Books | Shelf Life

'Justice League' #1 review: Batman meets Superman, as DC Comics gets back to basics

Starting today, DC Comics is re-numbering 52 super-hero comic books, old titles and some new ones, back to #1 (“The New 52!,” they’re dubbing it). This morning it begins with the release of Justice League #1, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee. If the idea is to get back to basics, to attract a new batch of readers by starting the tales of DC’s biggest heroes from scratch, Justice League #1 is scratch ground-zero.

The issue spends its entire length reintroducing us to Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Cyborg. (Apparently other JL members Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Aquaman will have to wait for issue #2.) We’re plunged into a world in which the heroes don’t know each other, and, as Batman says, “The world’s afraid of us.” Johns’ dialogue is pretty basic-expository. “What are your powers anyway?” GL asks Batman. “You’re not just some guy in a bat costume are you?”

For his part, Batman has never heard that there’s a Green Lantern Corps, of which “our” GL is one of thousands in the universe. And both heroes are baffled by “that guy in Metropolis … they say he’s an alien.” Batman says, “He is. And he’s dangerous.” Well, probably not dangerous for good people, but we can’t be sure, because Superman only appears in the issue’s final panel, a fist cocked to wallop Batman or Green Lantern should they try to constrain him.

For readers who’ve invested decades trying to keep track of who the Flash is this week (Barry Allen? Wally West?) and keeping tabs on various Crises on Infinite Earths, continuity rearrangements in the 52 miniseries, and various other company-wide “events,” “The New 52” will probably be met with some mixture of relief and dubiousness. Johns’ writing, which is capable of a high degree of complexity in both comics history and emotion, is kept at an intentionally straightforward, almost hard-boiled terseness here. He’s grounding us in the new DC universe in a way that a pre-teen who’s never picked up a comic book (or viewed one on-line – every “New 52” title can also be obtained digitally on the same date-of-sale) will be able to follow. Jim Lee’s art work is characterized by his trademark brawny musculature that in his best panels also achieves a striking degree of fluidity: Few artists make muscle-bound men move so sleekly.

Combine this with an overall tone that mixes sincerity with wisecracks, and this is a very inviting way to reinvest in some of the most familiar superheroes ever created.

Twitter: @kentucker

Originally posted August 31 2011 — 8:02 AM EDT

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