After what is generally seen as a middling run on “Justice League” by Bryan Hitch and various artists, a rare misfire in the Rebirth era, the top tier team in the DCU is getting a creative relaunch from writer Christopher Priest and artist Pete Woods. There isn’t a renumber to mark this creative shift, but there also isn’t much need to have read Hitch’s run to understand this either. All you need to know is the cursory knowledge you’d already have of the Justice League from all their other appearances across media. It’s a fresh starting on point, #34 is the new #1.
Written by Christopher Priest
Illustrated by Peter Woods
Colored by Peter Wood
Lettered by Willie Schu
“LOST” part one! When the Justice League is confronted by three concurrent threats, a sleep-deprived Batman makes a crucial error that causes an unthinkable—and potentially unforgivable—tragedy. Legendary Eisner Award-nominated writer Christopher Priest (Deathstroke) is joined by artist Pete Woods for a brand-new must-read Justice League story like you’ve never seen before!
The press around this new creative team has characterized the book as a ‘realist’ take on the League, in ‘The People vs Justice League,’ Priest wants to explore the differing perspectives the League would bring out from within their own institution and without.
In a recent interview Priest described the need to contend with how the Public fits into the DCU in todays age, “how will the world respond to them? The Silver Age of the average man on the DCU street cheering the heroes on is an anachronism now. If the League were real, today, they’d most likely be sued by every person they ever saved. They’d be subpoenaed by every authority in every jurisdiction imaginable; hearings upon hearings. There’d be waves of accolades followed by tsunamis of boos from social media. They’d be more feared than loved, blamed as much for not doing something as for doing anything.” Now if that quote conjures a feeling of dread, of Man of Steel or Batman v Superman in comic book form, don’t despair. For all the realist implications, “Justice League” #34 reads like an extension of the DCAU Justice League Unlimited with the issue centered around a plot point reminiscent of the two-parter, “Only A Dream.”
One of my film professors always talked about when dealing with an individual work ‘realism’ can be explained by the consistency the piece follows its own rules. Things get a bit more complicated when tracking larger art movements with broader economic and other specified interests. However, that maxim largely works for “Justice League” and the issues ability to play in a similar key to the DCAU is why Priest and Woods don’t fall into the dual trap of mundanity and dark-n-gritty. Certain aspects of the Silver Age may seem anachronistic, at the same time elements of that era are taken as natural (i.e. realistic). In this issue Priest and Woods throw out 3 separate events: a potential alien invasion, an Earthquake, and a hostage situation (that was this close to being out of Swordfish). Individually, each of these could have been the center of their own issue. In cramming these events all together, it plays into somewhat snakry critique of decompression about how King and Lee would fit more into 20 pages of “Fantastic Four” than most series would in 20 issues. While also showing how in doing so none of these event set pieces are all that satisfying and are forced to be resolved off panel. This would appear to be a happy side effect of this structure undergirding the humanist element of the book.
When Priest and to degree others talk about “realism” in their works, I think what they really mean is humanism. Since finding the emotional core of a story for its characters is pretty much the only way to deal with the absurdity of cape comics, and without that core you get products like Justice League. How Priest specifically structures and writes these books also isn’t, well, realistic in the historical sense of the practice. Traditionally realist art has been on some level an attempt to camouflage the artifice of the storytelling medium by showing the real. Priest’s title card centric, almost vignette pace to issues, is antithetical to that tradition. This mode isn’t bad, I rather enjoy it as a means to quickly establish some thematic motif or make wry commentary, as well as its ability to create the illusion of giving characters more of the spotlight. In reading this issue and those title cards, you cannot help but be reminded that you are reading a comic book.Continued below
Within all this artifice, the calamitous events are resolved off panel, the title cards, Bruce Wayne having a Watchtower teleporter in a closet, is the humanist questions for this issue and assumedly the arc going forward. The first question being, how does Bruce Wayne do it? (Coincidently this is a similarly unifying motif for Tom King’s Batman run.) He is the most human of the Leaguers, unlike the Lanterns he doesn’t have the most powerful weapon in the universe. Yet, he is the one they look to for logistical support, Cyborg even calls him “boss” for some reason. He still needs things like sleep as the accurately named segment ‘Day Three’ points out. So, what happens when human condition gets in the way of the myth and what happens when Bruce Wayne gets it wrong?
Batman may be the center of this book, but others get little human moments. The book makes a point of showing Simon Baz as a practicing Muslim (although the prayer may be the wrong one), which is something other series skirted around. Given Priests own admittance to not being the best at keeping up with the characters he writes before he gets on them, it makes me curious but nervous with how he’ll treat Jessica Cruz’ anxiety or if it’ll be consistent with what we see of her in “Green Lanterns.”
Pete Woods art does a fantastic job of representing these issues. While his line work is a bit more complicated than the designs used in the DCAU, it features strong lines and colors that give off that vibe. He manages to fit in big, iconic, comic book moments into panels right next to the human moments. A destructive tsunami is just a panel not a gigantic two-page center piece. Woods even works in an homage to the Wonder Woman symbol, using it as the structure for half a page worth of images as she takes out some hostage takers. At the same time Woods uses this frenetic pace to the back of this issue to get at the horror and tension within Batman as everything begins to go wrong. “Wrong” being for Batman anything less than perfect, as he realizes his logistical decisions were the wrong ones and innocent people have been put in more risk. Woods makes this moment of realization a juxtaposition between an iconic Batman image and well known human reaction from the Caped Crusader. Like the best of DC comics, Priest and Woods appear to be investigating the meeting point between the Iconic and Human within the DC pantheon.
This isn’t a perfect first issue, some of the dialog falls a little flat. The aforementioned “boss” from Cyborg, and other little moments. But this dissonance is created more from a decontextualized view of the dialog and not in the context of the work overall. It’s not a deal breaker, but it might take Priest a couple of issues to get everyone’s voice down. Overall though, this is a strong opening statement by the creative team with a point of view that gives the book something interesting to interrogate instead of run of the mill “Justice League” adventures.
Final Verdict: 7.75 – “Justice League” start their next adventure on solid footing, Priest and Woods give this series a reason to exist beyond the desire for adventure. Now hopefully they can find thorough if not fulfilling answers to the questions they ask.