazing, such talent. I'll be picking up issue 2 for sure.

Klep said...

I was seriously unimpressed by this comic. The art was pretty, sure, but the "story" - such as it was - was basically a contest of "Whose is bigger?" between Hal and Bruce. You know what? I don't care. I get that this is Hal being Hal, but if I'm a first-time comics reader and I don't know these characters, I read this issue and I think "Wow, superheroes are assholes."

I don't think there's anything in Justice League #1 to make a potential new customer come back. Sure I'll stick around with Justice League for probably the first arc, but that's a product of both my knowing enough genre tropes to get what's going on and my own psychological tic of being compelled to complete the story. It certainly isn't because I'm inspired by the new DCU as seen through this comic. A new comics reader is not likely to have either of those qualities.

Bottom line: if this issue is what DC is touting as their best foot forward, it's hard to have hope for the reboot's success.

Jon said...

I thought it was interesting, at least visually. The story just seems like same old stuff (or I guess same new), which is not necessarilly a bad thing, just wasn't particularly interesting to me. I thought it was a very mediocre comic at best that wrapped in a pretty bow. If this was issue 26 I would forget this issue entirely. I guess numbering IS important after all?

My main gripe is with the dialogue. While being witty seems really important these days, I don't need every superhero to be Scott Pilgrim or Spider-Man. If this leads to something, I`ll eat one of my many hats. If it`s just to be cool and "hip", then count me out.

I'll go back to my porch now.

El extranjero said...

I'd like you guys compare this one with Morrison's JLA #1.
So 1 vote for buy it, 1 for skip it and 1 for check it?. Does that mean 2Vs 1 hehe.
Thanks for the reviews!

Ryan said...

Justice League #1 is the first DC comic I've picked up since Justice League America #1 (2006).
I picked up this latest reincarnation of the classic team just to see what was going on in the DCnU.
Before I say too much let me say I thoroughly enjoy the classic Justice League of America and have for years. Some of my favourite issues are right around 219-220.
This latest edition is interesting to say the least. Visually, the comic caught the eye. I liked the nice blur of blue and red towards the end. The writing of Batman and GL and others made the reader aware that there is a new status quo in the DCnU. It was accomplished with a few overt references and some other subtle hints.
If this were your first comic book, "ever", I'd say you'd probably be hooked. Although, I haven't read much DC in the last few years this relaunch reminds me of some post Crisis and Zero Hour events and even dare I say some qualities of the DC/Marvel Amalgam days (for better or worse).
Regardless, I believe Johns and Lee succeed in creating a new status quo. There are many things I would have liked, like 48 pages, however for what Justice League #1 is it does the trick.
Will I be back for #2? I'll have to say no. It wasn't the writing or the art. For me it just didn't captivate me and if it didn't "Wow" me I can't justify another $3.00.

Again, regardless of what I do or think I hope DC succeeds and is at least semi consistent with this "New Universe".

Klep said...

@Ryan - I'm curious. If this book didn't appeal to you enough as an established comics reader to get you to continue following it, why do you think it would "hook" someone who has never read a comic before? If you can't justify the expense, how should other people?

Jean Claude said...

It wasn't bad, per se.
Pretty art, decent allbeit slow story.

Am I the only one who found the redesigns of the costumes distracting?
All the padded armor and panel lines screamed: New, realistic, and had a little 90's vibe.

Still can't stand Hal Jordan, this new incarnation is like seeing a cocky Kyle Rayner. A rookie handed great powers who won't use his head. At least Kyle when he joined the Justice League had doubts. This Hal is about as insufferable as he was before. So, a Justice League comics with him taking about a third of the spotlight doesn't sit right with me.

I agree that seeing a Batman smiling so casually is a nice change of pace.

Ryan said...

@Klep-Good thought. I guess what I was originally thinking was that if this was your first book you were reading, no history with comics mind you, you'd probably be hooked. For me, my dollars are stretched too with other titles. So to add another title and begin to invest in a reboot/relaunch of something I've invested in the somewhat distant past doesn't make sense. Again, it wasn't a bad book but didn't grab me enough. Just saying.

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