Friday, September 9

Justice League #1 (Oct 2011)

And now for the debut of the “DCnU” –

“Part One”

This story takes place five years ago – in “a time when the world didn't call them its greatest super-heroes … when the world didn't know what a super-hero was.” The GCPD is in aerial pursuit of Batman, who himself is chasing what turns out to be an Apokalyptian Parademon through the night from rooftop to rooftop – until the chase is interrupted by the brilliant emerald glow of Green Lantern. Lantern is incredulous – “Batman? You're REAL?” “And you're too damn bright,” Batman growls back. The GCPD copters go in guns blazing. “Welcome to Gotham, Green Lantern.” So goes the first (so far) known introduction of two members of what will become the Justice League. They seem like oil and water – both seem inexperienced, although Lantern seems (pardon the pun) greener – brash, cocky, too trusting in the omnipotence of his ring. His incredulity escalates when he finds out that Batman has no powers whatsoever – “Your not just some guy in a bat costume, are you? Are you freaking kidding me?!” Whereupon Batman picks his ring right off his finger – his smirk matched only by Lantern's sputtering protest, “How the hell'd you get it off?” “I'm guessing it works off concentration. You – weren't concentrating.” Lantern wills it back onto his finger, “You won't do that again.” “Not unless I want to.” This hilarious interplay takes place as they catch up to the Parademon together – of course it's only now that that speculation is confirmed as it has set a Mother Box into place (“ping”), shouting “FOR DARKSEID!” as it explodes. The Parademon, not the Mother Box – which Batman and Green Lantern investigate. That it is alien technology leads them to think of “that guy in Metropolis” – “Superman” – whom Batman confirms to be an alien. “And he's dangerous.”

In an interlude, Ford High School Titans football player Vic Stone amazes the crowd in a stunning touchdown – a crowd that includes a silent Mysterious Hooded Woman. But his victory is hollow because his father – a scientist who studies the new phenomenon of superhumans – has no time for him. The Green Lantern-construct jet zooms over the field on its way to Metropolis.

Batman and Green Lantern's bickering continues: “You flew us to Metropolis in a glowing green jet?” – “You can't fly, so how else were we going to get here? Talk in a deep voice?” GL's ring has led them to Superman's location – the site of a recent battle. He proposes to go corral Superman for questioning, leaving Batman safe and protected outside in a box. “I can handle this.” If by handling he means being knocked back on his ass for a city block or more by a red and blue blur, then yeah, I guess he does.... Which leaves Batman facing Superman, who proclaims, “I don't handle easy. So … What can you do?” “Next: Batman vs. Superman.”

This issue both succeeds and fails. Amazing art – especially the last page where we see the full glory of the new Superman “Kryptonian armor” look. 
Which just may grow on me. I'm not sold so far, but here it looks good. I do have my doubts as to whether Jim Lee can keep up a steady monthly output, though, especially given his other duties as one of DC's vice presidents. They supposedly are serious about shipping on-time, and apparently some creative teams for “New 52” titles have already been shuffled to keep their promise; it remains to be seen if the bosses will hold themselves to that same standard, however. It will not portend good things if they don't. It's a good story in and of itself … sort of. As an chapter in a larger story, fine. There is plenty of good dialogue and the idea that these are younger, more inexperienced heroes is conveyed very well. There's plenty of humor, a good bit of it surrounding what looks to become a running “joke” regarding Batman's lack of any superhuman abilities beyond what he has made of himself. It's almost painful how overconfident Green Lantern is this early in his career, made worse by Batman's palpable lack of patience with what he considers foolishness. But as a quick grab into the “New 52,” I'm not sure it succeeds. Maybe it's just the hype and expectations for this inaugural issue, but I don't think there's anything here that necessarily sets this issue apart from anything that's gone before for the hypothetical “new reader.” (I know that almost looks contradictory, but I think you know what I mean.) Sure there's the fact that it's a new #1, and there's all the hoopla that's surrounded the Relaunch, but thumbing through it I can imagine them going “Okay, okay, okay – hey! This isn't even a full story? For four freaking dollars? And where's Flash? – Aquaman? – Wonder Woman? – and Cyborg? – is he that football kid?” I see what Johns is doing, going for a multi-issue slowly building first meeting, which for somebody like me will end up being fine, but I thought they had recognized that the “writing for trade” practice has its drawbacks for somebody else – that hypothetical “new reader” who might pick up one issue and never come back, not wanting an open-ended commitment. Isn't that who they are trying to entice into comic readership? They should do it by providing a good complete story in each and every issue, with enough intrigue to make them want to come back. I don't think they've resolved the inherent tension between long-form episodic story-telling and the necessity of every issue standing on its own. This issue does not stand on its own. It's not that it ends on a cliffhanger. It's that I can't tell you what the plot is for this issue other than “Batman meets Green Lantern for the first time and they are led to Superman.”  It's a teaser, that little pre-credits sequence on a lot of television shows to try to hook you for the next hour.  But $3.99 is an expensive teaser.

For the higher price everybody gets 23 pages of story. There are also four pages of “Sketchbook,” which are interesting in a way, if only as to how badly they could have gone wrong with some costumes. Crustacean Aquaman? Huh-uh.

For this first issue only, just for the heck of it, I sprung the extra buck for the “Combo-Pack” – which means that on the inside back cover I got a 600-digit code (not really – it only seemed that long when I was inputting it) for the digital version of this issue via the DC Comics iPod/iPad App. It's interesting having the portability (and there's a continuation to this story I'll get to later), and the art really pops on the iPad screen, but I'm not going to make a practice of duplicating my purchases in such manner (… although, as I said, there's a continuation to this story … it's called Action Comics #1). I am considering doing some of the new series as digital purchases, however, waiting a month after the day-and-date release to take advantage of the drop in price by a dollar. $1.99 is still a bit high, though, for something that I only “virtually” possess.

Overall, my reaction is that this issue was enjoyable, but I'm not sure it's going to accomplish what DC is hoping it will accomplish – bringing in a bunch of new readers who will stick with the “DcnU.” I do hope I'm wrong. Time (and for me, the monthly sales summary episodes on the Comics Page Podcast) will tell (although, come to think of it, they'll only be tracking the floppies sold through Diamond Distributors. The big question is what impact digital sales will have in the long run).


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