Justice League #1: The DC New 52 Week One

Review by KC Carlson

Oh, dear. Where to start? Especially when this particular book (and the whole New 52) has become, for so many people, something bigger than comics itself. Even DC realizes that this… whatever it is (Initiative? Event? Reboot? Circus Freak Show?) has become so over-hyped that there was some effort recently trying to walk everything back a little. In the recent ICv2 interview, Dan DiDio actually admitted that they have no clue where they’ll be in six months. Here, walking backwards may be prudent. Because you know what happens when you try to cook something in a pot that is too hot? Everything sticks to the sides, and the pot (and meal) is ruined.

Justice League #1 cover

So, let’s just start with the comic book, shall we?

I’m not sure that a comic with only two lead characters (okay, there was a last-page cameo of a third, and an origin set up for another) can actually be called a Justice League book. While Batman and Green Lantern are immensely popular, two people am not a League. Obviously, this story is going to be a multi-part origin, and it may ultimately read great after it’s collected, but I have to look at only what I am given here — and I am (for now) unsatisfied.

Jim Lee’s art is very pretty, of course. But his intricate costume designs contribute to the reasons that most artists can’t produce monthly comic books anymore. Too many fiddly bits! Maybe Jim Lee can hit his deadlines, but past history attests that he’s probably not going to be on this series past issue #12 anyway, and the next artist (rightfully) will simplify the costume details after his bosses yell at him to “draw faster!” (One of the yellers may be Lee himself. Is that any way to run a railroad?)

I’d love to say more about Geoff Johns’ story. Except there isn’t a story here. It’s just an outline. And not even a complete outline. It’s just a fragment. As a fragment, it’s not bad. But it’s not enough.

This issue fails my (possibly admittedly outdated) first issue done-in-one test. It also audaciously flies in the face of DC’s recent announcement that they were backing off the decompressed storytelling thing (at least, when it comes to “writing for the trade” collection). So, is the very first lesson of the New 52 Initiative not to believe anything DC says? That’s not good…

One Well-Done Bit

One thing I did like was the brief appearance of Victor Stone to set up his origin as Cyborg. DC’s been trying for years to force Cyborg into the ranks of the JLA, but fans have never warmed up to the idea, since for many long-time readers, the character is so closely identified with the New Teen Titans — historically, one of DC’s most popular and beloved series. By retelling Vic’s origins and tying them into the new JL series, DC stands a much better chance of getting fans to think that the character “belongs” with the JLA — especially the new readers that DC’s trying to court with this particular publishing relaunch.

(I keep thinking of this title as the latest incarnation of the Justice League of America, but in fact, it’s just Justice League now, for our globally multinational world. Unfortunately, JL isn’t as distinctive an acronym as JLA.)

It should be noted that this entire story is set “Five Years Ago”, indicating that what we are reading is very early in the new, revised, “everything happened within five years” DC timeline. As someone who was once active in helping to maintain that timeline, I will be very interested to see how DC will deal with the “problem” characters of the old timeline, i.e. the characters who obviously aged during the stories, like the Teen Titans and other youthful characters/sidekicks, as opposed to the characters who didn’t age (or didn’t age much — like Superman, Batman, and many of the other key adult characters).

Five-Year-Old Flagship

Unfortunately, part of the problem with launching this JL “flashback” story the same week as its supposed “setup” issue is that if you got excited by the prospect of the new DC Universe hinted at in Flashpoint #5, you were most likely disappointed by not immediately seeing a corresponding current-day story in Justice League #1. (I was.) To see more of the current-day DCU, we’ll have to wait another week. I’m even more depressed that we’ll have to wait another several months (it appears) before we see a current-time JL story. It seems odd to me that we will see current stories of the secondary JL teams (International and Dark) long before we see a current adventure of the real deal.

Beyond the Comic

The biggest revolution in comics over the past several years is due to the industry breeding smarter fans. And that may not be in the company’s best interests. A lot of smart fans are going to look at JL #1 for what it appears to be — a template for a movie, or an animated feature, or a video game, or a motion comic, or anything other than just a comic book. They’ll also realize that what they’ve been given here is just a slice of a complete story. So, smart fans — who will (and maybe already have, except the publishers refuse to acknowledge this) eventually tire of buying everything multiple times — may just use the New DC as an excuse to finally stop reading. Oh, wait, they won’t stop reading — if you know what I mean, nudge nudge — but they may stop buying, instead waiting for the inevitable collection. Or movie. Or video game. If publishers were smart, they would use moderately priced digital copies as loss leaders toward the eventual sale of a nice, permanent collection. But then they run the risk of alienating their network of Direct Sales comic book retailers, something else which may also be inevitable.

