There's a lot riding on Justice League #1. The first full length offering from the new DC Universe will be judged by every blogger, journalist and comics fan - old and new - as the beachhead for this bold new venture.
Over the coming weeks the current Proud Lion blog team will review all 52 of the new DC comics and I kick things off today with my verdict on Justice League.
I was expecting big things from Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. These two titans of DC have served up classic tales from Hush to Green Lantern Rebirth and many more.
But I also remember that despite Johns' amazing work in recent years, he also penned the frankly appalling Infinite Crisis - a convoluted and insipid mess which include Superboy-Prime punching the walls of reality and changing select parts of the timeline. And his partner-in-crime Jim Lee was partly responsible for the trainwreck that was All Star Marv-in-a-cape-and-cowl & Robin. Sorry, I meant Batman, obviously.
So let's not put these two creators on a pedestal and worship them as demigods just yet. They're great, but even the Olympians had their off-days.
I'll nail my colours to the flag pole right now. Justice League #1 is good, but it's not great.
A lot of reviews seem to have neglected to take on board the fact that this opening story arc is set five years ago. This is a cool idea. The team haven't come together yet and superheroes are new to the public eye. They are feared and reviled by the media and hunted by the military - which sounds a lot like the story arc from the final season of Smallville. Suddenly that rings alarm bells. Don't get me wrong, Smallville got lots better during its last few years as it embraced its comic book origins, but it was still melodramatic nonsense. Borrowing from Smallville to reinvigorate the comics is a bad idea.
That said, the current zeitgeist of terrorism, heightened security, economic depression and civil unrest needs to be reflected in the modern comics. I think most of us accept that comic superheroes are the equivalent of the Greek mythology for the modern age; they need to feel like they exist in our world, not a shiny heroic age of white hats and villains. The idea that the authorities would hound superheroes is completely understandable - though the idea of three black ops military helicopters shooting up Gotham just to bring down Batman does slightly stretch any credibility.
Ultimately though, I like Justice League #1. I just don't love it and I really wanted to. Johns is smart enough to introduce the cast gradually rather than throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. This creates an organic flow of action thus far. Batman and Green Lantern have their first meeting in Gotham as they chase down an alien creature that clearly serves a Dark master. There is a lovely bit of business where Batman removes Hal's power ring when he isn't concentrating and a great moment where Green Lantern realises Bruce has no powers to speak of.
Jim Lee's artwork here is great as well - Hal's constructs are superbly detailed and imaginative. The only artwork criticism I have is of the four pages of Victor Stone - the young man destined to be Cyborg - playing American football. As a narrative aside it works, but inker Scott Williams' attempts to make it look like dusk come across as pale and washed out, rather than twilight. Bit of a shame really.
I also have to say though, there is one very odd bit of characterisation with the way Johns depicts Hal in this - he often refers to himself in third person. "Green Lantern's got this." and "Note to self, Batman: Green Lantern can handle anything." I think it's supposed to make him sound arrogant and cocksure. Instead it just makes him sound a bit dense. It's odd considering Johns as spent years writing Hal Jordan - you'd think he'd have the character's voice down by now.
Moving on, our two heroes fly from Gotham to Metropolis in a power ring constructed plane, buzzing over the action with Stone and maintaining the flow. Starting their search for the alien Superman at a LexCorp building site they quickly encounter a red-blue blur (another Smallville touch? Ugh, I hope not!) and a certain Kryptonian hero enters the fray. His debut line leaves A LOT to be desired - really Geoff, is that the best you can do? Still the following full page reveal of Supes is classic Jim Lee and overall the issue left me looking forward to issue #2.
One additional niggle. Bob Wayne told us that DC would continue to hold the line at $2.99, other than four $3.99 titles including Justice League. These four more expensive titles would have extra pages, totaling 40 pages rather than the usual 32. Sadly in Justice League #1, four of these pages are given over to a sketchbook. It's a bit of a cheat really.
I remain massively excited for Action Comics, the Green Lantern titles, Stormwatch and several others but Justice League is simply quite good rather than mindblowing and as the flagship title, this is unsettling.
Minf you, I am reminded of a time over a decade ago when I first read Ultimate Spider-Man #1. I found it to be slow-paced and a bit boring - simply retreading the old Spidey origin.
Then some time later I read the first graphic novel collection and I was hooked.
I'm hoping by issue #6 of Justice League, I feel the same way about this re-imagined team of heroes.
Ben Fardon is gearing up for the midnight opening next week!