It's late in the year, but we just might have another contender for my favorite trade of 2005. Justice League Elite is absolutely brilliant stuff from Joe Kelly, following on some of the themes from his run on JLA, but without the constraints of the flagship title. Time and again, super-teams have purported themselves as pro-active, from the somewhat ineffective Extreme Justice through to the DCU-condoned Outsiders, but here, I think, Kelly examines the true implications of the concept.
The JLE -- and I love that "JLE" is kept, even as this team couldn't be more dissimilar from the Justice League Europe -- is the shadow ops branch of the Justice League, so rogue and undercover that even the JLA doesn't always know what they're doing. Kelly's smooth, too-hip-for-itself dialogue fits perfectly here, and Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen's thin, shadowy figures match the book's necessary tone.
There's no existential whining among the main characters as to whether or not they're team players or from whom should they take orders -- the title's first four issues, collected in Volume One, contain all the action and intrigue of a finely planned undercover mission. This is the team that does the Justice League caliber jobs that the Justice League can't dirty themselves to do, and the mixing of politics and superheroing here offers a true thinking person's comic.
And though things inevitably go sour (too soon, I thought, but then again, it's only twelve issues), even that affords a chance to glimpse the personal lives of each of the characters, personal lives that set up even more interesting challenges in Volume Two. Manitou Raven's been ignoring his wife since they transported to the future, and now she's taken up with Green Arrow -- hopefully Ollie will have the sense to turn her down, but it's completely within character for Ollie to have taken it this far. And will we ultimately learn where Dawn came from, since she only appeared next to Manitou at the end of the Obsidian Age? Meanwhile, Coldcast's personal life seems ready to become Elite business, and Vera Black, if I read it correctly, just fooled Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth and lied about there being a killer on the team. Great stuff, and it left me wanting more.
The Elite, as first introduced in Action Comics #775, were intended simply as parodies of the Authority. As Joe Kelly suggests in his introduction to this volume, there grew a certain disconnect between the one-shot villains he created them to be, and the financial potential DC executives saw for the Elite -- missing, perhaps, the parody in their midsts. But by Kelly killing off Manchester Black in Superman: Ending Battle and redeeming the rest of the Elite in the Superman/Zod tale "Endgame," and reviving the Elite for JLE, a curious thing happened -- the Justice League Elite has not only taken the place that the Authority might have held in the DC Universe; they've also become just as fascinating.
I can't wait for the next volume of Justice League Elite, and while I think that overexposure would be the death knell for this title, I'd gladly welcome another twelve issues from DC. Justice League Elite is heady, complicated stuff -- and I couldn't be happier to have it on my shelves.
More JLA now -- JLA: Syndicate Rules -- and then the end of Batman: War Games, and on to Identity Crisis.