Last week I reviewed the end of the classic DC Universe, the seriously underwhelming Flashpoint #5. This week it’s on to bigger and better things (though most anything would be better after Flashpoint), as I’ll begin reviewing all of “The New 52” series being launched by DC in September. The new DC Universe (DCnU) launches with precisely the story that it should: the beginnings of the formation of the Justice League. Written by DC’s premiere writer, Geoff Johns, and with art by all-time great Jim Lee, DC is starting off their relaunch huge. But “huge” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” (see: Flashpoint). Is the DCnU off to a strong start? Read on.
This review will be as spoiler-free as possible.
When mapping out the new DC Universe, there was really only one choice for what the flagship series was going to be, and that’s the one featuring the most iconic team in all of comics, the Justice League. Some people wanted this issue to be a big fight where all the members of the Justice League teamed up to battle some villains. If this was just “another” new team book that would probably be okay, but this is the first book in an entire new line of comic books, so I’m not sure that would be entirely appropriate. Instead, this issue gave me exactly what I wanted by stepping back in time a few years and showing how this iteration of the Justice League began to come together and meet one another. To me at least, this is compelling material.
There have been some complaints made against this issue regarding the characters featured–or more specifically, the characters totally omitted. This issue focuses almost entirely on Batman and Green Lantern, with a speck of pre-Cyborg and a cameo by Superman. That means The Flash, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman don’t appear at all. And I think that that is absolutely the right call. Here’s why:
1) Batman and Green Lantern are the most popular (re: not most iconic) DC characters in mainstream culture right now as well as having the top-selling pre-DCnU comic lines. People think Batman is cool. People think Green Lantern is cool. New buyers picking up this book know and like these characters, which makes them the perfect gateway to meeting other heroes from the DCnU.
2) Batman and Green Lantern are the most unchanged characters from the relaunch. Minor details here and there are different, but Bruce and Hal are essentially the exact same people. We have no idea what Flash, Superman, Aquaman, or Wonder Woman are going to be like in this new world, and a handful of pages in the first issue of Justice League is not the right way to be introduced to them. All four of those characters have their own book (multiple books in Superman’s case), and it’s in those books that we should find out who those characters are and what they’re all about in the DCnU. Once we know that, then let’s see them folded into the Justice League in the next month or so. But I see no reason to spoil other writers’ opportunities to pave the way for the new personas of their title characters just for the sake of throwing them into a couple panels in Justice League #1.
3) Pre-Cyborg gets a few pages in this issue, and I think that’s great. Cyborg above all other characters in the new Justice League has the most to prove to the masses. The only real mainstream exposure he’s ever gotten in the last decade is in the Teen Titans cartoon, where he was the least popular character. These pages gave me more insight and sympathy for Cyborg than I’ve ever had before from all the issues of Teen Titans I’ve read, and that can only be considered a good thing. If Cyborg is going to be a major character in the DCnU and DC wants people to care about him, then this was absolutely the right place to start.
The artwork in this comic book is excellent. It remains to be seen if Jim Lee can keep to a monthly schedule, but his work here is quality and does a masterful job of portraying the action and events transpiring here. The first time readers see characters like Batman and Superman are huge moments, and they’re depicted as such in vibrant, eye-catching splash-pages. Green Lantern’s constructs and the other action and explosions taking place are similarly cinematic and memorable.
I honestly only have one major quibble with this comic book, and that is the price. There simply is not enough story in this issue for DC to charge $3.99 for it, and I’m frankly surprised that they decided to go that route. After making a big fuss for the past year about “Drawing the line at $2.99!”, the first release of the new era of DC Comics is a $3.99 comic. In and of itself, this wouldn’t be a problem if the book was double-sized and filled with extra pages of story. Instead, there’s only 3 extra pages of story and then a section of Jim Lee concept art. This does not work for me. If DC is going to break their own self-imposed “$2.99” mandate, then it had better be for something of value, and not concept art. I don’t care about concept art, and I doubt many other buyers care about it either. That’s an extra to add into a trade paperback for free–not something to add a $1 to the cost of your first-ever release of your universe’s relaunch.
Overall: Admittedly, not a ton happens in this issue, but everything that does happen is gripping and important. We see the first meeting in the DCnU of DC’s most popular two characters, an introduction to Cyborg, a first look at Superman, and a cliffhanger ending that will definitely grab the interest and attention of both new and old comic book readers. The action is impressive and cinematic, the villain is surprisingly menacing, and the artwork is outstanding. There’s no question that we’ll be see the other (future) members of the Justice League soon enough, but this issue is a good one to begin the new DC Universe with and the relaunch is off to a promising start.