Review: Justice League Vol. 1: The Totality trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

I'm still struggling to define "Snyder-esque." Surely if you encounter a "man of the people" Batman, aspirational hero to the lowest of Gotham, we can with certainty call that Scott Snyder-esque. And it's easy to differentiate that fallible Batman, often blind to conspiracies in his own midst, from Grant Morrison's "bat-god" Batman, always a step ahead of his enemies and always with a contingency plan.

But when it comes to DC Universe-wide epics, the differences are harder to pin down. Dark Nights: Metal, though fueled with a rock 'n' roll undercurrent, borrowed so many of Morrison's concepts (and even saw Morrison writing a tie-in) such that tonally the book was not so different from Final Crisis. In Snyder's Justice League Vol. 1: The Totality, we see shades of Morrison's JLA from start to finish; Morrison's "we are all superheroes" moral is not so far from this book's testament that we are all base creatures who inspire one another to greatness.

Rife with wild ideas and superheroic cameos, Scott Snyder's Justice League is assuredly what we need right now, the dynamic and relevant Justice League that should perhaps have launched the Rebirth era. It does not feel fully Snyder's yet in its mix of others' ideas, thin characters, and an over-reliance on veiled hints of future threats, but I think Snyder is headed in the right direction and I'm eager to follow him on this journey.

[Review contains spoilers]

In the first issue, Martian Manhunter J'onn J'onzz draws the new League into a mindscape meeting room to warn of a cosmic threat hurtling toward Earth; when he leaves his reverie, the League has mysteriously gone off without him. In the next issue, the story picks up with the threat, the Totality, having already crashed to Earth between the pages. These narrative jumps, even a kind of purposeful narrative mixup to emphasize the small instead of the big, remind me right off of the same in Final Crisis. Snyder eschews the predictable here; that's not a market for which Morrison has a monopoly, but the tricks feel familiar instead of new.

Totality is largely Martian Manhunter's story, and Flash Barry Allen and Green Lantern John Stewart's. I applaud heartily that Snyder establishes new aspects of the latter characters' mythoi — the Still Force and the Ultraviolet Spectrum respectively; I have long thought Justice League should be a cornerstone book from which individual character's titles take their cues, and if these and J'onn's revelations carry over into those titles and Steve Orlando's new Martian Manhunter miniseries respectively, so much the better. At the same time, stemming perhaps from this book's heavy Justice League Unlimited influences, Snyder is writing Barry Allen significantly like Michael Rosenbaum's Wally West, such to make it hard to fully perceive even Joshua Williamson's Barry in these pages.

Though I'm not 100% up to date on the Green Lantern titles, Snyder also has a John Stewart here out on patrol and taking his orders from the Guardians, a generic status quo depiction of John that ignores that, at least until recently, John was the Corps leader. As well, much of John's arc here turns on his guilt over destroying the planet Xanshi in 1988's Cosmic Odyssey and reconciling with J'onn about it — something that, in 30 years, writers have had the John character long since deal with (including under the Geoff Johns Green Lantern team) and I'm even pretty sure I've seen John and J'onn talk about it. Let's hear it for the return of pre-Flashpoint continuity, but so far it feels like Snyder goes at these characters with an old or outdated playbook; in the case of Hawkgirl, we're meant to care about this character but we have little to no understanding of who she is or where she came from in modern times.

On the other hand, I did think Snyder got exactly right this book's other star, Lex Luthor; though Lex has recently been a hero, Snyder demonstrates convincingly the forces that turn him bad again (even if seemingly involving some mind control or manipulation). Though the whole book is well done, James Tynion's interlude guest-shot is among the strongest in the sequence when the dominoes begin to fall and we learn why specifically Luthor chose each member of his Legion of Doom.

