A first impression is a fine art. It’s the difference between a lifelong marriage and having a drink thrown in your face at a singles mixer. Justice League #1 is being published ahead of the new 52, serving as the obvious vanguard of the reboot. And it’s…underwhelming. It doesn’t get red wine tossed in its face, but there won’t be a phone call after dinner either.
I suppose a part of me would have preferred a disaster. Articles about train wrecks tend to write themselves. DC has put several hundred eggs in this basket, after all. If there was absolutely nothing of value here, I could have a comedic field day. However, today’s subject has just enough going for it that I have to keep at least the illusion of professionalism.
The punchline of Justice League #1 is that it’s nothing new.
Our story opens with Batman being chased by police helicopters. Batman, in turn, is chasing what can be best described as a robotic lizard-man in a hoodie. In a perfect world the creature would be chasing the police creating an amusing Ourobrous of pursuit, but Johns is being a bit more serious here. In fact, the chase has hints of the pseudo-realistic tone Marvel tends to prefer in contrast of DCs usual fantastic tone. In any case, Martial arts work about as well on the android as one could expect, until Green Lantern tags it with a fire truck.
Cue buddy cop squabbling. It’s the same conflict between the paranoid cynic Batman and lite-brite paladin Green Lantern that Johns played around with in the early stage of his “make Hal Jordan suck less” movement. This would be fine, if it weren’t saddled with the double duty of holding up buckets of exposition and reminding the reader that these two have absolutely-positively never seen each other before. A line stands out in the exchange: “Batman? You’re real?” The line is delivered by a slack-jawed Green Lantern shortly after knocking aforementioned creature off the roof. The whole exchange is symptomatic of the difficult balancing act the entire book will have to face, if not the reboot at large. Editorial is clearly very attached to the idea of creating a young universe with old materials. I understand the impulse. The popularity and critical success of the Year One books show that watching a character establish his footing and carve his niche is a great setup. But it all seems short-sighted. Having dozens of connected superhero titles will put you in the same place in six months. Moreover, if this issue is any hint, the effort will feel more than a little manufactured.
The Jordan-Wayne buddy cop story gives way to a short look at Cyborg, who’ll be providing our minority representation. At least for one of the myriad non-white races populating the planet. I’d say we should give them points for trying, but I’ve never been a believer in “A for effort”. His subplot lays the groundwork for the character’s inevitable transition from hitting people wearing football helmets to hitting people wearing mind control helmets efficiently enough, but doesn’t manage to be very entertaining while doing so.
At the tail end of the issue, Superman makes his entry in a relatively funny scene that serves as the highlight of the issue. Better yet, the armored redesign of his costume looks a lot better in practice then it did in the scattered glimpses readers got through previews and covers. A generation of comedians may lose traditional “underwear on the outside” jokes, but that’s the price we pay for progress.
Jim Lee’s art is technically impressive, but it isn’t used to portray anything too interesting. One can hire the lovechild of Da Vinci and Raphael to handle the pencil, but it won’t help if the work is boring. That aside, there’s certainly more than one potential desktop background in these pages. Particularly Superman’s cocky “I have all the power in the goddamn world” grin on the last page.
If we take Justice League #1 as an omen, the worst fears of fans have been averted. The New 52 won’t be a mockery of everything that came before it. It’ll just keep recycling the same fodder. After all the speculation and hype, we have a result that could be more depressing: stasis.