Review: Justice League of America #1

It goes without saying that Geoff Johns’ initial foray into the Justice League was found wanting by many DC fans. Until very recently, “Justice League” has failed to capture the strong character moments that Johns built his name on a decade ago in books like “JSA,” “Teen Titans,” and “The Flash.” Johns gets a second chance at retooling the Justice League formula, this time with the B an C-list characters he is known to work wonders with. The question is, of course, does he?

Written by Geoff Johns
Illustrated by David Finch

• The march toward TRINITY WAR begins with part one of “WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS”!
• Green Lantern! Green Arrow! Catwoman! Katana! Vibe! Hawkman! Stargirl! They aren’t the world’s greatest super heroes—they’re the most dangerous! But why does a team like the JLA need to exist? What is their ultimate mission? And who is pulling the strings?
• Plus: Find out why Martian Manhunter is the most dangerous of them all. Period.

This book feels strange. Not in a bad way by any means, but definitely different than its sister “Justice League” or the rest of the bigger New 52 books. However, it doesn’t feel quite like a pre-“Flashpoint” book either. In more than one way, it feels like a fresh start for Geoff Johns as writer, and hopefully, the direction of the New 52 by extension.

Some will be disappointed by the fact that this is very much a set up issue. The framework of the story centers around Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller discussing the need for, and proposed roster of, the titular Justice League of America. This makes for an issue that is very exposition heavy. Thankfully, we as the reader aren’t stuck in Waller’s office, but rather are taken all across the DC universe to check in with this new cast of characters, many of whom make their New 52 debut. While the issue is heavy on dialogue, it helps that the characters we’re learning about are extremely interesting, and Johns does a great job of giving each character a unique hook.

As most know by now, this isn’t your typical Justice League. Made up of outcasts and misfits, the team has more in common with the “Suicide Squad” than the Big 7. Unsurprisingly, it’s this unique cast of characters that makes this book so intriguing. Who hasn’t wanted to see classic characters like Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, or Catwoman handled with a bit more class than we have seen thus far in the New 52? Johns is able to distill several of these characters down to their core essence, making them far more interesting than what we’ve come to expect. Martian Manhunter takes the spotlight in this issue, showcasing the power and complexity of the character, while referencing his revised history previously seen in past issue of “Justice League.” New characters Vibe and Stargirl are introduced, and while we get little more than a tease of what they are capable of, it’s more than enough to pique interest.

Johns’ ties this book in heavily with his other New 52 work. This issue begins with a scene from the end of the ‘Origins’ arc of Justice League, and contains references to the recent “Justice League International” Annual, and the ‘Rise of the Third Army’ arc in “Green Lantern.” This gives “Justice League of America” an overarching, shared universe feel that has been lacking since the reboot. Say what you will about Johns’ recent output, but with many New 52 struggling to find a direction, it’s refreshing to see a writer who is able to weave a long form story over multiple books. These threads are obviously leading somewhere, likely the long gestating “Trinity War” teased last year, and while nothing is overtly stated it is clear that the countdown begins here.

David Finch is the latest super star artist to collaborate with Geoff Johns, and while the duo suffer a few growing pains, the results are better than the Jim Lee pairing in “Justice League.” While Finch is a fantastic artist in his own right, there a few places in which he falls short. Much like Lee, Finch’s greatest weakness is his stiff character poses, which are more appropriate for covers than interiors. Finch’s faces tend to look eerily similar to each other, especially with male characters, whose expressions range from dissatisfied to constipated. Also, Finch cuts corners by reusing old bits of art from past cover work for character mug shots and the like. While it saves time that can be used for more important parts of the issue, these bits of copy and pasted art are somewhat jarring.

With that said, there is much praise to be given as well. Finch brings his distinctive dark and gritty style, which is a perfect fit for this League and provides a great contrast to Ivan Reis’ work on “Justice League”. His renderings of the characters are fantastic. Martian Manhunter and Hawmkman in particular are drawn with the kind of majesty and power befitting the characters. Finch’s art is extremely detailed, and is better utilized in big action set pieces, rather than office meetings. The frenetic action scenes involving Stargirl, Katana, and the mysterious “Dark Hunter” are some of the best of the issue. Johns has said that he tends to write his scripts to fit the artist he’s working with, and while this script didn’t quite play to Finch’s strengths, he manages to give a glimpse of the potential for future issues.

It’s a shame that it has taken so long, but with “Justice League of America” it seems the foundation of the New 52 may finally be settling. Writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman have benefitted from writing multiple “Avengers” books over the years, and hopefully Johns will be able to do the same with the “Justice League” franchise. In terms of a single issue and an introduction to a new cast of characters and premise, “Justice League of America” does a great job of engaging the reader. The issue’s cliffhanger is typical Johns, but it’s also genuinely surprising, and it will be worth the wait for issue #2 to see how it resolves. Let’s just hope that the next five issues don’t consist of the team members punching each other.

Final Verdict: 8.0 – A fresh new start for Geoff Johns and a promising step forward for the New 52.

About The AuthorZach WilkersonZach Wilkerson is training to be the Doctor (of pharmacy). In the mean time, he spends his time reading, watching countless TV shows with his lovely wife, and listening to questionable pop music. Follow him on twitter @Sirfox89.

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