Thursday, 1 September 2011

Project 52, #1: Alex Spencer vs Justice League

Justice League 1

For me, it started with Spider-Man. The X-Men would come later, but first the Spider-Man film, and then onto Marvel’s website. After-school dips into the library of Marvel’s free online comics reader, dotComics. All done in secret, quietly ashamed of my new habit.

For the new DC Universe, it starts with Batman. Of course. The Justice League will come later. For me, this couldn’t be much further from where my relationship with comics began, literally and metaphorically. Literally: I picked up Justice League #1 from London’s Orbital Comics, far from that bedroom in Staffordshire. Metaphorically: A comic printed on real, sniffable paper, read on a train squeezed between passengers giving me funny looks.

(This kind of stuff matters with a new #1. Some people get overexcited and want things like variant covers and polybags, but it brings out the luddite in all of us. It warms up big heaped spoons of nostalgia.)

And perhaps most importantly, a comic published by DC. As I suspect is going to be a theme of our reviews, Marvel was my entry drug. Superman? Wonder Woman? Green Lantern? These characters didn’t matter to me. Batman, though…

Ah, Batman.

And that’s how Justice League starts. With Batman, chasing a villain and dodging the police. But don’t forget: this is a new Batman, with swathes of his history (or continuity, as we call it in comics) chopped off. Gruff, black cowl & cape, mistrustful, yellow utility belt, sneaky and smart… The exact same Batman, then. We haven’t shifted far from Status Q, by the looks of things. As a representative of the new DC Universe, the message it’s sending seems to be: don’t worry. things won’t change too much. (It’s telling that the sketch stuff in the backmatter shows designs for new costumes that were rejected for being too different.)

Still, the reboot means this comic gets to tell the story of how Batman, Green Lantern and Superman meet for the first time. And how they meet is with the adversial tension and fisticuffs that are a solid tradition of superfriends meeting for the first time. This provides a few nice moments - Green Lantern trying to work out what Batman’s powers are in particular - and momentum for the issue’s plot.

The plot being, essentially, get x from a to b (where x = Batman and Green Lantern, a = Gotham city and b = wherever Superman is). The pieces are moved around so that the punching can continue. And that’s it, except for a four page vignette woven into the middle of the story. It offers a glimpse of another character, pre-secret origin, and breaks up the action so the story is a little less formulaic.

But this isn’t a story, really. It’s an introduction, to the new readers this relaunch will hopefully pull in. Here’s the world, here’re the characters, here’s the threat. In this it succeeds. The characters are established quickly and easily. Their personalities are drawn a little large, perhaps - Green Lantern’s unbelievably cocky, Batman doesn’t trust anyone - but they’re clear.

It’s a reintroduction, too, to the old readers this relaunch hopefully won’t put off. As that kind of reader, I was looking for clues of how it’s going to be, closely studying speech bubbles and the art. Frankly, if I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have noticed Jim Lee’s artwork. Lee is an artist whose reputation I’ve never quite understood. He’s headlining the entire relaunch, designing costumes and drawing this flagship title, but his scratchy inexpressive art isn’t likely to open new readers’ eyes to how beautiful a comic book can be. It’s serviceable art that tells the story in a traditional, musclebound way. Again, it says: not much has changed.

Justice League #1 is certainly a first issue. But the first issue of a line-wide reboot, the standard-bearer for an entire universe? The kind of comic people will be nostalgically blogging about in ten years' time? Hmm.

Final Grade: C
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London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.