Review: Justice League: Generation Lost Vol. 1 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Each chapter of Justice League: Generation Lost opens with a stylized cover by Tony Harris or Cliff Chiang, creating a strange category of Justice League International deco art. Judd Winick's comeback story in these pages, therefore, emerges as a kind of fetishized version of Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire's Justice League; I'm not sure the good old days were ever quite as good as Generation Lost's fond remembrances make them out to be, but they sure seem good in retrospect.

Winick's Generation Lost itself is a fine book, really quite well done, though International purists might find a little to pick at. To be sure, Generation Lost is not Giffen and DeMatteis's Justice League, but rather Giffen and DeMatteis's Justice League filtered strongly by way of Winick, to good result.

[Contains spoilers]

The premise of Winick's Generation Lost is especially strong, and drives the book as a whole. The newly resurrected Maxwell Lord has erased himself from everyone's memory except a choice group of former Justice League Internationalers; those that remember Max are considered crazy. Generation Lost becomes a dizzying paranoid tale with plenty of twists and turns -- namely, whether the characters remembering Max is an accident, or part of plans within plans within plans.

The best part is, Max may not be the villain of the story. Resurrected as he was by Brightest Day's White Lantern, it may be Max's bad actions have good consequences. Winick reframes Maxwell Lord entirely in this manner; rather that the severe disconnect between the "friendly" Max of Giffen's Justice League and the Black King Max that killed Blue Beetle Ted Kord, Winick suggests that all along Max has been pursuing his "world-saving" agenda, sometimes on the side of the good but never, despite what those around him may think, entirely on the side of the bad. This adds to Generation Lost's thriller appeal, in that the reader can't complete trust nor distrust Max, and this redeems Max as a villain with some reader appeal.

With this and other tweaks, however, it's clear Winick is taking his cues from, but not necessarily being constrained by, Giffen's original source material. Most significant in this volume is how Winick drastically revises the character Ice's origin -- conflicting, even, with Justice League stories previous. Even before that revelation, however, Winick's Ice is still not Giffen's nor writer Dan Jurgens's; that Ice wouldn't have said "hell," at least, letting alone calling her friend Fire, "You're such a @#$%" (whatever that's supposed to be, given that I thought "bitch" was on DC Comics's approved bad words list).

Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes, too, is a far more reluctant hero and less admiring of Booster Gold than he has been also under Giffen and Jurgens's pens, all to fit the story Winick wants to tell (letting alone these characters have met Reyes before, even though they seem not to remember). I don't necessarily think Ice's new origin adds much to the character, but I'll reserve judgment pending a further explanation in Generation Lost volume two. I can't sweat new origins much given the DC Relaunch only a few months away, and because Generation Lost works so well despite these assorted nitpicks.

Generation Lost, volume one, collects the first twelve issues of this series, making this feel like an especially thick book as far as DC hardcovers go. Winick's story quickly distinguishes itself as more than just a Justice League-centered book like Giffen and DeMatteis's Formerly Known as the Justice League miniseries -- there are elements here of Brightest Day, Kingdom Come, and detailed Checkmate material with great art by that series's artist Joe Bennett. Add to that some unexpected jaunts to the future, and Generation Lost will remind the reader of DC's other weekly series 52 and Trinity -- real DC event comics, rather than just a Justice League reunion book.

If Generation Lost is more than Justice League, however, it's got that, too. The boisterous new Rocket Red is the ultimate International fanboy (think TV's Brave and the Bold's Aquaman with a wonderfully bad Russian accent), and he remembers the glory days of this Justice League that, among Kooey Kooey Kooey and fat jokes, maybe never quite actually existed. Kevin Maquire provides alternate covers to the book, but you have to squint to find Maguire's big-toothed faces among all the Hi-Fi gloss effects.

It's a thrill to have these characters back together, but the entire package suggests a time better, cooler, and more polished than it was, especially toward the end (they were defeated by Despero in L-Ron's body, people). To suggest that Justice League International holds up to modern standards of "cool," almost thirty years later, is to suggest leggings and shoulder pads were cool, too -- in retrospect, they were not. It is however, as they say, pretty to think so, and gives fans of International something to be proud of nowadays even if we all remembered International entirely differently during the Grant Morrison JLA era.

