Justice League Volume 1: Origin (2012): Comic Book Review
In 2011, DC Comics wiped the slate clean. Each of their ongoing titles, including those continuously published since the 1940s, started over with a new #1 issue. As much as this could be seen as a grab for dollars and eyeballs, it was also a chance to inject more creativity into the comics and reimagine the characters for a new generation (including all new costumes!). While the move initially angered many fans, it was probably necessary for the comics to remain viable. At some point, you have to draw in new and younger readers, even at the expense of alienating the older, established readers.
The first comic to showcase the new characters was Justice League #1, which began the six-issue “Origin” story arc contained in this graphic novel. This story is set five years in the past, before the present day represented in all the rest of DC’s comics, “a time when the world didn’t know what a super hero was,” This is how the Justice League first got together.
The first issue opens on Batman chasing a parademon, and military helicopters chasing Batman. Green Lantern must have also been dealing with these aliens, because he arrives in Gotham City to interrupt the chase scene and give some exposition about himself (“I’m not the only Green Lantern out there. There’re thousands of others patrolling the universe….”) and Batman (“Hold on a second… You’re not just some guy in a bat costume are you? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?”). Because the parademon and its mother box are of alien origin, they decide to check in with the only other rumored alien they know of, “that guy from Metropolis,” Superman.
The pair finds Superman at a LexCorp facility, shortly after his battle with his own parademon. In a typical “super hero versus super hero” misunderstanding, Superman assumes they are somehow connected to the aliens because Batman is holding a mother box. He lashes out at them without speaking to them first, knocking Green Lantern to the ground in a red-blue blur. He then steps to Batman as if he’s spoiling for another fight. “So…” he says. “What can you do?”
Because Superman is capably handling both Green Lantern and Batman, GL decides to call someone who might give them an edge: the Flash. Apparently, Green Lantern and Flash have worked together before, and are friendly enough to have exchanged secret identities and phone numbers. The Flash enters the fray and distracts Superman long enough to give Batman a chance to explain that they are looking for the monsters too. As Flash starts looking for clues about the mother box, Batman, ever the detective, says he sounds “like a cop.” “I am. I work in the crime lab.” Green Lantern is appalled at the lack of secrecy. “Barry, you’re exposing your identity!” “And you just called me ‘Barry,’ genius,” the Flash replies. Obviously, these guys have not had very much practice calling each other by their code names or teaming up with other super heroes yet.
All at once, all the mother boxes on earth explode, opening boom tubes that allow more and more parademons to flood to earth. Having fought the demons in Washington D.C., Wonder Woman suddenly joins the fray in Metropolis. As she arrives on the scene, it’s clear that all the boys are attracted to her. Green Lantern even calls “dibs.” As a huge tower emerges from the water, Aquaman also shows up, alerting the group that the parademons are in the oceans as well as on land.
Victor Stone, son of a S.T.A.R. labs scientist, was injured during the worldwide explosions, and his father used promethium skin grafts, nanobots, and alien technology to save his life. When his cybernetic prosthetics interact with a mother box, Vic is transported to Metropolis, becoming the final player in the group. Once these seven heroes are gathered, they have to fend off Darkseid, the despot controlling the parademons, who were sent to gather, process, and repurpose earth’s organic material.
The key to the battle, it turns out, is teamwork. Batman realizes that they’ve been attacking Darkseid one at a time, like baseball players coming to bat. They need to act like a football team instead, hitting him with all their power at once.1 During the fierce battle to protect earth and its people, the seven near-strangers are mistaken for a team, and lauded as heroes at a presidential ceremony. Being hailed as heroes is better than being hunted down by the military, so they agree to roll with it. This uneasy alliance becomes the basis for the future of the world’s first super team.
1 This reminded me of the scene in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when each of the turtles takes a turn attacking Shredder, and they all fail individually. Shredder acknowledges that they might have defeated him had they all attacked at once.
Though the penciling by Jim Lee was great as usual, some of the characterization by writer Geoff Johns was surprisingly heavy handed and often weird. Part of the problem is that this story is the origin of the Justice League, not the origins of each of the members of the Justice League. Since this is the first appearance of each of the characters, new readers with no DC Comics background need to be able to identify each person’s powers and motivations. Cyborg is the only character whose origin truly unfolded during this Darkseid ordeal; all of the other heroes have been operating for an indeterminate amount of time, often in opposition to the police or military.
Green Lantern is constantly telling us how powerful his ring is, and he responds to Wonder Woman’s request to help some military personnel by saying, “I’ll get them out of the chopper and to safety. Not to be a good guy like the Flash, but because I want to impress you. Most of what I do is about trying to impress people.” Turns out he was accidentally touching Wonder Woman’s lasso, which compels you to tell the truth. Even so, I don’t think it has the power to force you to cram not one but two character motivations into one speech bubble.
Wonder Woman is overly aggressive and revels in her warrior status. One television commentator says, “She swings that sword with a smile.” Instead of being a level-headed and diplomatic young woman, she chases fights and rebels against authority. “I grew up on Paradise Island where I was treated like a child my entire life. But this isn’t Paradise Island, and I’m not a child any more. I’m done with people telling me what to do.” Though she vehemently denies it, she is pretty much acting like a child.
Superman does severe damage to many of the parademons, even though they appear to be partially organic and probably sentient, albeit under some sort of mind control or brainwashing. He has no trouble ripping right through them, dismembering them or even knocking their heads off. I am used to seeing a Superman with a moral code against killing, but this Superman may not have such qualms. If he did he would probably state it several times to make sure the readers knew it.
Batman behaves even more bizarrely. To fully convince Green Lantern to take the football team approach, Batman takes off his mask and reveals his secret identity. (This is after he Green Lantern chided the Flash for revealing a detail like his occupation to Batman.) He is so unconcerned about his cowl, he even runs off to save Superman without putting it back on. I can’t figure out why Batman would behave this way, even under duress. Where is the logic? His words don’t carry more weight just because he’s not wearing a mask, and Green Lantern doesn’t even recognize Bruce Wayne, so what’s the benefit? Green Lantern hasn’t proved his loyalty to Batman yet, and if anything, has given Batman reason to be suspicious. How does casually obliterating such a carefully guarded secret help in any way? It looks like it was thrown in the book just to make a “cool” scene.
I am a lover of DC’s old continuity, so I am a little negatively biased towards the changes these characters are experiencing, but I am willing to give it a chance. In the interest of getting the readers up to speed quickly, I am also willing to forgive some of the extreme expository dialogue. As a well-drawn, action-packed comic, though, Justice League succeeds.