The first issue of Justice League: No Justice, the mini-series that’s set to usher in the next era of Justice League comics at DC, arrived today at comic shops. On some level, it always feels like these DC cosmic crossover events are trying to capture lightning in a bottle of a similar sort to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths way, way back when. And some DC events have done so, at least in part (seriously, this is a case of “your mileage may vary,” but results have been mixed). No Justice has the benefit of riding the coattails of the interesting Metal event; indeed, Scott Snyder, who masterminded that event, is one of the three writers behind this Justice League refresh. So how was the series’ opening salvo? Worth your time and money? Our fairly spoiler-y review follows below.
The comics trope of giant creatures on a path of destruction is a tired one, even if they seem to be rooted in Jack Kirby-like aesthetics and lore (they sprang from the other side of the now-breached Source Wall – a Kirby concept from his Fourth World saga). The creatures in question (which has been in media copy for months so we won’t consider this spoiler-y) are four gargantuan beings that each represent one of four “major energies” that comprise the universe: Mystery, Wonder, Wisdom, and Entropy. They are called “Omega Titans,” which is a pretty cool callback of the signature weapon of New Gods villain Darkseid’s “Omega Beams.” But as far as them being building blocks go, we’re waiting on more info on how or why these are the universe’s fundamental elements.
So what are we to take from this series so far? It’s probably best summed up in three moments from the book:
1) NEW RULES
Green Lantern Guy Gardner, from nearly the get-go, gives us the key to understanding the series’ goals when chastising GL Hal Jordan (as a proxy for his friends in the Justice League) for breaking the Source Wall: “You and your friends in the Justice League broke the damn universe,” he chides. “The old rule book . . . it just went up in smoke.” In other words, the rules of how DC heroes (or should we say “protagonists”) deal with crises – or perhaps even just live day to day – have changed, and this series will be the first to explore exactly how. This would seem to portend fewer of the old tropes, or at least fresh takes on them.
2) PURE INTELLECT CAN’T SOLVE ALL
Brainiac reveals that, despite his vast intellect, he has no fundamental understanding of heroism. Brainiac, at first, seems to be the villain of the book, but he’s actually out to subjugate the heroes into his service – not actually defeat them, but consign them into teaming up to save his home planet of Colu, and the rest of the universe, from the cosmic beings mentioned above. Brainiac believes that his reshuffling of the lineups into teams designed by his intellect rather than their social conveniences will give them a certain victory against these cosmic threats. This includes incorporating characters who are more classically known as villains into his squads: Sinestro, Lex Luthor, Lobo, The Demon Etrigan, Deathstroke (or, as he’s better known to Teen Titans cartoon fans, “Slade”), and, most fantastically, Starro, the mind-controlling space starfish. Perhaps Brainiac reasoned correctly that he’d have to defeat the heroes to get them to listen to reason and go along with his plan. But lest we think Brainiac has performed a “face” turn, he reveals later to the heroes that he’s seeded Earth with elements that will draw the attention of the Omega Titans, thus dooming Earth to the same fate as Colu should the heroes fail to save Brainiac’s planet.
In other words, Brainiac doesn’t understand heroes. They didn’t need this extra motivation, this dire consequence, to fight with all their beings to save Colu. Put another way, Brainiac is quite fallible. This was an interesting, if subtle, wrinkle. But perhaps not as interesting as the most obvious wrench that’s thrown into Brainiac’s plans, which brings us to our third crucial event of the book.
3) THERE ARE MORE THAN TWO SIDES
Amanda Waller, long one of our favorite DC protagonists, has a roomful of strapped-up and presumably enslaved psychics, composed of mostly forgotten and tertiary DC miscellany, bound together for the express purpose of hacking Brainiac’s brain. The likes of Jemm, Son of Saturn, Dubbilex, Psimon, Hector Hammond and (gasp!) Max Lord are forced into a seemingly impossible task to defeat a cosmic level foe – nearly the premise of the series itself, just a more directly yoked task force directed at a lesser cosmic entity, Brainiac himself. And… they succeed, which leaves the hero and villain alliance that Brainiac gathered without their leader and with only the bare bones of his never-revealed master plan. That was a fun twist. And since, as we mentioned above, Brainiac proved himself fallible? That can give us hope that the heroes can prove him wrong by winning without his guidance. But Waller has proven that Earth won’t sit still, helplessly – even if it (unknowingly) dooms them. Her intentions are good, her methods are questionable, and it seems DC may be finally ready to explore the strange circumstances of alliances and enmity in ways that go beyond good & evil.
The stakes are big, the odds are long, the cast is interesting, and the art – sorry, we should have mentioned it earlier – is good, varying between serviceable and “wow” (we love the full-page splash when the villainous allies show up). Artist Francis Manapul does a fine job never letting the art get muddy, which we think happens a lot in these large crossover events when not drawn by a man named George Perez.
What didn’t we like much about the book? Well, the requisite shoe-horned dialog that gives cursory, forced looks at characters such as Raven, Beast Boy, Robin, and Atom was traditionally groan-worthy, so the rules haven’t changed on that front. Perhaps when the teams – which are pretty interesting (Team Entropy is Batman, Beast Boy, Deathstroke, Lex Luthor, and Lobo; Team Mystery includes Martian Manhunter, Sinestro, Starfire, Starro, and Superman; Team Wisdom is Atom, Cyborg, The Flash, Harley Quinn, and Robin; and, finally, Team Wonder is Doctor Fate, Etrigan, Raven, Wonder Woman, and Zatanna) – separate in future issues, there will be space for some character examination and interaction, if not actual development.
Also, the fact that Brainiac changed their costumes was weird and unnecessary even to mention, save perhaps the “nodes” he added to their costumes as team identifiers. It’s page real estate that could have been used for something better.
In sum? Good book so far, with many interesting and favorite characters in new configurations. Bodes well for the rest of the series, which should flow better now that the premise is set. And Starro! C’mon!
GEEK Grade: B+
Images: DC Comics