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First Impressions: New World Order

DC's new continuity just launched with Justice League #1. How's the first look at the new home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and so many others?

By / Posted on 02 September 2011

Justice League #1Veteran readers of superhero comics are well-versed with the concept of reboots and retcons. Time travelers, magic, and divine intervention frequently hit the reset button on established franchises. DC Comics in particular seems to have a hard reboot across most of their books once a decade or so. A bunch of alternate Earths all crashed together, killing a bunch of heroes and forming a single Earth (Crisis on Infinite Earths), a mad-as-hell Green Lantern wiped out all existence and rebuilt it in his image (Zero Hour) and an alternate reality Superboy punched through a wall between dimensions that caused them to blur and overwrite one another (Infinite Crisis). DC Comics readers have grown quite complacent with these sorts of apocalypse events for the greater good of continuity.

The tragedy du jour this time was a little event called Flashpoint, in which Barry Allen, as the Flash, travels back in time to prevent the murder of his mother, screws up the timeline, then travels back to prevent himself from preventing said murder and results in a new timeline that is close enough to the one we already knew to be acceptable but just different enough to be worth telling the stories over again from the beginning. The big attention-grabbing point of this relaunch was the cancellation of every monthly book DC published, unification of the Vertigo and Wildstorm imprints into DC proper, and launch of 52 titles, all with new #1 issues. It will still be weeks, if not months, before the full effect of this new direction is felt, but DC gave readers their first taste this week with Justice League #1, the very first book in this new world order and an opening volley of what’s to come of this newly rechristened universe.

The ever media-savvy DC (they ARE owned by Warner Bros) put their most marketable foot forward, by having this issue almost exclusively focus on the first interaction between Batman and Green Lantern, protagonists of DC’s most recent live-action movies and animated series. The entire issue takes place “five years ago” in the newly established continuity so as to allow the reader the opportunity to see how all of DC’s biggest heroes first met. It is clear that word spreads fast in this world, as the new superheroes are regarded as something of an urban legend. Upon first meeting, Batman – the world’s greatest detective – already kind of understands what the Green Lantern can do and already doesn’t care, while Green Lantern greets Batman with the exclamation of disbelief “You’re REAL?!” and proceeds to attempt to impress or prove superiority to the legendary man who is the bat. Both have heard tales about Superman and have their own differing opinions on how to confront such a marvel of alien strength.

Most of the fun (and nearly all of the content) of this debut issue is in the banter between these two remarkably different heroes – the brash and overconfident ultrapower who glows in the dark and the methodical and cautious powerless detective who cloaks himself in shadow. The only other future League members to appear within are Superman – who pops in for the final page, coyly smirking with lasers smoldering from his eyes, to pick a fight with Batman – and Cyborg – still a decidedly non-cybernetic teenage football superstar with absentee daddy issues. As far as first impressions go, you certainly get the vibe that all of these characters are young, self-involved, and positively dripping with post-Twilight angst.

The entire issue feels incredibly decompressed. In the Golden Age, the entire contents of this issue would’ve taken place over maybe four pages rather than twenty-four. The pacing and overall younger-slanting focus of the characters and content make this feel less like Justice League the status-quo-defining-superhero-book and more like Justice League the CW-teen-drama-it’s-like-Smallville-but-with-more-explosions-and-spandex. If this is what the new DC Universe is going to be like, it’s a sad day for the home of many of the smartest and most mature (as in storytelling, not as in R-rated) mainstream comics. The new Justice League looks to be full-on primetime network teen drama, but we’re keeping our hopes high for the rest of the universe, particularly Jeff Lemire’s take on Animal Man. And we’ll keep an eye on Justice League, too… just in case.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.