Justice League: Generation Lost is a pretty package, and a fine story to boot. In the first splash page depiction of the main characters, Rocket Red declares Fire, Ice, Booster, Beetle, Captain Atom and himself the new Justice League International, and there's a greater sense here than in previous International reunion books (two plus in Blue Beetle and Booster Gold) that the purpose here is team building and not just nostalgia, fancy trappings aside. It remains a thrill to have these characters back together, and even more so to have Judd Winick writing another team book after Outsiders. More's the pity that Winick won't keep with this title in the DC Relaunch, but I very much hope DC has something else from the writer on the way.

[Contains original and variant covers.]

Up next, we're continuing our look at the Brightest Day/Generation Lost with Booster Gold: Past Imperfect. See you then!
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14 comments:

  1. I found the same the rose-tinted glasses approach to Formerly Know As the Justice league and I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice league, even the reviews for the JLI re-releases.

    Since Blackest Night I've been rather uninterested in my usual DCU ports of call - Green Lantern, Justice League, The Flash, Geoff Johns events. This sounds better than I realised and I might have to pick it up, especially as it's only two volumes rather than the 3 I was expecting.

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  2. I've been following this one and I found it to be a fantastic read. I always thought the Rose Tint the old JLI has developed is the same reason Deadpool is so well received: it allows for the comic in comic books. I can't remember if the "True Story" of Jonn's cookie addiction causing him to rampage through the streets as a Godzilla-esque monster is truely from the JLI era or one of the Formerly Known As I can't Believe stories, but I find I don't care. It's just entertaining.

    Winnick does a decent job of bringing this kind of tomfoolery back... with the weird exception of the whole Ice thing. Which I didn't really see the need for.

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  3. I was surprised by how excellent this book was. I enjoyed all of the stories in Brightest Day except for J'onn's, but I thought this book overall was miles better.

    I hope you're planning on reading Winick's Power Girl trades as well. Not only are they great fun, but they actually do add a lot to the story. Everything PG does works to help solve the mysteries here, and it all carries over, but Winick rarely stops to bridge the gaps when Karen shows up in the main book. So you get whole new levels of Max's plan in PG that aren't even mentioned in GenLost.

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  4. "I'm not sure the good old days were ever quite as good as Generation Lost's fond remembrances make them out to be, but they sure seem good in retrospect."

    I'm curious what this means exactly. I've been under the impression that the Justice League International stories are considered to fall somewhere between good and great. I thumbed through one of the trades recently and it seemed like a fun, slightly silly, entertaining read. I was planning on picking up the JLI trades, but that quote makes me question that choice.

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  5. This is my favorite purchase so far this year - riveting plot, excellent characterization and great art. Surprisingly, as much as I enjoyed this one, I was very disappointed by the companion Power Girl trade mostly because it tells an incomplete minor version of this volume.

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  6. I still remember the original JLI. As a youth, I started out reading Batman, then the early 90's Green Lantern (starting with #1). This quickly lead me into the JL International/Europe books, and boy was I hooked. So much so that basically all of my comics buying revolved around that Justice League (Green Lantern, Flash, Mister Miracle, Dr. Fate, plus the numerous specials/annuals/quarterlies that were being put out at that time - other series like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Captain Atom were already gone by this time). Man, I remember that as the glory years! So much fun. Then the "Breakdowns" storyline came, and it was fantastic, but then it was all over and Dan Jurgens took over. No disrespect to Mr. Jurgens (or CE, who I know is a big fan of Jurgen's JL), as I've since enjoyed a lot of his stuff (like the recent Booster Gold), but going from Giffen/Dematteis to Jurgens was a huge change, plus he brought in Superman, Maxima, and other characters that I didn't really care for.

    Haven't read Generation Lost yet, but glad to see it's gotten a good review (from what I skimmed over to avoid spoilers, anyway). Looking forward to reading it!

