***Contains Mild Spoilers***
Art & Cover - Jim Lee & Scott Williams
On August 31st 2011, DC Comics stepped into the next stage of evolution for the comic book industry, with the first of their New 52 (or, DCnU) line of number one issues hitting both comic shops and the online digital store day-and-date. But disregarding this step into a new age of comic books, the real question is whether or not the first issue of this new incarnation of Justice League, and indeed, this newly formed DC Universe as a whole, lives up to the hype machine and sets the same standard of excellence as X-Men #1, all the way back in 1991.
The reason I bring up X-Men #1 is that it boasted artwork by Jim Lee, Marvel’s hottest artist at the time. Now, Jim Lee is a co-publisher at DC and is better known as the illustrator of various tales featuring Batman and Superman among others from DC’s pantheon of characters. And this is Jim Lee’s return to sequential artwork following an absence that began with the abysmally delayed All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, Frank Miller’s nonsensical Batman: Year One sequel. Scepticism over the book’s quality was rife within me when I started to read this issue; Lee’s artwork has long been some of my favourite, but the preview pages featured a flair of the early 1990s that left a bitter taste in my mouth. I didn’t want to see the style of DC shift to Marvel’s gaudy work from that era; work pioneered by Jim Lee, and his contemporaries, such as Rob Liefeld (who, incidentally, is illustrating the Hawk & Dove book out next week).
Straight away, however, my fears were swept away. I was reminded by the time I reached the first double-page spread, involving Batman in an explosive action sequence, that Jim Lee himself has never given me reason to doubt his artistic skill. Every page of Justice League #1 is beautiful to look at. Nobody draws Batman quite like Jim Lee, and if I’m honest, this issue really does feel like a Batman book, but with a noticeable twist. It’s dark and gritty but doesn’t take itself too seriously; there are plenty of moments filled with exemplary humour, mostly involving Green Lantern, who turns up to aid Batman and, one would assume, instigate the eventual formation of the titular League.
Considering the majority of the book merely focuses on these two bickering heroes, Geoff Johns manages to craft a first chapter that establishes the new ground rules thick and fast. We’re exposed to both characters’ personalities and given glimpses into the established universe around them; Batman is still considered a myth in the eyes of the populace, while the GCPD themselves don’t trust him, targeting him as a costumed villain rather than as their ally. Johns has never written Batman in any great capacity, but the way he presents the character just makes me crave the eventual release of his Batman: Earth One graphic novel (which, if rumours are to be believed, will appear around the same time as The Dark Knight Rises next summer).
Green Lantern, meanwhile, is here from the start for two clear reasons. First, and foremost, is the fact that Geoff Johns knows Hal Jordan (and, indeed, the whole Green Lantern Corps) extremely well. It’s under his watchful eye that this character has developed from two-dimensional bore to extremely well rounded and likeable icon. And this is the best the character has been in a good long while, not mired by the constraints of his own increasingly complex and unforgiving continuity. The second reason Green Lantern is here, and perhaps the more understandable and obvious, is that he has just appeared in a big budget movie, and despite the fact that it performed poorly at the box office, there’s enough fan recognition there from the Average Joe’s on the street to help them process that this is the same character as the movie, and he’s in the same world as Batman.
The combination of Geoff Johns’ great script and Jim Lee’s beautiful artwork means that this first issue of Justice League is the perfect jumping on point for people who’ve never read a DC comic book, while also not ignoring the pitiless attitudes of the comic book reading community as a whole. Two well recognizable characters take centre stage for the introductory proceedings, and the only other heroes who appear (admittedly in glorified cameos teasing at the future) are icons from both a popular animated series and for being the archetypal superhero, respectively. This comic book is designed for the layman, as well as the fanboy, and that is something to be extremely proud of. Let’s just hope the next fifty-one books are just as good, and that the six week wait for the second issue of this series doesn’t kill the flow of the story completely.