Thursday, March 8, 2012

52 In Review: Justice League So Far...

Justice League is the premiere and lead title of DC's Line-Wide Reboot "The New 52". Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee -- this title pretty much had to reflect the new attitude and quality of the entire line. There are a few minor problems I have with the first 6 issues - but overall it reached its goal of giving this revamped Justice League a solid premiere and foundation.

The series begins more as a team-up between Batman and Green Lantern. Batman is on the trail of a criminal, but has the misfortune of becoming a target of the police himself. Super Heroes and Super Humans are presented as a relatively new phenomenon. This first 6-issue story arch takes place 5 years before the current modern time-line; so pretty much everything about the Super Hero game is new to the public. The police and government especially don't know what to think of them, and consider them a threat.

Green Lantern runs into Batman during this chase. Hal Jordan didn't even know Batman existed - thinking he was merely an urban legend! Batman angrily tells GL to turn off his light - as it's letting the police know where they are.

Evading the police GL and Batman continue their hunt after this criminal they are chasing -- who is demonstrating super human abilities of his own. The two heroes follow him into the sewers. Green Lantern asks what Batman's powers are -- and is shocked to hear that he has none. They come upon the criminal who they soon realize is otherworldly; shedding a concealing coat this yellow armored green monster fights off Green Lantern and Batman. The creature activates a cube-shaped device and then self destructs - screaming an ominous phrase "For Darkseid!"

Although everything here is being presented and introduced as new (making it very new-reader friendly) - long time comic fans of course realized that this creature is in fact a Parademon - a foot soldier of Apokolips. It was a real surprise and delight to see Jack Kirby's New Gods concepts getting such attention so early on. The New Gods, though, aren't appearing yet - these first six issues deal with the Dark Gods, of the hellplanet Apokolips. (Again, previous comic knowledge simply isn't required. So if what I just said makes so sense; don't worry about it. They're just the bad guys.)

The cube device is left over from the exploding Parademon - and GL handily protected himself and Batman from the blast. The device is unknown to them, but they realize that it's alien in origin. The most famous alien at large on the planet right now is in Metropolis. So GL and Batman decide to head there.

Arriving in Metropolis they are unfortunate enough to end up on the receiving end of an attack by Superman.

This is where the series really shines - presenting a big fight against Superman; almost throwing them against each other just to satisfy the question "who's stronger than who". Superman has been attacked by a Parademon himself, and thinks Batman and GL might be in league with it because they have a similar box that the other parademon had.

This new version of Superman might bleed and be less powerful than he use to be - but he still manages to show Green Lantern and Batman who's more powerful. Knowing that they need help, Hal calls Barry Allen on his cell phone. The Flash and GL apparently already know each other, having had an adventure where they found out each other's secret identities -- so they both are already friends. Flash zooms across the country to Metropolis and joins in the fight. Flash might be a bit faster than Superman (especially this early in his power-development) - but he definitely is stronger and swats the Flash away like a fly. Luckily Barry is able to end the fighting and get everyone to talk to each other. Finding out they are all on the same page, they begin cooperating with each other.

To ground the series a bit more, and show the how the public views Super Humans - Vic Stone is introduced. A young man on the gridiron, Victor has a promising future ahead in football. Yet since his father doesn't come to any of his games, he's prohibited from talking to the talent scouts.

Victor's father works at Star Labs, which studies Super Humans and alien technology. Dr. Stone is a distant father, absorbed in his work all the time. Victor drops by the lab to ask why his father hadn't been at the game. Dr. Stone pretty much lays out that he isn't going to support his son's potential in football. He coldly tells his son to open his eyes - that the advent of Super Human in the world where making what he can do obsolete. What does it matter how good at football you are, if the likes of the Flash or Superman make that accomplishment mean less?

