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!