Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spotlight: Justice League of America #1

(w) Geoff Johns     (a) David Finch

A lot of fans were upset with Geoff Johns' first issue of Justice League back in September 2011, with the main point of contention being that only a fraction of the League actually makes an appearance. It was Johns' attempt to decompress the origin story of the League, and it met with varied reactions. It seems like DC's Chief Creative Officer took a few pointers from that experience with Justice League #1 to help craft his approach to Justice League of America #1, a debut issue that hits all the right narrative beats, looks absolutely phenomenal, and feels like a natural next step for the 'New 52' universe after a year and a half of world building. Unlike nearly every other title from DC currently the characters, setting, and tone of this series all result from what we've been reading over the past 18 months instead of being blindly introduced to revamped or new characters. Here, with Justice League of America #1, the reader readily understands why this team is being formed beyond the context given in the issue -- we've seen the hints being dropped, the growing animosity within the superhero community, the world-shaking events that eventually had to lead somewhere.

My biggest surprise with Justice League of America #1 was honestly the art. My personal opinion on David Finch's art is like roller coaster, and I've not been happy with his work on Batman: The Dark Knight. But for some reason, Finch's pencils for JLA #1 are simply stunning as the artist finds an incredible balance between his desire to express realism and going all-out for a fun pulp look. Seriously, never have I been more satisfied with David Finch's artwork than in these pages.

This JLA is a totally different beast than it's pre-'New 52' iteration. In the past, the term 'Justice League of America' was more or less the de-facto name for the team that now -- in the 'New 52' -- simply goes by Justice League. The nature of DC's line-wide relaunch meant giving old ideas new life under a new framework. A.R.G.U.S. -- the superhero relations branch of the US government -- has a rather tenuous relationship with the League proper, so Amanda Waller decides to put together her own team of super powered individuals dedicated to protecting and serving the United States of America. While it's not dissimilar from Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. assembling a group of extraordinary persons, that's about the extent of the similarities. The JLA is a government-sanctioned team, but knowing Geoff Johns, that's going to complicate things more than make them smoother.

Justice League of America #1 plays out like a 'zero issue' without the pretensions of being a 'zero issue'. We get introductions to the major players (sans Simon Baz, for some reason) and well paced exposition that doesn't feel overbearing. Steve Trevor makes his first major appearance in a while, and it's mostly to be a surly curmudgeon. Nothing Waller says makes him happy, and everything seems like the worst idea in the world. I get that Trevor is still a bit jaded by how his relationship with the Justice League ended, but Johns is writing him like a jerk who's looking for something to complain about. Trevor's weird pessimistic comments aside, the various sequences focusing on recruits for the JLA are surprisingly fun and don't feel like rehashes -- we know all these characters already (except for Vibe, who I'll get to in a moment), so it's impressive to see Johns bring something new to the table for each one of them.

The US government is finally waking up to the reality that super powered people are now the norm and they're doing something about it -- if you can't beat them, join them. Team 7 (it seems) and the Justice League International were both failed attempts at taking a sanctioned stance against super-crime, and the JLA is a kind-of spiritual successor to those two ideas. Waller's team incorporates the public transparency of the JLI while employing dubious personalities who can get the job done. By the end of the issue, Johns has a firm direction in place for the world's newest super team, and it will pit them against one of the previous JLA's oldest and most ruthless enemies. Also, there's a single panel that makes a great case for a superhero schism being the focal point of the upcoming "Trinity War".

Justice League of America #1 is a joy to read. Geoff Johns has written on damn fine story that's already got me excited for the second issue. This series is the first one to grow organically out of the 'New 52'. Talon is similar for being a byproduct of the events in Batman, but Calvin Rose is a new character that readers are still getting to know, which makes it just as much an effort to invest in as any other 'New 52' title. JLA #1 features heroes and villains that have already made a name for themselves in the DCnU and now, we get to see them work together. Basically, if you like any of these characters, you're going to like Justice League of America #1.


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