Review: Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Well, I think Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer's Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga is something to be proud of. As with Meltzer's The Tornado's Path, the book blends a modern Justice League/Justice Society adventure with stories -- even panels -- from DC's Gold and Silver Ages. We've talked here before about how DC Comics in the post-Infinite Crisis era have a loosely-defined Johnsian aspect to them; the revitalizing of DC's history that Johns and Meltzer do here -- again, even down to the panels -- is one of the truest representations of this.

There's some punching and kicking to be found in The Lightning Saga, but largely this is a book far more concerned with the interactions between the characters than in fighting any specific villain. The Justice League and Justice Society split into teams early in the story, and these teams are anything-but random: the young Cyclone, for instance, meets her namesake Red Tornado, while Damage gets a tutoring offer from Black Lightning. And having Power Girl paired with Batman in the crowd scene, comparing rare books, was truly inspired.

Most interesting by far, however, is the awkward road trip to Thanagar taken by Power Girl, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Red Arrow. Meltzer talked in the Tornado's Path commentary pages about how he sees the Hawks and the Arrows as the Montegues and the Capulets; Red Arrow and Hawkman don't come to blows here -- in fact, they barely speak -- but the tension is wildly entertaining. It doesn't help Arrow and Hawkgirl's budding romance when Power Girl and Black Canary butt in -- but for the reader, I can't get enough of the dynamic that Melzter's built up.

The Lightning Saga serves as a somewhat indirect introduction to Superman's new history post-Infinite Crisis. We quickly learn that the Legion of Super-Heroes befriended Superman as a boy and shared adventures with him, though he hasn't seen them since Crisis on Infinite Earths. This negates the Legion's appearance in Final Night and any of a number of other crossovers up until this point, tying the modern era quite tightly to the original Crisis.

The effect is to leave a large chunk of DC Comics history unexplored -- history that, among other things, allows for Wonder Woman's return as a charter member of the League. These moves threaten to send the continuity wonk in me to the asylum, but I do appreciate how the writers tie this story to the original "Lightning Saga" in Adventure Comics #312, rather than just re-inventing the Justice League, Superman, and the Legion from scratch.

Of course, Lightning Saga is not at all a book for the DC Comics neophyte. Between the Legionnaires time-travelling double-speak; references to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, and the forthcoming Final Crisis; and the tie-ins to the Flash legacy, I would expect most casual readers to get very lost very quickly. There's probably something to be said for making a DC Comics flagship book like Justice League of America reader-friendly; at the same time, given the history that Johns and Meltzer are celebrating, I don't mind Justice League feeling like a cornerstone and letting the characters' individual titles be the more reader-friendly ones. These are arguable points; if nothing else, The Lightning Saga could certainly have used annotations.

The book ends with two one-off tales, "Walls" and "Monitor Duty," which focus strongly on the second- and third-tier members of the Justice League. I liked both of these stories, even as they were a little tough to figure out (Red Arrow is defying gravity how? J'onn and Arthur can see in the Watchtower through what?). Rather than tie up loose ends in his final issues, Meltzer actually raises more questions, and one does have to worry whether lesser writers will be able to give as much class and subtly to the plots of Red Arrow, Hawkgirl, Red Tornado, Vixen, Black Lightning, and the others as Melzter has. I've heard good things about Dwayne McDuffie's Justice League run to follow, but I do worry about these characters becoming caricatures in crossover issues or the like. We'll see.

[Contains full covers, brief biography page]

One Flash returns in The Lightning Saga, so that means another Flash must ... well, join us next time for Flash: The Fastest Man Alive: Full Throttle!
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7 comments:

  1. Thanks for this great review. I just finished reading this book myself and really enjoyed it. The artwork was great. Really nice to see both the JLA and JSA looking so good. I'm also loving all the big name heroes now being members of these groups. I did find some of the continuity issues to be confusing. I've been reading DC comics since I was a kid, but most of my collecting was post crisis, so this is the history I grew up with. It seems that by making Wonder Woman a league founder, it's ignoring all of her early post crisis history written by George Perez. Superman's knowing the Legion also seems to ignoring his early post crisis history written by John Byrne. DC should realize that these are the origins that many younger fans have now grown up with and it could be confusing to suddenly just go back to pre crisis history that most of us don't even remember.

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  2. Personally, I was disappointed with The Lightning Saga. I don't mind stories with slow builds, but this felt less like a slow burn and more like a leisurely tour. Yeah, it was nice to get a certain Flash back at the end, but it felt like that was the only chapter in which anything really happened.

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  3. What I found interesting is how each author portrays the teams. Johns puts them on a pretty even track, while Meltzer makes the JSA a little inferior to the JLA. The two-page spread when they first fully come together, for instance, has Stargirl worshipping Wonder Woman as if they've never met. This makes no sense--they went on an adventure together in JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice and clearly bonded a little. It was kind of weird seeing that interaction.

    And I really hope they pick up on the Hawkman/Power Girl thing, because Johns certainly hasn't brought it up in JSA. Was that in the Hawkgirl title?

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  4. Yeah, I didn't mind DC doing some retcons in the aftermath of Infinite Crisis -- i.e. Wonder Woman re-founding the Justice League -- but it seems to me enough time has passed that it's time for a new History of the DC Universe. Brad's got a point that even as DC's revitalizing some of their sixty-year history, they do stand to alienate readers who've only been with them for twenty years.

    Doug, good point on Meltzer's spotty JLA/JSA memory (not to mention, Geoff Johns wrote the scene you mention).

    They haven't picked up on the Hawkman/Power Girl thing? For shame -- I was hoping they'd pick up on that.

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  6. I bought this Tue and finished it last night and really enjoyed it. Great review.

    I also enjoyed the hawk/arrow tension as well as the aquaman/martian manhunter camaraderie, even though it was understated. (and I just assumed they were using some sort of telepathy to look in on the others, though they could have explained it.)

    I have not been reading Trinity (as a wait-for-trader) but I hope it is as good at showing the dynamics of the big three as well as the end of this book did.

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  7. I've liked what Kurt Busiek's done on Superman, and that's made me excited to finally read Trinity, though I've been surprised at the poor reviews it's getting. I tend to wonder if anything, ultimately, can recapture 52's lightning-in-a-bottle.

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