Review: Justice League of America Vol. 1: World's Most Dangerous hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Geoff Johns's new Justice League of America is an entertaining amalgam, but one that defies easy definitions. Previously, Justice League of America was "the" Justice League, and where that title offered iconic action, its spin-offs filled smaller niches -- Justice League International was a humor title, Justice League Europe was more character-driven, Justice League Task Force was at first an espionage team-up book and later, a Teen Titans-esque heroes in training book.

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!
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13 comments:

  1. The decision to republish JLA'S TRINITY WAR chapters is indicative of what I was complaining about some time back -- about how DC's been collecting their crossovers since the relaunch began.

    It's ABSURD to collect the JLA segments of TRINITY WAR here when they're chapters 2 and 4 of a six-part crossover. The same problem exists with JL and JLD's next round of collections, which will only reprint their segments (Chapters 1/6 and 3/5 respectively). In order to understand what the hell is happening, everyone will either have to buy those other two volumes or the complete JUSTICE LEAGUE: TRINITY WAR hardcover come March. In either case, they'll have to double dip.

    I HATE how DC is intentionally withholding relevant issues from the collections, thereby forcing readers to purchase multiple books in order to get the full story. This is part of the reason why I'm on the verge of dropping JUSTICE LEAGUE - or at least going completely digital with Comixology. I don't buy the individual issues and as a consequence, I don't have the shelf safe or the budget.

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    1. Totally get where you're coming from; from your point of view, as someone who just reads one of the affected series, you don't like that you're going to get a couple of the same issues in, say, the main Justice League collection and also in the Trinity War collection, which you call having to double dip.

      From my perspective, as someone who reads Justice League, America, and Dark, I think the system works really well. It will take a while before I have all the parts of Trinity War, sure, but I didn't have to go buy anything extra to get them; I didn't have to buy a separate crossover trade or etc. Yes I'm buying three books, but because it adheres to my normal habits, I don't feel I'm double-dipping; at the same time, if I read none of these books but was interested in Trinity War, then I have the option of simply picking up the crossover trade.

      I didn't like how DC collected Throne of Atlantis because the Justice League and Aquaman books overlapped too much -- DC tried to collect the same story in both collections and then I felt like I was double-dipping. The Trinity War collection schema, for me, is an improvement; I get the whole story (eventually) buying exactly what I usually would without any overlaps.

      Can you see a way that they could please everybody and no one would have to double-dip?

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    2. They should have just put out a single TRINITY WAR hardcover and not collected those issues in the individual JL collections, but it is what it is.

      In my case, of the three League titles, I've only been buying the flagship book. This isn't like the Johns-era of GREEN LANTERN where I was willing to buy every title since:

      A. I love the concept of the ring wielders; it's my favorite of all the DCU concepts.

      B. Johns and company were collectively spinning grand space opera and it was awesome. Seeing the GL mythos expand the way it did was truly an incredible experience as a reader.

      By contrast, I'm just not as emotionally invested in the Leagues as I was with Hal, Guy, Kyle, and John. Honestly, I've been reading JL less for the team stories and more for the chance to see Johns continue to write Hal, Barry, and Arthur. I just love his takes on those characters or their respective mythologies too much.

      As to the other Leagues, there's nothing wrong with JLD, but it's just not my cup of tea. And I HAD been planning on buying JLA -- especially as Johns picked up on the Secret Society subplot he seeded in JUSTICE LEAGUE: ORIGIN. But his abrupt departure has changed all that and now I'm on the fence. I have no idea if Kindt or Lemire will continue the subplots he was laying out.

      And I don't especially want to drop the flagship title given Johns has indicated story threads from his soon-to-be completed AQUAMAN run will be carried over to JL after FOREVER EVIL. So, we'll see.

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    3. Every Crossover should be collected like Sinestro Corps War was!

      The collections included everything that was nessecary to get the whole story (GL #21-25, GLC #14-19 and the special). Additional material was gathered in an extra collection (Backups, Secret Files and Tales of the Corps issues).