To take this to unfortunate meta levels, JL #1 has landed as the poster boy test case for everything that has been collapsing around the comics medium for the last several years — the massive erosion of comics sales; digital issues, both legal and illegal; horrible storytelling/packaging decisions (such as decompressed storytelling); price vs. format; increased corporate influence in comics; the old boys’ network. Got an ax to grind? Now’s the time to do it, it appears. Perhaps that’s unfair, but DC wanted the spotlight, and now they’ve got it.

You know that old adage about there not being any bad publicity? I think that the New 52 has become an unfortunate laboratory for testing that. And remember my pot allusion up top? Maybe it’s finally time for publishers (not just DC) to either [you know] or get off it. They have to decide if they’re periodical, graphic novel, or digital publishers, or come up with a workable plan to combine all three — without angering their fans and retailers. While they still have an audience who cares.

Other, non-superhero publishers have already done this. Top Shelf serializes some of its comics on its website; so does First Second. SLG Publishing was the first to sell digital download copies. It’s understandable that a bigger company wouldn’t be a first mover, but they should pay more attention to some of what their smaller, more nimble compatriots are doing.

Bottom of the Ninth? Or Game One of a Double-Header?

So bottom line, the comic itself: Fun, but not enough story for 24 pages (and $3.99). So not the grand slam DC was hoping for. (Um, if you want a grand slam, you need to put people on base first.) This was more like a bunt. A flashy, pretty bunt, but a bunt nonetheless. It might ultimately turn into a grand slam, but are fans willing to wait a few more months to find out?

Welcome to the New DC. I think its going to be a while before everybody realizes exactly what that means. Including the New DC. More next week.

17 Responses to “Justice League #1: The DC New 52 Week One”

  1. Anthony Says:

    As I noted in my own blog review, the JLA’s original origin (in “Justice League of America” #9 in 1962) managed to tell the team’s origin in just one issue (“seven heroes team up to defend Earth from invading aliens, and decide to stick together permanently as a team”).

    I suppose this newest retelling might be telling basically the same story (with Darkseid and his minions replacing the Apellaxians), but dragged out over more issues than I suspect new readers are willing to stick around for, if *this* issue didn’t turn them off first ($4 for a 10 minute read (print *or* digital) versus half the cost of streaming-only Netflix for a month/a smartphone game/several songs on iTunes?).

    Don’t think it’s “outdated” to expect a basic explanation of the point of this comic (such as who the JLA *are*, why they’re a team, why readers should be buying this vs just renting episodes of “Justice League” for a comparable price, etc.), especially for those who wouldn’t know the Justice League from the American League, aka the new readers that are the supposed goal of all this.

  2. James Schee Says:

    I thought the issue itself was okay. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible either. I thought it highlighted the MO’s of Batman and Green Lantern (HJ) fairly well, though it seems a bit light.

    To me it just feels off to have this book be the start of the new DCU though. I personally think they would have been better served launching with the title that originally launched the DCU, Action Comics.

    I think it would have shown a good nod at history and the future as well, as I think what’s hurt DC is the focus on the big picture. When they did that it made the parts seem unimportant and what I hope for most from the new DCU is a change to make the individual series matter more.

  3. themaskedndi Says:

    I didn’t mind that half the league was absent. In fact, I didn’t mind the comic, period. It’s just disappointing that the line didn’t launch with something a little more special. I agree that Action Comics would’ve been a great choice. Not expecting a lot of decompression there!

  4. Ed Catto Says:

    I got the combo pack with the digital version – kinda fun.

  5. Grant Says:

    “You know that old adage about there not being any bad publicity? I think that the New 52 has become an unfortunate laboratory for testing that.”

    And you’re basing that on the first of the 52 which sold out? Okay.

    I liked it. True, it did get a little “All Star Batman” for a few brief moments. But I liked the newness of it. I like the idea of all of them meeting for the first time and having the story be free of the crappy old DC baggage. I think DC has finally come to terms with the fact that they suck at continuity. That’s Marvels department. DC characters work better when the stories are more simple, more black and white. I also liked the “Marvels” vibe as we see civilians unfamiliar with superheroes commenting about seeing “more and more of them”. I thought that worked well.

    And I think “smart fans” can acknowledge that yes, this is most likely a set up for a movie or a video game, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. And while some may leap quickly to the conclusion that not seeing ALL of the characters is a bad thing, that’s really only the cynical side of the coin. If people sort of liked this then they’re going to want to buy the next issues to see the introduction of the other characters. Especially if they’re fans of those other characters that have yet to appear.

    I haven’t cared at all about Justice League since the Giffen days. But this JL1 has me curious. It’s a light hearted read and I had no buyers remorse after reading it.

