Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin by Geoff Johns
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Amazon had the Kindle edition of this graphic novel on sale recently. With all the talk of a Justice League movie, and whether it can ever get off the ground, my curiosity in these characters was piqued.
This volume was released in August of 2011 as the leading edge of a reboot of the entire DC comics line called “the New 52.” This is the origin story for the Justice League as a team, though all but one of the individual characters–Cyborg–is an existing hero at the time the story begins. The other characters, i.e. Batman, Green Lantern, Superman, Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are familiar to the world but are not well liked. (and are introduced into the story arc in that order.)The volume consists of Issues #1 – 6 of the Justice League [New 52] reboot.
In the beginning, there’s only one dyad among this group who knows each other personally, the Green Lantern and the Flash–we don’t really know how they know each other. Most of the other characters are aware of each other’s existence (or myth), but have never met. Of course, Cyborg doesn’t exist at the beginning of the story, and his individual origin story is woven in throughout the book as a subplot so that he can be introduced into the arc at the climax. The characters are assumed to each operate in his (or her) own domains, i.e. Gotham City, Metropolis, Coast City, Central City, etc.
As the story opens, Batman is chasing down a stocky, non-human creature on the roof tops of Gotham in order to try to figure out what the nefarious character is up to. Green Lantern is inexplicably introduced into the middle of this chase scene. Batman and Green Lantern viscerally despise each other from the get go. This isn’t surprising as Green Lantern is an arrogant ass throughout the entire story. Perhaps the highlight of the book (which is sad as it happens so early) is when Lantern is busy mocking Batman, and the Dark Knight steals his ring–the source of his power–right off his finger.
The Green Lantern and Batman witness the inhuman creature planting a piece of alien-looking technology (later revealed to be a “mother box”), and Green Lantern’s ring confirms it to be otherworldly. The pair decide to pay a visit to the Earth’s resident alien, a.k.a. Superman. Green Lantern immediately runs afoul of Superman, arrogantly thinking he can subdue the Man of Steel, and has to call his old friend the Flash. The quartet finally stop fighting and begrudgingly agree to put their heads together.
After seeing a piece of the Cyborg origin story, we are introduced to Wonder Woman. She is probably the character that we get the greatest sense of. (Besides Lantern, who is unlikable throughout.] The Amazonian seems more alien than Superman. She’s never had ice cream but loves it, but not quite as much as a good fight. She’s not emotional about fighting, neither fearful nor angry, but is at her most happy when fighting. She’s the character most out of touch with the world she is occupies. She joins up with the four in the chase for the winged, alien monsters, forming a quintet and instilling some gender equity.
The Cyborg origin story comes to a head when Silas Stone, a brilliant defense industry scientist, turns his dying son, Victor, into the Cyborg, thinking it the only way to save the young man after he suffered severe burns from a mother box explosion. The former star football player is now a kind of Frankenstein’s monster, part himself and part autonomous machine. There’s a cacophony in his head as he can now pick up various radio signals.
It’s shortly thereafter that Aquaman is introduced. Considerable artistic effort was put into manning up Aguaman, who always seemed the weak link in this team. The group happens to be standing around near the water when Aquaman and his fish minions chase some of the evil army to the surface
The enemy is Darkseid, a juggernaut warlord from another world (or a parallel universe), whose army of evil minions have been the ones that the newly formed League have been fighting both individually and as a group. When Cyborg goes running away from his father–and his creator as a machine-man, he runs into the six superheroes, and the team of seven is fully assembled. Darkseid’s power is so great that he relatively easily captures and subdues Superman.
Batman goes to rescue Superman as the rest of the team regroups. The Dark Knight’s tactic is letting one of the evil, winged, juggernaut minions capture him–as they have been capturing others.
I won’t spoil the ending, but will say that it was pretty weak, and a large part of the reason I gave this work such a low rating.
A two star rating may seem a little harsh. The dialogue in this work is better than most comic books. There’s relatively less “As you know, Bob,…” style exposition. There is some, as when Green Lantern feels the need to explain to Batman about how there are other Green Lanterns and this is his space sector. However, there are also clever uses of action to present background, as when Lantern begins to admit that he’s a show-off and it turns out he’s brushing up against Wonder Woman’s truth lasso. (This is a much better way to do it than Wonder Woman saying, “And now my lasso is around you and you’ll have to tell the truth, for whosoever the lasso touches cannot bear false witness.” Which would be the typical comic book way of revealing the lasso’s power.)
There are two problems with this work that are too serious to overlook. First is the deus ex machina ending. The authors make a bold choice as to who will save the day, perhaps to create surprise and perhaps to highlight the character. But the whole resolution strains credulity. Second, there is no good explanation for why these characters keep piling into each other (except for the Xenophobic thought processes of Batman and the Green Lantern that Superman must know about anything alien.) These evil minions are supposedly everywhere, and yet the individual superheroes keep running into each other–and continuing to stay together despite the fact that most of them clearly don’t like the others. I think the author takes this “we hate each other, but are begrudgingly working together” trope a little too far. It feels as if this Wizard of Oz cast hadn’t come together by commonly following the yellow brick road, but rather that seven separate and randomly moving tornadoes picked up one each and just happened to stack them in a neat pile.
Besides Green Lantern being arrogant and unlikable and Wonder Woman being endearingly alien, we get very little sense of individual characters. Batman and the Flash are the voices of reason of two differing type, but Superman and Aquaman are just muscle.
I have a black and white Kindle, but the art looked good to me–but that’s not my forte. I applaud the artists for getting rid of Superman’s red tighty-whities and making Aquaman look more manly. At the end there’s some alternative artwork and info on costume development for those who geek out on such things.
If there’s any hope for a Justice League movie, it’s not to be found in this story line. If you’re a DC fan, you’ve already read this–like it or not. If you’re wondering whether to become a DC fan, I wouldn’t start here.
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