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  7. I might ultimately be the wrong person to ask about the Justice League International, Dijonase, because while I have great affection for the characters mostly from the Jurgens era, the Giffen/DeMatteis stories are hit or miss for me. I have to read them in very small doses, else the jokes start to drag. It's not always my kind of funny -- it's other people's kind of funny, but not always mine. Though I do I think the Justice League International collections are worth picking up because (A) they're such a giant collected slice of DC Comics history otherwise not really represented (I mean, Justice League Europe, collected? Who'da thunk?) and (B) they do represent a much more innocent, less self-conscious time in DC comic books than nowadays.

    But, I think that time and those comics have been glorified to too great an extent by the modern consciousness because they represent a more innocent era. "Innocent" doesn't necessarily mean "great," but we've trained ourselves to think so. These fond retrospective stories and artful Generation Lost covers (see Cliff Chiang's from #6 to #13 to start) suggest "art," when I don't think the source material was art (at least not in the way all of this suggests). It'd be like a grand DC tribute to Robert Loren Fleming's Valor series; I remember it fondly, but I don't think it was the epitome of something.

    I could go on, but I think you get it. Other, truer Justice League International fans can speak to the series's legacy and heart better, and hopefully they'll chime in. Some of these thoughts I'll address more on Monday in the Booster Gold: Past Imperfect review, and then on to the Power Girl: Bomb Squad review after that.

    Justice League: Generation Lost remains a really good book.

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  8. Well, based on the comments here and the review I'll definitely be picking this up.

    As for JLI, the little snippet that I read seemed less "funny" to me and more lighthearted or comical. It seemed interesting compared to today's mostly grim, gritty comics. I can see how that constant tone could become a bit grating after a while.

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  9. The presence of not just one but two different Ultra-Humanite gags makes me believe that they had an idea for reconciling the two Max Lords but abandoned it (possibly for the sake of keeping an intervening Power Girl story in continuity without snarls, which seems like a poor tradeoff considering Flashpoint around the corner...)

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  10. Ultra-Humanite gags? I missed this. Do tell, or email me at Yahoo if you think it's too spoiler-y.

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  11. There were two different parts of the story where a character says that he or someone else is not going to (do some cliched supervillain thing like explaining their plans to the captives), each time mentioning the Ultra-Humanite as an example of what they aren't.

    To me, that was foreshadowing/reminding people about the character. And it would have made an excellent explanation for Max's character change pre-Countdown, although you'd have to (1) ignore the Power Girl story that is the UH's only appearance in that timeframe and (2) make the case that Max Lord's psychic powers come from, essentially, something other than his brain.

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  12. Question: I have finished reading Generation Lost Vol 1, but haven't started in on Brightest Day yet. Is it safe to finish reading Gen Lost to the end, or will it spoil Brightest Day? I was hoping to read all 3 volumes of Brightest Day without interruption.

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  13. I know specifically in Generation Lost Vol. 2 that one character says to another, essentially, "How did you know that?" and the character replies, "Because of this thing that happened to me in Brightest Day Vol. 2." It's minor, but it's certainly a direct reference to something that takes place in Brightest Day Vol. 2, so you can consider that a spoiler or not as you choose.

    The DC TPB Timeline, either now or after the next update (coming soon!), has it as BD1, GL1, BD2, GL2, BD3, so take from that what you will. If I had to read one whole series first and one whole series second for continuity purposes, I'd read Brightest Day in whole first and Generation Lost in whole second. Sorry -- I think that wasn't what you wanted to hear.

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  14. Well, I already knew that you had BD1 before GL1 (from the current timeline), and I know how you like to have the main stories put to bed before reading the side-stuff, so I'm not surprised by your answer about choosing BD over JL:GL. That being said, I am very glad to hear that there is only very minor spoilers ahead; I can handle a "thing thing happened to me over here" as long as it's not a dramatic shift in things, and as long as it's not a major spoiler for the "over here" book that I haven't read yet.

    I generally don't mind switching back-and-forth (I followed your individual issue reading guide when going through the Blackest Night books), but in this case I kind of got the feeling that Gen Lost started after and ended before Brightesy Day, so I was willing to read it on its own ahead of BD, and then read BD as an uninterrupted whole.

    Looking forward to the timeline update, especially since I've now basically caught up to it in my reading!

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