    “So, smart fans — who will (and maybe already have, except the publishers refuse to acknowledge this) eventually tire of buying everything multiple times — may just use the New DC as an excuse to finally stop reading”

    I’m not entirely sure that DC cares if they get “smart fans”. But I will say that if “long time” DC fans hate this, then that might be a sign that DC is actually doing something right. Just sayin.

  6. Johanna Says:

    Do we have any evidence that this title is attracting new fans, either new to DC or new to comics? The people talking about it are all, by definition based on the discussion locations, already comic fans.

  7. Westfield Comics Blog » Link Blogging: KC Reviews Justice League #1 Says:

    […] As he mentioned in his column on Monday, he is going to attempt to review all 52 of DC’s New 52 books at Comics Worth Reading (possibly with help from site administrator Johanna Draper Carlson). That begins now with his review of Justice League #1. […]

  8. Grant Says:

    Since it just came out 2 days ago, no, I don’t know if JL1 is attracting new comic fans. No one does. You know, because it just came out two days ago. And new readers are not likely to have subscribed early. It will be this weeks walk in traffic that will tell the tale and it’s too early for a consensus on that yet.

  9. Johanna Says:

    We’re already hearing anecdotal evidence about how old-time customers are reacting. All I’m asking for is whether anyone has heard someone say “I’ve never read comics before and I had to get this once I heard about it!” (or similar). But you’re right, if that’s happening, it’ll likely take longer for it to appear — although plenty of mass media sources had the story earlier this week.

  10. jimmy b. Says:

    I work at a greeting card company. Many of the current concerns in manstream comics are similar to the greeting card industry. Aging consumer base, other communication/entertainment options, wanting to support indie (and with cards, big box) retailers while also working to become a relevant and profitable digital presence. With both, it looks like the source product cards/comics are becoming the foundation or gateway for related items that make the real money. Where I work, I would say a lot of care still goes into the card product, that there’s respect and recognition for the role it plays in the company’s success. I don’t see the same thing with comics. And i don’t see a clear digital solution for comics or cards.

  11. caleb Says:

    Also, the average mainstream comic book takes about as long to read as the average greeting card. Heyo!

  12. Johanna Says:

    That’s a fascinating insight, Jimmy. I hadn’t even thought of the challenges that industry was facing — although I did note that, like comics, greeting cards are $4 and $5 each these days, which seemed quite a lot for what you get. And with cards, I just don’t find digital an adequate substitute, since there’s the whole gift aspect. Thanks for sharing that.

  13. Kenn Says:

    ITA about JL#1! I recall reacting positively to the announced plan to NOT write stories for future trade collecting, and then this came out. If you want new readers, as DC claims, why not present the new League in its entirety? Or, at the very least, have teaser panels of some other members sprinkled throughout?
    And, while I get why Cyborg’s being shoehorned in, why did they not go with Steel (or Hardware, since DC owns Milestone), which would give them the ethnic diversity without tampering with the Wolfman/Perez Titans? And I mention ethnic diversity separately, because there is NO gender diversity on display in the first issue. Wasn’t Victor’s mother a scientist as well? Could he at least have mentioned her?
    And why not JLA? They’re producing JLI (and JLD), so there ought to be a reason to differentiate. Does DC hate President Obama?

  14. Harry R. Hertel Says:

    My older brother, age 64, was relieved at the launch; he could stop buying DC’s. I’m unsure, since I stopped buying new comics 17 years ago, I’ve had more money for family and Golden Age comics. I did try to pick up last issues for symmetry’s sake. during an August 31 visit to the only comic store left in Eau Claire, I found out that JL #1 had sold out; they got two phone calls and one customer inquiry while I was there. I don’t think there will be longevity of new fans; it smelled more like curiosity and speculation to me. I’ll probably pick up first issues just to see, but any future purchases are likely to come from quarter boxes.

  15. Shawn Hill Says:

    I agree that the Vic Stone story was the most interesting part of the issue; weirdly, it’s been one of the least well-received aspects in other reviews, perhaps attesting to your belief that people are wedded to having him in the Titans instead. Judging from the impending new Titans solicits, though, he’s better off in JL!

  16. Tyler Says:

    “Do we have any evidence that this title is attracting new fans, either new to DC or new to comics? The people talking about it are all, by definition based on the discussion locations, already comic fans.”

    The combination of DC Universe Online becoming free and the new 52 line coming out near the same time made me decide to give comics a try, and I must say, I am enjoying comics. One of my favorite New 52 titles is Justice League, so far I have only read #1, although I really enjoyed it.

  17. Four Months In, DC Makes Some Major Adjustments » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] new DC 52, the complete reboot of their superhero comic line that restarted with Justice League #1, began in September 2011, so it’s now four months old. Apparently, that’s provided […]




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