|Justice vols. 1 & 2 (of 3)
By Jim Krueger, Alex Ross & Doug Braithwaite
DC Comics – 2 hardcovers @ $19.99
I like old superhero comics as much as the next guy (and I’ve got the Essential, Showcase Presents, Archive and Omnibus editions to prove it), but one thing I’m not particularly fond of is nostalgia, and nostalgia seems to be Justice’s main selling point. Afterall, the back cover of both volumes quote the Atlanta Journal Constitution as saying, “…those who long for … [the] more innocent comics of yesteryear…” yadda-yadda.
Of course, complaining about nostalgia in superhero comics is a dicey proposition, since there’s a degree of nostalgia involved in any comic featuring decades-old characters like the Justice League. But the feeling I can’t shake when reading some superhero projects is that they exist largely to let writers and artists relive being ten years old and then ask to be paid for the privilege. Certainly there are projects out there like Joe Casey and Tom Scioli’s GØDLAND or the animated Justice League Unlimited that betray a nostalgic impulse while bringing a lot more to the table, but Justice really doesn’t seem to have much more to offer.
Well, except Alex Ross’ art. It’s pretty clear from Justice’s presentation that DC considers an Alex Ross project to be an event by virtue of it being an Alex Ross project, and the covers to the hardback editions of Justice, which recall the covers to Kingdom Come––note especially the similarities between Justice vol. 1 and Kingdom Come #2––are clearly meant to place it within the tradition of Ross’ DC work. As far as I can tell, Ross’ involvement is the only reason to have made Justice’s rather pedestrian story into a 12-issue maxiseries, as well as a series of overpriced hardcovers (there will eventually be three, each collecting a pathetic four issues).
The art is pretty enough, given more life than usual Ross fare by being painted over Doug Braithwaite’s pencils, though it still feels more static than an average comic book. Interestingly, Braithwaite’s pencils reprinted in the back of each volume are more heavily rendered and somewhat stiffer than his usual work, as he seems to be attempting to meet Ross in the middle, infusing the pencils with painterly detail. The effect is overall more “comic-booky” than Kingdom Come, with far more instances of images breaking panel borders and the addition of honest-to-God speed lines to Ross’ usual motion blurs.
As for the story, writer and co-plotter (with Ross) Jim Krueger actually managed to turn me against Justice before I even started the book proper, thanks to his annoyingly self-satisfied introduction. The premise of Justice is that the villains of the DC Universe start to use their powers and technology to do good deeds on a global scale, things like curing disease and making deserts into fertile land, thus raising the question of what exactly the responsibility of the equally powerful superheroes is. Or so Krueger claims in the introduction. He seems under the impression that this plot is an innovation in the genre and that he is deeply testing superhero fans’ understanding of the genre, claiming that he is frequently asked how he can allow Lex Luthor to be “right.”
The thing is that Luthor is not right, and not just in the sense that his vision clearly strips average people of any role in mankind’s development, moreso even than he claims that the heroes do. In showing Luthor’s villainy through attacks on the Justice League before he makes his claims that he intends to better the world, Krueger and Ross undermine their own premise before even introducing it.
Regarding the notion that the challenge to change the world rather than simply saving it is a new one, it is not only the premise of The Authority, but has even been a Justice League plot before. In fact, it was the very first storyline in Grant Morrison’s JLA ten years ago.
While that story has a few problems of its own––as usual a philosophical argument is won not because the Justice League is right, but because they are stronger fighters, the likely outcome of Justice as well––Morrison did not ask that readers believe that when known villains challenged the intentions of known heroes, the public at large would immediately side with the villains, nor that no one would find it suspicious that many prominent heroes disappear just as the villains start making these claims. Morrison introduced new characters who appeared to be heroes, then seeded doubts about them before revealing their identities or intentions, giving the Justice League an opportunity to actually engage the issue. While it was no surprise that the Hyperclan turned out not to be what they claimed, it did not at least come across as so transparently obvious. Even the villains’ motives in Justice demand that they be as credulous and easily manipulated as the people they are fooling.
The rest of Justice has little more to recommend it. What Ross and Krueger have done with the twelve chapters is include as many heroes and villains as they can fit in and attempted to give each a scene or a moment. The result is tone-deaf pacing, a choppy succession of mostly two-page scenes, each of which ends just as they’re getting interesting in order to make room for the next character to get face-time. A fight between Wonder Woman and Cheetah spans both volumes, not because of its epic length, but because it is so frequently interrupted to let in other scenes, a move that takes out any potential drama or feeling of excitement. Overbearing and ponderous narration underlines details that are usually handled as subtext in other stories, and dialogue is generally poor. In one wholly unnecessary scene, the rivalry between Plastic Man and The Elongated Man, which is usually treated as a throwaway joke (perhaps best in Justice League Unlimited’s “The Greatest Story Never Told”) is taken seriously and gets an entire tedious page. Also, I don’t care if he’s possessed by Grodd or what: Batman’s butler, Alfred, saying, “I will feast on your flesh,” cannot be anything but ridiculous.
And the nostalgia is ever-present. For instance, I can only imagine that either Krueger or Ross was a ten-year-old in the ‘70s, because I can’t think of any other reason to include that version of Supergirl. It would be one thing if she had a great look or they somehow intended to use details specific to that version (are there any?) in the story, but from how she’s used it seems like she could have been anybody, and the costume is horrible; it’s the one with the plunging v-neck, hot pants, and the small S-shield off to the side. Many choices throughout the series seem to stem from the same impulse.
I didn’t find much to like in Justice. There were a few decent character moments, some effective action scenes and frequently compelling visuals. Bigger fans of Ross than I might enjoy how it looks enough for it to worth their time, but I won’t be bothering to read volume 3.