Team books were always a challenge in the old days. Narration was limited, character focus was sparingly used, and sudden jumps from scene to scene distracted this early reader’s emotional investment with the narrative. Books such as early Sin City and Mark Waid’s Flash seemed more appropriate, seen almost exclusively from the protagonist’s point of view. A simple jump-cut was never abrupt, thanks to the structure of a seemingly seamless stream of consciousness that was ’90s narration. Over the years, thanks to either evolution of sequential style or simple familiarity, team books became comprehensible.
Flashforward to now, with a review of Justice League #1-6. The plot: Parademons attack Earth, and thanks to a sequence of awe-inspiringly convenient events, seven of these creatures attack Earth in seven different cities TEN FEET AWAY from Earth’s six prominent super-heroes and Cyborg. Green Lantern is alerted to an extraterrestrial presence in Gotham, finding Batman already on pursuit. After some brief and gentle comical banter reminiscent of Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis’s JLA, GL deduces that, since they’re aliens, that alien in Metropolis must know them, not exactly the kind of conclusion you’d come to expect from an intergalactic peace keeping officer.
So the blanket-statement-maker goes to Metropolis and upon meeting Superman, attacks him. Having been punched across the city causing several million dollars worth of property damage, GL decides to phone his friend Flash (via GL’s hands-free kit) for assistance. Flash reluctantly accepts his call, as he had previously been made accessory to GL’s property damage charges. Several more millions of dollars worth of property is unnecessarily destroyed until Batman asks Superman “They’re aliens and you’re an alien, do you know them?” Somehow Superman didn’t punch Batman. (Am I imagining it, or is it an allegory for post-911 paranoia? Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).
During these events, Cyborg is placed completely outside of continuity in a desperate event to find a semi-universally recognizable token character, thanks to his Teen Titans stint in mainstream media.
In Washington D.C., Wonder Woman is introduced as an enlightened avatar of amazonian delegacy, who’s (by expositional dialogue) prone to self-imposed conversations and fits of violence. An army of Parademons attack, Wonder Woman suddenly appears in Metropolis gratuitously accepting Superman’s admiration over her physical prowess.
At the end of the fight, Aquaman appears, revealing Atlantis’s secret location just outside Metropolis Harbor.
In issue 4, our oddly-placed protagonist of token disposition discovers the cybernetic systems he’s now connected to run on the same Mac OSX server as the Parademons, revealing their nefarious plans. Distressed over his contrived subplot, Cyborg stumbles into a conveniently placed teleporter and appears in front of the Justice League revealing that aliens are invading Earth. Frustrated by Earth’s finest imbeciles, Darkseid appears in all his Omegan glory. With all seven passing out due to his mere presence, Darkseid waits a month for the next issue.
Not much happens in the next issue. Darkseid blows up some planes awaiting Earth’s Finest to wake up; a fully awake Flash uses a half-asleep Superman as a distraction / human shield; Superman gets kidnapped; Batman persuades Cyborg to remain (via hands free guilt); GL decides to get his arm broken in two places; Darkseid, sickened by GL’s pathetic display, decides to find a challenge; Batman decides to reveal his true identity to stop GL whining who doesn’t know who he is (like not knowing who Brad Pitt is) and subsequently gets kidnapped; and finally Wonder Woman decides the team should stab Darkseid in the eyes.
As Darkseid is blinded in a group effort using Wonder Woman’s dagger (who prior to this was furious Darkseid wouldn’t speak when strangled with her magic lasso)…
…and Aquaman’s trident, Cyborg overrides the advanced alien wireless operating systems of the Parademons’ teleportation devices using the sheer power of emotion, thus allowing Batman to return Superman to Earth. With Superman back on Earth, he does what he should have done all along and punches Darkseid, who subsequently explodes. Hailed as heroes and accepting, out of convenience due to outstanding warrants, legal issues and emotional guilt trips (Cyborg via father), the Flash reveals the team members as the Super Seven, later only to imply their official brand name was stolen from a published book through the power of copyright infringement.
As the premiere title of the New DC 52 it was… interesting. With a blatantly xenophobic intergalactic law enforcement officer; a mentally disturbed muscle-bound woman who likes to talk to herself and get angry at people who won’t reply when she strangles them; a cowardly fast man who seems to only throw people at impending danger (he also threw Aquaman at Darkseid); and a minor who only remained due to emotional guilt trips (from both the Flash and Batman) in their ranks… I’m not entirely certain this is the premiere league of super-heroes I’d want serving and protecting me from intergalactic threats.
Insight, dialogue, and engagement were lacking and generally unexplored past their surface. (There was some attempt at establishing Cyborg’s motives, backgrounds, and emotional growth, yet my brief but sweet viewings of Teen Titans made him more endearing.) The difficulty in engaging with any character’s point of view is due to the narrative structure being padded with fewer less-dialogue-heavy panels, either designed by DC mandates to keep it simple and mainstream or, more likely, to pander realistically to an inconsistent artist’s co-dependence on fewer “splashyer” images that, on occasion, revert to Rob Liefeldian logic of body proportions.
Cover of Issue #2: Why is Superman staring at the reader while he’s punching Batman? Why doesn’t his torso have shading and depth?
Interior of Issue #2: Again, where is the depth on the torso? Has he ever drawn a marathon runner stopping?!
Issue #5: Jim Lee can’t possibly have drawn Wonder Woman and Aquaman that out of distance to proportion ratio behind their team members, and the shading is non-existent. It may be one of those “ghost artists.”
The results are disorientation, disassociation, and fewer opportunities to reflect on each character’s growth, creating reader incoherency much like those ’90s team books. However, all his Darkseid pages are pretty awesome, and criticisms aside, the sparingly used banter was quite enjoyable and action scenes eventful. The city genuinely looked destroyed, and Darkseid did seem genuinely perturbed by the events that followed. In short, there are some high points.
Justice League issues #1-6 reflect problems. However it should still be recommended to people purely out of sequential education as a what-not-to-do manual, if you will. When pursuing a career in comic books not rooted down in “exploitation” that will unlikely stand the test of time, work far far faaaaaaar away from these lessons in mismanaged tangles of stereotypes, plotholes, cliches and incoherent flows of visual storytelling. And read some other DC 52s.