Things take a horrible turn when the cube devices, one of which is in Star Labs, activate. These boxes are called Mother Boxes - self aware computers, usually used for transport. "Boom Tubes" are activated where the Justice League are, and at Star Labs. An invading army of Parademons fly through these portals. Victor is tragically caught the wake of the portal and is burned on almost every part of his body.

His father, scared and wishing to save his son's life, brings out an experimental technology that their Lab has been working on. This technology is found Apokolips technology that Star Labs was studying. Its a dangerous and insane risk to his son -- but the alternative is that Victor dies of his wounds in the next minute. Injecting him with the experimental tech, armor forms around his son's body. Mostly only the right side of Victor's face remains unchanged -- all the rest of his body are covered in boiling burns, and are replaced by cold steel.

Meanwhile Batman, Superman, Flash and Green Lantern are busy fending off the un-ending army of Parademons escaping into their world. The group seems up to the task - but it's a loosing battle against the under-ending number of enemies. Luckily Wonder Woman jumps in and joins the fray. She had been in Washington earlier when a portal had opened up there - and the fight eventually lead her to the other's location. This is an early time in Wonder Woman's carrier - as she's completely new to Man's World. She's naive and overly eager to engage in battle. For her - an invading swarm of Parademons is simply a fun sport.

Back at Star Labs, Dr. Stone is desperately working to save his son's life. The technology is working -- adapting and changing Victor's irrevocably damaged body. The familiar "PING" sound effect, previously heard from the Mother Boxes, are occurring in Victory's mind. His consciousness connects to an unknown source, and meets the gaze of a stone-faced monster, on a planet resembling hell.

After this Victor comes out the other end of the transformation ok, he wakes up to find the Lab being stormed by rampaging parademons. Going into automatic defense, Victory finds his body utilizing advanced weponry to defeat the monsters. After he asks his father what happened to him. Dr. Stone desperately tries to tell him that he was saving his life. The swarm of new information and data running through Victor's head scares him. He hears the "PING" sound again and again, and runs off from his father who had done this to him.

Defeating more and more Parademons, the group of heroes notice a pattern in what the Parademon's goals are. They are kidnapping scientists, and stealing them away through portals. Why this is happening is never answered, but will surely be revealed later in the series.

The heroes then also notice that towers are being set up -- one prominently seen in the waters off the pier. It's not just the surface that is under attack - but the sea as well. Another hero joins the fray, coming out of the water. Aquaman, King of Atlantis, has come to find and stop what is attacking his homeland.

At this point in his life Aquaman is brusk and arrogant. As if answering the all to common jokes about his powers, Aquaman commands a shark to dive out of the water - devouring an attacking Parademon.

Aquaman has sort of a pet project for Geoff Johns. He's developed the character significantly in the weekly series "Brightest Day" - and has continued to make the character cool in a new series, part of the New 52. I never read Brightest Day or his Aquaman issues - but I get the impression Johns is all too often using the frame work of making a joke about how much Aquaman sucks, and then having him prove the audience wrong by having him do something awesome or badass. That's not a bad thing to do - but it feels like an over used tactic. He has Aquaman being powerful and cool - but in an almost forced way, like the story is screaming "look how cool Aquaman is!" He is cool; but it simply feels forced here.

As if sensing the emergency, and where he would be best utilized to help, Victor's body activates a portal and transports him to Batman and the other's location. Now the brand new "Big Seven" are officially assembled; though Victory still has no idea what is happening.

Too bad - because its right at that point that another Boom Tube opens up - with that same stoney-monster Victor had seen in his vision.

Darkseid - Ruler of Apokolips - has arrived on Earth. Is Darkseid coming as a formality, to over see the subjugation of Earth?

Whatever the case -Darkseid is here on Earth - and his deadly Omega Beams quickly take aim at Superman. Blasting from his eyes - the Beams zoom in every direction, but always along a path towards it's target.