      The previous collections of each series ended right before the crossover and started again right after it*. Nothing was collected twice, you did not have to buy anything more than once.

      I would have liked for the New52 crossovers to be collected like that, including Throne of Atlantis, Trinity War or Lights Out.

      -----
      *I know GLC #19 was in two collections. I hope this doesn't make my argument less valid. ;)

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    4. Well, with GLC #19, they only included the pages from the A-plot -- the aftermath for Kyle, Guy, Soranik, and company.

      That was fine for the purposes of SCW Vol. 2 since GL #25 wasn't so much a finale for that cast as it was for Hal and the event as a whole.

      It gave the GLC an epilogue in terms of that hardcover for anyone wasn't buying the GLC collections -- though that changed for a lot of people since they realized where Johns and company were going!

      So yeah, it doesn't make your argument less valid.

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  2. I guess this was be another of those abortive Johns runs that start out with a lot of promise but end prematurely because of his busy schedule. I was hoping he'd come back to the book after finishing up Forever Evil, but instead it will be re-titled Justice League of Canada and taken over by Lemire.

    And I second everything James said about the stupidity of including issues #6-7 in this collection.

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    1. It is weird Johns is leaving this title so soon, though I've begun to think of him as a starter -- he starts a book, gets it going, and then someone else comes in to take over.

      Is it going to be re-titled Justice League of Canada or is it just going to be set in Canada for a while? Even as I'm disappointed Johns won't be staying, Lemire is no slouch and promises an eminently readable book, I think.

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    2. It seems it will be the team's new status quo for the foreseeable future, and not just an arc. I'm fine with Lemire writing the book, but I hope he keeps most of the original lineup even with the move to Canada.

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  3. I've already expressed my displeasure with DC only collecting parts of Trinity War in their collections, and like James above, I'm only buying the main JL series. Not only that, but I also hate, hate, HATE jumping back and forth between different trades when reading a single story.

    Seeing as Justice League is DC's flagship title, I still think they should collect all 6 chapters in that one at least. I won't be getting two or more trades to collect Trinity War, so IF DC decide to only collect chapters 1 and 6 in the fortcoming vol. 4, then I'll just skip that altogether and get the Trinity War trade instead. Sure, I'll miss out on issues 18, 19 and 20, but in the grand scheme of things, that's an acceptable loss...

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    1. Yeah, the whole collection thing is kind of an embarrassment considering JL is DC's flagship title. How do they think casual readers who are being exposed to the League for the first time are going to react to this?

      Nick -- Unfortunately, JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE GRID is going to be a necessary purpose for both of us as well as JL readers. Yes, the second half (Issues 21-23) can be found in either the TRINITY WAR hc or the SHAZAM collection.

      But the first half (issues #18-20) are part of TRINITY WAR's prelude. They follow-up on the need to expand the League's ranks in the wake of the AQUAMAN crossover while setting up plot points for the war of the Leagues.

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    2. Yeah, I know. Worst case scenario, I'll buy those three issues separately either digital or physical.

      The whole thing seems so haphazard though. Will they really include issue 21 in Vol. 4, which is the last chapter of the Shazam back-up, while at the same time excluding issues 18-20 of Batman in Snyder's run of that series' vol. 4? 18-20 of Batman didn't tie in to Zero Year, but excluding them completely while including an out of place last chapter of Shazam in JL? The whole thing just reeks of mismanagement and feels like a slap in the face for the majority of trade collectors who only buy a couple of select titles.

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    3. Yeah, I also think the decision to include the Shazam finale in VOLUME 4 is bizarre. The issue itself makes no sense unless you had been following the backups from Issue #7 onwards, as well as Issue #0.

      I suppose they felt they needed to include it there given Billy's role in TRINITY WAR springs directly from the end of the finale. But I don't get this collection decision -- especially when JLA's Martian Manhunter backups were collected here.

      Again, it is what it is...

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  4. I'm interested in this one (will read it after I get through Throne of Atlantis, though, as it seems there are some important things to know there), but after reading this, I'm definately waiting for the TPB, no point in wasting money on a HC when this doesn't sound like Geoff John's best work.

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