Thursday, November 07, 2013
Justice League of America Vol. 1: World's Most Dangerous is a bit of all of these, in one. It's far from a "bwah-ha-ha" book, but Johns and especially initial artist David Finch have some amusing sight gags here. The book is ostensibly character-driven, though less so here than I understand it will be in the future; rather, in comparison to Justice League, the America title is a tad sharper, punchier, less grandiose, rather like comparing Superman to Green Arrow. Justice League took six issues to tell its first story, whereas America gets in two missions in the same amount of space.
And "missions" is a good word for it. Though the Justice League of America team is supposed to be a public, government sanctioned super-team, a lot of their missions are covert, and the spy theme is helped handily by Suicide Squad's Amanda Waller's ongoing presence. There is an element of youth, like John's JSA or Teen Titans, but then there's also the sense of these characters as misfits, like for instance Judd Winick's Outsiders. And even as the team runs covert missions, their adversaries are flashy super-villains, the kind one might more expect to find in the main Justice League title.
Taking all of this together, I'm not sure I necessarily "get" yet what Justice League of America is meant to bring to the table. In trying to be a spy book and trying to be a misfit book and trying to be a Justice League title, it is not quite fully any one of these, though I enjoyed the attempt. America mainly affords Johns the opportunity to put his own spin on a number of key DC Universe characters -- Stargirl and Green Lantern Simon Baz, each of whom Johns created; and also Hawkman and Catwoman, among others, characters with troubled portrayals in the New 52 that Johns can perhaps help smooth out.
[Review contains spoilers]
Geoff Johns's set-up for Justice League of America seems to tell a lot about where it's going. The first issue essentially profiles each of the team members individually, and it is the most revelatory of the issues. Johns shows Hawkman, for instance, killing a mugger while pretending that the mugger is a Thanagarian criminal. I haven't read the second Hawkman collection yet, but the first was dicey as to whether the New 52 Hawkman is actually from Thanagar or not. As of Johns's America, however, what came before doesn't really matter -- Johns's Hawkman is maybe insane, maybe homicidal, and with Savage Hawkman's cancellation, this is now the place to plumb the mysteries of Hawkman in the New 52.
The same is true for Stargirl, whom Johns also imbues with two or three different mysteries (including one involving familiar star-related names); Johns even teases a Catwoman-related storyline that I couldn't tell if it had arisen from the regular Catwoman title or if Johns went off on his own. Either way, each of America's characters have a lot going on individually, and for the most part Johns has or will soon have sole ownership of them. The Secret Society storyline here is interesting, especially with the villains Johns trots out, but I sense the real meat of this series lies one or two books down the road, when Justice League of America can dispense with the Trinity War/Forever Evil crossover stuff and get down to telling stories about these characters themselves.
In this way, America seems like it's destined to be a kind of team-up, rather than "team" book -- one month it's Hawkman, guest-staring these other seven characters; the next month it's Stargirl guest-starring the Justice League of America, and on and on. And I wouldn't mind a book like that so much, frankly.
Where this first volume of Justice League of America really works is when you can lose yourself in these specific heroes versus these specific villains, and leave the New 52 considerations aside. It's hard to figure exactly where America fits into the New 52 landscape, but surely I understand Green Arrow, Hawkman, and Martian Manhunter squaring off against the Shaggy Man. In this, and in Johns pitting the team against Professor Ivo's robots, Justice League of America feels for a moment like a classic Justice League title, more so than the main Justice League title has so far. This is an odd reason to read this title -- however "classic" this book might feel, it's never going to star the "Big 7" -- but pleasant as a side benefit. (Another nod along the same lines is America's resurrection of the Invisible Jet. Any chance the team may need a secondary base, say in Happy Harbor?)
There's a smooth transition between artists David Finch and Brett Booth essentially between this book's first and second storylines, and that eases a fairly significant change. Though I rather like Booth's work on Teen Titans, it's Finch that solidifies America's Mission Impossible aesthetic in the first chapter, with tight panels and sharply defined figures. Finch also gets the facial expressions just right, as when Waller confronts Steve Trevor with evidence of Superman and Wonder Woman's relationship, or when Vibe scoots his chair away from the bloodied Hawkman.
Booth's style is too cartoony, taking this book in a less realistic direction that would lessen its difference from Justice League proper, I think (though Booth does see fit to zip up Catwoman's costume, which Finch draws ridiculously unzipped throughout his issues). Fortunately Doug Mahnke is taking over for Booth, and like Finch, Mahnke can bring a more controlled sense to the artwork that better fits the tone of the book.
World's Most Dangerous includes the series' two Trinity War issues. There's considerable jump between where America #5 ends and where #6 begins; the changes in status quo aren't so hard to follow, but it's hard to get into the story with the first and third parts missing. I surmise DC included the Trinity War issues with this first volume of America so that the next volume could be devoutly a Forever Evil one. For those not picking up the dedicated Trinity War volume, the wait until next April for Justice League Vol. 4 and until next August for Justice League Dark Vol. 4 before the two issues here make sense will probably be a long one.
Matt Kindt writes the Martian Manhunter back-ups also collected in this volume. I have been increasingly taken with Kindt's Mind MGMT, but these stories didn't move me. The first few are supposed to take place between the pages of Justice League of America, but it's hard to see exactly where and so they come off disjointed. The latter are a new origin for Martian Manhunter J'onn J'onzz, which is a gutsy move for Johns and Kindt -- the New 52 Manhunter must have an origin some time, but the result of relegating it to back-ups instead of say, a Martian Manhunter mini-series, is to make it seem rushed and without the grandeur Manhunter deserves. For me, a disembodied Earth entity accidentally killing off all the Martians is a far cry from the Mars-based conflicts of John Ostrander's take or even the precious Silver Age idea of a scientist transporting J'onn to Earth. I wouldn't be surprised nor disappointed if later on in the New 52, another writer stepped in and gave J'onn a revised origin with more pep.
Justice League of America Vol. 1: World's Most Dangerous is a book right now mostly in service to exterior crossovers, which is never a good place for a fledgling series. At the same time, with its conspiracies within conspiracies and mystery villains abounding, Justice League of America reminds me a little bit of JLA and other titles right before Infinite Crisis, which is definitely an auspicious comparison. I like the team Geoff Johns and company have assembled here, even if I'm not quite sure what he's doing with them, and that's enough at least for me to give the second volume a shot.
[Publisher review copy]
Next week ... Catwoman: Death of the Family and Injustice!