Trying to help, Flash moves Superman - telling him to "Move it!". They criss-cross all across the city - trying to dodge the beams -- but they always turn and keep up with them. Superman starts to fly up into the sky to split up and give it more than one target. The beams continue to target Superman and finally hit him. Superman is knocked completely out -- and is seen by the Flash being carried away by Parademons into a portal.

Green Lantern, meanwhile, is valiantly trying to fight Darkseid. He's able to make a good show of it - but ultimately fails, as Darkseid personally grabs him arm and cracks it two places. Defeated and moving on, Darkseid leaves. Batman comes up to Hal; Batman says that they need to regroup. Hal, it being early in his carrier has a Super Hero, is all kinds of arrogant, ready to jump right back into the fray. Batman asks him what he's trying to prove? Who is he trying to live up to? In a surprising twist Batman removes his mask, saying "My name is Bruce Wayne." GL's stellar response? "Who the hell's Bruce Wayne?" I guess Hal doesn't check out Forbes List of the richest people in the world. The act seems very meaningful, though, as Batman explains how he saw his parents murdered right in front of his eyes. That he's spent his whole life training to fight the same kind of criminals that took their lives. Yet adds that this situation is different - this thing is bigger than either of them, and that they need to work together. He tells Hal to keep Darkseid busy until he gets back. Hal yells "Get back?! From where? Hey, where the hell are you going?!". Running off Batman responds "I'm going to get Superman."

While Hal goes off and organizes the other heroes, Batman allows himself to be captured by the Parademons. Just as he's about to go through the portal Batman breaks free of the monster and goes through the portal to find himself on the planet Apokolips. A planet exemplifying the ideals of hell itself - Apokoplis is a firepit of slavery and torture.

Batman ably navigates through this unknown world in search of Superman. He eventually discovers the Man of Steel being tortured by servants of Darkseid, Dessad and Steppenwolf. Batman hears some of their discussion - mentioning the possible reason for the entire invasion: they are searching for the Daughter of Darkseid. Batman is able to take down the foes and free Superman.

Back on Earth the heroes are making more progress in challenging Darkseid. While Darkseid is definitely still all powerful - the combined efforts of the group start to wear on him.

Wonder Woman especially lands a fierce blow, stabbing Darkseid in the eye. While I know the big "beat up the villain" moment is necessary to end this story - I did feels a little like this was being too easy. Darkseid isn't your average brawling villain; it's forgivable, but I really do want to see him beating down the Justice League better next time he invades Earth. And there definitely will be a next time - as at one point Wonder Woman was able to get her lasso of truth on Darkseid. She asked "Why are you here?" Before freeing himself and batting them away - Darkseid was compelled to tell the truth, and replied "For her."

Batman and Superman are able to activate a portal and return to Earth. Telling him that the world needs Superman back in action - the Man of Steel regains his strength and launches directly towards Darkseid, plowing into him with the most powerful attack yet. Again I have to mention, Superman might still bleed and get knocked down a bit more easily now - but at the end of the day he still manages to be the most powerful member of the group.

Victor has managed to prove quite capable during the battle thus far, and eventually Batman is able to give him encouragement - telling him that the computer inside him -- having noticed that he is able to create portals, and telling him that he can control them. Victor gives it his all and unleashes a wave of Boom Tubes. He essentially activated the reverse for the portals - all over the world the invading Parademons are sucked back through the portals and sent packing to Apokolips. The whole group joins together in shoving Darkseid through a portal as well. He isn't going willingly - but the vortex and pull of the portal is increased by Cyborg, shoving him through.

The world's saved! The story wrapped up a little quick, but I think given the hints about Darksied's Daughter (a totally new element being introduced) is going to bring him back to face the Justice League again. (Probably 5 years later, once this book rejoins the rest of the 52 in the Present.)

The question about the public trusting Super Humans? Well, nothing makes you more popular quite like single-handedly ending a world-ending invasion of Earth. The group are shown in Washington being honored by the President.