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I like the Hall of Justice/"open to the people" aesthetic presented at the beginning of Scott Snyder's Justice League Vol. 1: The Totality, which seems a right and proper offshoot of Steve Orlando's Justice League of America and reflective of our inclusive times. Running straight from one mission to another, Snyder has glossed over the hows and whys of this, the new League charter and the photo op on the Capitol steps, etc., also as per Orlando's book. In short, in cutting to the good stuff, we don't quite know the philosophy of this League yet, what they see as their mission, what threats too big or too small, or what this League intends to do when a multiverse-ending threat isn't hurtling toward Earth. I'm not sure we necessarily need "day in the life" stories when most of these characters already appear in their own books; at the same time, I do hope Snyder takes a breather at some point so we can get a better handle on who some of these characters are and why they do what they do.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Justice League Vol. 1: The Totality
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)
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2 comments:

  1. I read this in floppies and felt a little more strongly than you did that the book is drowning in its own mythology. Perhaps if I reread it all in one sitting, I'll have a better handle on it, but I've been more than a little disappointed with Snyder since METAL, which I found delightfully bonkers and yet sensibly imaginative. Perhaps most importantly, METAL was /fun/, something Snyder's Justice League is sorely lacking.

    With No Justice and Justice League, I think Snyder's reach is exceeding his grasp. He has scores of great ideas, and I want to be on board with all of them, but I'm having a hard time seeing the shape of the story he wants to tell, and I don't understand how most of the pieces are connected. I'm certain he's playing the long game - another quintessentially Morrison trait - but at more than twenty issues in six months (DC Nation, 4 NJ, 13 JL, 5 Drowned Earth crossovers), I can't begin to see what that game is. And if "Drowned Earth" was meant to be a jumping-on point for new readers after the Aquaman movie, they're in for a dense muddy ride.

    Especially in Drowned Earth, I'm finding that Snyder and James Tynion are filling pages with monologues of backstory in speech bubbles large enough to make early Bendis blush. I find myself glazing over on some of this, partly because the ancient history of Atlantis has never been high on my list of key mysteries, but I think the bigger issue for me is that Snyder's swooping mythological ambitions aren't fully integrated with his characters. His Batman run was anchored in the idea that Batman might not know his city as well as he thinks he does, and this theme was complemented by an ingenious new villain (the Court of Owls) who matched that notion. Needing to try something new, Batman brought in Duke Thomas, Harper Row, and Stephanie Brown. We also saw a new Batman. (See also "Zero Year" joining Riddler and a hurricane to plunge a nascent Batman out of his depth; Joker's Endgame as death and resurrection; Bloom v Bat-Gordon as new faces of Gotham; Calendar Man as a literal rebirth)

    As I've said, I feel I should love this. But I don't. Since Johns left the title three years ago, I've constantly flirted with dropping the book, which shouldn't happen with a flagship title like Justice League. I found Hitch's work hollow, Priest's run too short, and now Snyder's too baffling. He promises that huge things are coming, but I'm finding that I can get pretty much the same charge (if not more so) from reading Snyder's interviews, where he usually directly quotes his central theme and explains it more concretely than the comics do (cf. "Death of the Family"). Worse, I often find I need these interviews just to understand the books. Interpreting Morrison is half the fun, but deciphering Snyder is starting to feel like a chore.

    Maybe I'm too old for this. But Avengers has been doing this routine a lot better, and I know very little about Marvel's overall cosmology. In ten issues over six months, Jason Aaron has assembled a new team, given us some really compelling interactions (She-Hulk/Thor, Iron Man/Ghost Rider), and seeded a ton of intriguing stories that all feed off of the characters. Fans joked about the similarities between Aaron's Dark Celestials and Snyder's Omega Titans, but a year ago I wouldn't have bet I'd like Marvel's take more.

    The most recent "Legion of Doom" issue was promising. It narrowed its focus onto its characters and what they want. Then it ends on a cliffhanger that demands I go read Snyder's "Batman Who Laughs" mini. I would have already, but it seems like Snyder's story is only getting more unwieldy. Kind of like my comment here. I'll stop.

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    1. I think "unwieldy" is a good word to define this run so far, but I'm more on board than you are because this book finally feels like the engine of the DCU again. I wish Snyder could introduce these big concepts more gradually, but I don't mind his wordiness because I like his words, which is something I can't say about Tynion's boring narrative captions.

      And my definition of "Snyder-esque" is an incredibly eventful, ballsy story that somehow also feels very personal to the author.

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