There’s art and there’s commerce. Sometimes the two meet. Sometimes commerce brutalizes art and you end up with the reboot of the entire DC Universe, which begins today in the pages of Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1. For those not following along, the DC Universe as we have known it for the last thirty years (ie, since the last time they fully rebooted it) is no more, replaced by a different status quo featuring ‘hipper’ versions of the classic characters, mostly with collars on their costumes.
The new DC Universe will begin in earnest next week, but the very first comic to debut is Justice League #1. Just in case the idea of rebooting and starting from scratch is too clean and easy for you, the rest of the DC #1 issues (52 this month! Nothing says artistic decisions like saturating the market) take place 5 years after the first appearance of superheroes. For whatever reason Justice League #1 and Action Comics #1 take place at the first appearance of superheroes, so five years before the events of every other comic in the line.
Anyway, on to Justice League #1: this comic reads like a free handout designed to entice you to buy the entire comic book when it is released. It’s the intro to not exactly the Justice League but the very concept that this story takes place at a time when the heroes involved are still very new to the game. There is no Justice League in this comic book; Batman and Green Lantern pal around for the majority of the book, Vic Stone - pre-Cyborg - plays football and has daddy issues for a couple of pages, and then Superman appears right at the end. There is no team and the Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman don’t show up.
It’s the first issue of a new universe in the age of stories written for the trade paperback; while the eventual full storyline may read well and be great, this first issue is essentially worthless on its own. It’s doubly worthless when you take into account the commerce-driven aspect of it, with DC sponsoring midnight sales and ads being targeted to non-comic readers. I can’t imagine a non-comic reader who drops three or four bucks on this issue would be all that enticed into coming back for more. After all, even the non-comic reader knows what’s going to happen and the first issue doesn’t set up much of a threat. At the end of the comic I didn’t feel myself asking ‘What’s next?’ I felt myself asking ‘That’s it?’
Jim Lee’s art is Jim Lee’s art; I’m not particularly a fan of his style, and some panels and designs feel like parodies of Jim Lee himself. The writing is strong from panel to panel, although there’s one exchange between Batman and Green Lantern that almost feels like uber-Hal Jordan fan Geoff Johns turning his back on the character he’s been writing for years in order to continue shoring up the myth of the ultra-competent Bats. Spoilers at the footnote*.
It’s in the macro sense that I have a problem with the writing. This number one issue needs to, if not stand alone, feel like more than the first ten minutes of a movie. This isn’t even act one of the movie, it’s just the stuff that goes on right after the credits. Again, this is about art and commerce, and if you’re selling me an expensive comic book that you say is launching your brand new universe, you need to really claim some major ground right up front. This comic needed to include every member of the team, it needed to end with a defined threat that would bring me, the reader, through the rest of the storyline.
Comic books really need to look at how TV shows handle themselves; the best TV shows have long arcs, but each individual episode has something going on all by itself. This is how comic book issues should be written. Write to the limitations of the medium, not against them - if you have 24 pages to tell a story, figure out how to tell a story in those 24 pages. Justice League #1 is an introduction to a larger story, but what’s worse is that it’s an introduction that takes about seven minutes to read.
Setting aside the fact that I think the DC reboot is horse shit, Justice League #1 isn’t a bad comic book. The friction between Batman and Green Lantern is engaging, but this isn’t a story. It isn’t even the first chapter of a story. It’s the first arbitrary 24 pages of a much longer story that feels like it was written to be read in one big chunk. So then sell us that one big chunk, don’t nickel and dime us like this.
Honestly, this shouldn’t have been Justice League #1. This should have been the first issue of some tie-in miniseries, a weekly comic called DC Universe: Year One. That would have been good commerce, when you think about it. What’s not good commerce is introing your rebooted superhero universe with such a small bang. The first issue of Justice League in the new DC Universe needed to be bigger than this.
* At one point Batman actually snatches the ring off Green Lantern’s finger. It seems like the Guardians should have built in a mechanism against this; I know all continuity is essentially out the window now but I remember this being addressed in the past. Basically Batman full on chumps Hal Jordan.