The seven of them have officially decided to remain as a group. The threat of Darkseid obviously isn't over. When the President asks what he should call this group, the worst possible joke to end this series on is given: as the Flash says to call them "The Super Seven!" Green Lantern looks at Flash, asking "The Super Seven?" The Flash rethinks it "Well.. We'll think of something."

That was a horrible, HORRIBLE joke! Seriously - that pretty much deflated the seriousness of everything that just happened. Hal made quite a few lame one-liners along the way as well; heres hoping thats not a regular thing going forward with the series.

The final page showed a book, supposedly written by one of the people rescued by the Justice League during the invasion. David Graves published "Justice League Gods Among Men" - a book that we had been shown excerpts of as bonus filler material in earlier issues. I honestly don't even know who David Graves is -- and the story didn't do that great a job of explaining him. Is he important? Is he a new guy? A future super-hero?

The bonus material in this series, which bumps the price of the book from $3 to $4 - hasn't been the best; but going forward they have announced the inclusion of new Shazam back-up stories. This isn't going to be the same Captain Marvel, though -- in fact, they even decided to just name him Shazam this go-around. Since they have a legal mes, prohibiting them from saying "Catpain Marvel" on the cover of books, Shazam has had to do for a title. They decided to just name him Shazam since most people think that's his name anyway. Ehh... I'd prefer they keep his old name, but whatever - it should still be fun!

The final issue did have a small back-up tale - focusing on the DCU's new omniiversal observer, a woman dubbed Pandora. The Phantom Stranger (another DCU magical guy) meets with her. Pandora has been seen in the back-ground at least once in every New 52 book. The Phantom Stranger indicates that she is cursed in someway; the Justice League being her only saviors. I have to say, Pandora is more confusing that intriguing at this point. I took note of her appearing at the end of Flashpoint, which was what rebooted the universe and launched the New 52. So she's definitely important. In fact - now with the mention of Darkseid having a daughter, it stands to reason that might be Pandora. Who knows? It's also worth noting that, designed by Jim Lee, she bears an awfully close resemblance to a Jim Lee Wildstorm character named Zealot. Any connection???

Jim Lee is going to be taking a break for a few issues, to give him more time to get ahead drawing future issues. That should give the series a nice break, from what I'm thinking might be Darkseid's modern day invasion of Earth. Based on the solicited cover of issue #7, it looks like Green Arrow is once again going to shoe-horning his way into the Justice League as their 8th member. I think a lot of other characters are going to be introduced - but with the core seven of Superman, Batman, WW, GL Flash, and Cyborg being at the center.

Overall this has been a good start to the series. I know with so many changes to the League, and how they where depicted in these issues, are going to agrivate some long time fans. I'd advise giving the book more of a chance - as Geoff Johns is always a good writer to bank on. His scripts often pile on each other, culminating in a grand and epic tapestry. This books seems like Johns' biggest challenge yet -- so I don't believe he's going to let us down.

Jim Lee's art on the book has just been stellar. His drawings now have a sketchy, rough quality to them - making the characters look more dynamic and fluid. I think it's the best art of his whole carrer - and that is saying something! The redesigns of the uniforms, over all, I think have been quite successful. Yes - Hal and Barry have more lines, and armor like qualities to their suits. Superman and Batman no long have the so-call "underwear on backwards" -- and although they took her pants away at the last minute, Wonder Woman comes off well enough with her almost classic look. The uniformity of the new costumes is especially nice to see - and I think will ultimately make the Justice League a more unified and powerful book. I really am loving the redesigns of Superman and Batman, especially.

I'd definately recommend this book to new or lapsed fans. Its probably hardcore fans that will have the most problems with it, but I really think that will smooth over as time goes on. Johns has really proved himself in past series, like Justice Society of America, Flash, Green Latnern, and Superman -- all of which he elevated to grand new levels. So even with the complaints I did mention - this was a good start, and solid foundation for the Justice League and the New 52.

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