Justice League: Origin is a summer blockbuster of a story, one that puts me in mind of the Avengers movie about to arrive in theaters. We’ve rarely if ever had such a widescreen rendition of the first meeting of the Justice League, and as an action flick it's lots of fun. This is a Justice League story you can give to any reader that they can understand without much preface.
At the same time, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League surprisingly seems less of a re-imagining of the team than it is an exercise in shoring up Johns’s own take on these characters. Johns’s characterization of Flash Barry Allen is easily recognizable here, as is his presentation of Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Jordan’s relationship with Batman. Up to now, Johns’s slightly-modified Green Lantern and Flash were variations on early depictions; with Origin, for better or worse, Johns’s depictions become fact.
If Flash and Batman were the stars of the recent Flashpoint, Green Lantern and Batman are the stars of Origin. From the outset, Origin is the story of the independent Batman convincing the even more self-reliant Green Lantern that joining a team is not only a good idea, it’s a necessity. In a clever scene, Batman guesses that Hal’s bravado comes from trying to prove himself to a dead parent (only Batman can psychoanalyze in the middle of battle), and it’s the kick in the pants Hal needs to finally lead the team. That’s correct – while the League never formally elects a leader here (it is certainly not traditional League-leader Superman), to a large extent that leader appears to be Hal Jordan.
It’s here one begins to wonder if Johns’s interests might carry too much weight in this Justice League story – but then again, as DC’s Chief Creative Officer, there might no longer be much distinction between Johns’s interests and DC’s. Green Lantern is the hero; the animosity between Green Lantern and Batman introduced in Johns’s Green Lantern: Rebirth now stretches all the way back to the origins of the League; Flash Barry Allen solves cold cases under Director Singh at the formation of the League just as he did in the recent Flash series by Johns.
There's a benefit to this in that Johns's work of late -- both Rebirths, for instance -- will be what's most likely to sit next to these DC New 52 volumes on bookstore shelves, so new readers will find uniformity and similarity throughout. Experienced readers, however, might be surprised at how tangible Johns is in these pages through the choices he makes, possibly to too great an extent.
With Origin, we find ourselves in a new DC Universe, one familiar yet subtly different than the one we just departed. It's hard to tell if Johns is setting up future plotlines or just name-checking characters, but New Teen Titan's Sarah Charles is behind the scenes at Victor Stone's transformation to Cyborg, as are the Metal Men's Dr. Magnus and second Atom Ryan Choi. Also along are villains T. O. Morrow and Professor Ivo, and marginal character Mr. Orr from Superman For Tomorrow, but also having appeared in a now out-of-continuity Cyborg miniseries. One wonders again if Johns is simply trying to provide continuance (if not continuity) from old to new; that Cyborg miniseries might not match up any more, but it's possible the differences would be slight enough a new reader wouldn’t notice.
This is a brasher Justice League than what we're used to, perhaps to emphasize the youth of the team. Green Lantern is more of a jokester than he has been, resembling the animated Justice League's Wally West. Flash mentions he can't "do jack" at work because of his secret identity and Green Lantern says Batman's "a total tool." This strikes me as trying too hard -- neither of those phrases are especially "cool" as is, and are only likely to date the story going forward. My hope is that Johns has done all of this purposefully, and he'll tone down those elements in the next book set five years later.
As a whole, however, I did like Johns's portrayal of the team and their motivations for coming together. Johns introduces an anti-establishment tone to the League; Green Lantern has had "conflicts" with the Air Force and Flash doesn't even want to appear in public, for fear of the bad press and public condemnation he's received. As Superman says to Flash (taking a page, perhaps, from Grant Morrison's current Action Comics characterization of Superman), "You look like someone who wants to do the right thing, but the same can't always be said for everyone in positions of authority."
Individually the heroes have been scorned, but in defeating League-level threats they earn trust. This makes the League a team of outsiders, forced with a certain amount of desperation to stick together or else be marginalized on their own. If that sounds like a certain team of mutants, you may not be far off, but I appreciated the slightly darker edge with which this imbued the League.
Johns further underlines this distinction with a narrative slight of hand. The League eventually earns the title of the "World's Greatest Super-Heroes," but they start out as the "World's Greatest Super-Humans." They are heroes, but they are not heroes first; rather they're human (even the Kryptonian) and fallible, and just one failure, we gather, away from losing the trust they've just barely earned. I don't mind so much a Justice League that has to work a little harder for their success than they have before.
It's guaranteed Justice League: Origin is going to rankle some readers, especially the paranoia upon which this League is founded and how it's decentralized away from DC's Big Three (or away from Superman and Wonder Woman, at least). I found the story functional and interesting, if not necessarily ground-breaking (Johns reinvents villain Darkseid not at all, and the main conflict is a typical heroes vs. Darkseid match). Johns and Jim Lee, however, are a powerhouse team that can tell a story with distinct depth below the surface, and I have to believe that portends good things for the Justice League going forward.
[Includes covers, sketchbook section by Jim Lee and others.]
We've entered the DC New 52 ... now it's time to get Dark! Be here Monday for our first review from the Dark section of the DC New 52, Animal Man: The Hunt. See you then!